We had heard about a festival going on in deepest, darkest Devon and started asking ourselves, “Why spend a weekend at the Ways with Words Festival?” (being careful not to choke on our own tongues whilst saying it).
We thought that it would be a nice idea to pop down there with a video camera and find out and let the rest of the CompletelyNovel community see for themselves. There seem to be literary festivals popping up in lots of places at the moment, but you don’t tend to see anything like the same amount of coverage of these events on the web and in video-format as you do for music festivals.
Maybe you’ve been to loads of literary festivals and are looking for another to tick off your list? Or perhaps you’re not quite sure what to expect and haven’t ventured out to any lit-fests yet? Either way, have a look at the video to see what Ways with Words is all about and see if it looks like your cup of tea.
We emerged from our rather wet (but wonderful) weekend as solid supporters of the literary festival and in agreement with all those that complimented Ways with Words for having chosen such a lovely setting.
We interviewed some of the guests such as Andrew Motion (former poet laureate), Michael Buerk (BBC presenter) and Rod Stoneman (film producer) to find out what they were bringing to the festival and what they thought of the event itself.
Have you been to any literary festivals? What did you think? Would you recommend them?
Who would you like them to include? More enjoyable to whom?
It seemed that the vast majority of the audience were over 40 and middle class – there didn’t seem to be a lot of diversity in the audience. I doubt this is something that organisers of festivals like this plan to happen (and I know that Ways with Words do have a bursary scheme to encourage students to come) but I was wondering if having a more diverse audience would be good for festivals. And I meant more enjoyable to the visitors (i.e. is it more enjoyable when you go to events like this if there are lots of people that you immediately have something in common with in terms of age, background etc).
Having a diverse audience can only be a good thing. As one of the organisers of WWW, we’d love to be able to attract a younger audience, but it’s not easy. As Anna says, each year our bursary scheme allows young people aged 17-25 to apply for a free 10 day festival pass. Students can also buy on-the-day standby tickets for individual events at half price. And yet the audiences we attract continue to be, as Anna says, predominantly middle aged and over. This year, as in previous years, the festival programme was incredibly diverse with much to engage, inspire and entertain audiences of all ages. So what is it that’s holds young people back? Time? Money? Lack of information or worse still misinformation and the perception that events like this simply aren’t for them. Whatever it is, it’s a really important issue as I truly feel that there’s a whole generation that’s missing out on some great experiences.
I think the biggest problem that festival organizers face is with accessibility and getting the word out to larger audiences. Music festivals are able to advertise through the radio, television, newspapers, Internet, etc. Literary festivals have to try and include activities, speakers, and books that will appeal to a wider spectrum of people.
The other problem that literary festivals face is how to break outside of their already-loyal fan base. The majority of books do not inspire the widespread devotion that would ensure a mass turnout at every festival (Harry Potter and Twilight aside). Niche audiences are all well-and-good but discussing/dissecting books, authors and topics can happen across all gender/race/class/age lines and it’s important to foster and encourage all kinds of people to participate.
I have attended with my children in order to hear a children’s author. Kate should concider collecting some of the many new children’s and young people’s authors in a section of the festival and so encourage a new generation to attend and taist the experience.