Clapham Book Festival 2018 – How’d We Do?

So now it’s report back time.  The Festival undertakes to report to its sponsors on achievement against the targets it sets itself each year. This year’s Report is being put together, but I can share some highlights.

Revenue from the box office and from book sales is up on 2017 and continues the upward trend from 2016. This isn’t surprising, we had more events and, therefore, more books for sale. So, overall, we made a small ( a very small ) profit.  But then making profits isn’t what the Book Festival is about, it’s about celebrating books and reading, tempting authors to Clapham and bringing Clapham authors to the notice of their neighbours. We certainly did both this year.

On publicity we didn’t get so many featured articles this year, even in local media, maybe because of the greater focus on fiction ( last year Kate Adie was very popular with local media editors ), but also because Dame Margaret did not do interviews. This was out-weighed, however, by publicity from the Royal Society of Literature and the Society of Authors, as well as web-sites like Book Brunch. The Sunday Times was interested in doing a piece, though this was at a very late stage and we thought that next year, a bit earlier in the process, might be better.  Listeners to Radio 4’s Poetry Extra or watchers of BBC4’s Mark Lawson Talks to… may have heard our little Festival mentioned on national BBC radio and TV (something which will help when seeking sponsors for next year).

Our mailing list grows, as do our Twitter followers and folk using our web-site (these targets were hugely exceeded). The Feedback sheets (completed by 30% of the total audience – a very high percentage) suggest that, despite our foot slogging around local markets and areas where people congregate, the leaflets weren’t actually a major driver of attendance. This is instructive as printing is a major part of our spend. We will review the practice next year. Feedback also tells us that we deliver a high quality product. 95% of respondents said they were very satisfied, with 5% stating fairly satisfied, but only, they said, because of the last-minute withdrawal of Lucy Luck, whom they had wanted to see.

Thanks must go to The Windmill on the Common, an old coaching inn now turned into a pub and boutique hotel, for their generous prize of an overnight stay for two with breakfast, which persuaded folk to fill in the Feedback sheets and thereby enter the raffle for the prize. That has yet to be drawn.

All that said, we didn’t manage to meet the rather ambitious audience numbers targets we had set ourselves. This meant that the average attendees per event was down, from 52 last year to 33 this (17 in 2016).  The reasons for this, we believe, are complicated. We had more events this year and we knew that some of them were ‘niche’, the poetry slot, for example, was unlikely to achieve our targeted average. We calculated that the evening event would, like last year, sell out, which would cover any shortfall.  But we hadn’t bargained for the rain setting in at about half past four.  Almost half our evening audiences last year were ‘walk ups’, people deciding to come along at the last minute. People were unlikely to do so in the pouring rain.  So, while we had perfectly respectable audience numbers in the evening, it wasn’t the ‘put more chairs in’ experience of last year. This meant that the average went down. The physical Box Office closing for refurbishment just over a week before our event didn’t help either, though tickets were still available on-line.

So, for another year running, Clapham Writers has delivered a successful event. We know how to do delivery now, that much is clear. But there’s still a lot of learning for next time, about publicity, scheduling and calculating audience numbers (which, by the way, everyone who does this sort of thing agrees is something of a lottery). The next Clapham Book Festival might look rather different, who knows?

A version of this article first appeared on The Story Bazaar web-site in June 2018.

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Clapham Book festival 2018 – How’d it go?

The dust has settled, the crowds have gone home and everyone involved with delivering the Clapham Book Festival 2018 takes a hefty breath. Sigh.

It was very hard work.  We had twice as many events this year as last and in two venues, probably too many events, to be absolutely honest. The day had dawned fair, but not too hot, which was remarkable given that the weekend which preceded it and that which followed saw temperatures up into the high twenties/low thirties. We would have had no chance in such circumstances, no one would have chosen to come indoors. But it was pleasant, with a chance of showers.

We met at nine in the morning at Omnibus Theatre, in my case carrying the cash float, a pile of Feedback sheets, the Festival banner and additional T-shirts for our new volunteers. Fortunately I had help from Sponsorship guru, Bertie, who lives just around the corner. On arrival we began to set up the tables for book selling and book signing – we had over three hundred books this year, all transported by the trusty ( not to say saintly ) Director of Books, Dave, who had collected them from Clapham Books the day before. Bertie and Dave were joined on the book stall by new volunteers, Sue and Andrea, both of whom put on their T-shirts.

Two of the Trustees and Paula, our Programme Director, then set out across Clapham to the Library in the High Street, to greet our first author, prize-winning Patrice Lawrence, whose session started at ten.

Meanwhile Adam had arrived at Omnibus to help shift furniture in the theatre and the lounge/bar, while John, our Technical Director, was deep in conversation with Paul, the technician. Slideshows flitted across the back screen, lights dimmed and rose, the dais at the front of the auditorium took shape, acquired chairs and microphones and a stand for flowers. Our secure dressing room began to fill with items. The handmade chocolates to be given as small gifts to the authors were placed therein in their little bags ( thank you Macfarlane’s Fromagerie ) as were personal items.

The book stall and the performance space were taking shape.  Our first speakers, Emma Darwin and Philip Gwyn Jones arrived and drank coffee, they were speaking at eleven. But there was some embarrassment – Emma had stepped into the breach at the last moment when Lucy Luck had to pull out and, while the Programme had been up-dated by Omnibus, her image had not be put up on Omnibus web-site. Additionally the Programme page on the CBF web-site still listed Lucy (although the Authors page had replaced her with Emma). Profuse apologies, Emma was very gracious.

This year it fell to me to open the first Omnibus session, which I did, to the clicking of Penelope’s camera (well, tablet). Then the lights went down and I sat back to enjoy a really good discussion on writing and publishing. So did an appreciative audience. And then it was on to the next item – the poets had already arrived and were waiting outside. Thus the day passed, always busy, always looking to the next item, occasionally taking a break while helping rearrange books in a newly quiet lounge area, while a session was going on in the theatre.

The items which I saw were excellent, the speakers really engaged with the audience and with each other, sometimes proving quite revelatory, always insightful. By late afternoon, when the rain came down ( and didn’t stop ) the theatre had seen good sized audiences, especially for Dame Margaret Drabble. One lady had come from the Midlands bearing her 1972 copy of The Millstone, which Dame Margaret duly signed. As people began arriving for the evening session we prepared to move the book stall from the lounge into The Greene Room for the final, informal event with music and for people to have their most recent book purchases signed by Deborah Moggach OBE.

All set up in the new room. we heard Elizabeth give the closing speech, as the musicians began, quietly, to play and the doors at the back of the theatre opened. The audience poured out, to buy more books, to have a drink at the pop-up bar, to talk about the Festival. Local authors came along, Annemarie Neary (The Orphans, Hutchinson 2017) Brian James ( Dangerous Skies, Claret Press 2016) and Bobbie Derbyshire (Oz, Cinnamon Press, 2014) were the ones I spoke with, but there were plenty of others. Lots of Festival goers told me how much they had enjoyed it, many people attending more than just one event.  Job done.

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GDPR Clapham Wriers Privacy Statement

Clapham Writers commits that when we collect, store and use data, we will meet data protection standards and comply with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

In order to operate, Clapham Writers needs to gather, store and use certain forms of information about individuals. These can include Directors (Trustees), employees, sponsors, volunteers, audiences and potential audiences, business contacts and other people we have a relationship with or regularly need to contact.
Our data policies are in place to protect the rights of our sponsors, volunteers and supporters, and comply with data protections law and follow good practice. They apply to all those handling data on behalf of Clapham Writers including the trustees, employees and volunteers and contractors/third party suppliers.
The Chair of Trustees is the Data Controller for Clapham Writers and will determine what data is collected and how it is used; she also acts as Administrator. She, together with the other Trustees, is responsible for the secure, fair and transparent collection and use of data by Clapham Writers. Any questions relating to the collection of use of data should be directed in the first instance to the Chair of Trustees (E
Everyone who has access to data as part of Clapham Writers has a responsibility to ensure that they adhere to our Data policies. Clapham Writers uses third party data processors (Mail Chimp and any box office provider) to process data on its behalf, we will ensure they are compliant with GDPR.
Our Privacy Policy, including Data Protection, Retention and Audit can be found Here.
The Trustees will keep these policies under periodic review. Staff and volunteers are encouraged to comment and suggest ways they might be improved. Any comments or queries should be directed to the Chair of Trustees in the first instance. Any failure to comply with our Data policies will be taken seriously.

Julie Anderson, Chair of Trustees – Clapham Writers, May 2018

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It’s officially the hottest May Bank Holiday for forty years. The weather has really brought folk out in Clapham, south London. At ten in the morning on Saturday the Old Town pavement cafés were already full and local shops saw queues of people buying food and drink for picnics and barbecues. By one o’clock the Common, or at least that part of it near to the Old Town, was becoming crowded.

I know this because I, with fellow Clapham Book Fest volunteers, was out pounding the pavements and pressing the flesh, handing out the Book Festival Programmes and, very appropriately on such a sunny day, copies of the Clapham Literary Trail leaflet. The latter proved especially popular as people saw it as a good thing to do when they were out on the Common in the sun. As a friend and I sat outside Clapham Picture House having some well-earned refreshment and speaking with a couple at the next table about the Festival and the Trail, one gentleman asked us where we had got the leaflet from. ‘Out of my bag,’ I replied and produced one for him. A conversation about Graham Greene followed.

There was plenty of interest in the Programme too. Lots of people stopped to talk about the Festival saying that they had heard about it (good) and wanted to know more (even better). There were also plenty of firm commitments to coming along (best of all, but let’s see). Ticket sales have stalled a bit, compared to last year, as Omnibus has been closed for refurbishment this week, though the phones have been in operation and tickets are available on-line. Apologies to those who have tried to buy tickets and found the Box Office shut. Anecdote suggests that people don’t find using the online ticketing easy, especially when buying tickets for multiple events, so we await a surge of ticket buying now the Theatre Box Office is open again. We’ll be watching very closely this week to see how sales go. With less than a week before the event, we’re getting to the crunch time.

Indeed by ten o’clock next Saturday night this year’s Clapham Book Festival will be over. I hope, by then, even more folk than last year will have come to talk about books and writing, to the Library and the Theatre and that some of them, at least, will have enjoyed our end of Festival Meet & Greet with local authors. Located, most appropriately, in The Greene Room, there will be a bar, food and live music from The Jags ( Jago Poynter, guitar and vocals, Rick Holland, percussion ) from 8 o’clock onwards. We’ll be announcing the winner of the Clapham Summer Fete Prize Draw (the prize was books from the Festival and Clapham Writers) later this week and handing over the prize during that session.

In the meanwhile we’ll be distributing even more leaflets, not least to folk revelling in the sunshine on the Common today and our social media campaign will continue. Our Books Director has taken possession of all the books which will be on sale during the Festival (cash and card) and our check-list regarding logistics has been written – getting up to 600 people in and out of a small theatre across one day is a precision task, and then one has to factor in the Library and the movement of people between the two venues. But it’s all organised.

I can’t wait for Clapham Book festival to begin!

If you would like to read more about the Clapham Book Festival present or past why not try                   A Literary Dame                 Books and Walking – A Literary Trail                   How to Get Published?                  Place & the Writer

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A Room at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

To round off another first-rate celebration of books and reading at the Clapham Book Festival this year we are pleased to present novelist and screen writer, Deborah Moggach OBE.

The child of two writers, Deborah went to Bristol University and then did a variety of jobs, including working in publishing, before she married and, in the mid 1970s, went to live in Pakistan. This is when she began to write and her first novel, an autobiographical tale, You Must Be Sisters was published. This was closely followed by Close To Home, about a mother with small children. By this time Deborah had returned to London and had a son and a daughter.

Moving away from the autobiographical, the next eight novels were set in various locations, Karachi, the U.S., a pig farm near Heathrow… All drew critical praise. In the mid 80s Deborah began writing screenplays, receiving a BAFTA nomination for her adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and adapting other of her books for the screen. She wrote the screenplay for Love in a Cold Climate for the BBC and won a Writers Guild Award for her adaptation of Anne Fine’s Goggle-eyes. The most recent of her own novels she has adapted for the screen is Final Demand, starring Tamsin Outhwaite, a tale of fraud, retribution and reptile breeding on the BBC. But her most famous adaptation was of her novel about out-sourcing elderly Brits to India, These Foolish Things, which became the tremendously popular The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (and spawned a hundred similarly long and convoluted film titles – witness the latest Channel Island set book club film – none of which have been as successful as the original).

Deborah has also written historical fiction. Tulip Fever, which was also filmed (2015) is set in the 17th century Dutch Republic, during Tulipmania. This was inspired by Dutch painting, particularly Vermeer and de Hooch, though, of course the Dutch also painted wonderful still life paintings of flowers, insects and tulips. Her other historical novel In the Dark is set in 1916 and, she says, is about ‘war, meat and sex’. Her most recent novel is Something to Hide, which trots the globe, exploring forms of betrayal and how everyone has secrets, be it in London, Texas, Beijing or west Africa.

Deborah has been Chair of the Society of Authors, on the Executive Committee of PEN and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

And what’s more, she will be discussing her novels and screenplays (with some hilarious stories about Hollywood and the world of film-making) at 7pm on Saturday 12th May in Omnibus Theatre closing the Clapham Book Festival 2018. Tickets are available at Omnibus, costing £15/£12 concessions and a snip at the price. Afterwards join us in The Greene Room, for chat and live music. Local authors, including those taking part in the Festival, will be there.

If you want to read more about the Clapham Book Festival 2018 or earlier editions why not try     Crime Land              Word Force                 Walls Have Ears             So You Want to Get Published        A Literary Dame

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A Literary Dame

A real coup for Clapham Literary Festival this year is the presence of Dame Margaret Drabble. We are a small and relatively new literary festival and we’re very lucky to manage to attract someone of Dame Margaret’s stature. She will be in conversation with best-selling local novelist Natasha Cooper.

Born in Sheffield, Dame Margaret went to Newham College, Cambridge to read English and subsequently joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. Acting was abandoned for a life in literary studies and writing and her first novel A Summer Bird Cage was published in 1963. Her third novel, The Millstone (1965) won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize and Jerusalem the Golden won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1967. To date she has written nineteen novels, two biographies, of Arnold Bennett and Angus Wilson, critical works on William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy and she edited the Oxford Companion to English Literature in 1985 and 2000. Other non-fiction includes A Writer’s Britain: Landscape and Literature (1979) and The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws (2009).

Dame Margaret’s novels reflect contemporary society, with individual protagonists, usually women, experiencing the political, economic and intellectual climate of the day, often the darker and more restrictive elements. There is a whole generation of English women who ‘grew up with’ her early novels which documented the tremendous societal change of the 1960s and 70s and what this meant, and how it felt, to women at that time. Women’s growing independence, financially and, with the advent of the contraceptive pill, sexually and their subsequent attempts at family life at the same time as finding some form of fulfilling intellectual life featured strongly. Jerusalem the Golden was the original ‘Hampstead novel’ though its author has always seen it as the continuation of the narrative tradition of Arnold Bennett rather than the beginning of a new tradition (which it became).

In later years Dame Margaret continued to address the issues of the day, while taking inspiration from her own life. Her 1980s trilogy, The Radiant Way, (1987) A Natural Curiosity (1989) and The Gates of Ivory (1991) explores life for middle class, educated women in post-Thatcher Britain which she has described as ‘mean, cold, ugly, divided, tired . . . post-imperial, post-industrial’. London is left behind, in the second and third book as in later novels, such as The Witch of Exmoor (1998) which chronicles the experience of an older writer who withdraws from London to live on Exmoor and the impact this has on her adult children.

On 12th May Dame Margaret will be discussing her life in letters, but also her latest novel The Dark Flood Rises (2016). Its heroine Fran may be old but she’s still living a full and ungentle life, much to the chagrin of her off-spring and contemporaries. The Guardian ‘With its echoes of Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett, this quiet meditation an old age seethes with apocalyptic intent . . . Brilliant.’ The Times ‘Darkly witty and exhilarating’ Sunday Telegraph ‘Drabble has pulled off a quietly revolutionary portrait of an age-group whose lives are just as urgent as anyone’s but are rarely considered’ Daily Mail ‘Erudite, beautifully written, funny, tragic’.

Natasha Cooper is a crime writer and former Chair of the Crime Writers Association. Her sleuth Trish MacGuire has featured in a series of nine books, her civil servant detective Willow King in seven and her forensic psychologist Dr Karen Taylor in four. She has just started writing again after a 7-year break, in between broadcasting, reviewing, writing features and short stories, and talking to reading groups and literary festivals in the UK and USA.

Come along to Omnibus Theatre on the afternoon of 12th May and hear her talk with Dame Margaret Drabble about The Dark Flood Rises and a lifetime in literature and letters. Tickets £15/£12 concessions. Buy them now, this event is already proving popular.

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Word Force

The precision, power and poetry of words.

Poetry at Clapham Book Festival this year. Introduced by local poet, art critic and editor of international poetry forum The Bow-Wow Shop, Michael Glover, our poets are Daljit Nagra and Cecilia Knapp.

Michael was born in Sheffield, something treated with humour and humanity in his memoire Headlong into Pennilessness (2011, ACM Retro). His latest poetry collection is Only So Much (2011, Savage Poets Collective). Eagle-eyed readers might remember his popular and well-attended session at the very first Clapham Book festival in 2016. This year he introduces our poetry event.

Daljit Nagra will be familiar to Radio 4 listeners as Radio 4’s first ever Poet in Residence (from 2015 – 2017) and as presenter of Radio 4’s Poetry Extra. Born near Heathrow, he too lived in Sheffield where he first got the poetry bug and later moved to London to study English at the Royal Holloway. It wasn’t until he was 30 that he felt confident enough to consider trying to get his work published and, with support from established poets and The Poetry Society he eventually submitted a pamphlet Oh My Rub! for the Smith/Doorstop Books competition, which he won. His first collection Look We Have Coming to Dover! was published in 2007 by Faber and was Poetry Book of the Year for The Guardian, The Independent, The Financial Times and The New Statesman.

Since then Daljit’s work has been short-listed for numerous national awards, including the coveted T.S.Eliot Prize, as well as winning the Forward Poetry Prize (twice). His latest book is British Museum (2017 Faber & Faber) ‘To anyone experiencing the sinking feeling that poetry in Britain is becoming depoliticised, Nagra’s work is a tonic.’ The Independent. ‘[Nagra’s poems] do that rare thing in poetry of stretching language, making it do things it hasn’t done before. It’s multiculturalism at its most complex, individual and real.’ Scotland on Sunday. He teaches poetry at Brunel University and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Cecilia Knapp’s latest work is Finding Home (2017, Burning Eye Books) is based on her one woman theatre show exploring loss, mental health and womanhood. Her first poetry collection, also Burning Eye, is due for publication in 2018. Predominantly a spoken word poet, Cecilia has performed at all the UK’s top festivals, including the Edinburgh Fringe. She was featured in the BBC series Women Who Spit (spit being the term for spoken word poetry). She was artist in residence at the Roundhouse and, more recently, at Pimlico Library and writes for the theatre, touring a devised experimental theatre piece entitled Rear View with Yorkshire based company I.O.U..

Cecilia has been described as ‘mesmerising’ and ‘totally gripping.’ Her writing has been described as ‘light as a birds feather’ (Lyn Gardner) and focuses on the poetry in everyday life, experience and human interaction. She believes writing and sharing stories to be transformative and uniting, focusing, in particular on the restorative power of creativity, especially on mental health and well-being.

They will be discussing their love of words and their art and craft at 12.15 on May 12th at Clapham Book Festival, Omnibus Theatre, tickets £10/£8 concessions. Come long and join in.

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