Newcastle Winter Book Festival events are axed at last minute

A SWATHE of headline events at a city book festival have been cancelled with just days to go.

Film critic and broadcaster Barry Norman who will still appear at the book festival
Film critic and broadcaster Barry Norman who will still appear at the book festival

A SWATHE of headline events at a city book festival have been cancelled with just days to go.

Poor ticket sales were blamed by director Andrew Peden Smith for his decision to scrap much of Newcastle Winter Book Festival at short notice.

But David Fay, manager of Newcastle City Libraries, which has supported the festival and hosts part of it, said he opposed the decision.

A Press release publicising the festival was issued by Newcastle City Council on Monday even as some of the events it described were being axed.

Yesterday one London-based authors’ representative said she was “beyond furious” after their events were cancelled, saying they had already made travel plans.

On Monday people due to appear in the festival received emails from Mr Peden Smith saying their event was off.

Poet and Journal columnist Kate Fox, who was to have appeared at the Discovery Museum next Thursday, was told: “Unfortunately, due to financial circumstances beyond our control, we are having to cancel most of this year’s festival including your event.”

She said: “I was to have been paid 60% of the box office plus £500 commission for a new piece of work.

“I am angry because we had two choirs coming, one from Darlington and one from Haltwhistle. The Haltwhistle people have had to cancel the coach they had booked.”

All festival events at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle were cancelled, including sessions with celebrated authors John Connolly and Ramsey Campbell.

Lucy Ramsey, a publicist with Quercus, which publishes Ramsey Campbell, said: “I’ve been involved with book festivals for 25 years and I’ve never known anything like this.

“I am beyond furious because this is costing Quercus some money. Maybe we can afford it but some of the authors are represented by smaller publishers who can’t.

“I think Andrew Peden Smith has behaved appallingly.”

Also cancelled were events at Newcastle City Library including a debate about erotic fiction and a session with author and musician Mo Foster.

Yesterday Mr Peden Smith, who owns a publishing company called McNidder & Grace, said he decided to scrap events because of poor sales.

He denied his recent move from the North East to Wales for personal reasons had been a factor in his decision.

“What has happened with the festival is a lack of resources in terms of funds and sponsorship,” he said.

“We had a fantastic line-up and I thought that would attract publicity and encourage people to buy tickets but that hasn’t happened.

“There have been difficult economic conditions for everyone concerned and that has combined with a very poor uptake.”

An application for Arts Council funding to promote the festival had been turned down, he said, adding that anyone who has bought a ticket for a cancelled event will be reimbursed.

Not everything has sold poorly and some events are going ahead, including film critic Barry Norman’s appearance at the City Library next Thursday which is expected to be a sell-out.

Mr Fay denied the festival had been poorly promoted.

“I heard from a colleague on Monday that Andrew was planning to pull the plug on some events and I rang him and asked him not to,” he said.

“We are disappointed. I know he was concerned about ticket sales but a lot of people tend to turn up to these events on the day, so I thought his decision was premature.”

Mr Fay said the decision had nothing to do with council cuts which may result in libraries closing.


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