Tuesday, 19 July 2016

UEA'S FLY:: A Festival to Watch

Summer is finally here! Endless days of freedom and a break from education are just around the corner. With these unscheduled weeks comes plans for expeditions, adventures and searches for new experiences; whether that be diving into that new paperback you've been saving for the 'right' moment, or attending a literary festival. If you're abroad, you may have already ventured out to Book Expo America [BEA], and for those of us living in the UK, YALC is less than 14 days away. Whilst YALC is very much in the spotlight when it comes to Young Adult events, have you heard about FLY Festival?

Established in 2013 and having run this past June, FLY festival was founded by University of East Anglia. As Natalie Bailey tells me, it was Norwich's gained status as a UNESCO City of Literature that sparked the idea for FLY. 'It happened after it was announced that Norwich would become the only UNESCO City of Literature in the country. I realised that Norwich and the university had such a rich literary culture, but we weren’t actually doing anything for young people. So, it seemed like a real gap in the market and missed opportunity. Normally, I work as part of UEA’s outreach and recruitment teams, putting on lots of events for young people. So, it seemed like a great opportunity to link those two things together. So, I spoke to Antoinette – who is one of our literature and creative writing teachers with lots of experience in running festivals - and we joined forces to create FLY.'  

By no means did FLY festival come together quickly, as Antoinette Moses explains. Planning and establishing a literary festival isn't as simply of a process as you'd like it to be. 'It takes a very long time and a huge amount of work. We’re already starting on preparing next year’s festival.' Excitingly, foundations for the future are quickly being solidified too. 'We have the dates for the next five years of FLY already booked. Next year is the 10th-14th July. We already have a few wonderful writers in our sights, which we haven’t confirmed yet. All of that work is already going on, more than a year in advance.'

When I ask what UEA's FLY team feel goes into running a literary festival, Moses shared her definition of such an event: 'A festival begins with a dream of what a really great event could be.' The questions Moses asks herself are long and detailed, yet they carve out a beautiful image of how her dream festival would be. 'What kind of festival would I like to go to? Who would I like to hear? What if we could run a competition where students write their own stories? What if we ran such and such a workshop? It all starts with a lot of ‘what if?’ questions, just like storytelling. Storytellers always use ‘what if?’, and running a festival is the same. So, it starts with a dream, and then we have to raise the money to make it happen. Then when it all comes together, you have the money, you have the ideas, you have the authors, you have the space, and then you put on and market the show.'

I choose to raise rival and commonly heard of literary events such as YALC and Hey. The question of how FLY attracts audiences and visitors arises, and I wonder how the team set FLY apart in their target audience of 14 to 18 year olds and schools. The difference 'Our target audience is actually young people who don't already read.' The irony of this is fascinating, but Moses explains this demographic further. Of course, we love for enthusiastic readers to come as well, but we want to encourage non-readers to start reading for pleasure. To do that, we need to target schools, because if you expect our audience to go out of their way to buy tickets individually, they won’t do it.' There's an evident difference between enticing adults to buy tickets for their families, and drawing in teenagers who don't want to read. 'With young children, their parents will buy tickets for them and organise for them to go. And adults have the passion and initiative to buy tickets themselves. But teenagers who aren’t actively passionate about books won’t do that. So, what we have to do is seduce them. They go with their teachers and suddenly they realise, ‘my goodness, this is fun’. Then, they start reading. That’s why we’re unique.'

The festival, as Antoinette Moses highlights, isn't just about talks and readings, but about using the University of East Anglia and its resources to their full potential. Fly's team is aiming high in the hope of bringing the magic reading to those who don't read for pleasure. 'The festival is about inspiring young people through bringing them in contact with the best writers of Young Adult fiction. We also give them the opportunity to write themselves. We have the resources to put on workshops and get the students actively involved.'  The rich variety of activities and goals the festival hopes to achieve is certainly inspiring. 'This year, we had 40 workshops. Students had the opportunity to not just hear the talks, but also to get involved and see what kinds of writing they can create themselves through activities like our Poetry Slam at the end of the week. People reading for pleasure is something Natalie and I come back to again and again; it is the most important factor in a young person’s life, more important than their socio-economic status and the world they grow up in. Encouraging reading for pleasure can change literacy levels more than anything else. So the excitement that FLY generates about reading for pleasure – that’s what the festival is all about.'

2016 appears to have been a fantastic year for the festival, and future programmes look promising. In a midst of excitement of reminiscing on 2016's festival, Moses recalls the 'great authors like David Almond and Holly Bourne. Other great guests like Chris Riddell, great workshops led by experienced academics, and just an inspiring overall experience that will be sure to make you active and passionate about reading and writing.'

The question now is what can visitors expect from FLY in the coming years. 'We provide young people with the excitement of meeting authors, when before they’ve just been names on a page. And that’s an excitement I still feel as well. I’m excited when I meet Chris Riddell and Meg Rosoff and Celia Rees and all the other wonderful authors. Being the producer of this festival and being able to meet all of my favourite authors is such a joy and a privilege. I just feel very lucky to be doing it. It’s so exciting to just see this buzz at the festival and to see how students react to these voices. It really is a privilege being able to do this. It’s something very special.'

FLY's striking and burning desire to gift young people with the joy of exploring new worlds through literature is undeniably present throughout each of Bailey and Moses' answers to my queries. 'We think that FLY can change lives. FLY can enable students who don’t read books to actually start reading. That changes lives. That changes lives completely.' With people like Antoinette Moses at the helm of the project; someone with immense passion for literature, writing, and evoking that same love in young people, FLY is taking off. This is a festival that I will be proud to support in it's coming occurrences, and is certainly one to watch.

Thank you so much to Antoinette Moses and Natalie Bailey for answering my questions, and for Nathaniel and Bobbie at the University of East Anglia for inviting me to the event, and giving me the opportunity to learn more about the project when I couldn't attend in organising the interview. To find out more about FLY, take a peek at their website HERE

1 comment:

  1. I've never been to a book related event/festival, but they all sound like so much fun! It's so wonderful that things like FLY are being organised to allow people to discover the magic of books and reading so that they're no longer intimidated or put off by it. The amount of organisation that goes into it sounds immense... I definitely admire anyone who does the planning for book festivals and the like! <3


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