Friday, 11 April 2014

Finchley Literary Festival

What's it like organising a literary festival?

That's what somebody asked me the other day.

It felt quite odd to actually think about it, for so long I have just been doing. The words that come to mind are 'exhausting', 'hard work' and 'exciting'. I'm supposed to be a writer. I have become a festival administrator, a creative director, a social media-person, and general woof woof - just get the bloomin' thing done. 

Up until a couple of years ago, I had no experience of organising festivals and this got me thinking. How on earth had we known what to do? I remember using google a lot and learning from what other people had done as well as attending festivals and pinching ideas. It’s the same as being a writer. Want to write a good book? Then read at least a thousand books before you begin.

Paolo Hewitt at the first festival
The first year was a small affair, a mini literary festival that was held in a church hall. I approached a few writers I had got to know via Facebook and Twitter, both excellent tools for networking. The second year the festival grew and included a Spoken Word event, a sort of organised open mic at the renowned Friern Barnet Community Library, organised by the extremely efficient Allen Ashley.

And this year? The festival has expanded. Did I say expanded? I meant exploded! A week-long festival with loads of writerly events taking place throughout the week. So, what's it like organising a literary festival? It's like, it's like, panic-panic, having a never-ending list of things to do:
  • Raise money (it's so important to have cash and wine - lots of it, to bribe pay the writers)
  • Book events/venue/speakers
  • Set up a Facebook page/Twitter account and remember to use them
  • Email lots of people all the time
  • Set up online ticket booking system (Eventbrite is brill)
  • Design and print pre-printed tickets for people who don't have computers or who don't want to use them
  • Get lovely local people to sponsor you. This year we are very lucky to have Stephen's House & Gardens, Finchley Society, Waitrose via their community matters project, and Squires Estates.
  • Design posters/programme/blog/website
  • Advertise online, offline, in a library, local newspapers, shops etc
  • Publicity stunt? (naked girls covered in books written by the speakers?)
  • Signposting at the venues
  • Write articles/press release like this one about the festival line-up
  • Don't forget the programmes for the chairs (like I did last year)
  • Have a driver handy in case you have to go home for programmes or even vases for the flowers
Finally make sure each event has a liaison person, someone to welcome the speakers and audience, preferably not still in your old clothes with one trouser leg tucked in a sock as I did in the first year.

I've taken the week off work and I'm really looking forward to attending as many of the events as possible. I will be making guest appearances at the anthology launch and Spoken Word event as well as hosting the Main Event on Saturday 31st May 2-5pm at Stephens* House and Gardens, 17 East End Road, N3 3QE. 

There will be guest appearances, talks and workshops from Sarah Holding, Anna Meryt, Gina Blaxill, Lil Chase, Bettina Von Cossel, Liz Goes, Linda Dell, Theresa Musgrove, Matt Baylis, Ruth Cohen, Gillian Stern, Cari Rose, Mary Musker and Greenacre Writers.

The festival could end with a bang or at least fireworks as the panel discusses: When a Man Writes a Woman and When a Woman Writes a Man. We'll be discussing such issues as whether writing in third person opposite sex is really writing in a different gender or is just observation. 

Do join us at this year's 
Finchley Literary Festival it promises to be the best one yet.

If you're organising a festival, let us know via Twitter @finchleylitfest and we'll follow you.

Good Luck!

*Formerly Avenue House


Miriam Halahmy said...

I am full of admiration for all your hard work in establishing this festival on the literary calendar - and of course delighted to be invited!

Rosie Canning said...

Thank you Miriam, we are so pleased that you are involved in this year's festival.