Monday, 9 November 2009

StarLit! - Catherine Johnson

Amanda Craig, writing in her own blog bought up the subject of literary festivals. I wanted to talk about a brand new one piloted in October in my own London Borough of Hackney. The festival, StarLit, was organised by two enthusiasts of modern children's books, Jo Di Guia of Victoria Park Books and Dylan Calder for the Shoreditch Trust. They handpicked books and authors they knew would work for their audiences of inner city readers, and invited authors and illustrators, including Geraldine McCaughrean, Michael Rosen, David Lucas and Elizabeth Laird.
Tents were pitched in leafy Hoxton Square, four event tents and one bookshop, a sort of mini Edinburgh.
Book sales in inner city schools are not usually anything to write home about, and Dylan and Jo wanted to make sure that StarLit wasn't an hour with an author and a packed lunch, so they secured sponsorship with a city firm, Linklaters, who paid for every child to attend to buy a book of their choice. Elizabeth Laird, said to me that she had never sold so many hardbacks (it was her excellent new novel The Witching Hour) in one go.
It wasn't all about the newest titles either, some authors were asked to discuss old favourites with reading groups. The audiences I saw had all - at least - read the book I was talking about, some had dramastised bits, or painted pictures.
Alongside the festival there was a whole heap of research, too, about reading habits and books which will be made available soon. The most wonderful statistic was that of the children polled, three quarters primarily read 'because they liked stories'. Well, who'd a thunk it?
StaLit went down well, although a few of the evening events did have to be cancelled at short notice rather than go ahead with titchy audiences. But this was a pilot, and I know the organisers will do even better next year.
So if you are lucky enough to get an invite to StarLit for next October, go!


Damian Harvey said...

I spent a day at StarLit and had a really good couple of sessions. I wasn't sure what to expect but the whole thing went very well. It was great that all the children were able to choose a book to take with them too so I had a very satisfying signing session. Great to hear you enjoyed it too.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Damian!
Sorry to have missed you, it was great for me as it was just round the corner too, sorry I didn't see you, cx