Bournemouth Writing Festival 2023

A festival goer’s perspective

Helen Edwards 

A first. A first for Bournemouth and a first for me.  The event, brain (and heart) child of Ildiko SpinFisher and Dominic Wong ran from last Friday 21st April to Sunday 23rd April (aptly Shakespeare’s birthday)….

Amongst the team of organisers was Anna Farthing who used her prior experience, of promoting Creative Arts across NHS trusts’ in the South West of England, to help collaborate and coordinate writers, illustrators, editors, agents, academics, volunteers (and many more) to put on the festival.  Anna expertly compèred and facilitated the talks, workshops and panels running at the Palace Court Theatre (PCT) – the main site – with her professional and warm delivery whilst wearing what became her trademark bright blue Greatest-Showman-esque blazer.  She, to me, became synonymous with the festival.

I arrived at the event with no expectation other than the knowledge that I was going to have a wonderful time away from the responsibilities and roles of home.  Thank you Bournemouth Writing Festival for putting on your inaugural event the day after my birthday. By choosing this date you gave me permission to allow myself to shed my mum-ing, wife-ing and life-ing skin to inhabit a new identity for three days. I.e. to ditch the homestead and have a mini break. On. My. Own. And by choosing this date I am now left with a creative fizz deep inside that feels sustainable. With a belief that one day I too may be able to call myself ‘a writer’. 

Navigating the golden triangle of the main venues (the PCT, the Avenue and ThisWorkspace) with my head in Google Maps, I was transported back to university days.  I was ready and eager to learn.  The fees to attend were extremely low (much less than other, comparable events) yet the line up was first class. I had FOMO before I even booked with clashes between talks, which meant I couldn’t get enough of the sessions on offer. Therefore I found myself on a tight schedule to get around the 16 events that I did attend (and eat)…(and sleep).  Constantly weighing up the opportunity cost of going to one talk over another was my overriding festival dilemma. A bit like that scrambling feeling at Glastonbury whilst power wading from stage-to-tent-to-stage in a heightened state of excitement and creeping exhaustion. 

I can only talk in detail of what I went to at the festival and for that reason I won’t.  It wouldn’t be fair to all those speakers I missed.  There were c.70 events in total.  However I will shout out a few.  Sue Cheung author of ‘Chinglish’, thank you for your energised, riveting and humorous talk and for giving me your dog-eared copy of ‘Chinglish’ afterwards because I couldn’t be a**ed to walk across town to pick up a copy.  That was above and beyond.  Maxine Gee, your enthusiasm and positivity about A.I. and using it as a tool to create bigger and better was inspiring. Jeannie Duncanson and Diane Hull, what an inclusive and interactive workshop on children’s book writing – your sparkly eyes revealed the joy your chosen profession brings you (and made me want a bit of the same please ;). Tim Clague and Danny Stack, the screenwriting collaborators, spoke my language – I loved how straight talking and commercially minded both were. I only went to this talk because I thought ‘why not?’ and I left thinking ‘yeah, I want some of that too!’.

How generous all the speakers and panelist’s were to share so many of their tips with us all. A true abundance mentality pervaded. Non-existent was my previous (albeit limited) experience of the pomposity and condescension that can come from some established writers/academics.  You have refreshed my view of the industry (and made me want to disrupt some areas too).  I’m honestly not sure if an MA or an Undergrad degree would have given us as much in three months, or even a year, as we had in three days.  Except the actual writing bit of course! Pah, that’ll come right?!

The festival has given me a dip-dive insight into many things writing. From novels to memoirs, screenwriting to kids books media, marketing, publishing and poetry and a fantastic exploration into artificial intelligence, plus all the stuff I missed.  It was all there. I am still trying to slow my mind down and meditate my heart post the event.  A creative fizz is a lovely feeling but if it’s going to stay it will have to be of the gentler Berocca varietal rather than a Lush bath bomb explosion.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the additional festival highlights:
Obsidian, local creative pub/events venue, for making a pop-up refreshments café in the PCT with always a smile and a chat at the breaks.

The volunteers at the event who were brilliant. And who all had a passion for writing with often impressive experience.

The other festival-goers, my peers, who were varied, interesting, international (from Peru-to-Iran-to Oz), collaborative and friendly.  I’m sure a lot of fledgling and future connections have been made. 

Sitting by the blue-skied beach on the Sunday evening as the festival drew to a close I reflected.  But before that I considered (for perhaps a beat too long) whether I should do a ‘Shirley Valentine’ to prolong the amazing escapism I’d been afforded over the weekend. I feel as though I’ve had a holiday. An exciting, exhausting, mind altering and fully immersive trip – like skiing on acid.  And now I’m on the comedown. Now I actually need to write!

I will be back in 2024 and predict the audiences to swell off the back of this year’s success.  Thank you Bournemouth Writing Festival and the amazing team of volunteers. 

I left to journey back to Wiltshire in my ancient car with an entirely new skin in place. One that whispered: ‘I am a writer, I am a writer, I am a writer’ as I bumped over Salisbury plain.


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