I am fortunate enough to live in the 5th largest city in the uk, and yet despite that we don’t have a decent book festival, Now before I go any other further I feel I should establish my credentials to rant about this, I am a massive book fan, I read between 200 and 300 books a year and love going to see authors at book festivals and conventions. I also have spent the last 11 years or so working at scifi, comic and manga conventions so I’m fortunate enough to have seen these events as an attendee and a worker and I know what works and what doesn’t.
Leeds and Yorkshire have a proud and awesome literary heritage, the area of Leeds I live in spawned both Alan Bennett and Barbara Taylor Bradford. However this year as in many of the others we once again fail to put on anything worth attending. Now I have been criticised for this opinion and told that the Leeds book festival is Fringey and just in need of support, I however think it lacks serious ambition.
This years festival can boast the likes of Daniel Ingram Brown (have you ever heard of him), a so called “children’s author” with one mediocre at best book. Cleckheaton literature festival on the other hand (I don’t know where cleckheaton is either) boasts Leigh Russell amongst its attendees (still not a massive name but better than the bookend has managed) and Morley which is a suburb of Leeds can boast Michael Portillo, Last year I saw Margaret Atwood in Ilkley (another suburb of Leeds). So why can’t the Bookend claim a big author, it claims lack of funds, but I disagree with this as a valid reason. A big name author can yield a higher ticket price the three biggest authors I have seen Charlaine Harris, Margaret Atwood and Armistad Maupin, cost me between 5 and 15 pounds for a ticket and would have happily paid double that amount to see any of them, In a mid sized venue of 200 – 300 people (200 fit in the top floor of the local book store) this would yield you a revenue of £4,500 alone, which would surely pay for such an author to attend.
There is a lot of Awesome stuff that happens in Leeds we have 2 film festivals that we could link a literature festival with, one of these already posts a pretty big comic convention as part of it’s activities, we also have three universities that would possibly happily help source some more academic speakers, and could also provide venues. The young peoples film festival run amazing workshops throughout the year that could easily be linked in, you could also combine film screenings, or combine a book signing with whatever bands were playing in many of our music venues across Leeds at the time.
There are also a number of other big literature festivals across the region that if you timed the Bookend alongside could allow you to tempt across a big name who had already been paid to attend a nearby city, this can and does happen Jo Nesbo, is the opening attraction of the Harrogate crime writing festival and is surprisingly doing a signing in Leeds very near the time. All of these ideas require very little effort or money putting in and could already result in something far better than the Bookend has put on for years.
And this is not counting all the great Local talent that they ignore or could easily find by visiting social networks, I Spent about 2 hors last year contacting authors on the Guardian book awards longlist to see if they wanted to speak to our alternative reading group that met in the local pub and we arranged to skype with 2 of the authors both of which were really nice decent people. I don’t think you would have to spend a great deal longer time to arrange something halfway decent for Leeds.
Another revenue earner that we have mentioned to the big bookend organisers in the past and they liked and then subsequently ignored is the idea of having a book fair, where you could charge local authors maybe £5 to come along and have a table promoting their books and local independent bookshops of which there are many in the surrounding region could have a table for £30, this again would easily make you another few hundred pounds to spend on getting in more people to make the event bigger and attract more book geeks like me who really want a great literature event in our amazing town.