The Rise and Rise of the Literary Festival


Have you been to one? They’re wonderful and certainly something every aspiring writer should try just once (or more). There are so many to choose from now; each with their own distinctive character, that you will be spoiled for choice.

Lit Fest Tips
Book one ticket to see an author you absolutely adore. Just go, even if you can only get one ticket. There is nothing more thrilling than to meet the writer whose work has transported and moved you. That personal private moment between you when they sign your book – a precious few seconds when you can try to tell them what it meant to you. They’ll know, despite your fumbling for words. Authors are, by and large, charming and very humble in the presence of their readers. If they’re not, you go off them pretty quickly. I won’t name names but one author I had always admired turned out to be tremendously thin-skinned and extremely vain in person. I went right off his books.

The large festivals, such as Hay-On-Wye, are incredibly popular now. Book well in advance, as accommodation becomes very scarce, particularly after the list of featured authors is announced. There are websites that will help you find accommodation of course; and you might even consider borrowing a tent and spending a night under canvas, if you’re only going to be there for two days. It might just add to the adventure.

Oxford Literary Festival – April
Wonderful lineup. And it gets better every year, as is the case with so many Lit Fests. Word is getting round about how rewarding they are. This year they have secured Anne Tyler, Vikram Seth, Michael Morpurgo, Anthony Horowitz, Jeremy Paxman, Tony Benn, Diana Athill, Joan Bakewell, Peter Carey, Robert Harris, William Boyd, AC Grayling, Roger Scruton, PD James, David Hare and Andrew Marr. All of them are wonderful speakers and raconteurs, as well as remarkable writers. It’s thrilling to be able to share an hour with some of these great minds, and feel part of the great ongoing literary, and sometimes political, debate. The joy of the Oxford Festival is that you can stay in college accommodation overnight, which is fun. Events take place in the historic colleges of Oxford. Take your bike by all means, but don’t forget to check your bicycle insurance – you might well lose it amongst the hundreds of others! Tickets are still available for some events, but be quick. Website can be contacted for details. CLICK HERE.
Charleston
Charleston Literary Festival – May
Everyone should visit Charleston once in their lifetime. Former home of Vanessa Bell, whose sister Virginia Woolfe lived a short walk away; it is a home for dreamers and artists. Every surface of the house was painted, and the Bloomsbury set spent many happy times there painting and discussing literature, art and politics. It is worth joining as a ‘Friend’, for a modest fee, in order to get onto the priority booking list, such is the quality of their guests. The talks are held in a large marquee in the beautiful English gardens and elderly intellectuals in flowing scarves sprawl around on the grass drinking tea, sipping wine and eating sandwiches. Lots of eccentrics. The line up this year includes Ian McEwan in discussion with Asa Briggs, who worked at Bletchley Park during the WWII. It’s certainly likely to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Also on the bill are Jeanette Winterson, who is a marvellous speaker, Max Hastings, Ruth Rendell, William Boyd and Michael Frayn. There is a special William Morris themed Arabian chill tent for aspiring writers to sit in and get advice from creative writing tutors, over the course of the week, so make it a date not to be missed in your diary for next year. See Website for more details or CLICK HERE.

Girl at Hay
Huge! And wonderful. A book lovers’ paradise in fact, since Hay on Wye consists of little other than bookshops. The festival swamps it during festival season however, and is the brainchild of actor and director Peter Florence, who started it in 1988. It is now one of the largest literary festivals in the world with internationally acclaimed speakers and merging literature with theatre and arts – something for everyone. You can find yourself in the queue for the beer tent with Jeremy Paxman or spot Vanessa Redgrave having a sandwich. It’s quite surreal. There is a children’s festival which runs at the same time, so it’s possible to leave your children in good hands, making masks or musical instruments while you sneak off to see V S Naipaul…
This year’s lineup is yet to be announced, (to go online over Easter weekend 2012) but with last year’s speakers including the following, you are sure to find something of interest.
Writers  – Paul Theroux, Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson, Linda Grant, Malorie Blackman; Nobel Laureates VS Naipaul, JMG le Clezio, Paul Nurse and Mohammed ElBaradei; Historians Eric Hobsbawm, Michael Wood, Bettany Hughes and Niall Ferguson; Broadcasters Jennie Murray and Evan Davis; Actors Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes, Rob Lowe, Gillian Anderson and Simon Russell Beale, who talked about acting Shakespeare. A delight.
So get your mouse fingers ready to click, and book away. There are plenty of workshops available, so take your manuscript with you if you want advice. Check on the Hay Festival Website for details or CLICK HERE.
 
For a comprehensive list of literary festivals in the UK and Ireland and Scotland go to the Literary Festival Website or CLICK HERE to find an alphabetical list of dozens of other festivals – from St Ives to the shores of Loch Broome in Scotland. If you don’t get lucky this year, start planning for next year and enjoy the experience of mixing with other writers and readers from around the world.

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