A collective voice for literature and languages in Scotland

A Scottish cultural treasure: survey reveals huge benefits of Scotland’s book festivals

  • Survey released for World Book Day underlines how Scotland’s book festivals contribute to society, culture and economy
  • Festivals need full-blooded support for post-COVID comeback
  • In Scotland’s Year of Stories, authors including Kathleen Jamie and Damian Barr speak up for book festivals

New research released for World Book Day reveals the immense contribution of the country’s book festivals and the importance of ensuring they can return to full strength after the pandemic.

A survey covering nearly half the country’s 60+ book festivals shows that in 2019 they attracted audiences of almost 780,000 (410,000+ in person), featuring 2,800 authors and invested almost £6.7 million of staff, goods and services (with a wider knock on impact estimated at over £11.3 million).

In 2020 the total audience dropped to 344,000, with 91% being online or digital, as the festivals worked to find new ways to reach audiences, or were forced to cancel.

Adrian Turpin, Artistic Director of Wigtown Book Festival and Steering Committee member of the SBFN said: “Scotland’s book festivals are a cultural treasure. Their growth has been extraordinary and they are a powerfully positive and much-loved part of our lives.

“During the pandemic many were able to pivot and deliver great events digitally and online – and they achieved a huge amount at a time when people were facing tremendous challenges. But it has been a struggle for the festivals and they have endured a serious battering, not least through the huge loss in revenues.

“It’s clear from our survey that they have an immense impact on Scotland’s culture and society, bringing hundreds of thousands of people of all ages, backgrounds and interests in contact with writers of every imaginable kind – firing imaginations, provoking discussion and strengthening the nation’s love of literature.

“World Book Day is the ideal moment to highlight what they have achieved and the need to rebuild after the pandemic – and this is all the more true given that 2022 is Scotland’s Year of Stories.

“It is vital that book festivals receive the full-blooded support of public, private and charitable funders, of the Scottish Government, of local authorities and of everyone else who values the role they play, so they not only recover from the pandemic, but further flourish and multiply.”

Jenny Niven, Chair of Literature Alliance Scotland, said: “This crucial survey from Scottish Book Festival Network shows just how economically and culturally important book festivals are to communities, authors and audiences across Scotland – and beyond! With more than 60 book festivals taking place in our nation throughout the year, there is an event for everyone. We work closely with SBFN and will continue to support Scotland’s book festivals throughout Scotland’s Year of Stories, which we hope will be a time when festivals can start to rebuild.”

While it is not possible to extrapolate the survey figures to identify the full impact of all Scotland’s book festivals, it is clear that the impacts and benefits from all 60 will be even greater than those from the 27 respondents.

Among the other findings (also see attached sheet of key figures) are that in 2019, the last pre-COVID year:

  • Some 70% delivered events for families and young people – a total of 450 events attracting over 32,000 attendees
  • They ran 280 schools, learning and education events with 29,000 attendees
  • Around 88% provided volunteering opportunities – totalling 3,500 volunteer days, valued at £347,000
  • There were already 100 online or digital events, with audiences of over 390,000
  • An average of 64% of people attending were local, with 33% from other parts of Scotland, 10% from elsewhere in the UK and the rest from overseas.

Authors and poets have also spoken about the importance of book festivals to their careers, to writing and to literary culture.

Kathleen Jamie, Scotland’s fourth Makar and author of Surfacing, Findings and Sightlines, said: “Sometimes you feel the world is going to hell in a handcart, but the growth of book festivals shows that reading and intelligence and debate are alive and well and happening at a local level.”

Damian Barr FRSL, author of Maggie and Meand You Will Be Safe Here as well as presenter of The Big Scottish Book Club: “Each festival has its own character which reflects the area and the stories from and of there. I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad time at a Scottish book fest as author or reader!”

Leela Soma (Twice Born, Bombay Baby and Murder at the Mela) said: “From Bute Noir, to Wigtown Book Festival, Bloody Scotland, Aye Write, to the huge EIBF – Scottish book festivals are making concerted efforts to have more representations from writers of colour from Scotland. I hope this is the start of an evolving change, that will include more diverse voices in book festivals.”

SBFN was set up in 2020, on the request of Creative Scotland, to be a vehicle for providing knowledge sharing, networking, advocacy, collaborative working, as well as guidance on best practice across the spectrum of Scotland’s literary festivals.

-ENDS-

Notes for editors

  • The research was carried out in 2021 by DC Research and is available on request – just email scotbookfestnet@outlook.com.
  • For media information contact Matthew Shelley at Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org or on 07786 704299.
  • The survey respondents were: A Write Highland Hoolie; Aye Write! Glasgow’s Book Festival and Wee Write Glasgow’s Book Festival for Children and Young People; BIG LIT: The Stewartry Book Festival Birnam Book Festival; Bloody Scotland; Bookends Festival; Bookmark; Borders Book Festival; Boswell Book Festival; Cove and Kilcreggan; Crime & Thrillers Weekend; Cymera: Scotland’s Festival of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Writing; Edinburgh International Book Festival; Imprint; Islay Book Festival; Nairn Book and Arts Festival; Paisley Book Festival; Pentland Book Festival; Scottish Festival of History; Skye Book Festival; St Duthac Book and Arts Festival; StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival; Tidelines Book Festival; Ullapool Book Festival; Wee Crime Festival; Wigtown Book Festival; Winter Words Literary Festival.

Authors’ quotes:

Damian Barr FRSL, author of Maggie and Me and You Will Be Safe Here as well as presenter of The Big Scottish Book Club: “Scottish Book Festivals range from the intimate, Wigtown, to the epic, Edinburgh and from west, Aye Write, to the northernmost, Shetland! I’m lucky enough to have been to all those and more—Borders is one of my favouriters. Each festival has its own character which reflects the area and the stories from and of there. I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad time at a Scottish book fest as author or reader! Edinburgh has pivoted to digital, which has made it more inclusive and year-round. Bloody Scotland continues to do the best of Crime. Shetland was my first fests after lockdown and the audiences and community were warm and welcoming— it was slickly organised but never impersonal and I got to be in a spectacular place and find out stories of the impact of Boer War, a big part of my novel, on Shetland and the islanders. Fascinating!”

Cal Flyn, author of Thicker Than Water, Islands of Abandonment: “Taking part in literary festivals has been an important element of my development as an author. They’ve allowed me to write many of my readers in person for the first time, and to convince those who have not yet read my work to buy a copy of the book. They’ve given me important experience in public speaking, and in the presentation of my work to large crowds. And, just as crucially, they’ve given me opportunities to meet other Scottish writers. I’ve made friends and contacts at Scottish book festivals which have gone on to be very important to my career. I feel strongly that a strong culture of Scottish book festivals is crucial in the creation and maintenance of a healthy literary ecosystem.”

Dominic Hinde, author of A Utopia Like Any Other: “Book festivals are critical to the vitality and impact of Scottish writers. Given that many writers earn little from direct sales, festivals are a chance to engage with readers, increase profile and generate other forms of revenue. They are also a brilliant opportunity to take literature and ideas to publics around the country, especially in places such as Wigtown, Ullapool and Paisley.

“As an author and journalist I believe book festivals and cultural festivals are absolutely key to Scotland’s cultural and intellectual life, and we should view them as a fundamental investment in civic infrastructure.”

Kirstin Innes, author of Fishnet and Scabby Queen: “From getting the occasional slot as a new writer at the Edinburgh International Book Festival after having my first short stories published in anthologies, to being asked to guest programme a strand on Rebel Women (interviewing Janice Galloway, Jenni Fagan, Emma Jane Unsworth, Chitra Ramaswamy and Emily Morris) for the inaugural Paisley Book Festival, Scotland’s book festival sector has had a huge and profound impact on my career as a writer. I’ve found myself chairing Douglas Stuart right after his landmark Booker win, hosting Elif Shafak and Emily St John Mandel in a daring hybrid online/live cabaret for EIBF’s opening night, forging long friendships with fellow writers after a late night in the Ceilidh Place after Ullapool Book Festival, getting into wordy arguments on book-lined staircases in Wigtown… and above all, meeting readers! Connecting with audiences in Gatehouse of Fleet and Renfrewshire and Nairn and Aberdeen and Cove; making those totally vital connections; being reinvigorated discovering that reading and writing and the love of it is very much alive in Scotland.”

Kathleen Jamie FRSL FRSE, Scotland’s fourth Makar and author of Surfacing, Findings and Sightlines: “The flourishing of book festivals in recent decades has been extraordinary. It seems now that any town which does not have a book festival feels a bit deprived. How has this happened? Through the energy and vision of readers and enthusiasts and folk with good organisational skills. Thank god for them.

“Like many writers I spend a lot of time either in my garret or at the kitchen table. But an invitation to a book festival means that I can travel where the books travel, I can go to where they find their readers. The sparky, one-hour slot means I can glimpse them – actual people! Readers of my work! They’re the ones who matter. I need to speak clearly, respond to questions and wear a dress. I also love the green-room conversations with other writers and the post-event drinks. Sometimes you feel the world is going to hell in a handcart, but the growth of book festivals shows that reading and intelligence and debate are alive and well and happening at a local level. And now we’re exploring the ‘hybrid’ model, another revolution. As a writer and a reader I can’t think of anything I don’t like about book festivals.”

Stuart MacBride, author of the Logan McRae crime novels: “The best thing about attending a book festival is the chance to interact with readers, make new friends, catch up with old ones, and do it in a much more meaningful way than can ever be achieved through 278 characters and a couple of emojis. There are people who’ve been coming to my events, at various Scottish book festivals, year after year and we’ve grown into an extended family. That has immense value to me – certainly far beyond selling a few more books. These festivals are where we come together as a community: readers, writers, publishers, aspiring authors… Scottish Book Festivals are where we find our people.”

Val McDermid FRSL, author of 1979 and Forensics: “Writers spend most of their working lives alone with a screen. The great joy of festivals is the positive interaction with readers, with other writers and with industry professionals. That’s good for us, but there’s an unexpected benefit too. Those random conversations often make spontaneous and serendipitous connections inside our creative brains and lead us to new projects and ideas. So work emerges that otherwise might never have been made.”

Hollie McNish, author of Nobody Told Me, Slug: “I’ve performed at many book festivals in Scotland from the Borders Festival to Ullapool Book Festival to Paisley Book Festival to the larger cities festivals. Being invited and brought to these has been a huge boost for my career – not only in the new audiences it has brought me as a writer and performer (as book festivals often bring in audiences who support the festival as a whole and will try out new writers they don’t necessarily know of already) but also in the new opportunities it has created for me due to being seen by other Scottish organisation: from Neu! Reekie! and The Scottish Poetry to Universities and schools in Scotland, to those who put on events in venues such as Oran Mor, Queen’s Hall and The Lemon Tree, where I’ve now done several touring gigs. These festivals have been an honour to read at and a real aide to my career.”

About the Scottish Book Festivals Network

  • The Scottish Book Festivals Network (SBFN) was convened at the end of 2020 by Wigtown Festival Company on the request of Creative Scotland to be a vehicle for providing knowledge sharing, networking, advocacy, collaborative working, as well as guidance on best practice across the spectrum of Scotland’s literary festivals.
  • The network is intended to be a forum for festivals across Scotland, which represent huge variety in terms of scale, format, and outlook.
  • SFBN now has 46 members include large and small festivals, urban and rural festivals, island festivals and multi-artform festivals.
  • For further information contact SBFN Co-Ordinator Keira Brown at scotbookfestnet@outlook.com.
  • @scotbookfests

About Creative Scotland

Creative Scotland is the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries across all parts of Scotland on behalf of everyone who lives, works or visits here.  We enable people and organisations to work in and experience the arts, screen and creative industries in Scotland by helping others to develop great ideas and bring them to life.  We distribute funding provided by the Scottish Government and the National Lottery. For further information about Creative Scotland please visit www.creativescotland.com. Follow us @creativescots and www.facebook.com/CreativeScotland.

 

 

 

 

March 3, 2022