When I’m busy writing a book my wife goes beyond the call of duty by looking after me, talking me down when I’m stressed, bringing me regular cups of tea and feeding me, telling me I’m a good writer when I am, and telling me I’ve written something awful on the far more frequent occasions when I’ve done that instead.
And then, for the last four years, every May/June she effectively goes, “Right, now it’s my turn.”
The first full weekend in June is the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, widely hailed now as one of the best small scale book/reading festivals in the UK. This is her brainchild, and she organises it entirely voluntarily, for no fee and (so far) with no funding. A team of volunteers work their butts off to make it happen and it gets better every year, to the point where last year it looked to the outside world like it was professionally run.
I help out, doing the marketing and overseeing the festival bars. So if you’re anywhere around London between 3rd and 9th June, there’s no better place to come and do a bit of beer and brainfood matching.
This year we’ve got our best line-up yet. Headliners include Irvine Welsh being interviewed by John Niven (almost sold out), Thurston Moore and friends playing an intimate local gig (sold out), Turkey’s most successful female author Elif Shafak, bookish comedians John Hegley and Robin Ince, Danny Baker chatting to Danny Kelly, Caitlin Moran talking to Suzanne Moore (sold out) and lots of politics, sci-fi, hot new fiction, music – and food and drink.
But never mind all that – on Friday 7th I’m going to be interviewing the fabulous Cleo Rocos!
The legendary Kenny Everett Show muse is now President of the Tequila Society, has her own tequila brand Aqua Riva, and has written a book called The Power of Positive Drinking. OK so she hardly mentions beer in it. But she does talk about the virtues of many other drinks, and will be telling stories about taking Princes Diana out drinking with Freddie Mercury, so that’s good enough for me.
On Saturday 8th I’m hosting various London brewers and beer writer Will Hawkes at an event called London’s Brewing, which you may be surprised to hear is an overview of the craft beer explosion in the capital over the last three or four years.
Will is the author of Craft Beer London, and we’ll be joined onstage by brewers from Sambrooks, Five Points, Beavertown and Pressure Drop, who will be bringing along their beers for everyone to taste while we muse over how brilliant London’s brewing scene is just now, and where it might go next.
Later that night, I’ll be happy to be a few drinks to the good as I rather trepidatiously become a contestant in Literary Death Match.
This irreverently bookish evening originated in the US, where it is now being made into a TV pilot, and has now gone global. It’s gaining an increasing reputation over here as a refreshing antidote for anyone who’s ever been bored of hearing an author droning on about form their book. Four authors compete for the love and affection of the audience and the judges, who score them on content, delivery, and ‘intangibles’. The two heat winners then go head to head in a a final that’s basically whatever the hosts can think of to stop the authors talking and make them look a little foolish.
If I survive that, I’ll be joining two excellent writers onstage on Sunday 9th to discuss London by Bridge, Tube and Pub.
At the same time as I was writing Shakespeare’s Local (which is released in paperback on 6th June) a neighbouring author, Travis Elborough, was crafting a book about the famous yarn of London Bridge being bought by an American millionaire and shipped to the States.
It gave him a unique psychogeography of the city, and the three of us will be chatting to each other about the different ways London reveals itself, and competing to be the first to use words such as ‘psychogeography’.
When I’m not onstage I’ll probably be helping to run the bars. Every year a range of brewers and drinks makers kindly donate stock that we then sell. With no other arts or commercial funding of any description, this makes the festival financially viable and allows us to keep ticket prices lower than most other literary festivals.
One of our most enduring sponsors has been Budweiser Budvar, and for the first time this year they are sponsoring a marquee just outside Stoke Newington Town Hall, which will be the festival hub and home to various speakers, comedians and musicians throughout the main festival weekend. Budvar will also be available in the bars in our three main venues: the Town Hall itself, the Library Gallery, and Abney Hall.
It will be joined by a special festival beer from Tottenham’s Redemption Brewery, thanks to Andy Moffat, the nicest man in the world, as well as great ciders from Aspall, more beer (and award-wining English fizz) from Chapel Down and Curious Brew, and a smattering of Brew Dog beers. And some other wine and stuff.
We’ve found over the last few years that great writing is best appreciated and new ideas best communicated with a drink in hand. The festival ups the ante on all fronts this year – see you there.