There’s nothing to beat the atmosphere in Oxford once the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival gets under way. This year visitors will come from far and wide to hear a range of authors—from Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman to Jeremy Paxman, A C Grayling and Eleanor Catton. But for us, as the official online and on-site bookseller for the festival, there’s more involved than simply turning up and selling books. Our preparation begins months in advance.
The Blackwell’s team is literally at the centre of the action. And that means a period of really intensive work in the three months leading up to the start on 22nd March: we attend approximately 350 events over nine days across 15 or so venues.
This year, for the first time, we are fully responsible for the festival marquee which acts as the central hub for visitors. We are working very closely with our friends at Nook; the marquee will be The Blackwell’s Marquee in Partnership with Nook. Festival-goers will be able to enjoy a fabulous festival bookshop with a full range of books by authors appearing at the festival. Local café Jacobs & Field will run the festival coffee shop—their ethos is based around high-quality ingredients and a relaxing ambience, and we are delighted to be working with them. We have also been planning a range of events and activities to take place in the marquee with a view to keeping things fresh and vibrant throughout the nine days.
The work that goes on behind the scenes cannot be overstated: a seriously large amount of title research and publisher liaison to ensure that we are carrying the right stock in the festival venues; some inventive thinking around additional promotions to reflect the eclectic mix of themes being picked up by the festival; and the enormous amount of logistical considerations involved in building a marquee, filling it with magnificent literary things, and then turning it into something special.
The festival is one of the highlights in Oxford’s calendar, and we have a long and proud history as the official bookseller. This year, it’s new territory for us. They say fortune favours the brave and we believe we have the wit and imagination to make this year very special indeed.
Zool Verjee is sales development manager, Blackwell’s Bookshop, Oxford