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Will Gompertz

Thame Arts & Literature Festival

Thame Arts & Literature Festival will take place on the weekend of 16 October. Describing itself as A Whole Weekend of Inspiration, TAL has grown into one of the most highly respected boutique festivals in the literary calendar
Vince Cable

"We have to be very aware of Thame and its surroundings and what its profile is. We try not to be overly academic. We’re not trying to compete with Oxford. We like to be broad-brush – something for everyone"

We talked poetry and politicians with Thame Arts & Literature Festival founder Yvonne Maxwell

You’ve got the title of TAL Festival director but you’re founder as well aren’t you?

It’s my baby; I set it all up. I work in conjunction with Brian and Louise from The Book House who are my co-directors. When we first started they had, and still have, all the access to the publishers and they focused purely on the books and my focus originally was on music, Drama and the arts (and incidental authors). As we’ve grown – this is our sixth year now – publishers are starting to approach us directly. This year I’ve been responsible for quite a lot of the authors that we’ve got in our programme.

The Other Man by Gwilym Scourfield

 

It’s very much a partnership between The Book House and me. And my husband Steve is Marketing Manager; he’s responsible for the website and things like that…and the logistics on the day! We need the manpower!

As you said it’s your sixth year. Have there been any disagreements between the team in that time?

Oh gosh no! We work very well together! There haven’t been any! It’s something we all enjoy, we love the idea of a festival, and it brings such joy to people, you can tell from the number of hits on our website and our Twitter followers and also people signing up for our newsletter, we also do an annual visitor’s survey. And although we’re always looking for the negatives so that we can improve, on the whole we get a very positive response which is lovely.

So this year you’ve got Michael Billington, Helen Lederer and Little Machine all appearing at TAL Festival; is there anyone is particular that you’re looking forward to?

I like all of them! Will Gompertz is also coming; he came to us in 2012 and was such great fun, we could have sold his event twice over, we’re delighted he’s coming back. Sonia Purnell is also returning to TAL Fest; she was here when she brought out her book on Boris Johnson and was a great success: and now she’s got a book on Clementine Churchill to talk to us about – authors do love coming back to us!

You’ve also got the likes of Vince Cable. Do you have to be careful when booking politicians?

Yes. We haven’t had that many. We had Douglas Hurd a few years ago...we’ve been trying to get hold of Boris! Obviously we keep very neutral politically. It all depends on the books, when they come out and which authors are available – and whether we think that we’ll be able to sell tickets. Vince Cable’s take on situations since the election should make for an interesting talk.

Is it your job to book the poetry people for TAL Festival?

I am responsible for booking people. If Brian and Louise say an author is available, they pass all the details to me and I finalise it. In the case of Elaine Feinstein and David Morley the publishers actually approached me and I was delighted to take them on. One comment made in the past said that we didn’t have that much poetry in the festival, and we are supposed to be a festival of arts and literature, so I’m delighted that we’re able to offer poetry this year.

It just so happens that Jean Moorcroft-Wilson has brought out a fabulous biography of the poet Edward Thomas; and also our local playwright Gwilym Scourfield has written a play for voices about him.

We have to be very aware of Thame and its surroundings and what its profile is. We try not to be overly academic. We’re not trying to compete with Oxford. We like to be broad-brush – something for everyone. Because we like to feel we’re a very inclusive festival, we keep our prices low as a consequence, so people feel they can go to lots of different events throughout the weekend and not just one or two.

 

Related Articles: National Poetry Day 2015: Illuminating the World | “David Storey started to hit me”: An Interview with Michael Billington | Working with the Poet Laureate: Little Machine | The Wantage (not just) Betjeman Literary Festival | The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival | From Blenheim Palace to Fawley Court: Literature in Oxfordshire