#SYPfest chat: Peggy Hughes – Dundee Literary Festival: “Celebrate stories, innovate, experiment and take risks.”

dundee lit fest

When August hits Edinburgh, festival season is in the air, and we wanted to focus on the world of one kind: the book festival. What goes into putting a book festival together? Why host one? We wanted to give you the chance to ask any question you’ve ever had about the humble lit fest, and have got a series of Twitter chats so you can do just that!

peggy bio First up, we had Peggy Hughes from Dundee Literary Festival. So let’s start with the basics: why did you want to get involved with festivals? “I wanted to get involved because I love ’em! My first fest was @stanzapoetry then @edbookfest. Working for a book fest is a brilliant way to get true joy from bringing readers, writers & books together.”

But how important is social media marketing vs. traditional? “Social media is great, but traditional marketing remains important. They reach different people. @edbookfest are great! @emergingwriters. Too many to mention, many fests have built great relationships.”

The challenges are things like admin – “don’t fear spreadsheets! Manage your time/expectations” – and her favourite event she’s hosted is one “only in German + Gaelic, Irish Catullus (16 Irish writers) live in the West Port”.

Edinburgh is the behemoth of book festivals – how much does that influence them? “We’re all magpies, us programmers! It’s fab to see what everyone is up to & visit other fests but each fest has its own aims & themes & different attendees, so inspiration good but it’s a broad church. Most [festivals] work in year-long cycles, one fest ends, planning for next begins, but sometimes an author can’t make it one year but can the next, so you’re always future planning / spinning plates! All events = experiments! Even when you’ve programmed it, you never quite know what could happen. Challenges / joys!”

How do they go about engaging with a local community? “Low ticket prices, different venues, talking to community groups about your programme, group discounts,” explains Peggy. So why pick Dundee? Well for one, Stephen Fry said this of it: “Dundee’s setting is probably more extraordinary than any other city in the UK”, and Peggy says “It’s easy to get around, has an enthusiastic book community, 2 great universities & fantastic venues.”

On money, the split between ticket and book sales and sponsorship, “they’re all very different! Canny compare world’s largest & little community facing ones.” She does say this post is good for reading further on the topic, though.

More so, the unseen and new audience is really interesting, reaching those who can’t make it, or reluctant, impoverished readers. “Very important. @UllapoolBookFes did some lovely home visits this year, @edbookfest went to prison.” Wigtown Book Festival chime in, noting, “There is a danger that in defining ourselves as a community of readers we exclude others.”

Partnership is key. “Work with brilliant other organisations, like @scottishbktrust. I love partner work: doubles the effort, halves the load.”

How Peggy feels just before the festival programme launches, fyi.
How Peggy feels just before the festival programme launches, fyi.

Talk also covers the dream line up (“Joan Didion, Harper Lee & Stevie Smith ON SAME STAGE”, which sounds amazing), hosting events in chip shops and learning other people’s reasons for liking book festivals. Then there’s the advice for new writers: “Lots! Great idea! Be bold, imaginative, get to know your local readers, find good partners.”

“Beauty of book fests is the opportunity to take risks, hear someone you’ve not read. Moar of this!”

So what about the future of book festivals? “This is the question that keeps me up at night. Don’t know the answer except stories must remain at <3. So my conclusion: book fests must continue to lure new readers, celebrate stories, innovate, experiment and take risks.”

A great event with lots of topics up for conversation! The Dundee Literary Festival programme launches on September 14th and takes place 21st to 25th October, so stay tuned for further information: @HughesPeg.

Tomorrow (September 3rd, 6pm): Sam Missingham of HarperCollins talks all things virtual in festivals! Join us at @SYPScotland / #SYPfest.

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