West Port Book Festival: Organising a Community Book Festival

Category: Reading

“The West Port is Edinburgh’s Soho, a heady mix of booze, bosoms, bespoke tailoring and BOOKS. It would almost be churlish not to celebrate this profusion of pages so we run an annual book festival that plays out over a number of wonderful venues, ranging from singular second-hand bookshops to crisp art spaces and whisky-scented pubs.”

This has been our standard copy since we started the West Port Book Festival about five years ago. How we came up with the Soho line is rather lost in the mists of time, but the discussion that preceded it remains pretty clear – we loved the West Port bookshops, we were less impressed by the strip joint clientele that scared away customers, and we thought a book festival actually based in a bookish area sounded like a great idea (after a few pints it did, anyway).
So right from the start the West Port Book Festival was a community festival, which was to be based in the community and supported by the community (neon bits excepted). The bookshop owners were cautiously supportive, possibly on account of hearing our plan in the cold light of day, but we pressed ahead. After all, starting a project is always pretty easy; seeing it though is the difficult bit.

Right from the start we had a great core team. Peggy likes people, I like strategy and Kay likes spreadsheets. Moreover, we could draw on the support of Will, the best designer we know, Drew, a web developer and my favourite husband, and social media whizz Colin, Peggy’s other half. Sooner than you’d expect, we were crowding round a printer getting excited about the ink spot in the logo. Not long after that we’d set a date (I just mistyped fate, tellingly) and Peggy had set her sights on some high profile authors for our first year fest.
It’s rolled on from there. We’ve become a bit of a pop-up festival, running when we think works best and when suits us, and Peggy has fine-tuned her programming skills. These days we’ve turned our attention to sculpting a programme that is innovative, entertaining and cohesive in a ‘West Port’ kind of way. We programme people who don’t have a book out, who we like, or who are dead, in some cases. Basically, we do things our way, which may sound like a cheesy song, but at least has the merit of being accurate.

We’ve always been funded by a mix of programme advertising, sponsorship (mainly by the programme printers) and donations. This year we crowdsourced funds using Indiegogo which worked really well, raising $1585. We’ve never paid anyone, including ourselves. We do a good line in presents, including antiquarian books, whisky and a calendar featuring chickens. The upside of this approach is that it keeps things fluid, flexible and straightforward. The downside is that we all need day jobs.

Peggy, Kay and I hope that you’ll enjoy the festival this year. We’ve had quite a lot of fun organising it, and quite a few pints too. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some great people – including poster designer Piotr Tamulewicz and festival officers Agata Maslowska, Ottilie Shipp, John-Mark Glover and Nicola Hopper – and have, as always, enjoyed considerable support from the West Port massive. You can browse our programme online and the website is responsive so it looks great on iPads and smart phones too (thanks Drew). Or if you have an iPhone you can download our West Port Book Festival mobile app (thanks Trevor, from the USA).

Or you can pick up one of our beautiful print programmes from one of the West Port bookshops and from select other venues. All events are free. Most are ticketed. Please see www.westportbookfestival.org/tickets for more information or just turn up at our box office at Peter Bell Books, (68 West Port, EH1 2LD)

See you there!

The West Port Book Festival runs from Thursday 12th until Sunday 15th October and most events are free.