Writing festival’s arithmetical growth

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It is hard to believe that when the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival started a decade ago, it did so with just four authors.

The 2013 event, on June 13-16 at Harmony Garden in Melrose, boasts more than 60 writers and performers over its four days, while its total audience numbers have exploded from an initial 220 to a staggering 13,000 last year.

The Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival celebrates its tenth year at the 2013 festival lauch. Blowing out the candles are Arabella Brett (left) and Sive Lawrie. Looking on from left are directors Alistair Moffat, Francis Hamilton and Paula Ogilvie.

The Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival celebrates its tenth year at the 2013 festival lauch. Blowing out the candles are Arabella Brett (left) and Sive Lawrie. Looking on from left are directors Alistair Moffat, Francis Hamilton and Paula Ogilvie.

The festival was officially launched last week. When bookings opened for the Friends of the Festival, the box office figures showed a jump of 27 per cent on last year’s ticket sales. On the opening morning there was an immediate sell-out: Joanna Lumley.

Growth has been matched by staff increases. When the festival started, there were two, while this year 60 people will be needed to keep things ticking along smoothly

The festival can claim credit for some unique events – it paired impressionist Rory Bremner with chat show legend Michael Parkinson; it picked actors Bill Paterson and Diana Quick to read nursery tales; it asked Ian Rankin to speak about Muriel Spark; it staged a rare appearance by Professor Peter Higgs to discuss his Higgs boson particle theory; and it convinced Sally Magnusson, daughter of former chairman Magnus, to loan it the original Mastermind chair for Melrose’s literary version of the quiz.

Other highlights have been the launch of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and a local schools writing event – the Davidson Chalmers Write On competition.

Among the quirkier statistics are the fact that the festival cafe now sells more than 2,500 scones over the four days, while staff have returned over 60 lost umbrellas and cuddly toys.

That first festival’s author line-up was William Dalrymple, Allan Massie, Norman Davies and Melvyn Bragg and the first two are returning this year to talk about their new books.

Founder and festival director, Borders historian and broadcaster Alistair Moffat, admits he finds it 
hard to believe just how 
much the festival has expanded.

“The plan is not for the festival to get any bigger, as it is already incredibly popular. What has come with that popularity is a brilliant party atmosphere. And it’s a real team effort.

“At the end of the day, when I ask myself if the festival is something I myself would like to go to – the answer is absolutely.”