24/5/22 (Why I’m definitely going to the Borders Book Festival 2022…)

Good morning! So it’s nearly Borders Book Festival Season again, cause they’ve moved it back to June… you might have read my post back in November about why I probably wouldn’t be going, but this time around, I can begin with the reasons I’m definitely going to the Borders Book Festival:

1. I’m in it

2. Natalie Haynes

I joined the Borders Writers’ Forum earlier this year, after attending a very interesting talk from Rosemary Goring to the group. Everyone I’ve met has been very nice, and I’m looking forward to more informative events, and maybe being part of their next anthology.

I’ll be reading from a (still unfinished, eep) life writing / memoir / essay thing called Compost. It’s very good, and I not absolutely bricking it because I HATE reading aloud and in public. No I’m not.

What I wish I had the guts to do (and hey, maybe if I’m plied with alcohol beforehand) is to read from either this blog post or the one I wrote before the 2021 festival, and make a big loud feminist spectacle of myself in the hopes of changing an opinion or two. It may yet happen.

Click here to get your ticket and find out!


Last year I made a list of the events I’d go to see, if I was rich and could take the time off work. To be honest, none of them made me go Ooh! Like seeing Natalie Haynes’ name in the programme this year. Like, no offence to the loads of other also excellent stuff and very famous people in the programme, but she’s the only one I felt I actually couldn’t miss. I listened to A Thousand Ships on e-audiobook from the library last year, and it awoke something in me. The Greek myths were interesting before, sure, but the change of perspective from Haynes and the humour and humanity running through it switched a light on. 
I’d heard of Odysseus, but hang on, if I had been there I’d.. not have been there, would I? I’d have been with Penelope, abandoned, expected to act in many different ways by many different men. I’m on Penelope’s side, on Clytemnestra’s, on Helen’s, on Briseis’. I’m here for all the WAGS, for the utterly believable and enthralling stories of each one of them generally forgotten or ignored by men writing history.

I’m so psyched to see Natalie Haynes. I think I’ll tag her on Instagram. Maybe she’ll even read it, ahhh I’m not sure I can cope with this, I’m starting to sweat. Maybe time for a cup of tea.

Part two: an update…

Hiya. So it’s almost 5 months since I last wrote about the Borders Book Festival. I wasn’t really very impressed at their programme, the tldr being:

98.5% of speakers at the event were white
the tickets were too expensive
and just 21% of the speakers / panellists were women

Let’s see how they’ve got on in the 2022 festival, taking place back in Melrose from the 16th – 19th of June.

Quick note: I’ve put together these ’22 stats based on a paper copy of the programme I picked up at the Damascus Drum in Hawick. I’ve worked them out based on the programme information, and some quick online searches for any I wasn’t sure about. It’s likely I’ve made assumptions about some people, panellists, authors, and speakers, but I’ve tried not to. Last year, I used the website, but had the same methodology. I’ve only counted keynote / panel type events, excluding music events, wellbeing sessions and the children’s festival. Allowing for a bit of a margin for error, I think I’ve not done a bad job. The numbers for 2022 (drumroll please) … 

2021    2022

21%     47%     Women
79%     53%     Men

98.5%  96%     White people
1.5%    4%       People of the Global Majority

So close… and yet still so far. I did, back in November, unashamedly tag the festival’s official account on Instagram… but they neither shared my story (Not that I was expecting it!) nor got in touch. Do I dare to hope that they read it and took not

I did also leave some stern words in the feedback form the e-mailed out, including the line “Borders Book Festival should be seriously considering how they appeal (or don’t appeal) to the population of the Borders and beyond, and how the homogenous programming is damaging the reputation of the region and excluding minorities, women, and the working class.
Too far? I didn’t think so.

At 47% women in the 2022 programme, it’s a clear improvement on 2021’s 21%, but it’s still not fully up to 50%. Some might say, a couple of percentage points off 50/50 is close enough, isn’t it? But the counter argument here is history. If the festival were to make up for the shocking 21% number from last year and compensate for just that event in this year’s inclusion of women, then the programme would have to be 79% female. I’m not necessarily advocating for exactly that happening, but do think about it.

I’ve not studied the festival programmes for before 2021, and it would be really interesting to see how the statistics change over the years. BBF should have these stats, for reporting to their funders and suchlike, and if they were so inclined, could even make them public.

Next up, the racial diversity of the programme.
After the inclusion of a single Black person in 2021, it would have been hard to do worse. This year, at 4%, it’s still really not great. While 4% is possibly higher than the Borders proportion of Global Majority people, it’s still 9% less than the UK’s overall 13%. A friend did suggest that this might be okay, because it reflects the look of the Scottish Borders population, which is, for many events here a plain reason for an overwhelmingly white picture, but this entirely ignores the hugely important positive impact that listening to, meeting and working with people from outside out usual experience has.

What would happen, say if 15, 20, 25, even 50% of a Borders festival programme were to be people of the Global Majority? It would open up our white Borders mindsets to what the rest of the world looks like, not just the rest of the white world. Imagine all those ideas and stories that might not ever make it here.

Disappointingly, their ticket pricing strategy hasn’t changed. You’ve still got to be able to prove you’re a student, disabled, registered unemployed, under 16 or hold a Young Scot card. Working part-time in a low wage hospitality job and working the rest of the time as an occasionally paid artist and blogger simply isn’t good enough apparently.
It’s still £15 for the ‘headliners’ with the concession price being £13, and, I think depending on the marquee, others are £13, £11, or £8. 
I’m curious about how this assignment of value works. Is the higher price to cover a higher speaker’s fee for a more famous writer, or is it to do with how much cash the festival wants to bring in, how much they can get away with charging?

I wonder, if Natalie Haynes, who I’ve bought three £11 tickets for myself and family to see, is being paid the same as Alan Little, on at the same time but demanding £15 a ticket for? He’s even got a sponsor’s logo on his (large) section of the page they share, but I bet Haynes will be funnier. I’d be really interested if any speakers would like to share what they’re being paid to talk at the festival.

Talking about being paid (yeah I’m sure you’re tired of my skint artist chat), I’m not being paid for my performance at the Borders Book Festival in the Writers’ Forum slot, where I’ll be reading from my sexy new essay about compost. (it’s not really about compost) (but if you find compost sexy it might yet be the place for you…). For this one-off event, and because I’m pretty new to this speaking thing, and the Forum, I’m not going to demand to be paid, but it shall be noted (here if nowhere else). I’ve not found out yet whether the Writers’ Forum is going to be paid for the event, but promise I’ll post an update when I know.

Tickets to see me in real-life, ideally tipsy but definitely sweaty and in a tent, are £6, actually the most affordable event of the grown-up programme. 

It’s on Thursday the 16th in the Davidson Chalmers Stewart (ooft that’s a mouthful) Storytelling Tent at 4:30pm. Please don’t heckle I’m nervous enough already.

There’ll also be the opportunity to buy my book, and books from other BWF members, where you can support us and go home with some nice printed things.

Read about the Borders Writers’ Forum and the programme of events here
Buy tickets to see me talk at the Borders Book Festival here
Get tickets to see Natalie Haynes here
Read about the term Global Majority from Daniel Lim here
Read my blog post from November about BBF’s 2021 programme here

If you can’t make it in real life to buy a copy of my book, go here, and if you’d like to support my blog and art, please consider buying me a coffee (£3) via the links at the top and the bottom of this page. 💸