Front of House Supervisor at Edinburgh International Book Festival
This is my fourth year working for the Edinburgh International Book festival. I have been a front of house assistant, front of house supervisor and box office assistant. I’ve done a stint as admin assistant in the office too, so quite a few roles! It’s very customer facing, frontline work.
I’ve always been interested in the Book Festival. I just love the atmosphere. The team are really friendly, and you get to see all the regular customers too, it’s a nice small community amongst all the business of August.
Being in an enclosed space you see all the changes that happen throughout the day. It’s lovely and calming first thing in the morning and just getting the venues ready, getting the place ready for opening. Then a massive influx of people! It’s always a busy morning, then the post-lunch calm, then the buzz returns again later that day.
I remember an event in 2013, the author Abbas Khider (The Village Indian) in the Corner Theatre. It’s fascinating to get these intimate gatherings with these interesting people, get an opportunity to meet them face to face, and hear this fascinating account of what’s happened in their life.
Before joining the Book Festival, as a reader I’d always stuck to crime and thrillers. I was interested in broadening my horizons and the Book Festival is a great way of finding out new work, to get interested in other areas. I still treat myself to crime – but now I read from different countries!
I really love The Outrider Projects that the Book Festival have been organizing since 2017 – a group of writers go out and research and write responses to a theme – this year it’s Africa: A balance of stories. They go and find stories from local communities and respond in their own style – you almost put a spotlight on the theme, and the outcome can be anything. It’s creative and artistic in the way it’s delivered, and really personal to the author.
What is your favourite festival memory?
I loved Ruth Wishart’s interview with Jeremy Paxman. You’ve always have an idea of a persona, how someone will come across but it was fun and light-hearted which I hadn’t expected. The James Acaster event in the New York Times Theatre last year brought a whole new different crowd to the Book Festival, especially younger people who may not have come in the past. They were really excited to sit in the front row and listen to him talk about these personal subjects. He covered his depression, personal experiences, his personal struggles. He’s really brave to put it out there.
You get a totally different experience at the Book Festival. Other parts of the Festivals it’s huge queues, crowded bars, being crammed into the theatres – when you get to the Book Festival, it’s gardens and open space, you can mingle and relax, you can browse the bookshop too which is lovely and calming – all these additional extras to experience.
Another day I really enjoy is Schools’ day. It’s normally the last day of the Festival, it’s closed to the general public. It’s for kids of all ages, it might be their first trip to the Festival, or even to Edinburgh. They come with their friends and their teachers. It’s an amazing vibe – they get to enjoy it without any adult interferences. We all dress up in fancy dress, each team takes a different theme – it’s a lot of fun, and a great way to finish the Festival. I always check the rota when it comes out to make sure I’m working!
What makes you proud to be a Festival City citizen?
When lockdown happened, as an Edinburgh resident, I thought it would be nice to have a break. But now I feel a bit sad, that the billboards aren’t going up, and we don’t have the familiar sights that we take for granted. George Street, Charlotte Square should be up and running, there’s this amazing energy to these places – it feels very quiet without them. I hope it’ll come back bigger and better.
I work for Capital Theatres too, the King’s Theatre, Festival Theatre – you see people come in and enjoy themselves, see their friends they’ve not seen in a while.
It’s not just the festivals we’ll miss, it’s the connections people make at them, and I think that’s really important – the social element. Maybe we’ll take this opportunity to re-evaluate how we use the space and focus on quality over quantity.
I was delighted to hear about the online programmes – it feels great that they’ve catered for those needs. And who knows, certain elements of the Festivals might continue online to help those people who can’t make it in person, we can build on them and offer something more accessible and better for everyone.