27th Sep 2012

Charlotte Fairbairn

Charlotte Fairbairn

La Directress of the Soho Literary Festival

I’ve just moved from one set of digs in Pimlico to another in Waterloo and my son is about to go to university in Leeds. I’ve got a building project going on at my permanent home in Cumbria which is about to come to a head and a Literary Festival on the cusp of breaking out in Soho. (27-30th September, 2012, Soho Theatre www.soholitfest.com) 


So my nights at the moment are, shall we say, broken. Men with bags of cement brandishing bills to make your eyes water dance in and out of my sleep while I wonder about student loans and what on earth is that banging sound, there weren’t banging sounds in Pimlico? And then when I think calm is about to return, a wave of festival minutiae sweeps in – will Michael Palin need a lapel-mike and what if Jeremy Vine ends up talking to an audience of ten and have I ordered a taxi for Ruth Rendell and will Hugh Cavendish be well enough to talk about his book A Time to Plant?  John Bird is talking to Ferdinand Mount about his latest oeuvre The New Few and Roy Hudd is going to interview John Major – and while everyone seems to think these are excellent pairings, have I briefed all parties clearly enough? 


We began planning the 2012 Soho Literary Festival in March. At the time, I was fairly new to the Oldie magazine, whose project it is, but came armed with strong views about what festivals should do. I stuck my neck out for a debate or two – the Euroland debate, the Press & Politics debate – because I think audiences may be delighted to hear people promote their books but they also want to be engaged and stimulated and challenged by thinkers. I used a combination of ignorance and blind optimism to spur me on when ringing some of the ‘artistes’ with the result that we managed to pin down far more Mary Beards and Fay Weldons and Colin Thubrons than I could possibly have hoped for. I also brought a little bit of gossip to mind – my friend Charlie for example told me that Clive Stafford Smith is a fascinating man and a brilliant speaker and that his tales of injustices from Death Row are compelling, if grim.


Last week, we paid $10 for a countdown clock to be pinned to the front of our website (www.soholitfest.com). As I write, it says 14 days, 9 hours, 43 minutes and 24 seconds until the festival opens (Michael Frayn being interviewed by Valerie Grove). I hope within that time to have sorted out the technical data, drawn up the taxi schedule, spoken to all the guests, dotted all the ‘i’s and ‘t’s (er?). Whether I manage or not, the most exciting four-day literary extravaganza known to man is going to unfurl. I may not be reaching for the panic klaxon but I will be the one in the eye-pads.