Behind the scenes at the festival

Michelle Hodgson - Festival Director

With author Jeremy Dyson, who appeared at HLF2013

 

Behind the scenes at the festival

Festivals are fun – you can meet your favourite authors and find out where they get their ideas, listen to poetry readings and hopefully feel inspired to read more, or even have a go at creative writing yourself. But have you ever thought about what goes on behind the scenes?

 

Last November [2012] I was tasked with taking over directorship of the Huddersfield Literature Festival, an annual event that takes place in March. The festival had taken a break in 2012 but I knew there was a huge appetite for books, poetry and events in the region and had always wanted to get involved with a festival.

 

Supported by a student team from the University of Huddersfield, we ran author events with Jodi Picoult – whom I’d previously interviewed for this magazine [Excelle] – Joanne Harris, Kate Atkinson and Jeremy Dyson. There were performance poetry events, creative writing workshops, storytelling and even a ‘Shuddersfield’ ghost tour. There was also a vibrant Manga Convention, curated by a talented local artist.

 

So what does it take to run a festival – apart from boundless energy and sheer determination to make things happen! Here are a few tips and insights.

 

1. Make connections and gain experience

Having worked as a book publicist for many years, it helps that I can draw on connections and have a history of events organisation and working with authors.

That said: if you want to stage author events, make sure you attend plenty. You’ll pick up tips and can chat to the book publicist and event organiser. To gain hands-on experience, why not volunteer at a festival local to you.

 

2. Choose a theme

Next year’s [2014] festival has the theme of ‘Remembrance’, which ties in with the First World War commemorations but is broad enough to encompass other activities. A theme gives a focus to a festival and helps you to plan.

 

3. Plan ahead

For the 2014 festival we have the luxury of a whole year to put it together, which has allowed us to research potential acts, canvas local opinion and make more connections with local venues and groups. Partnering with other organisations is a great way to share the workload and widen the appeal. Early planning is also essential for grant applications, which can take weeks to put together and months to get a response.

 

4. Ask for help

Volunteers are the lifeblood of any festival. Don’t try to do it all yourself, enlist help when you need it. Volunteering at a festival is both enjoyable and a great experience to add to a CV, so you should find plenty of willing helpers. Make sure you choose the right roles to suit different people’s skill sets and offer training where needed.

 

5. Don’t forget the details

The last thing you want is an author arriving at 7pm when the event should have started at 6pm. You also need to check and double check access to venues, catering, sound equipment, fire wardens and even write risk assessments – don’t presume others will have taken care of these details.

 

6. Get the word out

There’s no point in putting on an event if nobody knows about it. For this year’s festival [2013] we distributed 15,000 brochures – all of which had to be written, designed and printed.

Our online campaign began with revamping and updating the website, adding events and authors’ biographical details, and writing blogs and news stories to keep it current. We also stepped up the social media activities with a festival Facebook page and Twitter account and contacted online events websites to get the festival listed. Regular press releases to the media led to plenty of local newspaper coverage and an invitation to appear on BBC Radio Leeds.

 

7. Enjoy the experience

Running a festival is hard work but it’s also a lot of fun. Make sure you take time to enjoy the events and the experience as it’ll soon be over – and then you’ll have to start planning for next year.

 

NOTE: this article originally appeared in Excelle Magazine