Friday, 3 June 2011

Lowdham Book Festival

Regulars here, and anyone who knows Five Leaves will be aware that I jointly organise Lowdham Book Festival in Nottinghamshire, now entering its twelfth year - see - with Jane Streeter from The Bookcase in Lowdham. This year's Festival runs from 14 June - 14 July and includes about 40 events featuring 60 or so writers. This year's stars include John Simpson, Kate Morton and Gervaise Phinn, but they are all sold out already - in Simpson's case that means selling out a 450 seater in one week. We programme late and quickly and, unlike most book festivals, we release the programme about four weeks in advance, finishing the programming sometimes about one day or even on the day the presses roll. Don't think I am kidding. Jane is busy running her bookshop (this year and next also being President of the Booksellers Association) and I'm busy with Five Leaves so it suits our schedules to work that way. Scary though. A couple of years ago, being our tenth year, we had 65 events over ten days and a full programme for children. Boy, that was fun. It really was. One year we postponed printing the programme, feeling we were not there yet, and one week later did the same again. On the absolute last weekend we could possibly have printed and distributed the programme we booked three major acts which were the making of the Festival and people got barely any notice. That year our attendance was the biggest to date.

John Simpson, Kate Morton and Gervaise Phinn are hardly Five Leaves' writers and we do keep a curtain between the press and the Festival to avoid being seen as too self-serving though naturally we use our contacts, as Jane uses hers, and if it feels appropriate we programme Five Leaves' writers about as much as we would similar writers from any local publisher. This year, for example, Mark Patterson gives his first proper talk on Roman Nottinghamshire, John Lucas dusts off his talk on England in the 1950s, Danuta Reah represents the Crime Express lot and some other writers - David Belbin especially - are published by us but are speaking to their work with other publishers. The Festival also provides the venue for the first East Midlands' Book Award which Jane and I (and John Lucas and David Belbin) have set up and act as trustees for, with Ian McMillan chairing the judging panel. The winner gets £1000 and the shortlist has been promoted as widely as we could. We're not the judges though, and no Five Leaves' or Shoestring (run by John Lucas) writers, Bookcase contacts or graduates of the MA in Creative Writing (run until recently by David Belbin) are on the shortlist. Honestly, you ask the judges to act completely independently without fear or favour and then they do! What sort of world are we living in?

If you can only make Lowdham on one day, come on 25th June. We have a huge book fair, an all day cafe, a full children's programme and 16 events for adults. That day, all events are free and a we put up a pile of marquees to host talks and stalls. Traditionally that is mostly one of my programming days so we have talks on the Moomins and philosophy, anarchism for beginners and on Shelley, but this year Jane has sneaked in talks on the footballer Tommy Lawton (he used to run a pub on Main Street) and invited Jasper Fforde whose auntie lives in the village. I'm not complaining. We also have some talks over the festival on music - Rob Young on visionary music, Graham Jones on the last of the record shops and Ian Clayton on "Bringing it all back home". With the local Warthog Promotions we have live music too - Barbara Dickson and The Demon Barber Roadshow. All part of the fun, and while Barbara Dickson has written a book we never worry too much about that, and the Festival has included early music, rock music, classical music and Indian music. Nobody ever asked why Kiki Dee has appeared twice at the Festival, with not a book in sight. What is important to us is that we provide a platform for our local talent as well as provide entertainment or inspiration from "national" figures. And we can be a bit cranky, hence a talk on Buddhist meditation and a Byron bicycle trip. I should point out that Jane booked the former! Our first step into "inner life".


David Belbin said...

One small correction. There are two graduates from NTU's Creative Writing MA on the EMBA shortlist: Maria Allen, whose novel "Before The Earthquake" began as her MA dissertation. I did teach her in my first year there, although that was before I ran the course; and I believe that Mark Goodwin, author of the poetry collection "Shod", is also an MA graduate, from just before my time.

Ross Bradshaw said...

correction accepted