No wonder it’s proved to be such a success. Faversham is a natural place to hold a Literary Festival. For starters, it has a rich mix of quirky old buildings that cannot fail to please anyone stepping inside to listen to an author. There’s something rather primal about sitting in a group, listening to a story-teller in a very old space.
And secondly, we like books round here. The town has a solid core of local readers and book groups, well supported by the local public library. If you ask Google which town in England has the most book groups, up comes a webpage for Royal Windsor and Maidenhead with a population of 147,708 (in 2015) and which claims ‘over 100 groups’. The population of Faversham is roughly 20,000 plus some from surrounding villages. We have 22 book-groups, according to the library staff. In terms of committed readers, we outgun Her Maj’s ‘hood by a solid percentage.
This combination – lots of readers and pretty venues - worked well last year, which was reassuring for organisers Amanda Dackcombe and Louise Frith. It was the first time they’d run a festival and they had a successful debut. Their 2018 line-up included Man Booker shortlist author Deborah Levy, journalist Martin Bell (who’d been here before, talking in the Phoenix Tavern as part of then-landlord David Selves’ political debate evenings), psychogeographer Iain Sinclair, and performance poet John Hegley. Among other authors, Julie Wassmer talked about her transition from BBC Eastenders script-writer to serial novelist, and her hope to establish Whitstable as a regular new TV location for a detective series (à la Doc Martin). Carol Donaldson expanded on her fascinating view of the people who live on Faversham’s waterlands and margins, and local antiquarian bookseller Justin Croft talked about his passion for privately-made books. It was a rich mix of local talent and out-and-out celebrity. Ticket prices were satisfyingly low, which meant you could afford to go to lots of different events.
This year, some changes are noteworthy. The timetable is spreading, a very positive indication. There are two celebrity megastars in this year’s line-up. Will Self’s gig on Thursday 21 February at Shep’s Brewery Store (the largest venue in town) was immediately sold out. Jo Brand was booked in to the Alexander Centre and was equally popular but she’s had to re-schedule, so her fans will now have to wait till Wednesday 27 (after the Festival has officially ended) to get to see her - there will be some rebooking disappointments, no doubt. There is a little bonus about all this, of which more, later. The celeb events are noticeably more expensive at £15 than the other authors.
There’s a wide range to chose from. We have enough local talent in the town and county to create a programme standing on its own: Pat Reid, Christine Rayner, David John Griffin, Mefo Phillips, Priscilla Lamont, Mary Kemp, Julia Woolf, Sonia Velton, John McGhie, and there are more. You can chase themes through the weekend, with Hugh Warwick on hedgehogs and Tim Dee on gulls, or poetry (which is roaring in the town at the moment), or history, or cookery, or children’s books, or come-and-join-in writing workshops. There’s music, and rebellion, and textiles. Really something for everyone, and most events will cost you only £5. Children’s events are free, with a £5 day-pass for young adult workshops. The adult workshops are £15 each with a slight reduction if you book a series of three. Still, if you wanted to go to the workshops, and see one or both star talkers, and get to a couple of other events, especially if there’s more than one in your household, that could easily rack up.
Books may be old-fashioned but they are tools of revolution and transformation. It’s heartening to discover that the numbers of independent bookshops is growing. In this internet age, books are slowly fighting back. More and more people are actually writing their own books, and publishing them – just look at Amazon. The technology makes it so easy. And a festival like this really helps. It directly empowers people. You can say ‘I met that writer, that poet! I bought her book, and she signed it for me! Look!’ The stone-age experience lives on. A group of people sitting in a room (or a cave), listening to a story-teller, face to face. Magic!
So, what about that bonus I mentioned earlier? Well, as the Saturday night 7-8pm slot at the Alexander Centre is now unBranded, you could instead go to the free Magnifi-cat concert in the parish church. It’s for all the family, and stars a lot of local musicians including the great Henry Dagg playing his Catastrophone (the keyboard is made of cats), which once reduced Prince Charles to tears of laughter. The whole event is music and poetry dedicated to cats, including that old favourite ‘For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry’ by Christopher Smart, and the leaving collection will go to the RSPCA and the church choir fund.
Tickets for all festival events are available from our own hatshop/bookshop in West Street, or online at: