BOOK REVIEWS: Festival of Fine Words and Wit; Birmingham's Name Is Becoming Synonymous with Literature, Says Liz Nicholls

Article excerpt

Byline: Liz Nicholls

This year's Birmingham Book Festival promises to set the city ablaze with wit, wisdom and words.

For the festival's seventh year, unusual venues across the city will be brought to literary life including the Narrowboat Saltaire, the Pen Museum and 18th floor of the Radisson SAS Hotel.

A myriad guests such as playwright, novelist and screenwriter Willy Russell, Birmingham-born actress Julie Walters, Guantan-amo Bay survivor Moazzam Begg and political activist and songwriter Billy Bragg will appear in the varied programme, which will feature workshops, discussions, performances, book signings and screen and sound pieces.

"One of the most exciting things about book festivals such as this is the sheer unpredictability of it all," says Jonathan Davidson, director of Book Communications, which organises the festival.

"With other branches of the arts, such as painting and even theatre, you know what to expect on one level, whereas book festivals don't really follow the rules.

"It's all about interaction and it's fantastic to draw a crowd of people who wouldn't ordinarily go to a book event but are attracted by what's on the bill - for example because they're looking forward to lively, outspoken political debate from someone like Billy Bragg."

No sooner has the last guest has been escorted to the station at the end of one festival than the Custard Factory-based team start planning for the following year's event. An important part of the process is finding out what people have enjoyed and would like to see more of next time.

"You'd expect our visitors to say they got the most pleasure out of seeing the big names," says Jonathan, "but a large part of people's enjoyment comes from the social element - meeting those with similar interests and also spending time in the city's unusual venues.

"That's why you'll see the Radisson on the bill and why we launch the event (on October 4) with an informal icebreaker featuring readings, the chance to mingle and a book quiz."

The Birmingham Book Festival was started in 1999. Jonathan and his team spent many years making literary events happen across the country and decided Birmingham deserved the same treatment as it began to blossom both culturally and architecturally. …