Lit Fest Highlights of 2016

beowulf storytelling

Telling the tale of Beowulf

This has been an incredible year for literary festivals and events. There are many moments that stand out, from the simple pleasure of sitting in a warm room listening to someone read a good story, to the buzz of meeting new people, seeing new places and trying new things. Highlights must include my first ever visit to the Hay Festival, and hearing well known writers such as Tracy Chevalier, Sebastian Faulks and Simon Armitage discuss their work. But there are three festivals that really stand out for me, as I look back over a year of literary events….    

1) Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival – July

Beyond the border storytelling

The Storytelling Festival takes place in a beautiful location on the Welsh coast

It takes a certain kind of mentality to open yourself up to the idea that storytelling can be an art-form, not just something for children. But once you take that leap, allow yourself to enter a tent, sit back and listen, you soon discover a world of magic and mystery like nothing else.

Looking back over a year of literary events, I would say that storytelling is just as fascinating as fiction and poetry, though it gets far less attention. Storytellers are blessed with the curious skill of being able to transport an audience to another space and time, with little more than their own voice and imagination.

This was the first time I’d attended Wale’s International Festival of Storytelling, and you can read more about my experience in a piece I wrote for Wales Arts Review. It takes place every two years, so you’ll have to wait until 2018 for the next one, but it will be worth waiting for.

2) Roald Dahl’s Unexpected City in Cardiff – September

Roald Dahl's Giant Peach

The event involved a real Giant Peach

This was always going to be an epic moment (celebrating the centenary of Roald Dahl in the city of his birth), but it was also an incredible example of how the arts can be at the centre of things, of how thousands of people will flock to attend an event where they don’t know what will happen, or when, or where, and of just what can be done with a pot of money and a little imagination….

My most memorable moments of the day…

  • Being stopped in my tracks by an arctic sledge as I rushed up The Hayes, planning to meet a friend for coffee, and then being blasted in the face by fake snow as I tried to take a photo.
  • Thinking “it would be really cool, and pretty unexpected, if someone suddenly appeared on the roof of City Hall, but probably impossible due to health and safety concerns”, only to look up moments later at two opera singers performing on the roof…
  • Seeing Fantastic Mr Fox tightrope walking high above Duke Street.

British vs. Norwegians in a race to the Pole

I loved the fact that there were JCBs involved, that stuff was happening all over the place and could even happen, without warning, right next to you. See more photos of this crazy day on my Facebook Page…

3) The Cardiff Book Festival – October

What luxury to have all the excitement of a literature festival, but in your very own city! This was the first ever Cardiff Book Festival, but I seriously hope it will become an annual event.

I always love hearing writers discuss their work, revealing their techniques and frustrations, and illustrating just how unique the writing process can be. Author Deborah Moggach described how, whilst many authors shut themselves away from the world, she prefers to “keep life going”. She did admit, though, that writing “requires absolute concentration, and if it goes well, you become a sort of husk, because your mind is elsewhere”. Moggach explained that her method involves knowing “the bare bones” of a story before she begins writing, but then, as you begin to write “your characters can take you anywhere”.


Owen Sheers at the Cardiff Book Festival

Poet and novelist Owen Sheers was also at the festival, fresh from creating Green Hollow (a film in commemoration of the Aberfan disaster). He spoke about his career as a writer, how the subject of war keeps coming up in his work, and the fact that so much seems to happen by accident, including his first foray into fiction with Dust Diaries (one of my favourite books of all time) where he ended up using fiction to “fill in the gaps”.

You can read my piece on the New Welsh Review blog, which gives a sense of the festival as a whole and further highlights.

Book your tickets here for Cardiff Book Fest 2017.

What were your literary highlights of 2016?

Please feel free to share your memories and moments using the comments below.


3 thoughts on “Lit Fest Highlights of 2016

  1. I went to Wenlock Festival for the first time- lovely vibe as the small town was full of writers, readers and performers, and a good mix of Welsh, Borders and Midlands voices. Thery are taking a break in 2017 but I’ll be back there in 2018.

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