My dear friend and fellow writer, Debbie Young, recently told me that she is starting a literature festival to celebrate books and reading. It didn’t come as a surprise at all, as Debbie is known for her zeal in bookish activities, locally and nationally. Her love for books doesn’t stop at reading and writing.

Nevertheless, I wanted to find out more about why she took upon herself to start the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, which will have it’s first event on World Book Night, 23 April 2015. So here is what Debbie told me.

Why I Founded the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival

Working the children’s reading charity Readathon instilled in me the many benefits gained from a regular reading habit, including greater academic and career success, happier personal relationships, better social skills, and a broader perspective on the world – yet 30% of adults never read books. Becoming a World Book Night giver helped me chip away at that figure in a very small way by distributing their free books to reluctant readers each year. I also share free books year round from the Little Free Library on my front wall, but I wanted to do more, in the same spirit, within my community.

Having founded a village fun run four years ago, I had first-hand experience of how receptive our village is to new ventures and home-grown entertainment. We also have the perfect venue for a cosy event: The Fox Inn, whose landlords are always up for new ideas to attract customers – they recently launched an annual Italian festival. 

The Fox Inn, venue for the first Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival

From my work with ALLi, I knew many indie authors who would love to take part in festivals, but who haven’t had any luck with bigger, more commercial events. A smaller litfest would allow them to “cut their festival teeth”, as one writer put it.

So, I had the cause, I had the audience, I had the venue, I had the performers. Hey presto, it’s the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival

Actually, I feel as if I’m just the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, with the ingredients assembling themselves around me as if by magic. I’m just hoping for a more controlled outcome!

People asked at first if my aim was to rival the famous Hay-on-Wye Festival – but my answer is a resounding no, because of two big points of difference. Our festival will always be free to make it accessible to all, and it will always be reader-focused, unlike the leading festivals which are author- and ego-centric. We’re not inviting the public to worship celebrities while they talk about their latest book (invariably for sale after the talk, in expensive hardback). It’ll be about finding ways to engage and stimulate readers, hence a programme of panels with titles such as “The Long and the Short of It – How Many Words Does a Story Really Need?”

From the reaction so far, I’m confident that this will become an annual event, and that the model could be rolled out in any community, so after it’s over, I’m going to write a blueprint to share, free, with anyone who is interested, via ALLi. I’ve already been told that a small community in Crete has been inspired by our festival to start their own – and that’s before it’s even happened. 

If you too are encouraging others to read more, leave a reply below, as I would love to hear more.