Five minutes with… Robin Vaughan-Williams
As Nottingham welcomes its very first Festival of Words, we catch up with Robin Vaughan-Williams to discuss the idea behind the festival and Nottingham’s literary heritage past and present.
Q. What is your role on the Festival of Words?
Robin: I instigated the Festival last year when I realised there was not just a lot of enthusiasm for a Nottingham literature festival in the city’s writing community, but that there were enough people willing to commit to making it happen for it to become a reality. Since then I’ve been chairing the steering group and have been involved in various aspects of the Festival, from programming to recruiting volunteers and liaising with participants and managing the budget.
Q. How did the Festival come about?
Robin: For several years there had been rumblings at Nottingham Writers’ Studio, where I work, about a Nottingham literature festival. It seemed strange that a city full of writers like Nottingham didn’t have its own festival, whereas villages like Lowdham, Southwell, and Matlock Bath in the surrounding area did. But organising a festival is a lot of work and for a while it was hard to see who would do it, and how. Once we started putting together the team though, it quickly became apparent there was a lot of goodwill out there, both on the part of people who would like to volunteer their time to help make it happen, and on the part of organisers who would like to put on events as part of the festival. We then got Writing East Midlands, Nottingham City Council, LeftLion, and the two universities on board, and since then it’s been unstoppable.
Q. What can visitors expect to find at the Festival of Words?
Robin: They’ll find something for everyone. Whoever you are, you’ll get your way with words. There are fun, participatory activities – LGBT tarot readings, weaving words, writing on cupcakes – plenty of writing workshops, activities for children and young people, and readings and talks from well-known writers like Al Kennedy, Michael Rosen and David Almond. There are some interesting literary walks going on, a strong Asian literary strand, and quite a few events celebrating Nottingham’s status as a city of literature, past and present.
Q. Do you think more should be done to celebrate literature in general?
Robin: We’ve actually avoided using the word ‘literature’ in the Festival title because of the associations that has for some people. We wanted to keep it as open as possible, leaving space for readers, for writers, and for people who might not typically engage with writing that much. Nottingham has a literary past, but also a present to be proud of, with award-winning novelists and dramatists that are getting their work put on around the country and abroad. I think we should be looking at engaging children and young people with that literary present as something that is alive, responsive to the world around them, and there for the taking.
Q. What type of activities, workshops and events can people get involved with?
Robin: There are walking tours, like Michael Eaton’s Streets of Stories on 17th Feb, cook’n’book events, comic book sessions, workshops like Rosie Garner’s Balls to Poetry, a poetry day at Newstead Abbey, a Grumblegroar lair for children, and a Jane Austen event at the Central Library. There are over 100 events, so really too much to describe, but the programme is bursting with flavours.
Q. Where is the festival taking place?
Robin: The Festival hub is at Nottingham Trent’s Newton building on the weekend of 16 and 17 February, and there are also events taking place at Debbie Bryan’s Studio and Shop in the Lace Market, Nottingham Playhouse, Broadway Cinema, Wollaton Park, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham Castle, the Jam Cafe, and many other venues. You can see the full programme on nottwords.org.uk.
Q. What are your plans for this becoming an annual event?
Robin: We plan to make the Festival an annual event, perhaps more focused in future years, as it would be hard to mobilise people on the same scale year-in-year-out, and hopefully with some more substantial funding behind it.
Q. Do you have a favourite literary location in Nottinghamshire?
Robin: Well, Lee Rosy’s is a great literary hang-out – there’s always someone tapping away at a computer there, and there have been some great events at the Jam Cafe and Antenna over the past couple of years, though Hotel Deux (off Sherwood Rise) seems to be getting its fair share of the action at the moment too, and the Bromley House Library is a bastion of the printed word in an age of digital reproduction.
Tickets are still available for the Festival of Words, visit http://www.experiencenottinghamshire.com/whats-on/nottingham-festival-of-words-p536271 for more information and to check availability.