The Making of a Book Festival by Catherine Sandbrook

Article published on August 30, 2016.

“I spent the weekend working as volunteer blogger and tweeter at the small but perfectly formed North Cornwall Book Festival. It’s my first book festival, and if they’re all like this, I want more”. So wrote one of a group of blogger students from the Creative Writing department of Falmouth University who attended the festival last year and discovered for the first time the delights and rewards of meeting and engaging with a whole range of highly acclaimed authors and hearing them talk about their works.

For the small group who make this event happen, nothing is more rewarding than hearing that kind of response. People are cautious about book festivals. Music festivals are part of the establishment – a taken-for-granted strand of the social fabric of contemporary British society: everybody has heard of Glastonbury. Not so the literary festival. Despite the hype given to Hay and a few others, book festivals still have to explain themselves. “What happens there? Is it stalls selling books?” someone asks me when I mention it.

The North Cornwall Book Festival, now in its fourth year, is the brainchild of novelist Patrick Gale. It takes place in the tiny, isolated hamlet of St Endellion just above Port Isaac on the rugged north coast of Cornwall. It is one of a number of initiatives, all linked, to bring inspirational arts experiences to an area which has traditionally been less well served than probably any other part of Cornwall, and where the beauty of the landscape diverts attention from the pockets of real economic hardship that exist here. Our small organising team, all volunteers, starts the process of planning the festival almost as soon as the previous one is over, with the programming largely put in place by the Spring and the meticulous financial, operational and marketing strategies kicking in from then onwards. The team members each have their own strengths and specialist areas, and we work cooperatively and democratically, with, amazingly, almost no tensions or fallings-out.

One of the unique features of the festival is its schools’ day, when we host around 300 young people, brought in small groups from local primary and county-wide secondary schools. Often it is the less keen ones – boys and reluctant readers for example, who are given the opportunity to meet and be entertained by some of the country’s best-loved authors of children’s and young adult fiction. If the experience turns just one of these young people into a lifelong booklover, then a good job has been done. And their parents get to hear about it, are curious, and often end up coming along to the main two-day festival which follows. Our job is to make the event as attractive and inclusive as we possibly can, so that it is not viewed as some elitist festival, but as an annual high point as popular and well-known as some of the other music and food festivals that feature in the Cornish calendar.

For more info and who’s appearing ncornbookfest.org

 

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