Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Lowdham - a round up

"I love Lowdham, mostly because it is a village festival and isn’t suffocating. There is always something I want to go to, somebody I want to hear... Anyway, who can fault a book festival that one year featured cartoonists Posy Simmons, Steve Bell and the irascible Martin Rowson." This from an interview with the cartoonist "Brick" in LeftLion, online. Brick has spoken at the Festival a few times. Over on www.dumbles.co.uk there's a nice flavour of the Festival as well. There have been many other comments, but I like this website because we've always tried to create a quality book festival, but with the atmosphere of a village fete and that comes across. These days we also have events in other local villages, Caythorpe and Woodborough, but the heart of the Festival (for me) is the "last Saturday" in Lowdham, where we have a complete day of free events, a book fair, a cafe, a children's programme. We joke that my fellow organiser Jane Streeter's job is to bring in some big names over the Festival to make a profit, which I blow on marquees in one day. The biggest name this year was Stella Rimington (stepping in at the last minute for John Simpson - Lowdham must have been too scary for him). Stella is a spy novelist who used to head up MI5. Not so much the spy who came in from the cold as the spy who came in from Nottingham Girls' High School. She was certainly one of the best speakers we've had in our twelve years. There is some irony that the profits from her event, attended by 450 people, enabled us to put on an introduction to anarchism, held in the heartland of rural revolution, the Lowdham WI. Except it is not irony. We love and need "big names" at the Festival but have no time for Festivals that are only that. Equally important to us has been a range of smaller events - this time, for example, we included a talk on Buddhism and a friend of the Festival organised a Byron bike ride. But even small events are not that small - about 50 people came to the intro. to anarchism and a talk on the Moomins and philosophy was packed out. We also do our best to give platforms to East Midlands' writers - this year being particularly pleased that Stephen Edden (AKA Steve Hill) is now the second person in the village to become a professional writer (the other being the children's writer Elizabeth Baguley). The Festival also hosted the first East Midlands Book Award, with two of the Festival team and two others close to the Festival making up the Trustees.

The "last Saturday" started off with four full houses - talks on Roman Nottinghamshire, on England in the 1950s, on Shelley as punk rocker and on letter-writing in Jane Austen's novels. Meanwhile the children's marquee got going, which, later in the day, included appearances by the local Catfoot Theatre and children's writers Tom Palmer and Helena Pielichaty. By four the cafe was down to teabags - it was one of those days. But it was not the real last Saturday and we continued the next day with the Ian McMillan Orchestra in Nottingham (Lowdham Book Festival on Tour) and carry on, in fits and starts, until July 14th. The shape of this year's Festival is like a python that has swallowed a large meal - long and thin with a big bump in the middle.

One minor problem is money. After an exhausting tenth year (65 events in one week, plus a school's programme and a total attendance of about 6,000) the Festival was unable to secure Arts Council funding. We've had to scale back our schools' and outreach programme somewhat but still manage some work in nurseries, schools and care homes - calling in favours or drawing on our resources to pay for this important part of our work.

What does the future hold? Next year we enter our early teenage years. I hope we do more than sit in a corner and grunt or spend all our time staring at our mobiles, waiting from incoming texts. We'd like to revive our former schools' work, work with prisoners and excluded pupils, and we hope to put on the "green weekend" that we've been talking about for a few years but never got round to. All it takes is money and time... time and money. Meantime, there's a Five Leaves backlog to take care of.

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