This was the third annual Lennoxlove Book Festival, held in Lennoxlove House, Haddington. I’ve been involved with it since the get-go, as our cousins might say, and it’s become one of My Favorite Things (cue John Coltrane music). I love literary festivals, as those who frequent StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival will know. At StAnza I’ve usually been there either as a performer or as Convenor of the Board. With Lennoxlove I’m an anonymous crew member, doing backstage work, and I love it. I can mingle with audience members and authors alike, and I’ve got the added advantage of knowing what goes on behind the scenes to make a major event like this work.
I remember, back in that days when I was involved in amateur drama, how going backstage opened opened up a magical world of sound, lights, and stage management, and it still feels very special being part of the machinery that makes a production run smoothly, efficiently, and without the audience being aware of how it happens. (Unfortunately that has its down side; whenever I watch a theatre performance I’m often aware of the work of the lighting designer and/or the director, because I did these jobs for so long myself).
This year I was in the venue crew of the Hamilton Marquee, setting up seating before and between events, making sure authors had what they needed onstage, doing the safety announcements, stewarding, setting out mikes for the question and answer sessions, working the house lights and doing anything else that needed to be done. For almost all events, there was only a half-hour turn-round, so it was very hectic, and then we had to allow for technical set-ups (Power Point presentations, CDs and the like) and sound checks (with Barbara Dickson – be envious, be very envious – who was terrific).
So I only saw those parts of the Festival that were in ‘my’ venue, but I was very happy with that. I helped with a lot of the childrens’ events, and they were great fun. I’m going to single out Martin Brown’s brilliant session on how he draws The Horrible Histories, and Kristina Stephenson, author of the Sir Charlie Stinkysocks books; consummate professionals, both. Adult events included Claire Tomalin on Charles Dickens, Allan Little on dictators, Isla Blair, and the very wonderful Barbara Dickson. Our final event was a virtuoso performance by historian Tom Devine, being interviewed by Alan Taylor. Of course, passing through the bookshop and other venues, I did get to meet some of the other stars of this year’s festival – John Byrne, Julian Glover, Michael Frayn, Michael Morpurgo, Bill Paterson and John Sessions. They all seemed to be enjoying the festival too.
Did it all go according to plan? I’m not going to tell you, but I’m confident that if there were glitches, the audiences weren’t inconvenienced. I’m looking forward to 2012 already.