Founder of Notting Hill’s Nibfest Laetitia Rutherford explains how it all began, and looks forward to an exciting new collaboration with writer and reader forum Wattpad
Returning from maternity leave in early 2012, two trends struck me as exciting in the book world: digital and live events. A sea change was taking place to establish ebooks and digital publishing as a significant part of our cultural landscape and of revenue, for publishers, writers, and their agents alike. Even while the old bricks and mortar world gets squeezed partly as a consequence of digital growth – live experiences are exerting more of a hold over how people spend their time and money. Over the summer, I had an idea that wouldn’t leave me alone: to set up a literary festival in West London, where I grew up.
One of the first questions I asked myself was: how do I make my festival different? How could I create a publicity platform and pull in strong audiences for my guest speakers? Thinking about the potential challenges, I had novelists particularly in mind. Fiction, unless authored by a widely established name, is a slippery beast when it comes to promotion and events. Non-fiction, by contrast, suggests a targetable community of interest.
As often happens, I got talking to a friend, who led me to a friend, until I came across Once Upon a Deadline and the simple yet thrilling idea for a live write-a-thon. So began plans to run my speaking and reading events alongside a live writing competition. A line-up of competing writers each produces a story based on the old classical unities: set in the area, and completed to a word count in the 72 hours of the festival weekend. In this way, we transform the lonely and mysterious business of writing into a tangible and dramatic shared experience.
I developed an identity for the festival: Nibfest, the Notting Hill International Book Festival, with a logo, a name that ties it to writing (but not to Notting Hill forever) and to memorable weekend dates, 12th – 14th April, just ahead of the London International Book Fair.
Nibfest’s programme is various and inclusive, ranging from children’s to fiction to Mind Body Spirit, sports and foodie events. Nibfest’s doors-open event takes place on Friday at 6.30pm with superblogger LibertyLondonGirl and magazine doyenne and novelist Sam Baker. On Friday night we will fire the pistol for the launch of Once Upon a Deadline, the first ever London write-a-thon. The participants are Sabrina Mahfouz, Alex Marwood, Katy Regan, Will Storr, Abigail Tartellin, Evie Wyld, plus two unpublished writers from Wattpad. All the published writers have reputations and audiences that are as remarkable as they are diverse. Nifest is putting this mix alongside the unpublished writers who are yet, within the considerable scope of Wattpad, much loved. All of them will respond in their own way to the challenge.
Live events can be unforgettable, but they are also risky and their impact can be ephemeral. This brings me to the additional – and digital – dimension of the project. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, I had the chance to meet Allen Lau, the Founder, and Amy Martin, Marketing Manager, of writers’ and readers’ forum Wattpad. The forum boasts a membership of 14 million and has recently exceeded 10 million stories uploaded to its site. Wattpad and I had a meeting together without knowing what its substance would be. We talked spontaneously about bringing together the energy of live events and the energy of viral, and about harnessing the feel of the local with the mass potential of a borderless digital world.
Nibfest is now working closely with Wattpad to add a digital dimension to Once Upon a Deadline. Wattpad has gained such profile in a short amount of time by marrying emerging mass market technologies with established writers like Margaret Atwood and Marion Keyes, who have Author pages and publish on the site.
Nibfest is bringing the six Once Upon a Deadline writers to Wattpad via their regular, expansive Author pages as well as special online events. Readers can interact with the writers ahead of and during the April weekend. Wattpad will announce it and trail it, but also simply let it develop live on their virtual space as readers respond and the writers set about their challenge. Writers will be able to upload part of their story as they compose, and interact with users. On Sunday night, the writers return for an informal read-off. Wattpad will go on to publish the stories in full on Wattpad for readers to ‘Like’ on Facebook, awarding a £500 prize to the favourite.
Good luck, intrepid writers! I’m excited to be working with them to bring them to new platforms, and with Wattpad and Once Upon a Deadline to make the inaugural Nibfest a festival to remember.
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Contact: Laetitia Rutherford
Laetitia@nibfest.co.uk 07803 135 892