Guildford Book Festival 2014

Ben Collins aka Stig at Guildford Book Festival

Ben Collins aka Stig at Guildford Book Festival

This year 12-19 October 2014 marked the 25th aniversay of the Guildford Book Festival.

The execution of Charles I was a huge disconnect in English history, not only the killing of a King, the English Civil War, but the awful retribution metered out to those responsible. This was the topic for Charles Spencer The Killers of the King. Sold out.

ghost town of Famagusta sealed off behind rusting razor wire

ghost town of Famagusta sealed off behind rusting razor wire

ghost city of Famagusta seen from the sea

ghost city of Famagusta seen from the sea

The latest from Victoria Hislop is The Sunrise, the story of Famugusta, an abandoned ghost city on the Island of Cyprus, abandoned since the illegal Turkish invasion and occupation of 1974. The world turns a blind eye, Famagusta surrounded by rusting razor wire and crumbling to ruins.

Maybe Victoria Hislop writing of Famagusta will focus world attention, but I would not hold my breath. Even more so now the world needs Turkey in the fight against ISIS.

A special edition of The Sunrise from Waterstone’s has an essay in the back on Famagusta.

A literary lunch placed the event outside the pocket of many people, and limited numbers.

Coffee morning. House of Fraser! It could have been worse, Costa or tax-dodging Starbucks. At least pick somewhere that serves decent coffee, Harris + Hoole or Glutton & Glee.

I am Malawa with co-author Christina Lamb, left many people disappointed as the venue was far too small. And that was even before she was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Head of State, A Political Entertainment a very interesting insight by Andrew Marr into how corrupt and rotten the political system. Party apparatchiks who have not done an honest days’s work in their life in the pocket and at the beck and call of Big Business, lack of respect from the electorate, out of touch with real people, in Scotland a move to independence, in England a shift to Ukip and the Green Party, EU dictating policy. Following in the footsteps of Jonathan Swift, Head of State, the latest book from Andrew Marr, is satire.

Too many events running concurrently. An illusion of choice. No real choice as cannot be in two places at once.

Kate Mosse a natural story teller, The Taxidermist’s Daughter, discussing the background to Labyrinth, Citadel and her latest book The Taxidermist’s Daughter.

The Taxidermist’s Daughter is set in Sussex, gloomy marshland, a river estuary, very much the setting found in The Moonstone. The seed, the gem of an idea, a museum, no longer there, in Arundel. A Gothic thriller in the mould of The Castle of Otranto, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Monk, Frankenstein, Dracula.

There is currently an exhibition of Gothic literature at the British Library.

Poorly designed website. Irritating pictures flicking across the screen. But worse were highlights that were not live links, and live links not highlighted that you had to stumble upon. Books and authors were highlighted, these should be live links to pull up more information on the books and authors.

Guildford Book Festival is a registered charity, in receipt of public funding, I would therefore expect to find published accounts on their website.

Very poor use of social media. Puerile, sycophantic, drooling tweets.

Please no. Stick to straight forward factual information. And please no, please do not re-tweet every sycophantic, drooling tweet. Added to which a fundamental lack of understanding of social media, social networks.

  • social —> interaction
  • network —> many to many

A dialogue should be taking place.

Steve Lawson gave a three hour talk on the use of social media at the Digital Music for Musicians seminar held in Leeds at the Belgrave Music Hall. He summarised in a five minute video. A must watch for those clueless on the use of social media.

Book festivals are springing up all over the place.

Lincoln Book Festival, an interesting line up, half a dozen authors. OK with that. What is important, have they something worthwhile to say, can they write, are they worth reading.

Halfway up Steep Hill at a suitable resting place, BookStop Cafe, a little coffee bar tucked in a Norman Undercroft. Inside lined with books, emphasis on local writers, looking out a stunning view, occasional evening talks with local writers.

The world’s oldest and the largest book festival is the Frankfurt Book Fair, established by Gutenberg, an estimated 300,000 visitors over five days. This year the highlight was a discussion on publishing between Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho and festival director Juergen Boos.

Two books around which there has been a great deal of buzz, The Zero Marginal Cost Society and This Changes Everything. Naomi Klein was in London, then Oxford, a pity not Guildford too. Last year there was a lot of buzz around Feral.

Too many events are taking place concurrently. An illusion of choice. Not possible to be in more than one place at the same time.

One Tree Books has for the last few years been the official festival bookseller. And that is as it should be. The Festival depends upon local support, in return the Festival supports local indy bookshops. It was offensive to book lovers to find WHSmith selling the books, a failing High Street chain that has no interest in books.

Kate Mosse stressed the importance of supporting indy bookshops.

Ironic then Guildford Book Festival has ditched One Tree Books and this year the Festival book supplier was WHSmith. A High Street chain that does nothing for books, hated and despised by book lovers.

One Tree Books used to have a wonderful display of books in the Electric Theatre during the book festival, you could talk to them about books. Sadly not WHSmith. They could not even be bothered to mount a display in their own bookshop. Nor was there any mention of the book festival in their stores in neighbouring towns.

WHSmith a huge mistake. Hopefully not to be repeated next year. Or if is, buy your books elsewhere and bring them along for signing.

Amazon often get the blame for killing off indy bookshops. It is not Amazon. It is chains like WHSmith, that not only destroy indy bookshops, but also destroy our town centres, draining money out of the local economy and turning them into Clone Towns.

Mid-August Paulo Coelho had a new book out Adultery, WHSmith had it on special offer at half price. It was an international best-seller from an internationally known author, and yet WHSmith staff clueless as to title and author, most stores did not have in stock or only two copies and when sold, not restocked. One of the worst was WHSmith Guildford where it was claimed only opinion an international best-seller.

September This Changes Everything was published. About to ask for it in Waterstone’s Winchester, I saw it was piled up, a few weeks later, was told it was an excellent read, well written, well researched. Asking in WHSmith Guildford, they had not a clue, never heard of title or author, and no it was not in stock, it was not even showing on their computer.

High Street sales are falling at WHSmith (no surprise there), down 5% compared with last year. The only reason they are not posting big losses is strong performance in travel (56% profits compared with around 20% nine years), in-store Post Office counters and cost cutting.

How soon will it be before WHSmith follows Clinton Cards, Jessops, HMV, Phones4U into oblivion?

WHSmith is to books, what McDonald’s and KFC is to food and Costa and tax-dodgining Starbucks is to coffee.

It is important though to differentiate between the company and its employees. They shrug their shoulders in despair at not being able to provide a service, and some go out of their way to try and be helpful.

Indy bookshops need our support. Guildford Book Festival should be setting the example.

Guildford Book Festival has become far too celebrity focussed and obsessed. A PR bums-on-seats mindset. Where are the poets, the local writers, the up and coming writers, local publishers?

One would hope Guildford Book Festival would promote other book events happening in Guildford. Sadly not.

During the summer, Steph Bradley author of Tales of Our Times and forthcoming Flip Flop, did a book tour. She stopped off at Guildford between Brighton and Oxford. Not a whisper from Guildford Book Festival.

Most festivals have a fringe. It is long overdue, a Guildford Book Festival Fringe.

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One Response to “Guildford Book Festival 2014”

  1. keithpp Says:

    The Sunrise

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