Saturday morning is hot and sunny in south London. Eleven o’clock sees us on our way to Brockwell Park, having collected, inventoried and packed up the books the day before. Already the roads are busy and we were headed for Gate 2, traders and performers only. Yikes! The road to Gate 2 is closed. What do we do now? Ah, but there’s a man in a high viz jacket holding a clipboard, maybe the road is only closed to everyday traffic? We are in possession of a parking access permit to the Show Ground, perhaps this magic piece of paper is our passport through.
And it is. We turn into the road and through the gate, shepherded along by yellow clad stewards, who all, curiously, have Scottish accents. But the twang in the voice of the parking lady is decidedly antipodean as we are directed to our parking space. So far so good. Now we just have to transport the books, using the trolley from the bookshop ( a hooray for Herne Hill Books ) to our stand in the Discovery Zone.
But this is a big park and the Show Ground is fenced off behind high green metal walls, so we can’t see in. Plus, the dry grassy ground is uneven and the boxes of books tend to slide sideways off the trolley if there is a camber to the ground. Cue stress. Head for the nearest asphalt path.
The trolley’s boxes only slide off twice before we make it. Then it’s up the hill to a pair of forbidding-looking heavy metal gates. We drag them open and we’re through, into the Show Ground proper. There we are taken pity on by another yellow-clad Scot, Mick from Glasgow, who, like us, is ignorant of the Discovery Zone’s location but, grasping both trolley and heavy bag proceeds up the hill to Brockwell House, where his colleagues are able to direct him. So, past the big open space which will become the Main Arena later, alongside the backs of a series of food and drink outlets and there, in the distance, is the big Discovery banner.
And some Clapham Book Fest folk are already there! Sitting at a picnic table. Greetings all round. But we are puzzled – we know that our sessions will take place in a marquee, but there are three marquees in a line, which is ours? One is already occupied by a number of scientific and medical societies, so that’s out. One has a half closed front, so surely that’s not ours. No, we decide it’s the middle one, which has a low stage and a sound man in the corner, testing his equipment. As yet there are no seats and no tables for selling books. But we have a security man – Jordan from Glasgow explains that the Security firm hired for the event is from Scotland, they all came down the night before. He’s very helpful – ‘Dunna pay full price,’ he yells after me as I go to buy ice creams. ‘Tell him you’re staff – it’s £2. Have ye seen what they charge for a cone round here?’ Mr Whippy duly obliges.
Mitchell, the sound man, knows nothing about any furniture, but, he says the stage is not yet safe, we must wait for his colleague to come and fix it. We are on at one. It’s already twelve. ‘Oh, you’ve got a whole hour. No worries.’ He says. But we are worrying. I head off to find someone in charge – there’s supposed to be an events manager called Chris. I find him and he tells me that 200 chairs have been requested and two tables. They’re just not here yet.
By the time I return to the tent the Clapham Book Festival ‘Common Reading’ banner is up and our writers/performers begin to arrive. Here’s Isabelle,former Clapham resident and crime writer par excellence. Hallo. A little buggy arrives drawing a trailer, on which there are chairs!! But the scientists get to them first. More please, we plead with the buggy driver, and QUICKLY. It’s after half past twelve. But Mitchell’s colleague has arrived and secured the stage. So we can at least set up the mics. Annemarie arrives, another Clapham writer. She, like me, has lived within a couple of miles of the Park for many years and yet has never been to the Show. The buggy is back and we all start unloading and setting up chairs, so that our tent looks as if something is about to happen. It’s a quarter to one and Sabine, the last of the Thriller in the Park panel arrives. One problem – no audience.
There are folk wandering around, but no one seems to have a clue what’s on and when. We don’t see any programmes – though there is an app it’s pretty impossible to read anything on one’s phone, the sunlight is too bright. I take a mic and ‘announce’ to passersby that Thriller in the Park is happening in fifteen minutes ( ten minutes, five, about to begin ) and so we garner a small crowd. ‘Don’t worry’, the sound man says. ‘Just start, they’ll come. I see it with bands all the time.’
And he’s right. We begin and they do. We launch into an interesting discussion about writing crime and thriller fiction. Clapham Book Festival at the Lambeth Country Show has begun.
There will be a further post about our experiences at the Show on Wednesday. meanwhile you can read more about Clapham Book Festival events at Brockwell Park Weekend Books for sale in the sunshine Thriller in the Park The History Girls