Sunday, 24 July 2005

So here's the idea I was talking about yesterday.

For many broadsheet literary editors, the high point of the year is probably the Literary Festival that their newspaper sponsors. For Claire Armitstead of the Guardian it would be Hay-on-Wye, for Caroline Gascoigne at the Sunday Times it is Oxford, and for Boyd Tonkin at the Independent it used to be my own home-town happening, Cheltenham, but that now seems to have been taken on by The Times. Of course writers of commercial fiction are rarely featured at these events - indeed Howard Jacobson has pointed out (not for the first time) that it is tough enough for writers of literary fiction to compete with media celebrities.

On the other hand, many years ago stand-up comedians and unconventional theatre productions had no place at the Edinburgh International Festival. Their response was to establish the Fringe. The Fringe has subsequently grown and grown, and is now uncontested as the biggest Arts Festival in the world.

So why don't writers (and readers) of commercial fiction try something similar? Find a suitable Festival and set up a few informal events in the margins; events that do not seek to ape the grown-up delights of the established festival but that are all about fun and enjoyment - which, after all, is what we read these books for. The big bookshop chains are usually involved with the big festivals but there are still some independent bookshops out there who might be willing to support the event, if only by ordering in copies for signing.

I would love to see a number of Literary Festival Fringes, each perhaps loosely themed to a particular genre within commercial fiction. As a writer of Regency Romps, my eye is on Cheltenham for a Regency-themed fringe. Even a few informal events will take a bit of planning, and adequate publicity with little or no budget cannot be achieved overnight, so October 2005 is a little too close, but with a following wind it ought to possible to think up some things for October 2007.

What do you think?


Mags said...

I like the idea, so long as SF writers get to come as well...

(maybe it needs little satellites of genre fiction circling the main lit festival, like those little birds that feed off hippos)

Kate Allan said...

I'm there

Jenny Haddon said...

great wheeze, Stephen. Of course, fringe events are traditionally subversive: so nice to challenge current cultural assumptions.

Count me in