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Guest blog: Why is Nottingham holding a Festival of Words?

Festival of Words banner with photos of many speakers

This week sees the start of the Nottingham Festival of Words.  Our guest blogpost today is by Sarah Dale, a chartered psychologist and author, who has been moonlighting as marketeer for the Festival.  She writes in a personal capacity about her experiences.  You can find out more about the festival at www.nottwords.org.uk, or by following @nottwords.  Sarah’s website is www.creatingfocus.org and she is on twitter @creatingfocus.

photo of Sarah DaleThe Nottingham Festival of Words is just about upon us as I write. The Festival is back for only the second time so in Festival terms this is a baby, not out of nappies yet. Cheltenham Literature Festival, for instance, began in 1949. We’re beginners, and some weeks have felt a bit like an episode of The Apprentice – fortunately without the egos or the boardroom show downs.  And on the winning team of course.
My involvement is on the marketing and communications side of things. I have a straightforward aim – to make sure as many people as possible who would be interested in the Festival know about it. All work towards this aim has happened under sometimes breath-takingly short timescales, very limited resources, and against the backdrop of many competing claims on the attention of our already busy potential audience. So far so normal, I can hear people involved in the arts of any sort shouting.
It is also a case-study in team-building when I look at it through my occupational psychology lens. No one is working full-time on it, most are volunteers who have been loaned by their organisation and the organising team consists of five complex organisations with a wide variety of agendas: both of our Universities, Nottingham City Council, Writing East Midlands and Nottingham Writers’ Studio.
This Festival – like so many others – relies on gigantic measures of goodwill and good humour, patience, tolerance and sheer hard work. I never cease to be amazed by what people can achieve when they find a way to work together. It makes my work as a psychologist, writer and, of late, the rather unexpected role of marketing officer, endlessly fascinating and inspiring.

Does the world need another Festival anyway?

word bubble for the FestivalGood question. I don’t think it does need another Festival that is trying to copy already well-established events. This is why it is a Festival of Words rather than a book or literature festival. Whilst none of us are against book launches and promotions, this Festival is not primarily for authors to simply appear on a celebrity circuit, and for the audience to buy books. It is about something more challenging and more creative than that, in my eyes.
I wanted to be involved in this Festival because I am increasingly exercised by things I see around me. The way politicians use words. The way there are more and more books and people have less and less free time or attention span to read them. The way technology is changing the way we communicate (for better and worse). The impact all of this has on our communities, our well-being, our sense of identity and the meaning we make of our lives, including how we bring up and educate our children.
I think a Festival such as ours is of huge significance, actually. It really isn’t just about entertainment, much as we hope that people will be entertained by it. It is about engagement and, through words, being challenged to think, to question and to be brave enough to connect with others and foster our own creativity too. All of that is ultimately far more rewarding – and important – than being passively entertained.
My personal hopes for it are that it brings people out to listen to authors and performers that they are not familiar with, and to become more active members of the already vibrant creative Nottingham community. Whilst some of my motivation may sound quite serious, one of the main requirements for me was that the whole thing would be fun, and so it is proving. It has involved much cake and laughter and the odd glass of wine and the Festival hasn’t even started yet.
I thought I was quite well-read until I became involved in this Festival when I suddenly discovered whole worlds I wasn’t aware of. It’s humbling and slightly alarming but at the same time very energising to be introduced to creative work we perhaps don’t know or even understand but that can offer a new perspective on old issues. The Festival of Words gives us a golden opportunity to be stretched, to wake up to our own stories and those of others whose experience is very different from our own, whether they live in the same city or come from afar.
I urge you not simply to stick to the familiar, but also to go and see something you don’t recognise or are not sure you’d like. I will be at most events and truly can’t wait to learn more and to have a laugh with old and new friends in the process. Do say hello if you see me!

Logo of Nottingham Festival of Words, 13 to 19 October