I am getting antisocial in my old age. To be honest, I think I have always been so. It’s just now I’m old, I have the confidence to stop pretending that I think yay being where loads of other people are is the best fun ever woo hoo. It’s not. Not for me. I like a big deserted hill to climb; I like a warm fire to sit by; I like a good book to read, and the time to read it.
So, festivals generally are not my thing. Glastonbury made me feel anxious. I could just about cope with Camp Bestival (you can disappear into the woods and be briefly antisocial at that one.) I have all but given up on the music festival.
Literary festivals on the other hand, I feel like I am just discovering. While books and reading have been a huge part of my life forever, I am not used to getting out and about to events that celebrate this most beloved of my interests.
Maybe it’s related to this getting old business. I have always been a geek (with “some pretty niche interests”, in the words of my brother-in-law’s friend). That is not new. What is new is indulging fully and publically in geekdom.
The Buxton Festival was a real find for me this year. I only went to two events: one on the use of poisons in the novels of Agatha Christie, and one on the history of murder as entertainment in Britain. But I loved them. So interesting, and whole rooms full of people as weird as me (more weird, if the amazing and quite frankly terrifying questions people were asking at the poisons Q&A are anything to go by.) Brilliant. When it comes to literary festivals, it seems my love of books outweighs my dislike of crowds. Just about.
That is why I am so excited about this year’s Off The Shelf, Sheffield’s wonderful Festival of Words, now in its 25th year. http://offtheshelf.org.uk/ *
I have been going through the brochure wearing my highlighter pen down to a stub. There is so much good stuff happening, from the northern launch of Nick Clegg’s Between The Extremes, to the new book on Jack The Ripper from Withnail and I director Bruce Robinson, to Nick Hornby, to Tony Robinson. The festival provides a star-studded line up of literary talent.
I am most excited about events like Nina Lyon on her book Uprooted: On The Trail Of The Green Man, about the history and modern usage of this powerful medieval figure (I told you I was a geek!), and a couple of fascinating-looking events from feminist writers Melissa Benn and Dr Julie Gottlieb. There is even some comedy about menstruation, which I am going to do my best to be relaxed and uninhibited about attending. Yes absolutely, I am super-comfortable with openness about periods.
And, this being Sheffield, there are plenty of deeply cool events from the likes of Kid Acne and Lesley-Anne Jones talking about her friendship with David Bowie. (At least, I think this is what would constitute cool. I realise I am now unqualified to make this assessment.)
It’s looking like a cracker of a big anniversary year for the festival that gets Sheffield talking, and reading, and singing, and laughing. Are you planning to go, and if so what’s on your ‘must see’ list?
I’d also love to hear what other literary festival is your favourite, and why should I check it out?
Hope to see you in Sheffield in the next few weeks!
*Still can’t embed links aaarggh, anyone else having this problem in WordPress at the moment?