Miles Kington: When is a book festival not a book festival?

English is such a rich language that there is always a choice of words to describe things: a posh word and a blunt word
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The other day I told my readers that I had recently been doing a talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

I misled you.

I have now looked up the correct title of the festival and I realise that I was doing a talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

I like the "International". It gives a place class. Like the way Ashford railway station one day decided to become Ashford International and Bristol Airport is now Bristol International Airport.

And the Bath Music Festival is, I believe, correctly known as the Bath International Music Festival. Though, oddly, the Bath Book Festival is not Bath International Book Festival. It's just the Bath Book Festival.

No, it's not. I've just looked that up as well, and it's not the Bath Book Festival. It's the Bath Literature Festival.

Why on earth is the Edinburgh book festival, although International, a "book" festival, and the Bath book festival, though not international, a "Literature Festival"?

What is the difference between "book" and "literature"?

Well, I think I can give you the answer to that, at least. English is such a rich language that there is always a choice of words to describe things: a posh word and a blunt word. "Book" is blunt"; "literature" is posh. "Drama" is posh; "theatre" is straightforward. "Film" is blunt: "cinematography" is the posh version. "Cuisine" and "cooking" ... "poetry" and "verse" ... "art" and "painting" ...

But let us not let book festivals off the hook, because the plain point of the matter is that book festivals have no idea what to call themselves at all. Nobody ever got together in the early days and said: "Let's call all these things Literature Festivals", but everyone went their own way, with the result that now we have the following formulae, where X is the name of the place:

1. "The X Literature Festival", which has been adopted by such as Folkestone, Bath, Durham and Beverley.

2. "The X Festival of Literature", which Swindon and Wells seem to favour.

3. "The X Literary Festival" as preferred by Bournemouth and West Cork.

4. "The X Book Festival", which has been adopted by Lincoln and Guildford.

And that is not all. If you have the name of a sponsor to accommodate as well, you get unwieldy titles like "The Times Cheltenham Literary Festival" and "The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival 2007", which must be the least nifty of all bookfest titles, and the "Guardian Hay Festival" (which seems recklessly to have dropped all mention of books, and indeed of the River Wye which Hay used to be on)...

Ah, but the book world has always had trouble with names. Even authors can't decide what to call themselves. As I was waiting to go on stage at Edinburgh, I bumped into DJ Taylor, who was also waiting to do a talk. We were chatting about names, and he told me that he was known to his parents as David Taylor, but he had decided not to call himself David Taylor early on in his career, as there were so many people of that name around, and to stick to DJ Taylor.

"Trouble is," he confided to me, "that there now seem to be an awful lot of DJ Taylors around..."

He was about to do a double appearance with his wife Rachel, who has just published her first book, Dream House, which is a novel, though I expect with a title like that it will also get put on the Home Improvement shelves and sell a lot of copies there. I know what it is like to be married to a first-time novelist, as my wife has also just given birth to a book (A Tangled Summer by Caroline Kington - a terrific summer read - advt.), so I thought I would do the decent thing and order Rachel Taylor's novel as soon as I got home.

The only snag was that no writer called Rachel Taylor seems to exist. It took me hours to find out that she actually writes under the name of Rachel Hore, which I guess is her maiden name...

More name games tomorrow...

Comments