Bloomsbury Festival 2020

With October just around the corner, it’s not long until this year’s Bloomsbury Festival kicks off on the 16th. Don’t miss your chance to get involved – as a writer, listener, or flaneur…

Writers in residence

The best way to experience any festival is to walk around, see as much as you can, and soak up the vibes. Our writers in residence at the Bloomsbury Festival get to do exactly that – and share their inspiration with the world, to boot.

Last year’s festival saw writers from 26 spend a day experiencing all the festival had to offer, going where curiosity and the wind took them, each writer dedicated to a single day. They then wrote a piece – a poem, a narrative, an article, a review, a response of some sort – that was published on the festival website the very next morning. The result was immediate, effective, and full of different viewpoints, just like the festival itself. It served to bring the festival to the wider world, while also celebrating the talent within 26.

The current crop of writers in residence, though, are dealing with a different world. Festival organisers are doing whatever they can to make sure events are safely and fully accessible, from social distancing to live streaming and digital hosting. The good news is that, even if the situation continues towards a second lockdown as feared, most of the festival can still be presented live online.

That makes the jobs of our resident wanderers a curious prospect. Even if the wandering is digital, the creativity and talent of Bloomsbury’s programme is undeniable. And a digital offering means more 26 writers can get involved; there’s no need to be within the bounds of Bloomsbury itself. 

We still have three slots available, covering the final days of the festival, looking to match with a curious soul. If that’s you, please contact the coordinator, Lauren McMenemy, directly on ljmcmenemy (at) gmail (dot) com.

Spying out hidden stories

1:30pm and 4pm, 17 October

What writer doesn’t secretly harbour the desire to be a flâneur/euse? To stroll the streets at leisure, soaking up the random encounter, the snatch of conversation, the hidden message? Twenty six of us were given licence to indulge this fantasy for the wonderful new EYE:SPY project. The map of Bloomsbury was divided into a grid of 26 squares, then each of us was assigned a square at random and asked to unearth the hidden stories it contained. Some of us managed to visit the area in person, others conducted their investigation virtually.

Bloomsbury is like a layer cake, with countless people and histories packed one on top of the other. While some of its residents are famous (Charles Dickens; Virginia Woolf), many are obscure and largely forgotten. The subjects our spies have excavated include Princess Caraboo, a ‘fallen woman’ who fooled high society by passing herself off as exotic royalty; the former Horse Hospital, haven for avant-garde artists; and the Minerva Club, where suffragettes gathered in the vegetarian café to hatch their next rebellion.

We’ll be revealing some of these stories in a series of guided walks through Bloomsbury. Our walk on the 24th is already sold out, but we’ve had the go ahead to add two more walks, exclusively for 26 members on Saturday 17th – one at 1:30pm and one at 4pm.

The 26 pieces will be published on the Bloomsbury Festival website, and we’re also hoping to create an archive of writers reading their own work. We need stories now more than ever, and we hope EYE:SPY will transport you in all kinds of ways.

Tickets are free, but pre-booking is essential and places are limited to allow for social distancing. Register now to save your spot.

An extraordinary project, for extraordinary times… one night in Bloomsbury

(Virtual event) 7–8:30 pm, 21 October

The coronavirus pandemic placed us in a unique scenario – one that required us to change how we do things at an unprecedented pace and scale.

We wanted to capture these changes as a snapshot in time – to observe and listen to people’s responses and create an authentic record for the future, with writing at the core of our response.

26 writers contacted friends, family and strangers from many backgrounds, located far and wide, to gain thoughts, emotions and insights.

These conversations were recorded as notes posted on a website, refreshed by new contacts over 26 weeks.

The notes of new conversations were enriched by photographs recording this extraordinary period.

What would be the positives to take forward?
Would the world be changed and how?
What would we miss from our enforced isolation?

They captured their thoughts in reflective pieces shaped from their conversations by the individual writers.

Writing involves observing, listening and talking to others. It reflects what we personally think and feel and what we watch and learn from the world around us. It helps us to better understand and make sense of things without rushing to hasty conclusions or certainties. This was the basis of this extraordinary project.

On one night in Bloomsbury, the Festival audience will hear some of the remarkable quotes and memorable readings. No conclusions, no certainties but hopefully a sense of how life and even wildlife, has evolved over these 26 Weeks…

Tickets are free, but pre-booking is essential. Register now for your place in this virtual event.

– Jill Hopper, Lauren McMenemy, Martin Clarkson

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