Monday, 24 October 2016

Books, beer, belly laughs and bunk beds. Doing a book festival Cornish style - Liz Kessler

I’ve been to lots of book festivals in my years as an author. Generally speaking, they are absolutely wonderful affairs. But then, as an author, how could a gathering of writers and readers, brought together in a lovely place and surrounded by a passion for books not be a wonderful affair?

However, even in that context, the North Cornwall Book Festival was one of the loveliest events I have attended in years.

This festival began five years ago and is headed up by the rather wonderful Patrick Gale. I’ve never met Patrick before, but had heard of him, both – of course – as an author, and also by virtue of the fact that he is a fellow Cornwall-dweller.

Our first real-life meeting took place on Thursday evening. I was due to meet him and other authors and festival volunteers in a pub. Having managed to accidentally kill my car on the way there, our first meeting took place late in the evening, and halfway through the meal.

I had filled my car with petrol on the way to the festival. Sadly, two minutes after filling it, as I ground to a halt in the middle of a busy road, I remembered it’s a diesel car. After being rescued by guardian angel/AA man Martin, I finally arrived in the pub, two hours late, bedraggled and slightly stressed. Within seconds, I was given a chair, a beer and a menu, and made to feel like one of the family. The whole weekend continued in this way.

Accommodation was…interesting. I wasn’t sure if I felt like I was in a little cabin on the Paddington – Penzance night train, a prison cell or a boarding school dormitory, but it made for the cosiest experience of a book festival I’ve ever had. (Even with the intermittent snoring from a nearby bunk, no names mentioned.) And I have to say, there is no better way to bond with your fellow authors than having breakfast together in your PJs.

My events were on the ‘schools day’. This is where Cornwall schools are invited to bring groups of students in to listen to talks, attend workshops and meet some of their favourite authors. I met some fantastic young people who made me laugh, asked lots of great questions and bought loads of books!

The day ended with a brilliant marquee-filling talk from the wonderful Francesca Simon, and was rounded off with one of the most atmospheric musical performances I’ve ever been to. If you have ever walked through a sky so dark and clear that you can see the milky way spread out across thousands of stars, and crept across a spookily-lit graveyard to watch a Senegalese band performing inside a beautiful church – you’ll know what I mean!

If you like the idea of this, do check out Amadou Diagne and his Group Yakar.

Another high point of my weekend was meeting a novelist and poet who I have admired for many years but have never had the chance to sit down and have a good chinwag with. Scottish Poet Laureate Jackie Kay is as wonderful in real life as she is in the lines of her poetry. Although, word of advice, if she challenges you to a bet - beware. Her bargaining power is irresistible, and you'll probably lose.

All in all, this festival was utterly magical. From the technicians who supported my event perfectly, to the volunteers who took me on an evening excursion to the co-op as we’d run out of beer and an early morning run to the station when I had to leave; from the chef who made amazing meals for us, to the photographer who not only took wonderful photos but promised to spend a day teaching me some camera techniques when I’m next in London (and who took all the pics on this blog) from the beautiful surroundings to the belly laughs that accompanied every bit of it – this festival is a triumph.

Thank you so much Lisa, Patrick and all the team for letting me be part of it. I hope you’ll have me back next year. 

I’ll stock up on ear plugs, beer and diesel, just in case.

Find out more about the North Cornwall Book Festival


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Gill Garratt said...

I loved it too - I only discovered it on the Sunday and really wished I had come for the whole weekend. I was so warmly greeted by all involved and encourage to stay a bit longer for another session with Kathryn Norbury & Jackie Kay - marvellous, unforgettable. next year I will sleep in my campervan & stay over. Thank you to all. Exquisite festival best all year x Gill Garratt Author of Psychology books including one on the Psychology between You and Your Dog : )