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Chiswick Book Festival

11 September 2012 | Charlie Kenber

Now in its fourth year, the Chiswick Book Festival will be returning this Friday with talks from the likes of Claire Balding, Jeremy Vine and Michael Palin. Charlie Kenber speaks to Festival Director Torin Douglas about the weekend...

In its four short years of existence, the Chiswick Book Festival has fostered a burgeoning reputation for celebrating the written word and introducing great new works. Set in its beautiful West London surroundings, it continues to bring top authors and readers together for a series of talks, signing events and workshops. We asked Festival Director, Torin Douglas, what it is all about...

London Calling: The festival generates a great deal of funding for its three chosen charities – why do you feel it’s important that the festival performs this role?

By giving our profits to charities, we clearly establish that this is a community Festival, not a commercial one. All the organisers are volunteers and it means everyone has an incentive to keep our costs down. It also makes it easier to get the support of local sponsors, who like to feel they are putting something back into the community. And because we have chosen charities related to reading, it means we are putting something back into the world of books.

LC: Would you say there’s a particular focus to the festival? What sorts of literature do you look for when programming it? To what degree is it family-oriented?

No we have always tried to make the Festival as wide-ranging as possible, both fact and fiction. That’s one reason we call it a book festival, not a literary one. This year we have history, sport, cookery, crime, poetry, biography, humour and all sorts of fiction. We always have lots of children’s events – including popular authors such as Cressida Cowell and Michael Morpurgo – as well as a children’s poetry competition. This year Disney Junior and the Poetry Society are running a workshop for younger children.

LC: The festival has only been running for a few years, but has attracted big names from the outset – why has this happened so quickly?

We’re very lucky that so many top publishing people live in Chiswick and are happy to get involved. Malcolm Edwards and Jacks Thomas play a big part in helping us secure top authors, and that in turn has meant that we’re on the festival circuit and publishers are keen for their authors to appear in Chiswick.

LC: Did it begin as a festival to serve the local community in Chiswick or London more broadly? Has this changed?

We always wanted a mix of local and national authors, and of course lots of top authors live in west London so we’re very handy for them to get to (two minutes from Turnham Green tube station, which means it’s easy for people to get to from all over London!) This year we have two local historians with new books that shed light on Chiswick’s history and Clare Balding and Jeremy Vine both live in Chiswick – but you don’t have to live here to be invited!

LC: How has the festival contributed to London’s literary scene over the last few years?

London was always well-served for book events, Chiswick wasn’t – so we really have added something important to the area. People are very very enthusiastic about the Festival – they love meeting and hearing from authors. We’ve had great support from Waterstones in Chiswick High Road, which sells the authors’ books instore and at the events themselves. And by holding events at Chiswick House, the Tabard Theatre and the Arts Educational Schools, as well at St Michael & All Angels where it’s based, we have really helped bring Chiswick together.

The Chiswick Book Festival runs from 14th to 16th September. Ticket prices vary.

Image credits: Clare Balding cr Bill Waters, Michael Palin c John Swannell

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