A Short History by Nick Spurrier
A Book, Literary or Literature Festival has taken place annually in Folkestone since 1980, though until 2001 it was a rather small affair confined mostly to the Metropole Art Galleries. However, with the arrival of Nick Ewbank in 2001, as Director of what was to become the Creative Foundation, and with the expertise and contacts of Emma Soames, who was appointed editor of Saga Magazine in 2002, it rapidly expanded. As Nick Ewbank has written “The festival blossomed under Saga’s wing, particularly with the launch of Saga’s Prize for wit, a £20,000 annual award which ran concurrently with the festival. Audiences increased with writers such as Alan Bennett, Beryl Bainbridge, William Hague, P.D. James and Jacqueline Wilson.” With the addition of an annual children’s day, the festival now reached out to all ages.
In 2005 the involvement of local people was encouraged by the formation of the Friends of the Book Festival, who ran a short story competition, quiz nights, book groups, a newsletter, a festival read and other events, raising over the years a considerable amount of money to sponsor authors. In addition the Friends provided stewards during the Festival, as well as assisting with hosting and introducing authors.
With the sale of Saga in 2006, its sponsorship of the Festival ended, as did the involvement of Emma Soames and Camilla Swift, a contributing editor at Saga Magazine. To move the festival forward, Peter Florence, Hay Festival Director, was commissioned to provide a plan and for some years he attracted some star names for the now 10 day-long festival which had by then expanded from the Metropole Galleries into The Grand next door, with the children’s events and a few others held in the Leas Cliff Hall and the Leas Club. Finally in 2009 the Festival found its permanent home in the newly built Quarterhouse in Tontine Street and under its new name of the Folkestone Book Festival has continued to flourish under the auspices of the Creative Foundation.
Over the years each festival has included a wide variety of events in addition to talks by authors, including debates and discussions, history weekends, maritime and science days, creative writing workshops, walks around the town and visits to local houses of literary significance. Contributors have included new, established and local authors, scientists, historians, philosophers, poets, politicians, comedians and actors.