Jim Parks, Guildford Book Festival
Jim Parks, Guildford Book Festival's Creative Director
Book festivals may never be the same again as media guru Jim Parks takes the reins at Guildford. Emily Horton discovers why
One seriously capable and focused individual has stepped into the creative leadership of the Guildford Book Festival this year. Despite significant budget and time constraints, Guildford’s own Jim Parks is ambitiously proving himself in his new role with a first-class line up of authors for this year’s 24th festival from October 17-27.
Jim’s appointment came amid some controversy following the apparently abrupt departure of his predecessor Glenis Pycraft following the University of Surrey’s decision to cut its sponsorship of the festival from £22,000 to a mere £1,500.
However, any controversy seems to have been put firmly to bed, for the new Creative Director ‘walks the talk’. In the five months since being appointed, Jim has been responsible for juggling the diaries of over a hundred speakers.
He is bringing to the town the likes of Jennifer Saunders, Ian Botham and Jonathan Aitken; as well as industry heavy hitters Sebastian Faulks, Joanna Trollope, Kate Mosse and Peter James. In an industry where authors organize their events a year and more in advance, that’s quite a feat.
“I joined with a lot of work to be done in a very short space of time, as well as a few budget challenges, but I can now sit here very happily and think of the wonderful group of authors coming to Guildford,” Jim enthuses at the Bar des Arts on Millbrook, one of the many town venues hosting the festival’s events.
Jim, who is married to best-selling author Adele Parks, is certainly well-placed to take charge, with contacts and experience from nearly 20 years of working in the video games, film, music and publishing industries.
His big break in the entertainment world came when he moved to Guildford as a 21-year-old. He spent his one day off a week volunteering at the former Virgin Games Centre on North Street, which led to a job at Nintendo. Having established a flair for events and marketing, he took up a Marketing Directorship at Universal Studios.
“I grew up loving all forms of entertainment – movies, games, books. The festival ticks all the possible boxes for me; it’s in my town where I live, where I work, it’s in the world of books and publishing, and entertaining people is what I have spent my life being evangelical about,” Jims tells me.
This is the man responsible for overseeing the entire festival and its delivery. From bringing the authors to Guildford, down to the brochure and website – the man with many feathers in his cap and is modest with it. “I’m a one man machine at the moment – it’s a huge - I just want to bring the great and the good from the publishing industry to Guildford to benefit the town, benefit the community, make it grow and take over the landscape of the town come October.”
His ambition during the festival is to get the town living and breathing books, adding drama and theatre to make events as memorable as possible. This year he says the ambition is to have something for everybody. “I love the kind of range of talent that we have coming to wonderful Guildford. It should be something that everyone can really enjoy and celebrate.”
He is not just content with getting authors in for the traditional Q&A events, but is also exploring opportunities across the town to offer a different book festival experience. This year there is a chocolate workshop, a literary lunch and comedy.
But what is Jim’s recommendation? “If you are running a book club, get your group and go down to the Electric Theatre to meet four authors of mega best-selling titles at the Richard and Judy Book Club Extravaganza on Oct 22, which for my money, is a really good night out.”
Jim is clearly thriving on the challenge and is already quietly making notes on what he’d like to see next year. “I have a clear vision of what Guildford Book Festival should be, and I think that it can become a much larger focal point in the calendar. We are able to attract very big names and now is the time to ‘dial it to 11’ as they say and start growing it.”
Our top picks:
For laughs see Jennifer Saunders, Jenny Éclair and BBC 2’s Mock The Week regular Mark Watson with what he refreshingly calls his ‘bookomedy outing’. Also chat to comedic poet Pam Ayres, who is releasing her first collection of poetry since 2006, You Made Me Late Again!
Sports lovers must not miss a talk from rugby enthusiast Stephen Cooper, chronicler of the true story of 15 men killed in the Great War who all played rugby for one London club, but tragically didn’t live to hear the final whistle.
Crime fans are in for a treat with a double-bill of four formidable crime writers, Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Emily Barr and M.G. Gardiner.
Historical novelist star Conn Iggulden will introduce his new novel Stormbird: War of the Roses. Judith Flanders will discuss following in the footsteps of Charles Dickens for her new novel The Victorian City. Or, have lunch at Jamie’s Italian with historical novelists Alison Weir and local S.J. Parris.
If ‘Happily Ever After Fiction’ is more your thing, chat to successful writers Katie Fforde, Lisa Jewell, Adele Parks and Lesley Pearse about happy endings, futures, and how to write the perfect conclusion.
The nation’s favourite period drama Downton Abbey production team will share their secrets about what it is like to work on the TV show that millions of people adore (read our recent interview with Julian Fellowes and his forthcoming talk in to Richmond).
It will be hard to choose between the biographies on offer this year. Classic FM’s John Suchet will be speaking about Beethoven, Jonathan Aitken will open up about working with Margaret Thatcher, and Laurence Olivier’s son, Tarquin Olivier, will join Philip Ziegler in a discussion about his Hollywood superstar father.
For someone a little less known, but with a life story as equally as fascinating, see Holocaust survivor Renata Calverley recounting tear-jerking memoirs from her childhood. Judith Mackrell’s Flappers takes a look at six other awe-inspiring ladies who exemplified the daring spirit of the 1920s.
Other bestselling authors include Joanne Harris, who will be discussing Peaches for Monsieur le Curé, the third book in the sensational Chocolat series. Joanna Trollope will be talking about her modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic Sense and Sensibility. Plus last year’s debut novelist Rachel Joyce, whose book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was championed by The Richard and Judy Bookclub, will be discussing her second novel about misunderstandings and small acts of kindness.
Britain’s cultural appreciators will enjoy listening to Simon Thurley, the Chief Executive of English Heritage, talking about why and how the British state created an outdoor museum of natural history in the first half of the 20th century. For thought provoking social commentary, Victoria Brittain will talk about her work Shadow Lives, which investigates the impact on wives and families of men incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, prison or under house arrest in Britain and the U.S.
Aspiring writers, shouldn’t miss Alysoun Owen discussing her essential guide to the world of publishing, the Writer’s and Artists’ Yearbook. She will cover the pros and cons of traditional routes versus self-publishing, alongside advice on reviewing your work, and attracting agents and publishers. Reader’s Day, a mini festival in itself also allows enthusiastic readers their chance to get up close and personal with eight authors in a day.
Kids are equally well catered for with events for everyone from tots to teens. Marianne Levy’s Ellie May series is perfect for young fashionistas. Alternatively Alastair Watson brings the Wimpy Kid Show to life, with Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney talking about his book via video clip. Wally lovers can join in the Where’s Wally? hunt around town. (To read more on the kids' events at the Festival, see our round up of what's on for kids at half-term).
Guildford Book Festival, October 17-27. guildfordbookfestival.co.uk