The debate over paying authors for festival appearances – following Philip Pullman’s resignation as Patron of the Oxford Literary Festival – is one that the Bradford on Avon Mini Book Festival (BOAMBF) has been following with interest. Not least because we, the organisers of this brand new, tiny festival are authors ourselves.
We’re lucky to have a thriving community of children’s writers here on the borders of Somerset and Wiltshire (Those involved are Catherine Bruton – who doubles as Cate Shearwater – Alex Campbell, Fleur Hitchcock, Angie Morgan, Maudie Smith and Anna Wilson.) Last year we got together and decided it would be fun to run a book festival, based at and in collaboration with our local library, to coincide with The Summer Reading Challenge. We organised two days of book-based events to inspire and spread a love of books and reading, and to entice even more children than usual into the library to sign up for the Challenge.
We received some funding from Wiltshire Council and the Bradford on Avon Fringe Festival, and from our publishers – not much but enough to print flyers, a banner, fund a trip to the Wiltshire Scrap Store for a batch of wool, cardboard and feathers, and to buy a few packets of crisps.
We invited Jeremy Strong to come as our guest and he very kindly agreed, giving us a wonderfully funny talk, and drawing yet more families into the equation.
Some events were ticketed, some were not; the festival was a relaxed, informal affair and it was completely free! People drifted happily in and out of the library all day long. They came for one event and stayed for more. They contributed to the day-long building of a model village, they learned gymnastic moves, they created characters and stories, they received author feedback on precious writing they’d brought with them, they stuck glitter on mermaids and octopi and they made waves rise up out of net and cloth. It was a very happy day, full of activity, a little nugget of bookish joy, and judging from the feedback we received, a huge success.
This year we are planning to go again, and hopefully again after that. The challenge we have set ourselves is to keep the informality of our festival while ensuring we have an attractive set of events. We don’t want to repeat ourselves, however, and we have chosen to invite a new guest each year, a headline author (or illustrator) as it were. We don’t pay ourselves for our own contributions; we are clear that this is a non-profit making festival, but we decided that if there’s one person we do want to pay, it is our visiting author or illustrator. As writers we’ve all had those awkward conversations – “We can’t pay you but: it will only take an hour/you’ll sell loads of books/last year we had Penelope Potterface and she did it for nothing/your visit happens to coincide with the tri-centenary of the inauguration of the village pump so there’s bound to be tonnes of fantastic publicity….”
OK, that’s an exaggeration, but not as big a one as you might think. We don’t doubt the sincerity of these requests at all, and they usually come from well-meaning individuals who are probably giving at least some of their own time for free, so it’s easy to feel guilty for asking for money for such appearances. But people often don’t realise that attending an event, even for a short time requires thought, preparation, and bags of nervous energy. Not only that, it requires time away from the desk and the loss of at least a day’s writing. It’s hard to have to spell this out, though, and sometimes we end up agreeing to more than we wanted to. As BOAMBF we didn’t want to put anyone in that potentially invidious position. We may not be able to pay the full going rate, but there will be a fee and there will be travel expenses.
So in the case of our festival, it turns out that the guest author or illustrator – and we’re looking forward to telling you exactly who that will be for July 2016 – is the ONLY person involved who is actually going to be offered a fee.
The Bradford on Avon Mini Festival (BOAMBF) will run from 15th and 16th July 2016 at Bradford on Avon Library.