Saturday, 9 August 2008

Cheltenham Festival of Literature

The 350 plus events in the programme for this year's local literary festival apparently need 60 pages to describe - a far cry from the slim booklet of relatively few years ago: here is a photograph of the banner which adorned Cheltenham Town Hall for the 1993 Festival: the title sponsor is now The Times.

The Editor of our local paper used to make regular snipes at the Festival's "elitism". Clearly, they were heeded: now the programme has swung to the opposite extreme. Indeed someone rightly complained of this in a Letter to the Editor, published this week. Michael Atherton, Dawn French and Mariella Frostrup will all no doubt attract their crowds. But where are the great figures who used to come to Cheltenham, the poets. the real literary giants, who gathered around Alan Hancox after their events till late into the night?

And why does the brochure need to be larded with so much puff? "In a characteristically provocative and thought-provoking discussion...", "...presents a captivating illustrated explanation...", and "He discusses his new memoir and shares some of his remarkable memories in a hugely enjoyable event." (These are just three examples from the synopsis of what's on in the morning and afternoon of Day 1.)

Do the organizers have a Time Machine, to enable them to review the Festival before it happens? Assuming they don't, why burden us with a work of fiction, when we can perfectly well make up our own minds about which (if any) events we want to pay a lot of money to attend?

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