A LIT­ER­ARY JOUR­NEY

Find in­spi­ra­tion at a lit­er­ary fes­ti­val.

In the Moment - - Contents - says Rebecca Gard­ner

Per­son­ally, I’ve never been tempted by the huge crowds and loud mu­sic of Glas­ton­bury. My idea of a fes­ti­val is some­what di er­ent. For me, they mean cel­e­bra­tions of books and writ­ing: au­thors, read­ers and the ideas that bring them to­gether. I can be up­lifted and in­spired with­out a muddy welly in sight. And as sum­mer turns to au­tumn, they are the per­fect choice for recharg­ing your cre­ative bat­ter­ies be­fore win­ter.

A book fes­ti­val is re­ally what you make it – strangely they’re not even nec­es­sar­ily about books. “You don’t have to have read the book, know the au­thor – or even have read any books,” says Rachel Feld­berg, fes­ti­val di­rec­tor of Ilk­ley Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val in York­shire, UK. “The au­thor talks about their ideas, which you can fol­low – even if you don’t know their book. It’s about ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ments you couldn’t script and the chance to meet peo­ple you’d never nor­mally meet.”

The ori­gins of a novel are of­ten linked to life-chang­ing mo­ments. Whether that mo­ment was seem­ingly in­signi cant to on­look­ers or in­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing, you are there to hear about it rst hand. If you are fa­mil­iar with the au­thor al­ready, this ex­pe­ri­ence can change how you in­ter­act with their work for the rest of your life. I saw au­thor Di­nah Je eries speak­ing at Chel­tenham Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val about her rst book

The Sep­a­ra­tion. When­ever I hear of her sub­se­quent nov­els, I have such a clear pic­ture of her talk­ing mov­ingly about her son (who died in an ac­ci­dent aged just 14), and how that in uences her writ­ing.

For women, es­pe­cially, lit­er­a­ture fes­ti­vals are very

easy places to visit solo. “We pride our­selves on mak­ing you feel safe and wel­come,” says Rachel. Sarah-Jane Roberts, co-di­rec­tor of the Manch­ester Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val, ex­plains that the event’s au­di­ence is around 70-75 per­cent fe­male, which she par­tially at­tributes to its “show­cas­ing of ex­cel­lent women writ­ers, po­ets, bi­og­ra­phers and ac­tivists”.

Fes­ti­vals o er so many di er­ent voices in one place in just one week – es­pe­cially women’s voices. At Ilk­ley, Maya An­gelou was so gra­cious and in­cred­i­bly in­spir­ing, telling her au­di­ence, “what lit­er­a­ture en­ables us to do is to un­der­stand each others’ lives”. Names such as Hil­lary Clin­ton cap­ture fes­ti­val head­lines, yet equally, emerg­ing po­ets are there read­ing to their rst au­di­ence.

Chel­tenham is my ‘lo­cal’ lit­er­a­ture fes­ti­val – one of the world’s largest and old­est events of this type. Re­gency build­ings sur­round a large white mar­quee vil­lage and deckchairs sit on the lawns of Mont­pel­lier Gar­dens, most years in au­tum­nal sun­shine. Like a kid in a candy shop, ev­ery year I try some­thing new.

“Names such as Hil­lary Clin­ton cap­ture fes­ti­val head­lines, yet equally, emerg­ing po­ets are there read­ing to

their first au­di­ence.”

Cre­ative work­shops, fes­ti­val vol­un­teer­ing and, at the height of my fes­ti­val brav­ery, tak­ing part in an open mic ses­sion.

A fes­ti­val of­ten gets its char­ac­ter from its lo­ca­tion. In Manch­ester, Sarah-Jane rec­om­mends ex­plor­ing “the wealth of lit­er­ary his­tory and her­itage in the city, as well as bril­liant walk­ing tours fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of El­iz­a­beth Gaskell and Charles Dick­ens”. In the heart of Lon­don, the Lit­er­ary Foot­prints Fes­ti­val from Foot­prints of Lon­don de­scribes it­self as an an­nual “walk­ing book club” ex­plor­ing the lo­ca­tions that in­spired fa­mous ti­tles. It’s on for the whole of Oc­to­ber.

Fes­ti­vals can also step into the nat­u­ral world; Ilk­ley’s vis­i­tors are right in the mid­dle of the York­shire Dales. One au­thor demon­strated wild swim­ming – the sub­ject of his book – in the river Wharfe be­fore dry­ing o and ad­dress­ing his au­di­ence. The Stanza Stones Walk, fea­tur­ing six rocks in­scribed with po­etry by Si­mon Armitage, was a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the fes­ti­val. A short walk from lo­cal land­mark Cow and Calf Rocks takes you to the Beck Stone and its poem. Or, what about books by the beach? The Isle of Wight Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val is an­other au­tumn op­tion. And if it does rain then you’re not stuck out­side in a leaky tent; as Rachel sug­gests: “It’s a lit­er­a­ture fes­ti­val af­ter all – stay in­side with us and a cup of tea!”

If your read­ing life is usu­ally a sat­is­fy­ing yet soli­tary a air, meet­ing au­thors and other book lovers can be an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s al­ways a plea­sure to see peo­ple lis­ten to, then meet one of their favourite au­thors,”

says Sarah-Jane. “Some peo­ple bring gifts, some peo­ple are too over­whelmed to speak and others cry with sheer hap­pi­ness.” I love the wel­com­ing at­mos­phere at the au­thor event and the ‘af­ter-party’: sign­ings, book tents and tea rooms. Read­ing chat of­ten ows eas­ily be­tween strangers. Rachel puts it per­fectly: “You are sur­rounded by books, splen­did peo­ple and piles of cake – what more could you want?”

For the au­thors, too, this so­cial as­pect is a huge part of vis­it­ing these fes­ti­vals; cre­at­ing books, po­etry and drama can be a soli­tary busi­ness. “As an au­thor, I spend a ridicu­lous amount of time alone,” says Emma Ka­vanagh, the suc­cess­ful crime writer. “Fes­ti­vals al­low me a chance to get out of my own head, spend time with my fel­low au­thors (a hugely sup­port­ive group) and to get to meet my read­ers. They’re not only fun, but a great way to re­mind your­self why you do it.”

One of my go-to book rec­om­men­da­tions is

Our End­less Num­bered Days by Claire Fuller. She ad­mits to pre-event nerves, al­though they soon dis­ap­pear. “I’m hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple who love books, and what could be more fun?” she says. “I also love turn­ing the ques­tions back, and when I’m asked some­thing like what my favourite book is, I like to ask the ques­tioner the same ques­tion. It’s a great way of get­ting rec­om­men­da­tions.”

“Emerg­ing from a fes­ti­val with a head of ideas, you may start to think

about your own writ­ing.”

small, ca­sual… at­trac­tive to the novice writer and hob­by­ist. How­ever, there are those who have pub­lished work (ei­ther self-pub­lished or with an ‘indie’ press or a tra­di­tional house) and they en­joy at­tend­ing for the same rea­sons.”

I went to WOTS as my rst writ­ing fes­ti­val, know­ing that most of my ‘writ­ing’ was a pile of pri­vate note­books. I’d never writ­ten ction. I’d never re­ally nished any­thing that could be shared or sent to an edi­tor. So, I chose in­trigu­ingly ti­tled ses­sions such as ‘Pitch­ing for be­gin­ners’ and ‘De­con­struct­ing chil­dren’s pic­ture books’. I felt happy sim­ply sit­ting among the buzz. As the event was in the

USA, I was lis­ten­ing to many new voices, and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a won­der­ful Paci c North­west lo­ca­tion. Re­ally, what could be bet­ter than plan­ning a trip around books and the lo­cals who love them?

A few months af­ter that rst writ­ing week­end, I found a full year’s evening course on fea­ture writ­ing. Within six months, my rst hun­dred words had been pub­lished in a tiny mag­a­zine in Wash­ing­ton State. I still trea­sure my copy of the cheque for $20 I re­ceived in pay­ment. That’s the thing about be­ing in­spired by words, ideas and the peo­ple who cre­ate them, you start to lis­ten to your own story and you never know where it will take you. This two-way con­ver­sa­tion is so much part of the fes­ti­val ex­pe­ri­ence; whether it’s a full theatre or a more in­ti­mate ses­sion, you have the chance to ques­tion, to chal­lenge and to con­trib­ute.

Emerg­ing from a fes­ti­val with a head of ideas, you may start to think about your own writ­ing. So, what about a writ­ing fes­ti­val? These events can be di er­ent to the pick ‘n’ mix book fes­ti­val sched­ule, where you se­lect as much or as lit­tle as you like. At­ten­dance at writ­ing fes­ti­vals tends to be by day ticket or pack­ages for a full week­end with ac­com­mo­da­tion. Pro­grams have key speak­ers and prac­ti­cal work­shops for ev­ery morn­ing and af­ter­noon. Costs can also in­clude short 1:1 ses­sions with an agent, for those who have as­pi­ra­tions to pub­lish their work.

At­tend­ing my rst writ­ing fes­ti­val, I had an at­tack of im­poster syn­drome. To go to a book fes­ti­val, you just need to be ‘a reader’. So to go to a writ­ing fes­ti­val, don’t you have to be ‘a writer’, or have pub­lished some­thing? Not at all, as­sures Lau­rie Rose, or­gan­iser of the Write on the Sound Writ­ers’ Con­fer­ence (WOTS) in Ed­monds, Wash­ing­ton State, USA. “WOTS is

Clock­wise from top: the Hay Fes­ti­val in Wales has been run­ning for 31 years; Suzanne Hin­dle read­ing from punk poet John Cooper Clarke’s work at the Manch­ester Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val; guests en­joy the at­mos­phere at the Chel­tenham fes­ti­val; Maya An­gelou in­spires her au­di­ence at the Ilk­ley event.

Clock­wise your cre­ative from spirit top: free at alit­er­a­ture fes­ti­val; ShamiChakrabarti in con­ver­sa­tionwith Rachel Holmes at theManch­ester event; re­lax­ingwith a good book at Hay.

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