Wimbledon BookFest’s Fiona Razvi on SW19’s Cultural Landscape

Wimbledon BookFest returns on 5 October 2017 with a stellar line-up of authors, politicians and entrepreneurs including the internationally acclaimed novelist Salman Rushdie. SW Resident meets founder Fiona Razvi and checks out the line-up…

Words: Georgina Blaskey

It’s been an eventful 11 years since Wimbledon BookFest launched and this autumn the line up includes an enigmatic selection of authors, broadcasters, politicians, entrepreneurs and philosophers.

Among the bestselling novelists are Salman Rushdie, Matt Haig, AL Kennedy, Anthony Horowitz and Tracy Chevalier. Household names from the world of politics and current affairs include Alan Johnson, Evan Davies, Chris Patten and Jon Sopel, while Chris Broadman, Judy Murray and Brian Moore provide unique insight into the world of sport.

Hats off then to founder Fiona Razvi, who started BookFest in 2006. ‘I was working as a local journalist at the time and interviewing lots of writers and artists like Michelle Paver and Penny Vincenzi. I visited Hay Festival and was blown away by it – the energy, creativity and the ideas. I really felt we could do something like that here in Wimbledon,’ Razvi explains.

‘My colleague Tony Kane and I started to sound out the key groups we thought could make it happen – the theatres, bookshops, schools, libraries and businesses – and there was such an appetite to create the festival. People were wanting to engage with their communities and the live event. From day one we had an audience, it’s just grown exponentially year on year.’

Razvi believes BookFest has changed the local cultural landscape when it comes to the arts. ‘Following on from BookFest, we now have an International Music Festival, Merton Arts Festival and an International Short Film Festival. Fellow arts organisations tell us when they saw the audiences at Wimbledon BookFest it gave them confidence to do their own projects.’

Following on from BookFest, we now have an International Music Festival, Merton Arts Festival and an International Short Film Festival. Fellow arts organisations tell us when they saw the audiences at Wimbledon BookFest it gave them confidence to do their own projects

Thanks to the success of these events, young people in the area have a fantastic opportunity to access the arts and literary scene, and BookFest works tirelessly to engage young people. ‘Last year, 67 local schools took part in our education projects, but our work with schools is much broader than straight literacy,’ says Razvi.

‘We help build the soft skills for young people that help them with future education choices and jobs. We run film-making projects, and our Sixth Form panel programme and hold events.

’One of Razvi’s highlights this year is the return of Salman Rushdie, an early supporter of the festival, but for the founder there are many moments, past and present, to choose from.

‘Our political events, such as Alan Johnson and Alistair Darling,have been highlights. A successful event is when there’s a two-way conversation with the audience and many people say it, but literature festivals have taken over in some ways from the political events of old.

‘Some of the other special moments have included our poetry or philosophy nights when the audiences are not the largest, but something magical is created. Our gig nights allow young performers to express themselves through song  and I love those. There are many ways to tell a story.’

Wimbledon BookFest runs from 5-15 October 2017. See wimbledonbookfest.org

Four Unmissable Speakers
at Wimbledon BookFest 2017

Salman RushideSalman Rushdie In conversation with Razia Iqbal
Sunday 8 October, 5.30pm (tickets £15)
The multi-award winning writer and author of Booker winner Midnight’s Children makes a welcome return to Wimbledon to discuss his mesmerising new modern day thriller set against the panorama of American culture and post-Obama politics. Rushdie’s new work, The Golden House, is a novel exploring identity, truth, terror and lies.

‘This is what I love about the arts… artists deal with the biggest issues going – life, death and love,’ says Razia Iqbal, who used to be the BBC arts correspondent and now presents Newshour on the BBC World Service and The World Tonight on Radio 4.

Matt Haig (photo: Clive Doyle)Matt Haig: How to Stop Time
Sunday 15 Oct 2017, 8pm (tickets £15)
When one of Britain’s biggest screen stars, Benedict Cumberbatch, signs up to play the lead and executive produce a film of your book before it’s published, you might imagine you’ve written something half decent. Follow that with topping the book charts a mere days after publication and it’s clear How To Stop Time has the makings of a modern classic.

Tom Hazard has lived for 400 years and in his life he’s sailed with Captain Cook, played the lute for Shakespeare, shared a drink with F Scott Fitzgerald, and loved and lost. This wonderfully original, engrossing, heart-warming novel holds a mirror up to our modern society and wonders at the mistakes the human race continues to make, century after century.

Liz EarlLiz Earle: The Good Gut Guide
Saturday 7 October 2017, 3.45pm (tickets £15)
Liz Earle has long been fascinated by the increasingly recognised link between the gut and our physical and mental health. ‘Modern science and medicine are only just uncovering the secrets of gut health and why it has the power to totally transform the way we look and feel,’ explains Earle. ‘Microbes in our gut affect our mental health, our moods and emotions, and may be implicated in depression, violent behaviour and even self-harm.’

Earle claims that in making one small change to your diet by adding a daily dose of probiotics – in the form of plain live yoghurt or fermented foods such as kefir and pickled vegetables – you can make a real difference to your overall gut health and well-being.

Peter Bazalgette (photo: Steven Peskett)Peter Bazalgette in conversation with Toby Mundy
Sunday 8 October 2017, 6.30pm (tickets £12.50)
When Bazalgette chaired Arts Council England a few years ago, it was working on all the best reasons for public funding of arts and culture in a time of austerity. ‘One of the most compelling is that the arts are often the telling of human stories, helping people understand the predicaments of others. That is, putting ourselves in their shoes – empathising with them. This is true of all arts and popular culture and it’s part of the social glue which binds us,’ says Bazalgette.

‘When I was helping to establish a new holocaust memorial in central London and meeting holocaust survivors, they told me what a society apparently without empathy was like.’
Defending the arts and popular culture as a means of bridging the empathy gap, Bazalgette explains how and why we should cherish this emotion to create a more civil society.