Tag Archives: writers festival

A Bookish Christmas: The Hay Festival Winter Weekend 2016

Have you ever wanted to go to a place where everything revolves around books, where you can spend a whole weekend browsing tons of second-hand bookshops all without leaving the little town you’re staying in? Then the world’s first ‘book town’, Hay-on-Wye is definitely for you! Since Richard Booth (bookshop pictured below) opened his first bookshop in the little Welsh town near Hereford in the 1960s many other towns from all around the world have followed his example and joined the International Organisation of Book Towns.

hay-richard-booths-bookshop

I had been to the ‘big’ book festival in the summer of 2009 once before the year I started the blog and had had an absolutely fabulous time, but had never made it to the winter edition until this year. It was exactly what I needed a month before Christmas: a few days away from it all in a cosy B&B surrounded by books, taking in the beautiful scenery, munching mince pies and sipping mulled wine like it was an Olympic sport AND a book festival on top of all that – genius!

I had arrived in Hay on Friday night just in time for the big Christmas light switch-on with Ben Fogle in the centre of town. There was a little Christmas market in a sizeable tent by the Cheese Market and it was the first time this year I really felt like Christmas isn’t all that far off now. A little later that evening a lot of us gathered for music of a very different kind, the Ben Baddoo Afrobeat Band. It took place in the Castle, which is about to get an exciting makeover (more details below), one large room of which was nicely decorated with holly twigs, a real Christmas tree and a roaring fire in the corner. After a few minutes, the West African beats had everyone shedding their coats and dancing as if we were partying in much more sunny climes.

hay-street-2016

Saturday morning started out well with an intriguing talk by Gruffyd Aled Williams about the significance of Owain Glyndwr in Welsh history followed by braving the pretty chilly temperatures on an equally fascinating guided tour of the now obsolete Hay Railway, which was in fact a narrow gauge horse-drawn tramway and was in operation from 1864 to 1962. After having checked out the pop-up stalls of the food festival and warmed up with some spiced apple cake and latte at the Old Stables Tea Rooms in the centre of Hay, it was time for another event, this time in St. Mary’s church. Ben Rawlence talked about his book ‘City of Thorns’, which describes life in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya and we also heard from Yohannes who made it to the UK from Ethiopia via the Libyan desert and Calais. Lots of food for thought about what home means to all of us, especially at this time of the year.

I ended the evening with a lovely carol singalong in Hay Castle with more mulled wine, homemade mince pies and in good company. It was strange being in a small community such as Hay where nearly everyone knows each other and it felt at times almost like gate-crashing some sort of private celebration. I did meet a few others though who had come from further afield, such as London, like myself, Manchester and even Belgium to attend the festival. We all agreed we wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else that weekend.

hay-bookbox

My Sunday began with an absolutely fabulous tour of Hay Castle (read up on its history and planned restoration on the Hay Castle Trust website) led by Mari Fforde. I’ve always loved how old houses preserve so much history over the centuries and was glad to see how passionate the local committee is about keeping their local history alive. It was a really dark, cold day, but thankfully the town centre was lit up by many beautiful lights, all the shop windows were lovingly decorated, there was a vintage festival on in town and many mugs of hot beverages waiting to be consumed by thirsty festival goers.

After finally having had enough time to do a really good bookshop crawl (yessss!), I attended my last talk of the weekend, ‘Browse: The World in Bookshops’, with the book’s editor Henry Hitchings who was interviewed by Hay Festival director Peter Florence (see picture below) in the Swan hotel, which was also the official festival HQ. The festival closing event at the Castle was another concert, this time with Australian born, Bristol based singer-songwriter Nuala Honan. Of course, there was more mulled wine and more lively conversation until it was time for the short walk back to my B&B and, alas, bye bye to Hay-on-Wye the following morning.

hay-henry-hitchings-talk

Judging by the many sold out events of the weekend, the smaller, more intimate sister of the bigger Hay Festival is definitely a successful addition to the already existing roster of literary events in Hay. For me, it was the perfect booklovers weekend getaway and now I’m looking forward to Christmas even more!

Hay also has a vibrant social media presence, if you’re into that kind of thing. Do check out the below twitter accounts for updates on events, foodie delights and more if you’re planning a visit: @hayfestival @HayHOWLs (to stop the closure of their local library!) @chefonrun @BoothsBookshop @childrnsbkshop @haycastle @HayMarketsLtd @4bruce7 @alanababycorner @marifromvalley @thestoryofbooks @haydoesvintage @broomfieldhse @haycheesemarket @Chris_the_Book @globeathay @Oxfam_at_Hay @thefudgeshop @OtherworldzHay @thefudgeshop and many more.

hay-on-wye-bookshop

 

A Bookish Weekend Up North: The Manchester Literature Festival 2016

manchester-literature-festival-2016-logoI really love discovering a city through its cultural venues and this October I spent a weekend in Manchester to attend a few of the Manchester Literature Festival events. Running from 7 to 23 October 2016 and in its 11th year, the city-wide festival offered over 80 readings and talks for book lovers. I managed to catch these great events:

An Evening with Jackie Kay Manchester-based writer Jackie Kay, is always a pleasure to listen to. The event at Halle St Peter’s was chaired by Rachel Cooke, who guided the conversation from Jackie’s childhood with her adoptive parents in Glasgow, to her early years as a young poet up to the present time becoming Scotland’s ‘makar’ (poet laureate) in March 2016 and planning a new project based on visiting all the Scottish islands (sounds fascinating!). There is always such an interesting contrast between Jackie’s bubbly, outgoing personality and her thoughtful, melodic poetry, often dealing with some serious subject matter. I was glad I picked up her memoir Red Dust Road, which chronicles the search for her birth parents in Scotland and Nigeria, after the reading. While the book is partly incredibly sad, it is a fascinating, multi-layered read, which is also extremely funny and honest.

Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi This event was held at the Central Library and featured one of Sudan’s best known poets who has been based in the UK since 2012. After a bilingual reading of his poetry in Arabic and English, the writer was interviewed by author Travis Elborough. I’m always interested to learn about cultures I don’t know much about and languages I don’t speak. As a translator, this often reminds me of the language barriers that need to be overcome in order for different cultures to understand each other and poetry is definitely one of the most beautiful ways to accomplish this.

ann-cleeves-event-manchester

Shetland with Ann Cleeves When I was visiting Glasgow for Celtic Connections last January someone recommended the TV series Shetland to me. Having never been a fan of crime dramas or novels, I reluctantly gave it a go, but was quickly hooked by it, like so many of us have been. So of course I jumped at the chance to see the author of the Shetland series, Ann Cleeves, in conversation with lead scriptwriter Gaby Chiappe and actor Alison O’Donnell, who plays Tosh in the series. The event (see image above) chaired by broadcaster Erica Wagner provided a fascinating insight into the writing and adaptation process and it was lovely to see how well the collaboration seems to have worked in this case.

As it was my first visit to Manchester I also tried to get a good bit of – mostly literary – sightseeing in over the weekend. Here are some of my highlights:

chethams-library-manchester-1

Literature-related museums and places: The John Rylands Library is part of the University of Manchester and the historic building dates back to 1824. I was even more impressed with a tour of Chetham’s Library (pictured above) the oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdom, which, together with the renowned school of music, was established as early as 1653. Not specifically literature-related, but well worth a visit is The People’s History Museum. It has some fascinating exhibits and brings the history of working people in Britain to life, right up to the present day. Second hand and comic bookshop Paramount Books, near the Shudehill bus station is a great place for stocking up on reading material about the city and further afield.

nexus-art-cafe-manchester

Cosy cafes & pubs (with lots of veggie options): I ate at quite a few places during the weekend, which included The Earth Café (great veggie curry and desserts) in the basement of the Manchester Buddhist Centre. Another favourite was the fairly well hidden Nexus Art Café (cakes, coffee, snacks, see their courtyard above) as well as Common (extremely yummy veggie chili cheese fries). For a coffee or tea break you can’t go wrong with a visit to North Tea Power or Home Sweet Home. On Sunday night I headed to Odd Bar for a few drinks and some (by chance excellent) live Americana with The Wicked Path. I didn’t have enough time to make it to HOME and The Deaf Institute (they apparently do a great vegan hangover all day brunch on Sundays) this time, but did take a look at The Pilcrow Pub (see below), one of Manchester’s newest community ventures, which was largely built by volunteers (how cool is that?!).

pilcrow-pub-manchester

Making World Literature Your Oyster: The Daunt Books Festival 2015

The good thing about living in London is that hardly a week goes by without a writers festival happening somewhere around the city. Not all of them take place in such a wonderful bookshop and are as lovingly curated as the Daunt Books Festival in Marylebone, however.

Daunt window

For the second festival on 19-20 March 2015, bookseller and organiser Emily Rhodes put together an enticing programme of talks and discussions for all ages. I would have loved to be at all the events (smaller scale festivals with only one event at a time are great as no clashes), but sadly work commitments got in the way.

Anthea Bell

The talks I did catch were excellent though. On Thursday I was lucky to be at a conversation between former children’s laureate, novelist and poet Michael Rosen and one of the top literary translators in this country, Anthea Bell (mainly from German and French), chaired by Julia Eccleshare.

The topic was loosely based around fascinating German author Erich Kästner’s work, but also covered various other childhood favourites in translation. You can listen to a podcast of Rosen visiting the Berlin of „Emil and the Detectives“, a Kästner classic originally published in 1929, which was also recently made into a successful Westend production, here. Even just looking at the different covers from various past English editions of the popular children’s book translated from German was fascinating. So was the discussion on the German and English film adaptions of the book. Compared to existing children’s literature of the time, it was a groundbreaking novel and the only one of Kästner’s pre-1945 works to escape Nazi censorship.

Daunt Books Marylebone

On Friday I started my book festival day with some delicious spiced hot chocolate from Roccoco chocolates before the first author event of the day: In Praise of Short Stories. I love short stories and far from being in any way inferior to the novel as a literary genre, they have their own appeal. There are even specific short story festivals, such as the London Short Story Festival or the Cork Short Story Festival in Ireland.

Today’s first panel was chaired by Laura Macaulay, publisher and bookseller at Daunt, and consisted of writers Tessa Hadley, Colin Barrett and Julianne Pachico. Listening to excerpts from stories by each of the panelists and the discussion that followed we were reminded what makes short stories so unique: they are unpredictable, irresistible glimpses into fictional worlds and can be a very rewarding reading experience if we are willing to give them a try. A short story, as writer AL Kennedy puts it in an article, “can offer the artistry and intensity of a poem, the themes and weight of a novel and all in a space so small that there is nowhere to hide a single error.”

My third and last event of the festival was Russians in Paris, about émigré Russian writers of the 1920s and their influence on Russian and foreign literature. Translator and editor Bryan Karetnyk, author Peter Pomerantsev and literary critic and writer Nicholas Lezard discussed Russian literature past and present, the relevance of Paris as a base for so many writers in the 1920s (including the fact that most Russian émigré writers had excellent French) as well as the freedom which a move to another city and country can bring to one’s work. I had never read any books by Gazdanov or Teffi before, the talk definitely piqued my interest in Russian writing, however.

book table

Luckily, there are UK publishers who specifically focus on the world’s literature in translation. These include And Other Stories, Pushkin Press and Peirene Press and Daunt stocks quite a few of them.

If you have caught the translated literature bug and are keen to read more books from cultures around the world in translation, you can take a look at @TranslatedWorld as well as hashtags #TranslatedWorld and #NameTheTranslator on Twitter for excellent suggestions. There is also a useful calendar of literature translation related events (mainly in the UK).

Thanks to Emily for being so welcoming and for answering all my questions on festival programming, preparations and her other bookish adventures. You can read my interview with her here and are welcome to join her monthly Walking Book Club in London.

Meet the Festival Makers: Emily Rhodes of Daunt Books Festival

Festivals are all about people and creativity. In a new series of interviews we ask some of our favourite “makers” to tell us a little more about their creative projects, inspirations and passions. First up is Emily Rhodes, director of the Daunt Books Festival.

Emily Rhodes walking book club

Life is a Festival: It’s the second year of the Daunt Book Festival and after a successful first year the line-up for 2015 looks very promising again. How did the festival come about in the first place and how did you get involved personally?

Emily: Thanks! I’ve been bookselling at Daunt for a few years and love the lively atmosphere of our literary talks … so I thought why don’t we have a whole festival? It would be so much fun! Everyone seemed keen on the idea, so then it was just a case of making it happen.

Life is a Festival: There is a lot of work which goes on “behind the scenes” to make a festival happen. Who else is involved and how long do the preparations take?

Emily: We couldn’t do it without the wonderful support and encouragement of so many publishers and authors – if everyone I asked  to take part said ‘no thanks’ then we wouldn’t have much of a festival. The Howard de Walden Estate were also behind it from the start and great at putting me in touch with people and helping to make it so Maryleboney. I began thinking about the line up in August-September, but even before that were the beautiful limited edition bags to sort out with Re-Wrap and the brilliant designer Will Grill, who came up with this year’s fun, playful design.

Life is a Festival: How do you go about choosing authors for the festival programme and matching the right writers and interviewers to get a good discussion going?

Emily: It’s a bit like planning a party – I think of all the authors and critics  I would like to see (and who I think our customers would like), think about what they might have in common, and match them up. I also look at what new books are coming out and see if I can draw out any common themes for discussion. It’s always fun when you get authors embarking on a larger conversation about what they’re passionate about rather than just summarising their books, so the chemistry between speakers is vital.

Life is a Festival: Are there any personal favourites you are especially looking forward to this year or are particularly excited to have secured for the 2015 line-up?

Emily: Ummm… all of it! I’m especially thrilled to have got Michael Palin on board. He is in such demand, so it was lovely to think that the shop meant enough to him to get a yes. I am also very excited about the opening ‘choosing your heroines’ event with Samantha Ellis, Anne Sebba and Alex Clark  – a great chance to think about some inspiring women; oh and Owen Jones and The Nature Cure … there’s lots and lots to look forward to.

Life is a Festival: Finally, you run a very popular “walking book club”, tell us a little more about this unique project and your book blog EmilyBooks.

Emily: I love walking and I love reading; working in the Daunt’s right by Hampstead Heath, I realised rather a lot of our customers felt the same, so I thought why don’t we go for a walk on the Heath and talk about books? So we did. It’s really taken off, I think because it’s so much easier to talk when walking side-by-side with everyone, looking at such amazing views and getting all that fresh air, and it means that nobody can dominate the discussion as there are so many conversations going on at once. I love it! It’s also a good chance to highlight some older books – many of which risk falling of the reading radar, slightly correcting the usual reading/bookselling focus of sticking to those which are newly published. And I started my blog because I wanted to give myself the space to think about everything I read – like a reading diary. Then it was a very pleasant surprise to find that other people read it, and to build up some connections with like-minded bloggers.

Thanks very much to Emily Rhodes for the interview and check out Daunts Book Festival, which takes place in London 19-20 March 2015.

Daunt Festival 2015 pic

Truth or Dare: Vancouver Writers Festival 2014

When I left Vancouver in 2011 after a blissful few festival months in this intriguing Canadian city, I always hoped I would be back sometime for the Vancouver Writers Festival. This year I did it! It was another excellent festival year with exciting authors from Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, Ireland and a few other countries. I was on the “Walk a Writer” team, which was a great experience. One or two of us would meet with the authors and moderator of a particular event at the hotel, take them over to their venue, help out with book signings and then help them find their way back if required.
Authors at VIWF 2014
My first event was already a real highlight. The topic was “Writing back to the Self” and the pieces read by each of the writers as well as the discussion led by moderator Andreas Schroeder were fascinating and moving. Do look all of them up, each of the books sounded truly fabulous: Eve Joseph, Alison Pick, Kathleen Winter and Michael Pond.
The following day I got to meet two of my favourite historical fiction authors, Sarah Waters and Emma Donoghue. It was also good to hear that Irish director Lenny Abrahamson is currently filming “Room” (based on Emma’s previous novel) in Toronto and will be working on a film adaptation of Sarah’s “Little Stranger” next. The group of writers I looked after later was equally fascinating. Christos Tsiolkas, Dionne Brand, Thomas King and Lee Maracle discussed cultural belonging or a lack thereof and its implications.
Granville Island Harbour
On the last festival day I worked on one more event, “The Life and Times” with  Emma DonoghueDavid Homel and Jane Smiley. It was another intriguing session, this time revolving around the intersection of history and fiction. After a scrumptious lunch at the Granville island market, I went to one more event, “The Tie That Binds” in the Improv Theatre. Writers Angie Abdou, Nancy Lee, Richard Wagemese and Rudy Wiebe each read excerpts from their latest work, which all centred around more or less tricky family relationships.
To describe my festival experience as mind-blowing might seem a bit far-fetched, but thanks to the clever questions of the moderators and the willingness of pretty much all the festival guests to share some very personal thoughts and stories, it did leave me extremely impressed; most of all by the amazing resilience of human beings and the ability of the festival writers to capture the many facets of the human experience in such a captivating way. You could do much worse than picking up any book by any of the above authors.

City of Literature: A Magical Weekend At The Edinburgh International Book Festival

When I was a little girl…
…my father used to bring home children’s books from the local library for my sister and me. Part of our family reading ritual was to light a special candle, which was the shape of a walnut but had the size of a grapefruit, to create the right atmosphere for the stories to unfold. We’d huddle up on the sofa together and the fairies and little princesses, the circus elephants and magicians would all come alive in our imagination.
Flower City View
Maybe it’s due to these happy memories…
…that I’ve always loved stories and listening to someone read them to me. Having been lucky to find a cheap flight to Edinburgh during the August festival season I had been planning to do some general sightseeing (it was my first visit), check out some of the theatre shows and drop by the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Those of you who know me can probably already guess what actually happened. I really did have the best intentions of doing the ‘normal tourist thing’ (=castle visit, JK Rowling cafe, museums, souvenir shops), but my feet just kept dragging me back to Charlotte Square, where – you guessed it – the book festival headquarters were located.
Entrance
Despite the terrible weather forecast…
…I woke up to lovely rays of sunshine on the Saturday having arrived late the night before. On the way into town I asked a guy with a dog for directions and we chatted a bit along the way. It turned out that he was a volunteer at The Forest Cafe (similar to Seomra Spraoi in Dublin), which is entirely run by volunteers, I like it.
Anyway, back to the books….
…The moment I walked through the book festival entrance I felt at home. I sighed, I smiled, I said ‘yeah’ to no one in particular. Happiness is a meadow full of tents with lots of chairs inside them and people talking and talking and laughing and telling secrets (if you’re lucky). In the middle of all the tents were lots of tables and more chairs and people contentedly sipping coffees, reading the paper and children playing on the grass. There was also a fabulous spiegeltent, a general and a children’s bookshop and two coffee bars (who made pretty good mocha even though wasn’t officially on the menu).
Crowd in Garden
The first talk I attended was…
…by Pico Iyer, an experienced travel writer whose personality I liked straight away and whose newest book ‘The Open Road – The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’ seemed intriguing. He’d first heard of the Dalai Lama as a three year old and has had a personal connection with him since his childhood. I can’t wait to read his impression of the person behind the public image of the Dalai Lama (who’s also on Twitter by the way). You could tell from the way Pico talked that he had been hugely influenced by him (and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he has also interviewed and written about Leonard Cohen, there you go).
Pico Iyer Signing
After this perfect start to my festival weekend…
…I reluctantly headed into town to see at least a bit of it and to get some lunch. It must be the year of ‘reunions with people I met in New Zealand’ as I ran into yet another person I’d got to know during my big trip in 2006/07. She was incredibly surprised when she saw me, I just smiled to myself and thought I wonder who of my former travel companions I’m gonna meet next and where. Life is funny.
Colm Toibin
There are a massive 700 events…
…on offer during the book festival, but the reading tents were much smaller than those at the Hay Festival. It made the whole atmosphere somehow really personal and everyone seemed very excited about being here. On top of that, the staff and volunteers were all friendly, helpful and efficient – how refreshing. During the weekend I met book festival visitors from all over the place, a family from Galway, a poet from the Southwest of England, an Italian writer, a publisher from Cork and a group of local Scots who flock to the festival almost religiously every summer. That’s the type of organic community that just puts a smile on your face which stays with you long after the events are over.
Henning Mankell
I also volunteered at…
…two of the Imprisoned Writers Series readings run by Amnesty Scotland. We helped set up the posters and information materials and collected signatures for one of their current projects (more here). Every day of the festival the focus of the talk was on a different country or region in the world. Well-known writers such as Henning Mankell and Anne Fine volunteered their time to read extracts from work by writers who are currently imprisoned or got murdered because of their human rights work. The extracts included writing from Russia, China, Cuba, Peru and many other countries. The talks were very moving and made me and everyone else really appreciate what a privilege free speech is when many among us are not able to speak or write freely about the things they care about.
The Swamp
Needless to say that…
…after my first day at the festival (my ‘bedtime story’ was a reading by Valerie Martin) I was already totally hooked and couldn’t wait to return the next morning. It was a very rainy day on Sunday and after a shortish walk around town and a mocha at Chocolate Soup (great coffee but the manager could have really done with some of Pico Iyer’s insight into Buddhist wisdom) to warm myself up I gave into temptation and hurried back to Charlotte Square for some more readings. I booked a ticket for the talk by Abdel Bari Atwan and Ghada Karmi, two Palestinian writers based in the UK. This was followed by a poetry reading by Sharon Olds. She started off with a humorous poem called Diagnosis which I hugely enjoyed and the rest of the reading turned out to be equally fascinating.
Sharon Olds
My last day in Edinburgh…
…couldn’t have started any more perfectly. The Wake Up To Words poetry reading in the Spiegeltent for breakfast with coffee and pastries was an absolute joy. Gillian Clarke (Wales), Lorna Crozier (Canada) and Emma Jones (Australia) all did a brilliant job at easing us into another day of literature and sunshine. Having secured a very last minute ticket to the Jackie Kay reading, I didn’t get disappointed. In fact the whole audience seemed to have been made up of her greatest fans. I kid you not when I’m telling you that I’ve never been to a poetry event before with an atmosphere this close to a gig at a rock festival. Luckily it got taped and you can listen to Jackie read here.
Jackie Kay
There were loads of schoolkids…
…at the festival today. Judging by how many adult visitors were browsing the shelves of the children’s book shop it was not only the little ones, however, who got very excited about the dizzying choice of colourful covers smiling back at them. I wasn’t an exception. My absolute favourite was a book called ‘Harris Finds His Feet’ about a rabbit with very big feet, naturally. The drawings are just gorgeous. Its illustrator and author, Scottish artist Catherine Rayner is the ‘illustrator in residence’ at the festival. Which goes to show that a book festival is not just about intelligent and moving words on paper, but above all about imagination, creativity, inspiration and fun. All of which could be found at the Edinburgh Book Festival in spades, so I can highly recommend a visit next year.
Author List
Favourite moments in Edinburgh 🙂
*watching a little girl dancing around in the spiegeltent with her father’s tie tied around her waist
*escaping from the reading tent after I sat for a whole hour beside an elderly gentleman who kept falling asleep on my shoulder (even the people sitting behind me felt sorry for me)
*remembering how lucky we are not to have to be afraid of getting imprisoned or killed because of the things we say or write
*enjoying a mocha and muffin in the sun browsing through my fabulous festival finds
*my chance meeting with a Scottish backpacker in Boots on Princes Street who I first got to know in New Zealand
*having a chat and sharing a smile with friendly strangers in the queues
*finding a shortcut around the square without sinking into the mud of ‘the swamp’ at the far end of it
*discovering a whole lot of exciting new authors from different continents
Street in Westend
Some more booktastic links to click on:
Westport ‘Fringe’ Book Festival – ran during part of the Book Festival, great idea
Stanza Scotland’s International Poetry Festival – director was chairing a poetry reading, hm, think I want to go
City of Literature Free Walking Trail – unfortunately no time for that this time around but great website
Scottish Book Trust: Books Change Lives – the books that changed someone’s life
Edinburgh Westend Art, Craft And Design Fair – found some great artsy stuff here including these cute canvas prints by graphic designer Kate George
And for a nice tea and cake break Eteaket on Frederick Street (not too far from Charlotte Square) is just perfect
If you’ve read this far you deserve a special treat, a poem called ‘Inside the Yurt’ especially written by Carol Ann Duffy for the outgoing festival director Catherine Lockerbie, enjoy!