This was meant to be a fabulously, eloquent blog about how wonderful Belfast Book Festival 2016 was and why we continue to need book festivals to improve the literary landscape in Northern Ireland, but I’m so knackered from having spent every spare moment of the last ten days at Belfast Book Festival 2016 that I have decided to eat chocolate and catch up on Holby instead of writing it.
So, I’ll just say that Keith Acheson is a saint and a legend for organising such a tremendous wee festival and continuing to smile throughout, (even on day eight and nine when he did look a little grey around the gills), and the team at the Crescent Arts Centre have once again proven themselves to be all round troopers and so much more than just staff and volunteers. Thanks for putting up with my chat and minding my ever-increasing baggage and keeping the cheeseboard topped up in the Green Room and seemingly never leaving the building, not even to sleep. The good folks at the Crescent do an incredible job of noticing and welcoming everyone who comes through their door, (not just during Book Festival but all year round). They understand that a venue is not working properly if the people who look after it don’t treat it as if it is an extension of their own home and welcome visitors accordingly. They make me miss the Ulster Hall and all our beautiful regular event attendees.
Which leads me to the happy conclusion that Belfast Book Festival continues to be concerned with people just as much it is with great books. You can’t have a festival, no matter how great the programme is, without people and there were a heck of a lot of them knocking about the Crescent these last two week. This year I made new friends. I became friends in the real world with a couple of wonderful individuals I’ve only ever known online and, most importantly, I got to spend precious, wonderful, hard-talking, much-laughing time with some of the friends I love most in the world. As a writer these are the kind of environments were you find encouragement and inspiration and even opportunity. They’re so much more than just showcasing your latest book. They’re all about finding the creative enthusiasm to write the next one. I know from talking to our visiting writers that they were blown away by the warmth of welcome they received in Belfast. This makes me really proud and also glad to hear people are going home with Belfast memories which are not entirely Game of Thrones-based. Thank you BBF team for creating a space where community flourishes and people are valued. You made me feel all warm and part of something special, which is no mean feat these days. It’s no surprise that Belfast Book Festival attendance is rising ever year. If you treat your audience and writers this well, they’re always going to come back for more.
Finally I wanted to say a big thank you for introducing me to some fabulous writers I’d never heard of before the festival. Mary Morrissy- what a revelation. Kate Tempest- pushed me well outside my comfort zone in a good way. Many, many poets from Yorkshire-glad to discover it’s not just Simon Armitage dominating the Dales. While my wallet is a lot thinner than it was last week, (no thanks to David and the No Alibis crew), my bookshelves are groaning happily beneath the weight of some pretty great looking new books. I predict a few anti-social reading evenings to come. All this to say, Belfast Book Festival 2016 I had a blast. I am tired but in the best kind of way. Next year let’s be having more of the same plus George Saunders and a slightly more relaxed policy on smuggling your own carry out into the Cube.