A Day in the Life of a Book Festival Blogger

25 08 2011

The life of an accredited blogger at the Edinburgh Book Festival is one of giddy hard work. We get to mix with the backstage folk, see first hand the authors as they arrive and have their photo call, and we get to enjoy the some of the perks afforded to the press. We also get to do what we came for: blog about the world’s biggest and best festival of literature.

A blogger does not have an employer, does not get paid, and has to accept that journalistically they’re bottom of the ladder. But that’s why it’s so much fun! Being an accredited blogger at the Edinburgh Book Festival is so enjoyable, it’s akin to being on a “busman’s holiday” in the best holiday park in the world.

Freedom
Unlike a professional journalist though, the blogger has no restrictions on what he can write about. There are no editors telling us the line to take or the mood a piece should be in, and it is this freedom, this freelancing attitude, that gives us a leg up over the newspaper columnists. Editorial control is ours and ours alone, but this can also mean we have the potential to make mistakes and then pay for them personally.

However, an accredited blogger can come and go as he likes (I’m using the male view here because I am one but there are females here too). He can move around most areas behind the scenes (barring the main office and the author’s Yurt), which means that the freedom to really explore is very tempting and very available.

This freedom gives us a unique view of the book festival since we are in the position that we can watch the watchers; we are writers writing about what we see, while all around us the buzz and chaos that goes on behind the scenes is constant.

But just because a blogger is essentially an amateur, doesn’t mean it’s not hard work. The more one puts into it, the more one gets out. I’ve been attending on average five or six events on each of my full days, and each one deserves to be written about. Finding the time, however, is not always that easy.

Oasis
Which is what the Press Pod provides: peace and quiet away from the crowds to write up reports and get the scoop on who might be passing through, or be up next for a photo call. It’s a never ending whirl of activity, rumours and hearsay that are generated all around Charlotte Square and that usually end up being discussed in the Pod.

The Press Pod itself is a small haven of calm with lovely coffee and if you get there early enough in the day, plates of croissants, scones and biscuits. It’s a very welcoming and warm place to chill between events.

It’s the same idea as the Author’s Yurt but smaller and divided into three distinct “pods”: the chill out area, the press team, and an area set aside for the journalists to plug in at a table and chair and get to work.

Getting Involved
There is no requirement for a blogger to get involved though, all you really need is a pair of ears and eyes and a little bit of savvy, and even the smallest of dreams can come true. Take the other night when I found myself taking photographs of a fake photo call between ska legend, Pauline Black, and official site photographer Chris Close—all because I had the balls to ask.

The main thing about being an accredited blogger is to remember your place. While it is true that you are writing about the same events as the professionals, and it may also be true that in some cases you might be writing more than the professionals, they are the ones earning a living from what they do while we are only doing it for the love of it.

That is why a blogger must always be wary never to step on the toes of anyone in the press office, the other staff, and certainly must never get in the way of book festival’s official guests. Cross that line and you should either apologise profusely and rectify the mistake, or be prepared never to be invited back. Thankfully this has never happened to me but you get the drift.

Faces
Every day around the book festival there are a number of faces you will always see. This is true whether you’re there for a day or just an evening, the same people always seem to pop up in some respect either around the gardens or popping in and out of the Press Pod or any of the event tents.

  • Nick Barley (@nickbarleyedin) – always in and around somewhere, whether greeting high profile guests, introducing events, or dealing with day to day behind the scenes issues, this man never stops.
  • Francis, Esme and Harrison in the Press Team – a small team that is alive with activity and seem to be everywhere all at once, yet will always stop to try and accommodate a request. How they keep those smiles on for so long is beyond me; it takes a special person to balance the Media in one hand and the demands of the festival organisers.
  • Chris Scott (@chrisdonia) – you’ll see him wandering around in his knee-length shorts and baggy shirt, always with a camera in hand seeking out his next snap. If you can’t spot him by that description he’s usually the only one with coloured hair. He can often be seen creeping around underneath the stands inside the tents then popping up on the scaffolding to try to get that perfect shot of an author on stage.
  • Colin Fraser (@anonpoetry) – the official tweeter of @edbookfest, he attends a lot of events and can often be seen sitting near the back or a corner, tapping away into his iPad furiously as he live tweets discussions and debates to the world that’s watching.

Pressure
So there it is, life as an accredited blogger at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I use the term accredited because anyone can come and blog from Charlotte Square, and while being accredited gives you something of a leg up in getting to know and see that little bit more, it also means there is a little bit of pressure thrown in too.

There’s no point in going through with it if you aren’t going to write, and writing takes time. It takes a good understanding of the craft to squeeze out an event article event in half an hour before you have to go and do it again for the next one. And if it’s a poor event, you have to make it sound good (or at least not cause any offence) and then post it to the blog safely aware that there will be a lot of people reading it (sometimes the subject) and that means concentration in long spells.

Take notes; take lots of photographs; record sound clips—do everything it takes to get the article you want to write. But remember not to take it too far; the stereotype of journalists turning to the bottle isn’t that far off!

You can find photographs from the book festival at my live image feed on Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/colinthewriter

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26 08 2011
Day 13 at the Edinburgh Book Festival - Blog

[…] I wrote and posted a new entry on my Edinburgh Book Festival Blog seeing as I wasn’t around there at all yesterday. Please have a read of ‘A Day in the Life of an EdBookFest Blogger’. […]

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