Back in November 2016 a small group of Clapham Writers asked ourselves if, the following year, we were going to do the Clapham Book Festival again. And, if we were, who with and how? Six months later and we’re ready and raring to go. The 2017 Festival begins at 1400 tomorrow.
Given the controversy surrounding literary festivals and non-payment of authors, we took the decision early that, if we did a Festival in 2017, we would have to pay the people performing. Astonishing as it seems, many literary festivals still don’t so this, even some of the larger ones, like Oxford ( which lead to Phillip Pullman’s resignation as Oxford’s Chair ). Last year, in the 2016 Festival, we had relied on friends and publishers candidates, who didn’t expect a fee. This year would have to be different.
So, we wondered, could we rely on ticket sales to cover costs? This was an added element of risk. Would we, as individuals, have to underwrite the whole thing? We’re not out to make a profit, but we didn’t want to make a, personal, financial loss. And where would we bank the money as it was received? We might know fellow writers and people in publishing, but Clapham Writers was, from the outset, just a group of people, not a formal entity, we didn’t even have a bank account. How could we do it?
Riding to our support came our sponsors, This is Clapham, aka the Clapham Business Improvement District, a trader funded partnership to whom we applied for funds. Their board was kind enough to give us some financial help for 2017 and asked us to apply in 2018 and 2019 as well.
With the help of Omnibus, which provides the venue (staff costs only) and offered to hold funding on our behalf; and Clapham Books, which will provide the books for the Festival, it all became possible. Thus the second Clapham Book Festival was viable and we were able to explore putting together a programme.
We learned, too, from our 2016 experience. Panel discussions were popular, especially when focused on one type of writing – so we formulated sessions on crime, historical and spies. Then set out to attract the best writers of that type we could get to each of those sessions. We needed a ‘draw’ for the evening session and were fortunate to be able to persuade Kate Adie to come along. Above all, we learned that we were too thinly stretched last year and there was insufficient publicity, so we concentrated on one, intense, day and pulled out as many publicity stops as we could.
We had hoped to include Clapham Library as a venue, as we had last year. Unfortunately the option of a morning session at the Library on that particular Saturday didn’t work and we were anxious to keep to our self-imposed timing constraints. Something for next year, definitely.
And the news is that this year sales are good.
Of a capacity of 360 across the four theatre-based events, we have, as of earlier this week, already sold 50% with one event sold out completely and that’s before the anticipated last-minute rush. Omnibus, our venue, tell us that they usually get a high proportion of folk buying tickets in the day immediately before the event or ‘walk-ins’ people just turning up on the day. If so, some of them might be disappointed.
And me….? I’m working hard, just to make sure that I remember everything for my own session. Fingers crossed. I’ll be blogging about how it all went next week.