Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Future of (Book) Festivals: West Port Book Festival, 26 November 2012


A trip to Inspace is always a treat – they put on a series of events that are broad in their scale, ambition, range and content, yet always intimate. Back in November I went along to an event which was being produced as part of the West Port Book Festival, focusing on the future of festivals, with book and literary festivals to the fore. Nick Barley was on the panel, representing himself and also the Edinburgh International Book Festival. We were also joined by Claire Squires of Stirling University and, live and direct from Melbourne via Skype and a very early alarm call, Lisa Dempster. The notes that follow are not a full minute of the event, but hopefully flag up some of the topics that came up and the opinions of the key contributors. The theme of ‘change’ was in the air: the size of the book festival market growing; the influence of ebooks; the place of social media in the festival experience; the need for festivals to find/retain their sense of personality and character.

Please read on and note any questions in the comments.

And happy new year!


The Future of Festivals
Part of West Port Book Festival

On the panel…
Claire Squires (University of Stirling)

  • Nick: future: festivals will have to be better, know their speciality, have a personality
  • Nick: festivals coming to rely on passion: of organisers and audiences
  • Claire: in a digital age festivals have a role in providing a connection between authors and readers, while high street shops close down, etc.
  • Lisa: agrees with Nick that the current festival boom won’t last forever
  • Lisa: festivals bring people together, a focus for debate and connections, a site for fun too – leading to a more relaxed type of event with more engagement and a move away from the lecture plus q and a model
  • Lisa: festivals need to know what they’re for and who they’re working with, what their expectations are
  • Claire: commenting on uses of social media to widen the audience for an event, even though it breaks the physical link
  • Nick: says he has a journalistic role, editing an event to meet a variety of different audiences and interests; but also present a world view that brings some degree of consistency and focus to the event
  • Nick: flags up the differences between festivals of different scales, what can you achieve with the larger festivals?
  • Lisa: Emerging Writers Festival in Australia: lots of work with social media, redefining the structure of the event in order to bring in the audience and their expertise, alongside a Twitter audience
  • Lisa: Twitter has facilitated a community around the festival, giving people a chance to contact others – including enabling Twitter users to meet each other
  • Lisa: resistance to Twitter? Festival board brought some resistance to the idea, so needed convincing, but once it was shown to work it built up steam; recommends not apologising and just going for it
  • Nick: resistance: notes that some feel that tweeting during events is annoying; Nick appeals for the joy of losing yourself to the experience of an author and an expert chair – tweeting is great, but the key to the event is the quality of the conversation on stage
  • Claire: financial sustainability: different models of book sales – giving it over to a company like Waterstones, or doing it yourself? What sort of revenues are possible through digital books?
  • Nick: envisaging that festival boards are likely to be asking their festivals what their ebook strategy is… such as eibf who are trying to delay the switch to move to digital. Switches focus to production rather than consumption: what do authors demand of their authors and will this change as people’s commitment to reading changes?
  • Lisa: believes that festivals and bookshops should provide means by which customers can get hold of books
  • Nick: media driven by what people have written, whether it be social media or mainstream news, which helps reinforce the value of the book as a generator of these news cycles
  • Lisa: books as an antidote to the sound bite; sophisticated audiences who can engage with numerous ideas through different media
  • Are pure festivals de
    ad? More cross genre festivals to reflect our lives? Lisa: maybe yes… cites Latitude, though it’s still a way away; though notes Adelaide writers festival is part of the wider arts festival
  • Nick: doesn’t see an end to the literary festival, examples exist of successful festivals around the world which have their niche
  • Nick: reflects on 2012 Writers’ Conference as a shift in focus from books to writing, authors talking about why they write
  • Claire: what of those who don’t want to engage with all the new event types? There will be some authors who are not as effective on stage, whose work is effectively less favoured in the festival model
  • Lisa: agrees that festival producers need to reflect on what works best for each author
  • Nick: it’s about giving each author the opportunity to present their work; programming is about a conversation with authors – what works best for them?

Image: ‘Mini Book II: Inside cover’  |

Dr Simon Gage: Edinburgh Napier University, 27 September 2012


Back in September we welcomed Dr Simon Gage to Edinburgh Napier University, part of a rolling series of public talks by the directors of Edinburgh’s foremost festivals and other guest speakers. Simon heads up the Edinburgh International Science Festival, which has enjoyed a very successful 2012 with some innovative new events and the second instalment of their Abu Dhabi takeover. I remember the date as it was my birthday, but I’m only now making the time to post my notes from the evening. They might be a little opaque without having been there to set them in some kind of context, so any questions in the comments will be answered as best I can.

‘Geek chic’ as a new cultural phenomenon and the role science festivals play in making it so
Dr Simon Gage

Science in popular culture
  • Aspects of science that have made their way into popular culture
  • Methods and media: broadcast, publishing, museums, hands-on science centres and festivals
  • On science centres: engagement is generally between human and machine, while human to human is more engaging
  • Science events: stealing from other performances ??? theatre, etc. Kids performing fake operations with real kit. Dad dancing… based on testosterone levels?! Coffee event: what’s the science behind the drink?
  • Festivals: good sci festivals have allowed those with enthusiasm for science to find an audience that otherwise they couldn’t reach
  • Examples: Genoa learnt from Edinburgh; Abu Dhabi using Edinburgh, aimed at children, with the same activities being toured to different places; New York (‘World Science Festival’) commissioning major artistic works based on science, performed on Broadway
  • Beyond science festivals: Uncaged Monkeys is mainstream; Secret Cinema; Guerilla Science popping up at other festivals… science outside the ghetto
  • iPhone apps: Dream:On, from Richard Wiseman, getting social neurology into the public eye, finding a massive sample for research
  • Things are changing: science is reaching out and is being done professionally

  • What’s driving the change?
  • Very few trying to do it for money…
  • …but there are various stakeholders who want to see it happen:
  • Economic impact: councils, etc. want to attract investment in science: knowledge based economies, with talented people attracted to your location. Notes that the richer a country gets the less likely its population is to want to work in science and technology. There’s a role for festivals in providing opportunities for kids to experience science and find their vocations
  • Recruit young talent
  • Engage with public: governments aware that they need to get public support for spending on science, so they spend a lot of effort explaining what they do to try and win over the public. Note recent controversies that have seen the public oppose science
  • Educational desire: formal and informal
  • Scientists keen to share and find and audience: see Richard Wiseman at Science Festival; Richard Dawkins wanting to get his message out
  • Each festival has its own drivers for making them happen: Fringe, Tattoo, etc.
    • The market?
    • These audiences have to be created and found ??? they’re not there to be pinched from others
    • Once you’ve found an audience you can put stuff in front of them in new ways
    • Bring someone else’s audience to you: bring in stars, the BBC, existing brands

    • Questions:
    • Identifies a local, not national audience: stakeholders want to attract a local audience, although tourism is on the horizon
    • Abu Dhabi: benefits Edinburgh through money, opportunities to see talent around the world, a need to sharpen your game to meet high expectations
    • Reaching out to new industries: forging links to new stakeholder groups from the arts to new university departments
    • Science take up: anecdotal evidence that science festivals increase take up of academic courses… but very tough to provide evidence on a firmer basis

    Making a festival
    • The growth of science communication as a recognised profession
    • Notes that there’s a learning process: to get from a homespun event to something that looks great
    • Go the extra mile to produce something wonderful and it becomes truly engaging and magical
    • Recipe: science, communication, training, working together
    • The lack of functioning markets in this content: other cultural areas have an established market, but it’s hard to see where this is for science festivals; without the market the industry is lacking, a market will speed up the trading of ideas, content, performers and buyers
    • Some events can be pretty techie, but if you know your audience and you can put them in the right environment you can be ambitious
    • Competition: pitching yourselves against others in the same quadrant: high participation + high impact
    • Work with
      your competitors: the zoo, theatre companies, shopping malls, etc.
    • Edinburgh: very competitive, so you gotta be good to survive in this city; but you can learn from the other festivals; the city helps set Edinburgh apart, likewise their work with families

    Future of EISF:
    • International contracts
    • Plans to invest in training teachers
    • Continuing to be good, rather than pushing for growth

    Image: ‘2010.0807 Spirit of the Wild’  |

    Social media talk: 3 December 2012, Sighthill


    As part of an event for ‘Supporting Researchers at Edinburgh Napier University‘ I’ve been asked to put together some resources and reflections on the ways blogs and blogging can play a part in the life of a humble researcher, such as me. Rather than produce some slides for my twenty minutes in the spotlight I’ve bundled a collection of links into this blog post. Please post questions, suggestions and more connections in the comments below ??? particularly if you’re in the audience for the talk.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve used this blog as the basis of a presentation ??? follow these links to other posts for…
    • previous conference talk on using blogs, including links to websites that can provide you with a (free) space online to start your own and lots of tools to make it look good
    • lecture I presented to a fourth year class when my guest speaker fell ill with an hour or so before the class
    • some slides that were used at an industry focused training day, where I presented on social media
    I find it all too easy to neglect my blog, particularly during a busy autumn term when I get distracted by teaching and programme leadership. Fear not for there are many other resources out there, such as the Guardian HE Network ( Within their site you’ll find resources such as…

    The next set of links is a hand picked collection of ways I’ve used blogs and blogging, gathered together in a few categories:
    • Developing my research ideas and interpreting different topics, particularly those related to my PhD themes
  • Keeping a record of conference talks, events attended, books and papers read
  • Engaging with other bloggers: David McGillivray (UWS)
  • Publication
  • Teaching links
      • When I created the blog in the summer of 2010 I decided I was primarily writing it for myself. I wanted to have a space for my thoughts, somewhere I could write and publish work on a variety of topics and be able to find it later. Rather than keeping it to myself I also saw it as a space in which to have a presence online, but somewhere I could control rather than having to abide by the rules of Facebook or another comprehensive social media platform. It is important to me that my blog is open to anyone with an internet connection and isn’t locked up in an online walled garden. I spent a small amount of money buying a domain name to suit me (, but this isn’t compulsory by any means. I’ve been happy with the blogging platform I use (Posterous), but as they’ve since been bought by Twitter there’s a degree of uncertainty about the future.

        At times my attitude towards using the blog is ???sharing by default???: if I attend an event I might automatically write a post as my way of recording what happened, which is then shared with the world. I don’t see my work as being commercially sensitive, although I know of other researchers who wouldn’t consider publicising what they’re doing ??? perhaps they’re contractually obliged not to! At the back of my mind I ask myself what my students, employers and parents might think of the things I write and publish, whether it’s for the blog or on Twitter. In my experience it doesn’t tend to take long for new users to get used to the cultural norms of conversation and sharing on a given social media platform, but if you???re not familiar then it???s advisable to spend time reading and observing before jumping in.

        I don’t think I make full use of the tools available: I don’t blog often enough, rarely dip into organised Twitter conversations (such as #PhDchat) and could do more with video and audio to liven up my corner of the web. But I enjoy it nonetheless and am very glad I’ve got an easily accessible record of my PhD progress thus far.


      Image: ‘Blog 62’  |