This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Have you ever wondered what goes into the planning of a literary festival? Today, Artistic Director for The Independent Bath Literature Festival, Viv Groskop, gives us a rare, behind the scenes glimpse of one of the biggest arts events of the year.
By Viv Groskop
This time last year I found out I was going to be the next Artistic Director of one of the UK’s biggest arts festivals, the Independent Bath Literature Festival. 10 days, 180 authors, 20,000 tickets. I took over from author and documentary-maker James Runcie, who had spent the previous four years expanding the Festival, culminating in star appearances from Hilary Mantel and JK Rowling in 2013. Hmm. Follow that.
One year on and the Festival is imminent (28 Feb to 9 March) with Germaine Greer, Jennifer Saunders, Alain de Botton, Henry Blofeld, Hanif Kureishi, Lionel Shriver, AL Kennedy, Joanna Trollope, Everything but the Girl’s Ben Watt, Jonathan Dimbleby, Jon Snow, Gavin Esler, Rowan Williams, Mark Watson, Jo Caulfield, Lucy Porter, Val McDermid, Mark Hix and over 150 other names. So how did that happen?TWELVE MONTHS TO GO
Before the 2013 Festival is over I start sounding out potential contributors for 2014. Where I can, I go to people direct. But a lot of the arranging is done through publicists, editors and agents. My contract is to work one day a week on the Festival from London (where I live – although I grew up in Somerset, near Bath). But I’m finding that I think about speakers, chair people and event ideas not one day but seven days a week.
I want to be able to do occasional events outside of the annual festival so I sign up Oprah Winfrey’s favourite memoir writer Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild (which ends up being one of Barack Obama’s books of the year), on a rare UK visit, for an event at Babington House, Soho House’s Somerset outpost. Apart from me getting extremely lost whilst driving Cheryl to the event, it’s a great success. Note to self: outsource all future transportation of authors.
NINE MONTHS TO GO
BBC Radio 4‘s Any Questions signs up to broadcast live from the Festival on our launch day on Friday February 28. Judith Robinson (formerly of Cheltenham Festivals and the British Council) steps in as our new Literature Producer. She begins the extensive tour of publishers’ offices to talk 2014 books. I worry about sending her mad with my habit of sending 49,385 emails a day.
Germaine Greer and Hanif Kureishi are early favourites for the programme, with new books out in January. I’m thrilled to discover Amy Chua ("Tiger Mother") has written a controversial new study of the effect of cultural background on success (The Triple Package), a collaboration with her Yale professor husband Jed Rubenfeld. It’s out in February and Bath will be their only UK Festival appearance. Result.
After a particularly good night’s sleep staying with friends in Bath, the idea of “bliss” pops into my head and I can suddenly imagine a group of writers and thinkers giving “Bliss Lectures” on the one subject they’re most passionate about. Over the next few weeks this morphs into a “Bliss is…” series: philosopher Julian Baggini on eating; novelist Philip Hensher on Wagner; nature writer Patrick Barkham on badgers; poet Frieda Hughes on knowing yourself; writer Olivia Laing on drinking; former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on Tolstoy; The Independent's gardening legend Anna Pavord on the humble pear and Joanna Trollope and Val McDermid giving twin lectures on “Bliss Is…. Austen.”
SIX MONTHS TO GO
Other new names are appearing all the time: Kirsty Lang, Kirsty Wark (who has a new novel coming in March), Mark Lawson for his novel The Deaths, Jo Baker, Tom Rob Smith, Jonathan Aitken, Josh Cohen, Steve Richards, Charlotte Higgins, Elizabeth Day, Rachel Joyce, Bel Mooney, Gyles Brandreth…
Three great interactive opportunities have emerged, events where the audience really gets a chance to participate. Books for Breakfast, hosted by Bookomi’s Richard Kilgarriff, with Gavin Esler (on leadership) and Mrs Moneypenny (on how to get ahead at work). Short Stories Aloud with Jonathan Grimwood and Sam Baker, and Firestation Book Swap for Children (featuring Andy Stanton) and for Adults (with Natalie Haynes and Stephanie Merritt). Plus, Judith has put together an irresistible line-up of workshops on memoir, short stories, screenplay writing, self-publishing, homecrafts and gardening.
In the end it’s not my emails that drive Judith mad. It’s me saying, “Oh my God, we’ve got Claudia Roden? That’s amazing!” every time I look at the schedule. “Viv, you always say this. We’ve had her for ages.”
THREE MONTHS TO GO
The names are locked down. A final few sneak in under the wire: Gary Shteyngart (my favourite New York Russian writer whose YouTube promo for his new book Little Failure has to be seen to be believed – it stars Jonathan Franzen); “undercover economist” Tim Harford; king of foodies Matthew Fort; BBC 2’s Count Arthur Strong; a fabulous event about Virginia Woolf's garden on the 85th anniversary of A Room of One's Own. There’s a mad flurry of activity as the programme brochure goes to press, complete with “blissful” pink candyfloss cover, masterminded by our tireless new Marketing Manager (and recipient of 84,483 emails from me), Liz Eyles.
ONE MONTH TO GO
By our official launch in late January there’s a queue outside the box office and a waiting list for Austentatious, Germaine Greer and Rowan Williams. Nigella Lawson tweets about Claudia Roden’s event. Red magazine announces three festival events: a literary cocktail party, a workshop on How to Get Published and an alpha female debate, chaired by Kirsty Wark: A Woman's Place Is…? with Whistles CEO Jane Shepherdson, Red editor Sarah Bailey and Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman. There’s a huge buzz about the “News is ruining our lives” face-off between philosopher Alain de Botton and Channel 4‘s Jon Snow in the Forum on Saturday March 1.
Good news? Dame Harriet Walter signs up as narrator for our play, directed by Marilyn Imrie, Hanged for Love. Bad news? Patricia Hodge has to cancel as her book has been delayed. The event I am most likely to forget to go to? The solo show of my own book I Laughed, I Cried, at Komedia on Friday March 7. Somebody remind me?
For full programme and tickets for the Independent Bath Literature Festival (28 Feb to 9 March), go to www.bathfestivals.org.uk or call 01225 463362 to book.