What do small litfests offer that big ones don’t?

Debbie Young Guest post 19th March 2019

Small independent local litfests are currently in vogue, with more popping up around the country like daisies on an English lawn in spring. And, like daisies, although they’re commonplace, they’re charming in their own way. 

“But,” I hear you cry, “how can they compete with long-established giants in the festival world such as Cheltenham, Edinburgh, Hay and Derby?”

Little litfests may not be able to command big-name bestseller speakers – but the thing is, they’re not competing with the big commercial ones that need the big names to pull in the crowds. They are offering something different that you just don’t get at big events. The following list of points applies to the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest (HULF), which I set up in my home village five years ago, and I’m sure it will apply to Oakwood too.

  1. They’re run by authors who put writers and readers at the heart of the event, rather than publishers and commercial interests.
  2. Each one offers a different crop of writers – not the same old, same old list of celebrities on the circuit, many of whom will have first achieved fame not through their writing but through other means.
  3. They support, encourage and showcase home-grown talent, offering local authors the chance to build confidence and experience on their home turf before progressing to greater things.
  4. They take place in a small, compact spaces, often condensed into a single day, which makes them accessible and manageable for visitors.
  5. The speakers are game for conversation with visitors, rather than being closeted away in a green room and escorted by minders to and from their events. They positively enjoy the opportunity to engage with readers, hanging out in the café and bookshop between gigs, chatting to visitors like old friends. (A favourite comment from a visitor to HULF: “This is a great way to discover authors you’ve never heard of.”)
  6. Because venues tend to be small and intimate – think village hall rather than city-centre theatre – the atmosphere is more democratic and inclusive, so the audience speaks out more confidently during Q&A sessions. (Another favourite comment from an audience member after a particularly lively Q&A at HULF: “You’d never get this at Cheltenham. You wouldn’t dare!”)
  7. And if that’s not enough to persuade you, compare and contrast the costs. Taking the family or even just yourself to a big litfest will cost you plenty of money – ticket costs, travel, parking, refreshments, plus the inevitable book purchase. Most small litfests, including HULF and Oakwood, offer free admission, leaving you more to spend on books and refreshments. 

So what’s not to love about a small local litfest? If one springs up near you, make sure you support it – then watch it grow. You’ll be glad you did.

Debbie Young writes cosy mystery novels and themed collections of short stories. She is UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors and a member of the Society of Authors and of the Romantic Novelists Association. She runs the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival and is also an ambassador for the children’s reading charity Read for Good. She lives in a house full of books in a cottage in the Cotswolds, when not off seeking inspiration for her writing in the family camper van. For more information, visit her author website, www.authordebbieyoung.com.

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