The Boswell Book Festival, held at Dumfries House in Ayrshire, is the only festival of biography and memoir in the world and I’ve been to it many times and enjoyed every visit, but being a volunteer exposed me to all sorts of different experiences from what I expected.
I met loads of lovely people, even a blast from the past as a former colleague put it when she approached me, stroked an 8ft Burmese python called Richard, was the first customer in the new Hayloft cafe and stood beside Nigel Havers as he waited to go on stage on the opening night.
I took tickets at the venue doors, directed guests along the necessary one-way system as Dumfries House wasn’t designed for masses of people trooping along its corridors, and sold tickets for the children’s festival. It was such a delight to see so many kids keen to listen to their favourite authors and buy their books. There were plenty of events to keep them occupied too.
Kirsty’s Kritturs had brought along a variety of intriguing creatures that had the children slightly cautious at first but then enthusiastically holding giant cockroaches, patting the Egyptian Uromastyx (or lizard to you and me) and peering in at the tarantula and the scorpion. And of course, stroking Richard the python. He was soft and quite cold so wasn’t really enjoying what passes for early summer here.
The speakers were, as usual, excellent. We were able to attend the events we were working at so I heard Alan Johnson MP deliver his usual insightful, funny and totally self-deprecating interview about his life, from a child in a London slum to being Home Secretary in Gordon Brown’s government.
Richard Ingrams, formerly of Private Eye and now of the Oldie discussed with New Zealander Paul Tankard, the role of James Boswell in journalism and the state of it today with fake news and loss of freedom of speech.
And Robert Crawford spoke most interestingly of the poet TS Eliot and his biography of his early life. There were many other speakers that I didn’t manage to see (there are over 60 events crammed into a weekend) but whose books I will probably buy.
Nigel Havers and a play on the life of Joan Eardley the painter, bookended the festival and both were fascinating in different ways and provided a satisfying beginning and end to the 2017 festival.
Would I do it again? For sure! It was quite hard work at times but so well organised that we did manage to have breaks in between events. It is quite a logistical nightmare to ensure that everything runs smoothly, that speakers are ferried to and from airports and train stations, that the audience gets to the right venue (there are six different ones) and that the speakers’ books are on sale. Kudos to the Waterstone’s staff who rose to the occasion! And of course the organisers themselves, who are, like us, volunteers and do it for the love of it.
Roll on next year!