Thursday 4 October 2018

New Kid on the Block

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a new children’s literary festival – The Broughton Hall Children’s Literature Festival. It was unlike any festival I’ve appeared at before. 

It was held over two days in seven marquees erected in the grounds of Broughton Hall and there were a number of things that made it different and special.

The main thing was the sense of community that existed around the festival. All of the authors, illustrators, poets and storytellers stayed in or around the Hall itself. Normally we performers only get to pass fleetingly in a green room as we are whisked off to perform, at this festival we ate together in pubs, socialised at each other’s events and even enjoyed a gala dinner together on the Saturday night. It meant we got to reaffirm old friendships and make new ones along the way. 

Names I only knew from jacket sleeves became people to share a beer with and more importantly we got to see each other perform, learning from each other and being inspired by some of the best in the business. The fact that this was a weekend festival meant that most authors were performing twice. As a consequence, after your first event you were hanging around, soaking up the creative atmosphere rather than having dinner with a publisher or PR before being bundled onto a train.

Speaking of which, perhaps it was because the festival was so far from London -  Skipton in Yorkshire – but none of the performers had the usual entourage of PRs and publicists in tow. I know we’re an approachable lot, but there’s something about a professional with a clipboard flanking your shoulder that says ‘keep your distance’ even if you’d love to stop chat.

For me it was refreshing. This can be a lonely business. Normally we only get to meet each other at festivals and on panels and even then it can often be on quite a surface level. Here I got to speak to people I’d admired for some time and it felt like I was part of a community, we were people who valued the same things, had the same professional issues and often fought the same fights!

For that reason it felt like the festival was more than just a chance for us to meet our public. It was a chance for us to meet each other and that doesn't happen often enough. 

Another biggie – and this can’t be over stated – is I also got to sleep in a stately home for three nights. As far as perks go, this was amazing. Broughton Hall is beautiful. It’s used as a film location and it usually costs £32,000 per night to rent the place. To be given the run of it with my fellow authors was wonderful! Sitting drinking whisky in a book lined drawing room chatting the night away while a fire roared in the hearth was something I’ll remember fondly for a long time.

Trevor and the team at Authors Abroad had never run a festival before, and while there are things I am sure they might do differently next time, they were happy to break the rules - perhaps because they didn’t know what the rules were in the first place! And it was great to have those rules broken. It cut through a lot of barriers.

It was refreshing to be at a family festival run by a genuine family -  not just Trevor’s immediate family who literally brewed us tea and made us sandwiches – but the extended family of his friends, helpers and employees. Perhaps it was this that made us individual, ambitious authors feel, for a glorious weekend, like one big happy family too.