WORDSTOCK – One Amazing Day

WORDSTOCK began as a twinkle in our collective eyes at a 26 Board meeting: Could it be possible to attract 70 people who are mad about writing and communications to a wordstorming Saturday somewhere in central London? And if so, who so, where so, when so? Approaching likely punters was the easy bit because 26 is a network of 350 writers, designers and creative munchkins involved in many aspects of the media. But creative people are notoriously contrary, and convincing them to commit was always going to be a challenge. Many are working around the world, or booked up months in advance, or committed to their families at weekends. But supposing, just supposing we could create a festival…a festival of words; a mini concrete-jungle Glastonbury where different tribes could spend an exhilarating day listening to great writers talking about writing, enjoying language games that tease out their writing skills, and meeting other members of 26. They would leave reinvigorated and refreshed with a gorgeous Italian lunch inside them, a head-full of new ideas, and an address book bulging with contacts. The turning point was a conversation with The Free Word Centre in Farringdon. This is a cathedral of wordstorming and home to a variety of organisations including English PEN, Index on Censorship, The Arvon Foundation and The Reading Agency. Free Word describes itself as ‘…a meeting place, an office space, a thinking space, a place of debate and risk taking, and a robust voice for the word…’ ? We found many parallels between 26 and Free Word, and they offered the entire building as a venue for the festival.

I discovered that curating a show like WORDSTOCK requires a kind of pragmatic theatricality. Communication is all about conveying information but the way you tell it must be dramatic. People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. 26 is packed with extraordinary people who have broad terms of reference. Once the word was out, offers to facilitate events poured in and the WORDSTOCK programme began to firm up: A writing workshop exploring the crossover between words and music; A discussion around linguistic analysis, metaphor and brands; Two best selling authors on the dynamics of agents, editors and publishing; A group therapy session for timorous Tweeters; The launch of a new 26 project inspired by litter; A case study of 26 Flavours – a Cornish festival of food and language; Advice on how to keep the inspiration bubbling faced with looming deadlines; A smorgasbord of activities investigating music festival nomenclature, song lyrics and memories provoked by golden oldies; A performance around verbal seduction and how to make yourself a more attractive proposition to potential partners – business and pleasure.

Come the big day, the halls were decked with weeping willows, mountain ash, ivy clad pergolas and autumn leaves. I have never experienced such drive from a group of people so determined to make something extraordinary happen. I’m increasingly convinced that authentic change is not achieved by grandiose schemes, but by incremental interventions that gather momentum through sticky enthusiasm: Conjure up a loose framework that bristles with opportunities, stand back and watch the sparks.

So here are my 12 Top Tips for designing and running a fruitful festival.

1. CONSTRUCT & DECONSTRUCT. Create an ambience of heightened awareness around a fixed timetable allowing plenty of room for idiosyncrasy.

2. FOCUS & CONTEXTUALISE. Create themed centres of attention with a few signature landmarks, and set the scene with inveigling temptations.

3. INVITE & ENGAGE. Begin with a chaotic icebreaker that inspires participants make their own marks and establish terr

4. FASCINATE & PROVOKE. Provide concurrent choices of speakers and events offering challenging content and thoughtful interaction.

5. STROKE & EVOKE. Provide counterintuitive encounters that inspire people to turn abstract meanderings into tangible experiences.

7. REFLECT & ABSORB. Give participants the time and space to explore themselves and bring back even richer gifts back to the table

8. OUT & ABOUT. Break the day with a blast of fresh air and an ambulatory workshop to trigger pollination and serendipity.

9. IMAGINE & INTUIT. Draw upon rich veins of subliminal memories and amplify them in Technicolor.

10. HARMONISE & BOND: Create magnetic attractions that dissolve inhibitions.

11. LIBERATE & ANIMATE. Peel away years of socialisation and encourage all that visceral stuff to emerge.

12. ASSERT & EXPRESS. Fuse the new empowerments into triumphant expressions of lusty joy.


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