In previous years we had taken a number of Ebury authors to the Latitude festival, where their talks, signings and events had always been a huge success (we served tea and biscuits with Stuart Maconie and Friends, gave out Ebury toilet rolls to an audience incapacitated with laughter at Emma Kennedy’s The Tent, The Bucket and Me event and had a strong showing at the festival overall). So, Latitude audiences really like our authors; what else could Ebury do? Then Latitude’s Festival Director Tania Harrison offered Ebury our very own area in the forest; a warm, sunlit woodland glade where we could create a literary haven for festival goers and the idea for The Ebury Library and Bookshop was born.
We called on the skills of authors Lucy Edge and Miles Irving to run our Yoga and Foraging workshops, and, buoyed by Tania’s certainty that ‘The Ebury Library and Bookshop’ would be a success, set to planning the logistics of creating a vibrant library, bookshop and informal café in the heart of the ‘Faraway Forest’…
After weeks of planning, we put 29 carefully labelled boxes on the back of a courier van and set off after it. Despite a couple of heart-in-mouth moments at 7.30am the next morning (‘Er, has anyone seen our shed?’) we had The Ebury Library and Bookshop ready in record time, thanks to Liz’s totally unflappable approach and Clare and Victoria’s impressive screwdriver skills! By the time the gates opened at 11am our area of the Faraway Forest was transformed from wilderness to literary tranquillity, with deckchairs, rugs and cushions aplenty and, of course, a kettle, some mugs and lots of tea.
11am also saw The Handbag and Wellies Yoga Club author Lucy Edge’s first Yoga workshop. We were inundated, with people spreading their mats on the grass once the stage was full! I spoke to several people afterwards who said how much they had enjoyed Lucy’s readings from her books, how delighted they were that we were offering Yoga at Latitude and that they had purchased copies of Yoga School Dropout and The Handbag and Wellies Yoga Club.
Latitude-goers are a creative lot, and back at The Ebury Library kids and adults alike were rising to the creative challenge of contributing to our ‘Tales from the Ebury Library’ and inevitably, people were keen to help themselves to our branded toilet roll! We did a roaring trade in books throughout the festival, and made sure that visitors to our stand got their own Ebury at Latitude bookmark, complete with special rbooks discount to use on their return home. Visitors to the library were also keen to show off their literary knowledge, packing in to take part in the inaugural Ebury Latitude Book Quiz.
Over at the Literary Arena, at a festival where practically everyone is living in a tent, what could be more appropriate than a talk by a man who lived for 6 weeks in a cave? Peter Owen Jones, author of Letters of an Extreme Pilgrim held the audience spellbound as he talked about how he coped with living in the Sinai desert. He was swamped with people wanting to share their appreciation afterwards, as were Mark Thomas, Richard Herring, Katharine Hibbert and Jeremy Hardy, all of whom also performed in the tent during the weekend.
Saturday dawned bright - and rainy. I had been told Suffolk was the home of unpredictable weather and here was the proof of it! Having done a pre-foraging workshop recce with Miles Irving at 10.30am in the blistering sun, we found ourselves desperately seeking shelter beneath the trees as the heavens opened at 11.00… just in time for the event! Fortunately it’s an understatement to say that Miles is the outdoor type. He immediately galvanised us into action, building a makeshift awning out of Caroline’s bunting, twigs and bracken so that everyone could sit comfortably out of the rain to listen to the talk. After introducing the basics of foraging (how to identify the different plant families; why it’s not a good idea to eat hemlock…), Miles led us on a tour of the Latitude site, pointing out wild radish, water mint, bull rushes and many more edible plants which we were able to sample en route, finishing beneath a huge chestnut tree. As with Lucy Edge’s Yoga, both foraging workshops were extremely popular, with over 60 people on the busiest day. There was lots of interest, with people staying behind to ask Miles’ advice on how to get started and buy signed copies of The Forager Handbook.
The best part of the Ebury Library and Bookshop experience was watching people reading Ebury books. We all commented on what a perfect fit our books and author events were with the Latitude demographic – and not just those about Yoga and Foraging. It was great to see young kids pouring over Life and a group of students chuckling over Danny Wallace. Mark Thomas’ The People’s Manifesto was hugely popular, as were the Keep Calm books and Alys Fowler’s The Edible Garden – and of course, 101 Things to do in Shed! It was clear that there is an avid readership out there eager to devour our books – and that festivals like Latitude are the perfect way to reach them. Ultimately, it was good to realise we were providing an environment that people appreciated and books that they enjoyed. As one visitor wrote: ‘Dear Ebury, a cup of tea and a shady spot means a lot. Thanks’.
Jenny - Press Officer