Event Cancelled? Not if we can help it. -- Julia Jones

Tennessee Fields - went ahead in 2021
All set again for 2022

It’s festival time. Book festivals, music festivals, dance festivals, beer festivals, curry festivals, car festivals. There are garden festivals, BBQ festivals, happenings, experiences, shows, regattas, fetes, fairs - and fayres. 

Margery Allingham
makes a guest appearance 

Our family summer is dominated by Georgeanna’s Tennessee Fields Country Music Festival (July 15th – 17th this year) and I’ve lost count of the number of years Francis and I have been participating in the Felixstowe Book Festival, always the last weekend in June and different every time. I've joined in with dementia life-stories, primary school adventure sessions, boats and books, ebooks, detective stories, children's writing competitions and have introduced novel writing friends such as Jane Thynne, Amanda Craig, Salley Vickers. This year it's Suffolk and the Sea on Saturday while Francis is interviewing Justin Webb; then Celebrating Margery Allingham with new friends Nicola Upson and Mandy Morton on Sunday. 

There’s the Essex Book Festival too – more than 100 events across the county. It used to be in March but now it, too, is in joyous June. Last night I was at Harwich library talking about Uncommon Courage. I arrived feeling faintly nervous as I always do: left feeling refreshed and invigorated by the attention and friendship of the library audience. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who finds book festival events offer new life to the printed page. Nicola Upson describes the Felixstowe Festival as 'the sort of inspirational event that reminds authors why they write.'

Monsarrat in Harwich
published 1943
You might think that A Book is a Book wherever you read or talk about it. But that’s not so. Talking about the WW2 RNVSR Yachtsmen Volunteers in Harwich which was so shockingly affected by magnetic mine sinkings early in the war, is different from talking about them at the Little Ship Club which took responsibility for so much pre-war RNVSR training, or at the Cruising Association, where the interest focussed on the ‘subversive’ qualities of amateur sailors. Nicholas Monsarrat serving under a sympathetic Commanding Officer in Harwich was a far happier man that Monsarrat on HMS Campanula doing escort duty in the Atlantic Cruel Sea. 

MTBs at Dawn by David Cobb
I confidently predict that when I talk about Uncommon Courage on the other side of the harbour later this month  (Two Sisters Arts Centre, June 25th) it’ll feel different again. There’ll be more focus on the ‘Spitfires of the Sea’ – the motor gun boats and motor torpedo boats used by the RNVR officers (many of them yachtsmen) and ‘Hostilities Only’ crews – who stepped far away from their ‘normal’ lives as lawyers, tea-merchants, naturalists, university undergraduates when they revved their powerful engines in the twilight to set off for highspeed battle with Eboats 40 miles away across the Narrow Seas.

August Courtauld's Duet
is coming to Suffolk and the Sea
Without customers, however, festivals can’t happen. While it's tempting to keep this on the aesthetic plane and continue to talk about the moments of magic when the writer or musician connects with their audience for a new transformative experience, we shouldn't forget that it’s also a financial relationship. Ticket sales pay for the stage sets, the backing groups, the first aid support, the electricity and porta-loos. All these things have to be in place before the first person arrives on the day. 

You’ll guess I’m thinking about Tennessee Fields here – I’ve written previously about my amazement at the extent of the arrangements summarised in Georgie’s inches thick management plan. But even a simple ‘fringe’ event like Suffolk and the Sea needs a venue to be booked, volunteers willing to give their time, travel to be prearranged. Perhaps we subsist so happily on goodwill that artist contracts are not a factor but just one step up to the main event and commitments must be made that are not ‘just’ time and goodwill but hard cash too. For musicians in particular performance = livelihood. I can’t bear to tell you what it costs to bring a Nashville star to play on an Essex stage. Tickets purchased in advance make the audience partners in the enterprise and give the festival organiser a chance to sleep at night.

This year we are all last-minuters. We want to go out but we're still worried about covid infections; fuel price-rises are terrifying; we fear cancellations beyond our control; if we buy a ticket for an event, maybe we can't eat that week...? If that's the case, then okay, fun is off the menu - or it's DIY. But perhaps we need to wonder whether we're still unconsciously caught in such a negative mind-set that we can't believe that an evening or weekend of live cultural experience will actually do us good. Watching via Zoom is not going to be the same.

The magic of a live event

Spare a thought for the festival organisers, desperately trying to balance their essential spending with the reluctant revenue stream. Perhaps the last-minuters will arrive like the cavalry over the skyline? But what if they don't.... Whisper it not -- even Lords cricket ground wasn't booked solid in advance of the New Zealand Test match. Should they cancel? I wouldn't be a festival organiser lying awake through the graveyard hours.

So if you know in your heart that you can afford to have fun and also eat, please don't wait until the evening before to book your ticket, take a look round to see what's happening near you and book it now.

I've just taken my own advice, bought a ticket and am going to listen to RSC's  Michael Pennington in Trimley on Sunday. What's available where you are? 

If you'd like to come to Felixstowe Book Festival or Tennessee Fields here are the TICKET LINKS!. And if you get yourself organised to arrive at the Suffolk and the Sea day by boat, get in touch with julia@golden-duck.co.uk and you may find that your ticket-in-advance is free!







Jan Needle said…
It all sounds wonderful. Wishing you the very best of audiences and weather.
Julia jones said…
I can't lure you down to Suffolk and the Sea then?
Jan Needle said…
I'm sorely tempted. I'll check some dates

Umberto Tosi said…
Two years of pandemic isolation makes me appreciate the return of festivals with gusto -- as you point out, delightful to attend, exhilarating to participate as an author. Enjoy!

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