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Fresh Ideas for Folkestone Book Festival: An Interview with Geraldine D’Amico

With past experience as talks organiser at the French Institute, publicity director at Random House and seven years from 2005 as director of the Jewish Book Week, the second oldest book festival in the UK after Cheltenham, Geraldine D’Amico comes well qualified to take over as programming manager of Folkestone Book Festival.  More recently she has started a new festival, Notes and Letters, which takes place at Kings Place, London in October and, as she explains, “looks at the parallels and connections between literature and music – notes and letters in every sense of the word.”

During her time at Jewish Book Week, she set out “to broaden its scope and turn it from a community festival to a festival which was much more open to everybody, to go for the essence of what it means to be Jewish culturally, to explore this and its parallels with other religions and other ways of thinking.”

Further broadening its appeal is something D’Amico will be striving for with the Folkestone book festival.  As she says, “The essence of a good book festival is that it should be very eclectic.  It should appeal to various audiences and be very welcoming and open. People may come to listen to authors they already know but also come to discover new names, new authors.  For me it should be an event that will make you think and perhaps encourage you to look at the world in a different way. My dream is to create a book festival where people come out and want to continue the conversation either with other members of the audience or by doing some further reading.”

“But of course”, D’Amico continues, “It is very important to think about the authors and what is in it for them. They may come because they are interested in discovering a new place. But also, as the literary world is going the same way as the music world, for writers to sell their books they need to get around a lot more and do more events than they used to. Festivals and book signings give them a chance to meet their readers and perhaps build up a new readership for their future books, And for festivals that are a certain size – something Folkestone might achieve one day – it is also a place where authors meet other writers, perhaps from other parts of the world.”

Authors for this year’s festival which will run from 2 – 10 November Include Artemis Cooper, who will talk about her biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, soldier, and writer of, amongst other books, A Time of Gifts, considered by many to be one of the classics of travel literature. A further biography will be that of Beethoven by John Suchet.  History, always popular, will feature prominently from antiquity to modern times, one book being The Fishing Fleet by Anne De Courcy, an account of the women shipped to India from the late 17th century in search of a suitable husband. The younger sons of the English gentry, for whom the army was always a career option, were no doubt amongst those seeking wives in the Raj. Their elder brothers who inherited the landed estate are the subject of Adam Nicholson’s book “The Gentry: Stories of the English, which will also feature.

For great entertainment the eternally popular Pam Ayres will be reading her poetry, while fiction will be represented by Judy Finnigan with her first novel Eloise, a ghost story and thriller about “overwhelming grief, passion and betrayal”. Another thriller has resulted from the Danish television series The Killing, which became a great talking point over many weeks in 2011, often via the female protagonist’s sweater. Though books deriving from television series often fall flat the English edition produced by David Hewson has proved a huge success.

Other fiction includes two Festival Reads – books that people are encouraged to read before coming to an associated Event – Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Deborah Moggach’s These Foolish Things. Following a showing of the film of Fahrenheit 451, there will be a round table discussion of the book, the film and science fiction in general. Deborah Moggach will be coming to talk about her book, of which the film adaptation The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will be screened. 

It is not possible to list all the speakers and events of this year’s festival as the complete programme will only be revealed at the Friends Preview evening at 6.00 pm on Thusday 13 September in Quarterhouse. Once again, during the festival, there will be a Friends Festival Quiz night. In addition there will be participation by local authors as well as poetry and musical performances. Though the main venue remains Quarterhouse, The Grand, Googies Art Café, the University Centre and the Library will also host events

Though history and biography often form the staple of book festivals, the last day of Folkestone’s this year, Saturday 10th November, will be about the future. D’Amico concludes “We will end the festival looking forward with talks or discussions on economics, progress and climate. And indeed with regard to future festivals, I welcome approaches from anyone either through the Friends or directly. I want to hear what people want and to deliver something that is really successful.”

For details of the Festival:  www.folkestonebookfest.com. Tickets will be available from Quarterhouse Website www.quarterhouse.co.uk  or Box Office on 01303 858500.

To join the Friends and receive a invitation to the Festival preview on 13 September, please contact: Jo Olliver, Membership Secretary – Tel: 01303 247 775 or email info@flits.org.uk. Web Site: www.flits.org.uk/friends-folkestone-book-festival

 Nick Spurrier.

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