The Bath Literature Festival a must for anyone with even a passing interest in books and bookish things. We spoke to Festival Director, writer, comedian, journalist and all round polymath Viv Groskop about 2016’s Festival
How much influence do you have on the direction of the Festival?
I have — as Simon Cowell would say — 110% influence on the direction of the Festival. If I haven’t personally approved it, it’s not on the list. The artistic director of a festival needs to stand behind every decision. That said, there’s a fantastic team at Bath Festivals who help out with ideas and suggestions and I’m hugely inspired by them. Anything that does really well was most likely their idea. I just said yes to it.
How many authors do you, personally, book for the Festival?
I work closely with our brilliant Literature Producer, Judith Robinson, who has also worked at Cheltenham Festivals. Between the two of us we programme all the events and book the authors. It’s 150+ events over ten days for an audience of 20,000. Counting all the extra interviewers, panel guests, performers in plays, multi-bill events (at our comedy nights, for example), it involves booking up to 400 people. Judith and I split the work between us. Luckily she is German and likes spreadsheets. And I am good at persuasive emails and threatening texts.
You’re on record as saying that you like the crossover elements at live cultural events what crossovers can we expect at the Festival in 2015?
Thankfully Literary Death Match, the entertainingly chaotic live event that mixes authors and comedians, is finally coming to Bath for the first time in 2016, featuring debut writers as part of our “Forever Young” theme, celebrating the Festival’s 21st birthday.
I’m also really excited about our double bill Shakespeare Gala at the Guildhall on Saturday 27th February. I really wanted to do something for this year’s big Shakespeare anniversary: it’s 400 years since his death. But it had to be something exciting, fun and accessible.
So we’ve got Salon Collective from London’s Cockpit Theatre performing “cue script” extracts from plays as they would have been premiered in Shakespeare’s time: with no rehearsal and with each actor knowing only their own part (and not the other actors’ lines). In Elizabethan times these one-off performances were so hilarious and crazy, people paid double to see them. Headlining the gala is Extempore Theatre with their improvised take: they make up a Shakespeare play based on audience suggestions. They’re the only company in the world who improvise using Shakespearean language. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen and has to be seen to be believed.
Your memoir was a best seller, your stand up shows were superb and you are a successful journalist and columnist, is there a novel in the pipeline too?
I’m working on some short stories and on a sitcom at the moment, plus I have a new Edinburgh show to write for which I only have a title so far: Be More Margo (inspired by Margo in 1970s TV classic The Good Life). I need to make myself write that before I write anything else. Otherwise it will have to be a mime and I am rubbish at mime.
Which events are you looking forward to at this year’s Festival?
So many inspiring women: Gloria Steinem, Jenni Murray, Joan Bakewell, Tracy Chevalier, Marian Keyes, Daphne Selfe. And it’s hard not to be excited about Sebastian Faulks and Pat Barker, two of the greatest British novelists working today. But personally I look most forward to anyone who is likely to be very silly indeed: Dom Joly, Al Murray as the Pub Landlord, Ben Miller and Isy Suttie.
The Bath Literature Festival starts on February 28 for more information and to buy tickets http://bathfestivals.org.uk/literature/