Monday, May 30, 2016

Fair play: can literary festivals pay their way?

With authors demanding payment and overheads tight, organisers are under increasing pressure. What does the future look like?
Illustration by Alex Green at Folio
Illustration by Alex Green at Folio
I think the truth hit last summer, when I was at a festival to interview a group of writers. It was not a literary festival per se, but a combination of music, theatre, comedy and debates, in among which there stood a doughty literature tent, made rustic by the odd hay bale. What one noticed most, though, was the food: an endless vista of eating opportunities, from crepes to dirty burgers to artisanal pizzas to anything but a cheese sandwich.

Mistakenly, given my temperament and my knees, I had opted to camp, albeit in a motor vehicle rather than under canvas. Making my way through the site to literature HQ, I heard a couple of young guys catching sight of a chum. “Hey!” they chirped. “Sweet tent, man! Where’d you get it?” “Harrods,” came the reply.

I will fast-forward you through the rest of the day: the novelists and poets I interviewed were all terrific, and played to a lusty crowd, if smaller than that for the “Gin tasting while playing a ukulele” workshop. Native American headdress count: high. Cost to spend a weekend here: higher. Most surreal moment: spotting John Lanchester wandering through the guy ropes. Departure of your literary correspondent: as soon as possible. Highlight (apart from the writers, of course): the moment when my long-suffering pal and I, having escaped, spotted a municipal leisure centre and flung ourselves sweatily into its pool. That night we pulled up in the chocolate box village of Bourton-on-the-Water, got drunk in a pub and slept in the local car park. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty we were not.  MORE

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