World Book Day 2015
video camera’s view of the crowd
I know from personal experience how much work is involved and how nerve-wracking it can be to organise a single author visit attended by groups from half a dozen schools with a total audience of just a few hundred, so just imagine how daunting it must have been to envisage inviting not five hundred but five thousand children to attend a World Book Day event at a football stadium.
spot the Wally’s
[In the space that follows I do not even touch upon all the logistics of getting the children to and from the stadium (a whole road being closed off for coach parking), or the work involved in sourcing and supplying the pre-ordered copies of books for attending school groups.]
In recent years the concept of a single World Book Day has expanded to embrace a series of events held in different locations, collectively known as the Biggest Bookshow On Earth.
Kirsten Grant of World Book Day
Last year, amongst the most successful of such Bookshows was one arranged by Jake Hope (previously of the Lancashire Library Service, now a freelance book consultant and events organiser) and Elaine Silverwood of Silverdell bookshop. That event was held in King George’s Hall, Blackburn, with an audience of 1000 children.
Frank Cottrell Boyce waves to the crowd
When Jake and Elaine were asked by Kirsten Grant of the World Book Day organisation to prepare to host a 2015 Bookshow on World Book Day itself, they were keen to try something a little bit big, a little bit audacious.
The warmup duo
Jake, now in his mid-thirties, was very keen to design an event that would excite and enthuse boys and, although no football fan himself, he conceived the notion of hosting the Bookshow at Preston North End stadium. It helped his cause that the previous year’s venue was unavailable for a repeat booking.
opportunistic shot of the two organisers
The format for the Bookshows – a panel of 6 authors, with one of the them serving as the MC – is the same for all, but each show is organised locally. So it was totally down to Jake and Elaine to approach the stadium and negotiate arrangements.
Jake and Kirsten survey the VIP guest list
Mark Farnworth, the football club’s ground safety officer, was their main liaison. Because it was an event that involved school children, Preston City Council‘s health & safety team also had to be reassured that adequate first aiders would be on hand, so a large team from St John Ambulance had to be engaged for the day.
Jake has been a great friend to ACHUKA over many years, so when I received an invitation to attend the event, I was quick to book a return rail ticket to Preston (a city I’d not previously visited).
Let’s be in no doubt – this was a major undertaking, and both the chief organisers are to be heartily congratulated on carrying off such a spectacular large-scale event that did World Book Day proud.
I was still hanging around long after the authors and other VIP guests had left, while Jake and Elaine – together with a small number of friends and helpers – put the Players Lounge (that had served as Green Room for the occasion) back to rights, and it was notable how repeatedly effusive the head groundsman was in his praise of the event. He went out of his way to say how much of an impact the children’s enthusiasm had made upon him – an enthusiasm that I am sure will have come across strongly in media coverage, which included CBBC Newsround, Granada TV and local radio.
Any event throws up things to consider for the future. The technical side of the day was ably overseen by a student team from the local university, but because three sides of the stadium were empty, there was a mushy reverb to the sound which made hearing some of the presentations and announcements difficult. Sometimes the radio microphones played up, and it would have been better to revert to hand-held sooner than happened.
Frank Cottrell Boyce [ can he be our next Laureate, please]
Kirsten Grant confirmed to me that this was the first roadshow held outside of a theatre-style setting. The format of author presentations was perhaps not best suited to the larger open-air venue and the acoustics of the stadium. The reading of extracts didn’t work as well as they do in more enclosed surroundings and there was a noticeable loss of audience engagement during these sections. The parts of presentations that worked best were those in which speakers connected directly with the audience: Cathy Cassidy communicating her passion for libraries, Cressida Cowell talking about her childhood holidays on a desolate Scottish Island, Frank Cottrell Boyce [whose slot was worst affected by radio mic issues] telling us about turning yellow as a boy, Danny Wallace in his amazingly confident and apparently debut author appearance.
Stephen Butler, a trained actor and MC for the occasion knew how best to engage such a broadly spread audience, with exaggerated gestures and comments directed to different parts of the football stand. This isn’t a skill that necessarily comes naturally to authors.
I’d love to think that this event will give World Book Day the confidence to organise similar large-scale gatherings in other stadiums, ideally with the inclusion of a poet or two. I couldn’t help thinking how John Agard or Jon Hegley might have animated the crowd – poetry is, after all, very popular with children in the 8-13 age group.
I think it’s a big ask to expect authors and illustrators to step up to ‘performing’ in a stadium without some prior experience of previous engagements with very large audiences.
This is a personal view, and I realise it would complicate the current roadshow stencil, but a big open air event probably requires a different format compared with the theatre-style shows – with a lead ‘act’ (someone with performance pedigree – one of the fore-mentioned poets, or Eoin Colfer, David Walliams…) being given the bulk of the time, with shorter slots for supporting authors.
But what a fantastic and memorable day this was.
World Book Day 2015 will go down in history as the year of the big venue.
Some early responses include:
“This was a spectacular event.” Gemma Jackson, Blackpool Gazette
“What an amazing day that was! My kids really loved it. They are thrilled with their books.” Sarah Goldson, Assistant Head Teacher Brownedge St Mary’s Catholic High School
“An awesome organisational feat. Fantastic media coverage. Huge statement about the love of books and reading.” Joy Court, Reviews Editor, School Librarian
“What an incredibly wonderful World Book Day event. 5,000 children from 100 schools! Thanks” Anna Ganley, Society of Authors
“What a way to celebrate World Book Day, to see some great authors, and to be surrounded by other book lovers. It was a delight to BE there.” Nikki Heath, School Librarian of the Year, 2008 Werneth School