Ilkley Literature Festival 2013.

Everything about Ilkley on Friday 4th October suggested that this year’s Literature Festival would be a bit different. I had spent a week in the basement of Ilkley Playhouse, processing and sorting over 300 boxes of books, and when I emerged, blinking, into the murky drizzle there was a special buzz around the town. A phone call summoned me back to the shop, where BBC Look North were waiting to film us, and the King’s Hall was full of technicians preparing to record Any Questions? for Radio 4. It was forty years since the first Ilkley Literature Festival, and from humble beginnings it had grown to something approaching a national event. The Grove Bookshop has been a part of the festivities for over a decade; our staff were present at over a hundred events this year, calmly selling books for authors to sign, but the work involved goes far beyond manning bookstalls.

Just as planning the programme takes all year, so our contribution takes much longer than the seventeen days of events. Over the summer we liaise with the festival organisers, contact publicists to ensure that the right books are ordered, and then we have to estimate how many books we will need for each event. This is an inexact science, as much depends on the speaker’s performance on the day, so we were thrilled with Philippa Langley’s event, where fans of King Richard III bought our entire stock. At other times, however, even a pile of twenty books can look enormous when an event fails to capture the audience’s imagination; this doesn’t often happen but, when it does, everyone is embarrassed!

While I am hurtling round Ilkley in a hired van, delivering books to venues and collecting unsold stock, Carol is back at the shop, organizing staff rotas; it’s a fiendishly difficult task, especially at weekends when the shop has to remain open while we man events at as many as five venues at once. This is where 83-year-old Barbara comes in handy, taking residence at the Playhouse and winning the hearts of authors like Cathy Cassidy, who wanted to take her home.

Despite the heavy workload, I still managed to see a few events. Highlights this year were Artemis Cooper’s wonderfully warm appreciation of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Jeremy Paxman giving his personal take on the Great War, and a vibrant evening of poetry at St Margaret’s hall, where Gillian Clarke, Michael Schmidt and Kei Miller were briefly joined by a pair of feline interlopers. As Gillian was quick to point out, even Ilkley’s cats appreciate good literature. These highlights made up for the difficult moments, including missing Any Questions? due to a van malfunction (as Jonathan Dimbleby welcomed listeners to Ilkley, I was awaiting the RAC). My job was also made much easier by the help and support offered by staff at King’s Hall and the Playhouse, and by Alan Raw at St Margaret’s, along with many others.

More evident than ever this year was the huge influx of visitors to Ilkley; the streets were busy and our shop seemed to be bursting at the seams at the weekends. This can only be good for local businesses, and initiatives like the Art Trail and Book Trail certainly helped to drive visitors into the shops and cafes. After forty years it seems that Ilkley Literature Festival is going from strength to strength; it’s hard work, it’s exhausting, but it’s definitely a Very Good Thing.

Further information on next year's festival is available from the official website, www.ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk , where you can also join the mailing list and become a Friend of the Festival.

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