Henley Literary Festival opened their bookings for this year’s programme to Friends of the Festival yesterday online and held a launch event last night at Phyllis Court Club in the Riverside Pavilion. This year’s festival runs from 2-8 October and has over 150 talks with big names such as Mary Berry, Russell Brand, Michael Murpurgo, Paula Hawkins appearing to name just a few.
On the opening day 4,000 tickets had been sold which is a festival record. Sue Ryan of Henley Literary Festival commented, “It’s always interesting to see who is selling first. Nine hours in, Ken Clarke is in the lead, with Mary Berry, Russell Brand, Chris Bonnington, Roddy Doyle and Michael Murpurgo close behind.”
Sue opened her speech to the invited guests and Friends by saying, “It’s a year since our last launch and what a year it has been. I’m sure in future years they’ll be authors dissecting the events of 2016 and 2017 at literary festivals but I also feel that tumultuous political events brings with it an appetite for current affairs. In a world of fake news we want to hear what our politicians think and this year’s festival brings to Henley the cleverest of thinkers and the sharpest of minds in our lovely small venues. It is the intimacy of Henley that tends to make the authors be less guarded and more candid than at any other public event and I think that’s our USP. I’m really proud of this year’s programme it is about as a broad a subject matter as you can get and thanks to Tom and team for the long list of stars who have agreed to come thanks to his close relationship with the publishers. The children’s festival is stellar too thanks to Jade and Harriet. We’ve got Michael Murpurgo, Greg James, Claire Balding amongst others.”
The Henley Literary Festival has one of the highest or if not the highest diversity rating amongst festivals. Sue stated, “Not because we are politically correct. We recognise white males are not the only authors who write good books. The Bookseller ran a story about one festival on this summer when the lack of diversity translated itself into a Twitter row. This festival had one non-white author and 6 women. Without counting I would surmise that at least half of authors are women and rightly so.”
The other difference to many literary festivals is that Henley pays every author and interviewer. “We’re proud that as a matter of principle we pay every author and interviewer the same. We don’t pay for the big names in order to secure them and leave the smaller authors who arguable need more to fend for themselves”, said Sue.
Sue thanked all the sponsors which has meant that the festival can continue to keep the ticket prices low. This year the festival has several new sponsors including Phyllis Court Club, the Oratory School, Mr Hobbs Gin and Danesfield House and Porsche. Sue explained, “Because of the sponsors’ support we’ve been able to keep down the ticket prices and some are £6 which is lower than they have been 4 or 5 years. Some of them are a higher price but that’s because they come with a book and this is something the publishers increasingly ask for and those are their terms. We have though listened to feedback on this and this year we are providing one book with two tickets and the ticket price is often the price of the book.”
Felicity Rutland, a Friend of the Festival who attend the launch event said, “It’s a fantastic event. Every year since the festival started, I organise a group of around 30 friends from my university alumni group to come to the festival. This year I’ve booked events for the first Monday to go to River Readings, A.N. Wilson, Paula Byrne and Melvyn Bragg. Over the years I’ve also hosted and provided accommodation for some of the fabulous authors and interviewers.”
New for this year, the festival is supporting the ABC to Read charity, the big marquee is going up for the whole 9 days in Market Place thanks to Janet Wheeler at Henley Town Council and the festival is twinned with the Calcutta Literary Festival after being selected by the British Council as part of the UK Indian Year of Culture to link an Indian Children’s Festival with a UK one. Sue concluded, “We were delighted to be selected. I love the idea of Henley twinning with Calcutta.”
Tickets go on sale to the general public on Monday 17 July. Go to the website at henleyliteraryfestival.co.uk/