Edgy, eclectic and issue-lead books were king at Port Eliot Festival this weekend, which saw 10,000 people descend on the Cornish estate, despite weeks of heatwave being broken by rain and wind.
It is Southwest bookseller Ron Johns’ seventh year of shifting books at the event, which is adding more literary events to its line-up every year.
Programmed by former Bloomsbury publicity director Colin Midson, the four-day festival which takes place across multiple stages celebrates not just “words” but “music, imagination, ideas, nature, food, fashion, flowers, laughter, exploration, fun and all that is good in the world”. However, its literature arm is steadily growing, with 182 authors on site this year, 40 more than 2016’s tally of 142.
“Our festival is more comparable to Latitude in that we have a range of events from music to comedy to film and poetry, and the mix is really important for the feel and vibe at the festival,” Midson said. “Having said that, in the last few years the literature events have definitely been growing, this year we had 182 authors on site, for example, in 2016 we had 142 authors. There are more literature events than there are any other events. I don’t just like to invite people because they are big names, but people with something to say, for example this year we have Robert Webb speaking about masculinity (following the publication of his book How Not to Be a Boy (Canongate).”
Robert Webb (© Michael Bowles)
Webb was among those who attracted the most packed-out crowds, along with Helen Pankhurst, the great-grandaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, who pondered life after the #MeToo movement, alongside Indian poet Tishani Doshi, Reni Eddo-Lodge who discussed Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race (Bloomsbury), and daily recordings of the Backlisted podcast presented by Unbound publisher John Mitchinson and author Andy Miller, featuring names such as Cathy Rentzenbrink, Nina Stibbe, Billy Bragg and Suzy Feay.
Other authors to attend included Joe Dunthorne, speaking about his third novel The Adulterants (Hamish Hamilton), A J Pearce, the author of Dear Mrs Bird (Picador) Lucy Mangan, poets Holly McNish and Luke Kennard, among many more.
Meanwhile, music was provided from the likes of Gaz Coombes, Andy Weatherall plus Justin Robertson and Danny Goffey, while foodies were treated to displays from Rick Stein’s son Jack Stein, Jasmine Helmsley and Star Baker of The Great Celebrity Bake Off, American actress Teri Hatcher. The Superman actress was not the only big name celebrity to attend the festival, with "Homeland" star Damian Lewis and his wife Helen McCrory counting themselves among the punters.
Teri Hatcher and Paul Ainsworth (© Michael Bowles)
In terms of commercial impact, Johns, who owns the Falmouth Bookseller as well as bookshops in St Ives, Padstow and Dartmouth, said it was the “edgy, quirky books” which sent the tills ringing.
“Helen Pankhurst is our top-seller so far and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book was selling in high numbers before she even held her event here,” Johns said on Saturday (28th July). "It is tricky to make a profit at a festival, sometimes it is on a knife-edge, but this time we broke even on Saturday afternoon and there was still Sunday to go.”
He employs 14 people to work across 14 days from 9am to 9pm and staff from nearby bookshops, such as The Edge of the World Bookshop in Penzance, come to help.
Several figures from book world are involved in volunteering for the festival, including Curtis Brown agent Cathryn Summerhayes, Sarah Wasley from Granta, Laura Brooke, senior publicity manager at Penguin Random House, and Nick Humphrey, a freelance editor, previously of Penguin Random House.
Despite the break in the heatwave which saw pockets of rain and high winds hit the festival, most believed it did not have an impact on the atmosphere.
“Here it does feel like people are really engaged, Rentzenbrink said. “It is a lovely festival. It has a very nice literary vibe, and the bookselling arm is done really well.”
Reni Eddo-Lodge (© Sarah Louise Bennett)
Top 5 Bestselling Books at Port Eliot Festival
1 Helen Pankhurst's Deeds not Words (Sceptre)
2 Jonathan Drori's Around The World 80 Trees (Laurence King Publishing)
3 Robert Webb's How Not To Be A Boy (Canongate)
4 Billy Bragg's Roots, Radicals and Rockers (Faber & Faber)
5 Reni Eddo-Lodge's Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Bloomsbury)