Cranbrook will be hosting its inaugural Literature Festival this Friday and Saturday – Eileen Leahy spoke to organiser Christine Newman about the slew of famous authors it’s got lined up, and why strong community spirit made it all happen in the first place
Why did you decide to host a literary festival in Cranbrook?
I’m a huge fan of literary festivals and have always enjoyed going to the established ones in Cheltenham, Oxford and Charleston. I’d thought for a long time that Cranbrook would be the ideal town for a smaller festival as there’s a lot of culture here, and that way I wouldn’t have to travel too far to get my fix of ‘live literature’!
What were your initial aims?
I’m a librarian by trade, so I wanted the festival to be inclusive for all age groups and for it to provide access to authors for as many children as possible. That’s the reason we are holding a big schools programme on the first day, Friday, with lots of authors and poets, including Brian Moses, Tom Palmer, Lou Kuenzler and Ali Sparkes doing workshops with them.
What else can visitors expect to enjoy over the weekend?
We’ve tried to cater for all tastes and provide events that will appeal to those who enjoy writing as well as reading. We have an eclectic mix of popular authors and poets which includes Gyles Brandreth, Julian Clary, Sarah Raven, Vanessa Nicolson and Lynne Rees.
You’re also including some poetry workshops – who can we listen to?
On the poetry side we have Abegail Morley, Luke Wright and local sixth form student Will Turner, who won a Radio 1 award for his performance poetry and also appeared at the Latitude Festival this summer. There will even be a poetry busker, Kornel Kossuth, who will be writing poetry on demand on the High Street.
How easy did you find it to get celebrities like Julian Clary, Gyles Brandreth and Sarah Raven on board?
It can be difficult to get big names to new festivals, but – with a network of contacts and lots of hard work – we have managed to secure some top, well-known writers.
Are any of your famous authors locals?
Vanessa Nicolson lives in the area and so does Julian Clary.
Is there anything specific that makes your literature festival different to all the others?
The focus for ours is definitely one of inclusion. The aim is to provide as varied a programme as possible – despite very limited funding – and to encourage people who might not normally think of going to a literary or book event. Reading is the key to writing – you can’t possibly write well unless you are a reader – and the aim is to get as many people as possible in the community engaged with reading, and hopefully get them hooked on it!
You say it’s a community event. what do you mean by this?
We reached out to the community for funding for this festival and they responded brilliantly! Local businesses and organisations have donated money to pay author and venue fees, funded prizes for our children’s competitions and so much more. We are using around ten different locations in the town for events, and local schools are also hosting authors. Shops will benefit, too, thanks to the extra footfall, and we’re also setting up a ‘pop-up’ book store as unfortunately Cranbrook doesn’t have its own one – but perhaps that could be our next community project.
How many people are you expecting?
I can’t say specifically but ticket sales are going very well, although some workshops have restricted numbers such as ‘Words in the Windmill’ due to lack of space. The big events like the ones in the Queen’s Hall Theatre are drawing huge crowds, which we’re very pleased about.
Which other venues will be hosting events?
We have lots of schools on board and they include Cranbrook, High Weald, Saint Ronan’s, Dulwich Prep School and Cranbrook Primary School. We also have Cranbrook Town Library, Hartley Coffee Shop, Cranbrook RFC, The Windmill, Cocolicious, Ted’s Room and the Vestry Hall. It really is a huge community effort.
If it’s a success, will this be something you look to put on annually in Cranbrook?
We would love to make this festival a regular event. Whether it will be annually or bi-annually we’ll just have to see. Our organising committee is very small and we all work full-time and this ‘hobby’ has certainly taken over our lives, but it’s great that it’s proving to be a success already given the interest it has generated and the many bookings we’ve had.
To find out more information on the Cranbrook Literature Festival, and book tickets, please visit www.cranbrookliteraturefestival.com