The Lockdown Literary Festival team have created a wonderful programme of events to fill such the cultural void during these strange times, and satisfy our literary taste buds. Alice Beazer spoke to Paul Blezard about this exciting and important project, and how we might get involved.

  1. What inspired the creation of Lockdown Literary Festival?

To be completely honest, the whole idea for Lockdown Litfest was born out of grief. My mother died just before Lockdown and I decided to stay in rural Warwickshire with my father, who is 80, rather than return to London. As I watched the live events that are my bread and butter dry up, and my income for the foreseeable future disappear almost overnight, I started to receive calls from writer pals, all saying pretty much the same thing: “What are we going to do?”

At 3am a couple of nights later, I woke up with the thought that ‘someone should do something’ and then heard the voice in my head say “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?” After 6 hours of mapping out what an online culture hub lit fest might look like, what was required, what the possibilities might be, the seed was sown.

Any such plan needs a really good team to put it into action and I’ve been very fortunate to meet and know some extraordinary people over the years. My co-founders Palash Davé and Wai Mun Yoon were quick to see the possibilities and came on board straight away, super experienced freelance PR guru Alex Hippisley-Cox and programmer/producer Daisy Line quickly followed, and from there things grew to include an amazing Social Media team with Lauren Goldstein Crowe and Megan Thomas, and my old friend Lyndy Cooke, who has set up and organised festivals around the world.

It was astonishing how quickly it came together, with Julia Wheeler and Sim Courtie as presenters and with publisher, literary agent and press friends all offering their support and wise counsel. In the first week I made so many calls to author friends who, once I’d explained what I was doing, all said, “what do you need and when do you want it?” It was utterly heart-warming and gives me goosebumps to think of it now.

  1. What is the aim of Lockdown Lit fest?

The original plan was and remains clear. To provide literature festival events online, create as close to a real-world literature festival experience as we’re able and to build an audience that will allow us to attract some funding through sponsorship, patrons or cultural angels so that we can pay authors for their time and help them a little.

The longer-term aim, and yes we’re here for the long term not just for lockdown, is to build a multi-culture and multi-cultural global hub, both in terms of global reach and the content we build. It’s a big ambition we know and we are starting gently. We are also very mindful that for publishers the landscape is and will be very different, with reduced budgets and the desire and ability to do more online with the benefit of reduced costs. We’ll be doing all we can to try and help.

  1. How can our readers get involved, and support this great event?

Very simply. Head to www.lockdownlitfest.com, sign up for the newsletter and then browse around the site and take a look at the 20 or so events that we’ve already put up with names such as Joanne Harris, Peter James, Ian Rankin Kate Mosse, Afra Atiq, Robert Webb, Philip Ardagh and more besides. We’re currently adding to them at the rate of 3 per week and as soon as we’re able to, we aim to offer a fresh new event every day. Each event is recorded and archived and over time will build to be a library of treats that can be viewed anytime, anywhere.

Currently everything is free to view and the whole team have worked about 3500 hours pro bono so far to get this up and running. Any support through our Patreon page would be very welcome indeed, and if any culturally minded benefactors with deeper pockets would like to get involved I’d be delighted to hear from you on info@lockdownlitfest.com

Another easy way to get involved is to follow us across our social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on and of course to subscribe to our Youtube channel where all out content is streamed and archived so you never have to miss a thing.

  1. So far, you’ve spoken to an impressive and diverse range of authors from Robert Webb, to Levison Wood, Joanne Harris, and many more! Which event have you enjoyed the most (so far)?

I’m afraid my brain doesn’t work like that; it’s a little like asking, “Who is your favourite parent? or, “Which of your children do you prefer?”

Each event is unique of course, each hopefully an illuminating, enlightening and entertaining conversation with some of the best, most innovative, successful and creative minds of our time. As we develop we aim to have a diverse range of genres, through fiction and non-fiction, international writers and works in translation, and to be able to include more debut and newer writers, the very people whose loss of live event income was one of the inspirations for starting Lockdown LitFest.

  1. Which events are you looking forward to in the future schedule?

We have an extraordinary list of forthcoming names that range from global bestsellers to first timers, historians, scientists, poets, politicians and philosophers all. We’re also slowly adding a range of events for children of all ages and as we build our intention is for it to be portal for all sorts of entertaining and informative content to inform and inspire young minds.

The ambition is to create a diverse diet of food for the brain and the spirit that keeps us all informed and inspired through these anxiety-inducing times and beyond. A festival that doesn’t just exist for a weekend or 10 days but 365 days a year, for all ages and for years to come.

6. Why do you think Literature matters so much during these strange (and lonely) times?

Ha! Good question. It echoes the old “why read?” question. It’s both simple and complicated at the same time. Perhaps most crucially in the midst of these unprecedented times it’s for a few reasons, through great stories and wonderful writing we can take the interior journeys that Lockdown currently does not allow us in the real world, voyages of the mind if you like.

It also feeds our imaginations, allowing us to ‘witness’ and understand lives, experiences and concepts that allow us to feel less alone, less disconnected to the world around us. And, of course, for perhaps the most fundamental reason of all right now, as a welcome diversion that takes our minds off just how troubling this time is and looks like being for some time to come, not just the havoc that this virus is wreaking, but the damage to our economies and societies that will endure long after we’ve learned how to deal with COVID-19 itself.

7. Which books have you enjoyed most during lockdown? Any recommendations?

You’ll not be surprised to learn that most of my reading for the past 7 weeks has been of books by guests at Lockdown Litfest and of course I would recommend them all having enjoyed and admired them all.

To pick just three though I’ll offer Katharine McMahon’s excellent “The Rose of Sebastopol,” the Sunday Times bestseller set in Crimea in 1854 that has been re-issued for the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.

Next is Robert Twigger’s “Walking the Great North Line,” not just because I’m a huge fan of his and love everything he writes but because this book really sings with his bonkers, philosophical curiosity and the brilliance of his ability to weave a yarn as he walks from Stonehenge to Lindisfarne.

Then I offer you a ‘two for one” for my third recommendation; Joanne Harris’ “The Strawberry Thief” which is the fourth in her ‘Chocolat’ series, which transports you back to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and is just as darkly magical as you’d expect and hope for and also, still in France, Kate Mosse’s superb “The Burning Chambers” her gripping tale of love, betrayal and secrets set in mid 16th century Languedoc and which has an utterly superb second book “The City of Tears” coming out soon!

Thank you Paul!

You can visit Lockdown Lit fest here: https://www.lockdownlitfest.com/