Tuesday, May 21

How to Organise a Book Festival

Every writer will tell you how there aren’t enough hours in the day, how hard it is to fit in actual writing with editing, proofreading, promotion, publicity. Not to mention maintaining a website, a Facebook page, Pinterest boards, a Twitter feed, a blog. Oh, and there’s the day job. Like the rest of us, author Ebba Brooks faces all those time challenges. But unlike the rest of us, Ebba also has a very large item on her to-do list: ‘Organise & run Prestwich Book Festival.’ 
Ta-dah! Looks easy, doesn't it?

Yes, you read that right: a book festival. This year, Prestwich Book Festival runs from 14 May to the 15 June, with 20 writers fronting 14 events. Happily, I’m one of those authors presenting one of those events. (You can find details here or at the end of this post). I’m attending others as an avid reader and book fan: I love to hear writers discuss their work. Yet as someone who goes to lots of writing-related festivals and conferences, I haven’t the first idea of how to go about organising one. I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to pick Ebba’s brains and see just how it’s done. She’s very kindly taken time out from PBF 2013 to share her wisdom.

Hi Ebba and thanks for stopping by. PBF 2013 kicked off on 14 May and is now in full swing, with some sold-out events. When did you start planning for your May 2013 deadline?

Back in June last year, as soon as the 2012 festival ended, I got a steering group together and we kicked some ideas around which have formed the basis of this year’s programme. But there have been a few twists and turns along the way as funding to support any kind of arts activity isn’t easy to come by. I eventually secured Arts Council Grants for the Arts funding in March this year (for which I am hugely grateful) and that’s when putting the plans into action kicked into gear.

As well as a terrific line-up, you’ve got some noteworthy Patrons for the festival: Howard Jacobson, Sherry Ashworth, and performance poet John Cooper Clarke. How did you persuade them to lend their support? What’s the role of a Patron in a festival?
Howard Jacobson- Winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize & Patron of PBF
A patron is a figurehead for a festival, who gives a certain amount of credibility to it by lending their official support. It’s fantastic to have the seal of approval from the likes of Howard Jacobson, and John Cooper Clarke as well as the tireless Sherry Ashworth who is also on the steering group and has been very actively involved in making the festival happen. None of them took much persuading: the festival sold itself.

Prestwich Book Festival has a great new look this year, made possible by your artist-in-residence is Dave Kirkwood. Dave has also been responsible for an incredible project, 3hundredand65. Can you tell us a bit more about 3hundredand65?
Dave Kirkwood's PBF illustration for Paul Cookson, poet-in-residence at the National Football Museum

Dave is  a very talented artist, marketer and designer: last year he jointly ran the http://www.3hundredand65.co.uk/ project which aimed to create a book in 365 tweets, each one by a different author, but all illustrated by Dave, in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust, from his home in Prestwich. It started small but by the end of the year had attracted some major celebrities to take part: Terry Pratchett, Simon Pegg, Jonathan Ross, Danny Baker, Jennifer Saunders, Minnie Driver, Stephen Fry and many, many more contributed. This year it’s being turned into a graphic novel.

Your strapline for 2013 is: ‘This year, we celebrate food, faith and football.’ What inspired it?

The interests and passions of local people. Pretty much everyone round here has an interest in at least one of these three themes!

Your line-up includes a Booker shortlisted author, a Glastonbury poet, an award winning Guardian journalist and an award winning food critic. How did you approach people in the first instance?
Award-winning Guardian journalist David Conn's latest book.
I asked them very politely, using people with personal connections where they existed.

The thorny question about funding! The website credits Arts Council England, which is really good to see. But applying for grants and funding often turns people off trying to do what you’ve done. What was that process like?

Hard work, and probably the least enjoyable aspect of the whole process. But once you start researching, you realise there are actually quite a lot of funding sources out there, it’s just a matter of tapping into them (which takes a lot of time and effort).

You’ve got a number of excellent venues: Manchester Jewish Museum, The Irish World Heritage Centre, Prestwich library, St Hilda’s church (among others!). All are very different and will have their own atmosphere and potential. How do you decide about venues? Is it a deal breaker if you can’t get a particular venue?
Manchester Jewish Museum
I love venues that add something extra to an event, and when you get the right balance of venue and artist it’s amazing. We’ve got lots of interesting venues right here on our doorstep (the newly refurbished British Legion, for example) and it’s great to encourage people to discover what’s under their noses.

What are your three favourite things about organising a book festival?

1) Bagging a big name. Shallow, yes, but very exciting
2) Knowing, just knowing, that an event is going to be extraordinary
3) Making a contribution to the community: enjoying so many great events on my own doorstep, and knowing that many other people have too

What are your three biggest headaches from organising a book festival?

1) Money: I’m not a natural accountant, but am having to force myself to keep spreadsheets to account for every penny. Yuck.
2) General paranoia: what if no one shows up?
3) Trying to fit it in with family life, my writing and my two other jobs...

If anybody reading this is thinking they’d like to have a go at organising author events or are ambitious enough to go for a whole festival or conference, what’s the one piece of advice you’d like to share?

You need to combine seeing the big picture (ie a vision of what you want to do) with being very detail oriented – because getting the details right is what event organising is all about.
PBF Food Birds!
And your own writing? What’s in the pipeline that you’d like to share?

My ambition for this year is to start submitting short pieces to journals and competitions as my writing has been fallow for much too long. And now I’ve said it in print, I’ve got to do it...

Ebba, many thanks and best of luck for the rest of the festival.
Thank you!

When she's not organising PBF, Ebba Brooks blogs as Jenny Wren & Bella Wilfer. You can find her here.
I too will be appearing at PBF at St Hilda's Church on Tuesday 28 May 2013 to talk about my #1 Amazon Bestseller, The Fifth Knight. I'll be sharing the evening with fellow Historical Fiction author, Deborah Swift. Our evening is titled Knights, nuns and sisters on the run and is a tribute to the late historical fiction author, Beverley Hughesdon.

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