Back in February, when the whole of the UK was in full lockdown, the death rate was still high and who knew what the future was going to bring, the CBF management team met via zoom to decide what, if any, kind of Festival would be possible in 2021. The 2020 Festival, planning for which had already begun last year, had had to be shelved and no one knew if the same fate would befall any attempt at a Festival for 2021. Nonetheless, with a vaccine roll-out already underway and the promise of better things to come we decided, tentatively, to go ahead.
We hedged our bets – there would be only two live ‘in person’ events at Omnibus Theatre and those would be livestreamed too, there would be two literary walks taking place outside on Clapham Common and two events online via zoom, hosted by new media partners, Time & Leisure magazine. Everything was uncertain. Omnibus was planning to be open again in Summer, probably with social distancing, but couldn’t be sure they would be. Even if they were, would people be willing to sit in a room with lots of others for an hour or more? We also didn’t know if there would be an audience for zoomed author interviews, people might have had enough of zooming during lockdown. And would people be interested in walking round Clapham Common?
On Tuesday last the final event of the Clapham Book Festival 2021 took place. A fair-sized zoom audience watched and took part in a fascinating discussion about spying and espionage between Ben Macintyre, whose new book Agent Sonya is a biography of an amazingly successful Soviet spy based in the twentieth century Cotswolds and Simon Berthon, second world war historian and modern thriller writer. Ben was erudite, knowledgeable and witty and was asked insightful questions by his interlocutor and by members of the audience. It was a tremendously enjoyable hour, appreciated by all who attended and it ended the Festival on a high.
The showcase day on Saturday 16th October was also a success, even with necessarily reduced audience numbers. The literary walks were a sell-out and, after rain in the early morning, the weather was benign. I enjoyed doing mine and was only annoyed that I couldn’t also go on the one led by Annemarie Neary ( the times overlapped ). We have already received requests to repeat these and may do so at, say, Easter 2022 as a way of maintaining the Festival’s profile across the year. Sir Michael Morpurgo was a delight for children and adults alike and Ed Stourton spoke authoritatively and amusingly about broadcasting and journalism from world war two to the present day. Feedback was uniformly positive at 100%, which is astonishing. In retrospect I think there was a real desire, not to say craving, for a return to good quality, local bookish events and the Book Festival met that need. The livestream option wasn’t called upon.
The first zoom event, with Brixton author Rosanna Amaka, drew a relatively small but committed audience for an interesting discussion about her much praised debut novel The Book of Echoes and her approach to writing it. Both zoom events were successful in their own way, as was the ‘dry run’ in July with local, best-selling author Elizabeth Buchan. We will be doing more of these in 2022 and hope to continue with the £5 a ticket approach and to build up a regular audience.
For now, we’re doing sums and making payments and, it seems, we’ve covered our costs. Lots of books were sold ( I know I’ve acquired some new readers ) and enjoyment was had. Onwards to next year!