Festival impact grows

Australian author John Marsden visited Peebles High School.
Australian author John Marsden visited Peebles High School.

Having promised myself that it would not take over our lives, this year’s Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival lasted until last Friday, August 23. Sort of.

Last Thursday Australian author, John Marsden, talked to 400 pupils at Earlston and Peebles High Schools about his Tomorrow series. Having sold five million copies worldwide, John offered insights into his work, and lots of great tips for pupils wanting to improve their own writing skills.

Last Friday, one of the creative geniuses behind Doctor Who went to Berwickshire High School in Duns and Galashiels Academy. Justin Richards talked to 250 pupils about the Doctor Who books, how to create compelling adventure stories and what amazing material he discovered about werewolves for his latest novel, The Wolfstone Curse. You could have heard a pin drop.

Director and festival co-ordinator Paula Ogilvie organised the free outreach events for Borders schools with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, co-funded by the Borders Book Festival. They were very successful.

As was our festival proper in June. The stats show an extraordinary rise of almost 12 per cent in audience numbers to 15,198, compared with 13,081 in 2012. I didn’t think we could fit in any more but somehow we did. The sun helped, and so did a record number of sell-outs. But it was the sheer quality that made the festival sparkle. Hilary Mantel’s session with Kirsty Wark was stunning and when Joanna Lumley stood up at the end of hers and said ‘I love you all to shreds!’ the audience roared back that they did too.

Melrose loved the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival to shreds as well and local traders had their best year ever. At Burt’s Hotel, the Saturday of the festival was the busiest day in its history and Blair Finlay of Finlay Grant Gallery and Kitchen said the event ‘has a positive effect, not just on Melrose and its contribution financially but on the Borders as a region.’

The festival has an economic impact of more than £3.5 million. And all this in the teeth of the worst recession since the 1930s. But the impact is greater than that. What we have always done is to think nationally and internationally and never feel that we should do anything other than mount the very best festival we possibly can.

But to take what we do to a higher level, we must not tinker with the chemistry.

If we made the festival longer, I believe the magical atmosphere would dissipate. Instead we need to make it better. And that takes cash as well as imagination.

Our sponsors all contribute mightily, as do Scottish Borders Council and Creative Scotland, and our advertisers and supporters. But we need to raise more cash and rely less on a galaxy of lovely people who do us endless favours. And we will! Can’t wait for next year.