"It was an opportunity to share a love of the arts and literature with other people"
The sun has set on 2021’s Wimbledon BookFest events and it’s time to reflect on my time working as a digital content intern.
My name is Catherine and I just completed my MA in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton. Back in June, the opportunity came up to work as an intern for the festival through the English department so I applied and got selected to intern. The experience has been really fun and exciting for me; as a lover of literature, the arts and events, it has been fantastic to be able to meet authors, watch their talks and produce content for the festival’s social media.
I have been working as part of the press team off-site before the festival and on-site during the festival covering the events on social media and working with the press team - Rob the marketing manager and John the photographer as well as helping with general admin relating to the Young Writer’s Competition, putting together certificates for winners and runners up, and helping with the stewarding of the prize-giving event for the competition, where schools and parents joined us to accept their certificates. I have also been working with journalism students from Roehampton University to coordinate articles about the author events as a liaison between the university and the festival and have been accompanying them to interview festival guests in the green room.
Elif Shafak - "We live in an age where we can dream in more than one language"
Jess Philips - "I've just been given dieting tips by Winston Churchill's grandson"
As I arrived on a Wednesday morning at Wimbledon Common, I was very excited to be at an in-person festival. Like many of us, I have not been to large events for a long time and have missed the energy and buzz of live events, and the opportunity to share a love of the arts and literature with other people. I was looking forward to discovering new authors and stories and getting the opportunity to see authors and illustrators whose work I have loved for years such as Michelle Paver and Chris Riddell.
I was welcomed into the festival team and given a site walk around by Fiona. The Robert Graves and Baillie Gifford tents were alive and busy with yellow t-shirted stewards and staff setting up ready for the first event. Donning an orange crew t-shirt I was ready to work as part of the back of house team and once we had Wifi set up in the press tent, all was set for covering the events on social media!
I spent Wednesday familiarising myself with how the festival is run, getting to know my colleagues and attending talks by guests including MP Jess Philips, Historian Anne Sebba and Novelist Elif Shafak to cover on the festival Instagram stories and social media posts. Jess Philips was a hilarious and charming speaker, whose blunt honesty about the inner workings of British politics was highly illuminating. Anne Sebba explored her historical book about Ethel Rosenberg, whose voice in history has been largely silenced and clouded by misogyny. I loved listening to the reasons why Sebba wrote her book ‘to restore some humanity to a woman who had been denied it.’ I also had the opportunity to listen to Elif Shafak: she had a very poignant and lyrical way of speaking to the audience, and I was moved by the concept of her novel: The Island of Missing Trees, which combined themes of love, nature and the immigrant experience. It was really inspiring to see so many female writers and speakers - as a young woman, it was encouraging to see so many passionate, intelligent and strong women talking about their work and giving a voice to women who have been denied it.
Emma Carroll - “the magic of writing is it takes you somewhere else”
Sophia Thakur - "the narrative is ours to reclaim"
Day two of the festival was off to a start with Emma Carroll talking about her new historical children’s novel set during the Cuban Missile Crisis called The Week at World’s End. As a student of children’s literature, I was looking forward to the children’s and school programme the most, not only to discover new stories to add to my ‘to read’ list but to learn about how children's storytellers' research, write and create their stories and what things inspire their creative process. In Emma’s case, she took inspiration from her parents, music, and the hilarious hairstyles from the 1960s and writes her novels in her writing nook with the companionship of her dogs.
Another highlight of the day for me was the afternoon school event: Sophia Thakur and Denzell Dankwah talking about their children’s book Superheroes, which introduces the inspiring stories of 50 real life British heroes from under-represented communities. It was really inspiring to listen to Sophia and Denzell as they showed how passion, love and determination for what you do or love is a superpower. They talked through how they turned everyone with a passionate heart into a superhero in their book: from dancer Princess K to sprinter Dina Asher-Smith. I also worked on the social media for events including Georgia Pritchett, New Fiction Night and Robert Peston and Tom Watson.
Steven Isserlis on Bach - "nobody has written for the sonority of the cello"
Sergei Polunin - "part of creation is destruction"
Friday was the halfway point of the festival. It was a busy morning as the team prepared for guests to arrive for the prize-giving event for the winners and runners up of the Young Writers’ Competition 2021 and to hear Michelle Paver talk about her new book ‘Skin Taker.’ Since I specialised in children’s literature for my masters, I was more involved in working front-of-house for the event, greeting and seating guests and working as part of the stewarding team to line prize winners up to receive their certificates. I was a little star-struck and especially excited to hear Michelle Paver speak because she was my favourite author when I was growing up. After the event, I got the chance to speak to her and tell her the impact her stories had on me as a child and was gifted a signed copy of Skin Taker by the festival.
For the rest of the day and evening, I attended talks and worked on social media posts for Critical Minds - a series of academic talks from the University of Roehampton to introduce Sixth form students to the university, the Cellist Steven Isserlis, ballet dancer Sergei Polunin and novelist Sebastian Faulks.
Miriam Margoyles - "I didn't realise you could be in a room and be quiet"
John Cooper Clarke - "You can't be a punk at my time of life"
Saturday was another fantastic day. In the morning I covered children’s authors and illustrators Polly Dunbar, Eoin McLaughlin and Chris Riddell. It has been great to see children’s book creators, and learn how they engage with their young audiences, using a live draw along, puppets, and storytelling. I would love to work as a publicist or in the marketing department of a children’s book publisher so seeing children’s books events is invaluable for developing my knowledge of how children’s books are shared with their audience at events. The rest of the day involved covering talks by Anita Rani, Graeme Hall, Christy Lefteri, Miriam Margolyes and John Cooper Clarke on social media.
Chris Riddell - "You're sometimes faced with awkward people - and those people are authors"
Although it rained a lot today, this did not dampen the spirits of everyone involved in the running of the festival. Today consisted of catching up with some of Saturday's events posts on social media and producing Instagram stories for today’s events. First up was children’s writer and illustrator Rob Biddulph who described his journey from childhood to became an illustrator and writer. I watched the University of Roehampton’s Open Minds event which gave me an insight into the subject areas of other lecturers at the university in the film and sociology departments, and Rick Stein talked about his new cookbook. The final event of the festival was a talk with Giles Terera and his Hamilton Co-Stars, Rachel John and Cleve September, discussing his new book Hamilton and Me. I am a huge fan of the musical Hamilton so it was fantastic to hear Giles speak about how he got the role of Aaron Burr and other stories from his time in the stage show.