Literature Festivals

13 August 2013

The programme for my local literature festival came clunking through my letterbox last week. It is a two-and-a-half week celebration of the written word, replete with the great and the good of the literary world and even finding room for some less exalted talents – yes, I’m appearing too. I’m a big supporter of it, and vice versa, and what follows is not a  criticism of this particular festival, since all – even the cash-rich, heavily sponsored “big beasts” of the Lit Fest circuit – are inked with the same pen to a greater or lesser extent.

Here are the headline acts of this one – the Ilkley Literature Festival – as featured on the front of the programme: Kate Humble; Brownlee Brothers; Jeremy Paxman; Alexander McCall Smith; Radio 4’s Any Questions; Duncan Bannatyne; Kate Adie; Carol Ann Duffy; Germaine Greer; Kirsty Wark; Rod Ellingworth; Jonathan Aitken; Shirley Williams.

True, they’ve all got a book to plug… even Any Questions, at least in the form of its chair, Jonathan Dimbleby, who’s plugging his before taking to the airwaves, but in what is arguably one of the half dozen leading British writers’ festivals, how many of those fourteen names (I’m counting Dimbleby and both Brownlees) could accurately be described as writers?

I know that without “bums on seats”, festivals can’t survive and thrive, but I wonder if it’s necessary for them (and Ilkley is far from the worst example in this respect) to pander quite so wholeheartedly to the vanity &/or “book to accompany a programme/series” projects of TV “personalities”. Among the latter, I’d count Germaine Greer who, despite her academic pedigree, has been most notable this century as a tele-contrarian and rent-a-gob, whose last original thought, in my unworthy opinion, was somewhere south of 1980. Pistols? Dawn?