It seemed a good idea, a literary event to celebrate the e-book, to promote and encourage new authors and with established authors talking about their work and publishing experiences.
The promise of an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 visitors at a prestigious local venue made the opportunity for my wife to talk about and promote her local history book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, irresistible, so off we went.
You know when you turn up for a prestigious event billed as international in its reach with the promise of thousands and the birth of a new literary festival in the offing only to find you can park with ease right outside the event among a few dozen other vehicles? When you walk through reception wondering if you have come to the right venue because of the echoing silence and the absence of any substantial human contact beyond the staff waiting to check you in and take your money? Well…
Not being quitters and having come to check the place out for the “big day tomorrow” when Ann would speak we pressed on to our first speaker – whose talk had been delayed for an hour while the organisers waited, in vain it turned out, that more people would arrive.
We ended up hearing an interesting talk we believed had already taken place, all four of us, three who had turned up for the next speaker - and the next speaker; all in a room laid out with chairs for about 130 people. A handful of people joined us for the next speaker, who was also interesting and did well in the circumstances.
Not being quitters we went in search of food only to find that the only provision at this prestigious festival of international scope made was a burger van, an ice cream concession, a beer trailer and a mobile sweet shop. Now I am thinking, “Is it me?”
Having eaten a desultory lunch I went to the next speaker who didn't turn up. Mr Ruck had actually lost an author as well as an audience. It was astonishing but, not put off by abject failure, he continued to reassure people that "tomorrow will be different." On what basis he was able to make this confident prediction is beyond me. He clearly had no ticket sales to speak of, otherwise he would have said as much to reassure people.
As we sateating a desultory lunch and regretting we hadn’t brought sandwiches I scanned the grounds, noticing that, not only were there more stall-holders but more security than visitors. It seemed there was little or nothing for them to secure.
Stall holders were looking increasingly panicked as the day went on with no visitors to be seen beyond the same few and increasingly familiar faces walking around. It reminded me of the Einstein quote, “Insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting different outcomes.”
Nothing if not stoic we made our way to the next venue, finding it despite the poor signage, arriving minutes before the already delayed start and waited, and waited, and waited, two of us in a room set for in excess of 200 people. Finally another couple turned up and joined us in our vigil; we struck up a warm and friendly conversation and promised to keep in touch.
It turned out they had travelled 200 miles, not for the whole festival, but for this one, increasingly disappointing, day. They finally left for their B&B and to say they were disappointed would be an understatement; we determined to go and look for the speaker – the missing author.
A lone performer, with guitar and harmonica, bravely played on an outdoor stage before an audience of four or five, including we two author hunters and a staff member, while two small circus groups, in the absence of anyone else, taught each other new tricks, each apparently surprised the other was there.
Finding the organiser of this epic non-event we asked him where his author had gone. “Which author?” came the reply. We explained that we had been waiting for this speaker for some time, four of us – not exactly rent-a-crowd – only for half the audience, both of them, to walk off and the other half to go off on an author-hunt. He had no idea, absolutely none.
I said, “You’ve lost an author? How do you lose and author at such a poorly attended literary festival? He can’t exactly hide in the crowd.” Pointing out that, far from being 20,000 to 30,000 strong, his audience was no greater than a dozen or so, the food provision was doing nothing for his reputation, the stall-holders were in revolt and forming a posse, I remonstrated with him that now he had lost an author. He had actually lost an author!
“Let me find out,” he said, as though I had asked him if he stocked my favourite brand of coffee. It was one of those occasions that so wrong when it would have been so easy to get it right. I have been involved in conventions in different parts of the country for some twenty years and we made some mistakes but we have never lost an audience or an author, much less both.
This man, however, seemed to be unwilling to take responsibility for his own show and seemed incapable of showing any concern for the disappointments of others. “This is a shambles,” I said, raising my voice. “You’ve lost an author for pities sake” However, he seemed to be talking as though this was a small wisp of cloud in an otherwise clear blue sky.
Well, I demanded my money back and we finally left the venue, wiser for the experience but poorer in terms of time lost in hours of preparation, in rearranging the whole weekend to accommodate this fiasco, and in emotional investment in terms of hopes raised and dashed and the frustration felt in watching a train crash of an event and being unable to do anything about it, not even reason with the organiser.
I have since heard that the stall holders were practically a lynch mob by Sunday lunch time, when the event was closed early “due to unforeseen circumstances.” Of three speakers on the Sunday, two had no audience while one had an audience of one.
I haven’t heard about the final fate of the missing author but I hope, for his own sake, he had the sense to see the event for what it was and sneaked off to somewhere where people are interested in e-books.