Everyone in Edinburgh loves a book festival. There was one in Portobello at the weekend and there’s another just around the corner in the Old Town. Peggy Hughes (who Twitter users might know better as the Scottish Poetry Library’s @ByLeavesWeLive) was kind enough to write me a guest post about it.
The West Port Book Festival has reached the merry maturity of its fourth year, with another programme of cracking collaborations, tall tales, award-winners, stars of the future, dead people, open mics, and of course cakes. This year we’re popping up in October – Thursday 13th – Sunday 16th to be precise. We have flirted with running in different months (August for starters and seconds and June for thirds) and find that variety is the spice of life.
We have lost a few of our sterling venues from previous years. The Lot, the Roxy ArtHouse and the Illicit Still (scene of the cause of a monstrous festival-wide hangover in year 3) are all sorely missed, while the Owl & Lion Gallery has risen like a phoenix from the ashes and resurrected itself as the Owl & Lion Bindery, further up the hill in the West Port. We’ve got a new bookshop on the block in Pulp Fiction and are comforted by the never-changing Blue Blazer and its energy-restoring ham and cheese toasties. Some things change, but the ideas and vision behind the West Port Book Festival remain.
It was in the pub that we hit on the idea back in 2008 and the pub continues to be where the muse lurks; we don’t have a full time office space and the core team all have full-time jobs, so West Port meetings are mostly conducted after hours. Hannah had (mis)spent her youth working in Shakespeare & Company in Paris, and was inspired by Sylvia Whitman’s fabulous free festival with the bookshop at its heart; Peggy loves people and Kay hearts spreadsheets: an unbeatable combo was born. The West Port district of Edinburgh is known for many things – most notably ‘the pubic triangle’ and Burke & Hare – but with a concentration of bookshops unparalleled in most British towns, we felt it was high time this ‘profusion of pages’ got its dues. With the cautious assent of the booksellers, no money and plenty of ideas, we were off.
The festival has taken on artistic values of its own and the programme has acquired a distinct identity over these past few years. We invite people whose work we admire, who have interesting things to say, and who like what we’re doing. We give presents instead of fees (no-one gets paid in cold hard cash in the West Port Book Festival), so the support of our invited authors is immeasurable. We like pairing novelists with poets and poets with playwrights, putting new technology in old bookshops, celebrating the short story and partying hearty into the wee small hours.
We love collaborating – this year with Comhairle nan Leabhraichean (the Gaelic Books Council), the Scottish Book Trust, the Traverse Theatre and Edinburgh College of Art. We like being part of a community; booksellers, cafe owners and pub landlords have got behind the book festival and helped us make a tipsy dream a redoubtable reality.
We don’t receive state funding but we were crowd-sourcing funding before we knew Jeff Howe had coined the phrase; we’ve received donations of whisky, tweed ties, cakes and money in brown envelopes and this year used the online fundraising platform IndieGoGo to secure $1585, from people we know and people we’ve yet to meet.
We have a fantastic team: from our designer Will, our web developer Andrew and social media man Colin to our dedicated team on the ground – poster designer Piotr Tamulewicz and festival officers Agata Maslowska, Ottilie Shipp, John-Mark Glover and Nicola Hopper.
We’re particularly excited about this year’s festival, starting in just a few more sleeps! We invite you to help us kick things with pre-fest nibbles in Peter Bell’s august establishment on Thursday evening and dip your toes into what’s on offer.
There is fiction with Janice Galloway and sci-fi with Rob Shearman; for history try Stuart Campbell or Bruce Durie, or make an afternoon of it with our historical fiction event, featuring Iphgenia Baal, Tracey S Rosenberg and Sara Sheridan.
If it’s poetry you’re after, we pity the fools who miss William Letford, sharing a stage with novelist Luke Williams, or J. O. Morgan paired with Forward Prize-winning Rachael Boast; Jo Bell hosts a workshop and leads a delegation of Bugged writers to let us into the secrets behind turning eavesdropping into poetry, while Emily Dodd will turn your frown upside down.
We’ve got stories, we’ve got Gaelic New Fiction and we’ve got rhythm, with a massive tea dance in aid of local charity Artlink, in partnership with the Scottish Book Trust. Come for the dancing and stay for the hairstyling. Exhibitions, book trails, a chance to share your own juvenilia and get a shot of ‘courage’ for your trouble, and best of all: it’s all free as a bird.
You can browse our programme online at www.westportbookfestival.org. The website is responsive so it looks great on iPads and smart phones too (thanks Drew). Or if you have an iPhone you can download our West Port mobile app at www.westportbookfestival.org/touch (Thanks Trevor, from the USA). Or you can pick up one of our beautiful print programmes from one of the West Port bookshops and from select other venues.
All events are free. Most are ticketed. Please see www.westportbookfestival.org/tickets for more information or just turn up at our box office, Peter Bell Books, 68 West Port, EH1 2LD, Wednesday 4pm-7pm, Thursday & Friday 2pm-9pm, Saturday 10am-9pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.
We’d be delighted to welcome you into the West Port fold for what’s looking like our most exciting year yet.*
* We reserve the right to say this every year…