Literary Festivals – they’re all in Britain

I love literary festivals. That’s to say, I love the idea of them. I love the thought of rubbing shoulders with my favorite writers, mixing with other bibliophiles and generally indulging my taste for reading and writing for a glorious few days without interruption. Actually, though,  I’ve never been to one, which considering what an author groupie I am, is surprising. Maybe the reason is that I live in the US and most of the English language literary festivals take place in the British Isles. (British Isles – how quaint! That’s because I’m including Ireland). You can find a comprehensive list of these festivals here and there are still plenty left to visit this year.

At least it seems that they’re all in Britain. I Googled literary festivals USA and got a couple of individual ones, but no comprehensive list. If you know of such a list, do let me know and I’ll be sure to add it to this post. There are plenty of book fairs, but I don’t think they’re the same thing, and most of them aren’t open to the public.

Britain has approximately 135 of them a year, a staggering number for such a small country. The grand-daddy of them all, the Hay Festival,  is celebrating 25 years this week, and the authors that have been lined up for it include Martin Amis, Ian Rankin, Michael Morpurgo and Hilary Mantel, among many others. The Festival is sponsored by the Daily Telegraph, and you can follow it on their live blog 

Hay-on-Wye is normally a small Welsh town of fewer than 1500 people, once famed for having 39 bookstores, mainly selling second-hand and antiquarian books. (That’s one bookshop for every 36 residents, in case you care…) The bookstores are still there, of course, doing a brisk trade all year with collectors all round the world, but when the festival is on, 80,000 people visit the town. Heaven knows where they stay…

Other British Newspapers sponsor literary festivals too. The Times supports the Cheltenham Literature Festival (October), The Sunday Times does the Oxford festival in March,

But British festivals don’t end there. There are specialized festivals: ones that feature particular writers – Graham Greene (Berkhamsted in September), Dylan Thomas (October, Swansea), Daphne du Maurier (Fowey, Cornwall, May), T.S. Eliot (Little Gidding in July). There’s one just for travel writing: Immrama – the  Lismore Festival of Travel Writing (June 7-10, Waterford Ireland) and another in Manchester just for children’s books (June/July). It goes without saying that some of these are poetry festivals.

My question is: why? Why so many? I know that more books are sold in the US, (over 3 bn! versus 230m in the UK), although almost as many are published (just under 250,000 in the UK and just over in the US). So you’d expect that there would be more festivals like this in the US to cater to those readers. Maybe it’s the distances that put people off. After all, in Britain you’re never more than about 3-4 hours away from anywhere, so these things are accessible. But that can’t be the whole story. Maybe they bring up the Brits to be writer groupies. Maybe knowing our favorite writers live just around the corner (metaphorically speaking) makes people think of them as personal friends, whom they want to visit periodically. I don’t know. But I’m thinking I might visit a festival next year. After all, so long as I don’t visit in December, there’s always a literary festival going on somewhere.

The Hunger Games and the teenage craze for dystopian fiction

British writer Amanda Craig has written a fascinating article for the Daily Telegraph of London on the current trend in YA reading for dystopian fiction. According to her,wizards and vampires are out. The market in teen fiction is dominated now by societies in breakdown. And it’s girls who are lapping them up. I happen to read dystopian fiction myself (trying to pass myself off as a YA …), so I was intrigued and thought you might find this interesting. Here’s the article:

Many parents might feel worried on finding their teenage children addicted to grim visions of a future in which global warming has made the seas rise, the earth dry up, genetically engineered plants run riot and humans fight over the last available scraps of food. Yet with the arrival of the film of the first book of Suzanne Collins’s best-selling trilogy The Hunger Games this month, dystopia for teenagers has hit an all-time high in public consciousness. The hottest genre in publishing and film on both sides of the Atlantic, it has rendered wizards and vampires redundant. And teen fiction is now so popular that it has entered the shopping basket of goods by which the UK calculates inflation.

The Hunger Games, set in a future America, now called Panem, concerns the ultimate TV reality game show, in which there can be only one survivor. Fantastically violent, the novel has sold 10 million copies world-wide, and is likely to be the hit movie of 2012.

Nor is it alone in riding the dystopian wave. This year, Moira Young’s best-selling debut, Blood Red Road, a kind of Mad Max for girls, won the Costa Children’s Award, and has been bought by Ridley Scott for film; Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now is about to start shooting with Saoirse Ronan as the lead in a story of underage passion in a future England plunged into war. Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, set in a racist society that is a photographic negative of our world, has been successfully adapted by the RSC as a play and has been one of the nation’s favourite series for the past decade. Even Anthony Horowitz, the man who has done more to get boys reading than any other contemporary author, has just finished his own dystopian novel, Oblivion, which Walker will publish this autumn.

Teenagers on both sides of the Atlantic can’t get enough of this stuff. Why is dystopia so fashionable? Are they sunk in existential gloom caused by the recession, university fees and the prospect of never getting a mortgage?

Read the rest of this article here, and check out the first comment (by JB Williams 1991) – that was fascinating too.