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Interview: Richmond Literature Festival's Kirsteen McNish

With the Richmond Literature Festival approaching it's 20th anniversary this November (3-27 Nov), Run Riot simply had to catch up with the Festival Programmer Kirsteen McNish to find out what highlights to look forward to (we're very excited about their Fringe events, plus Marina Warner, Joe Dunthorne, Sandy Nairne - and a boat load of others!), the shift of publishing towards digital, and London's hungry Lit Scene! All taking place on the Thames and a variety of buoyant, cosey, and la-di-da Richmond venues - and it's less than an hour from Dalston doncha know! Here we come!

Run Riot: Hi Kirsteen how are you?
Kirsteen McNish:
Bright, breezy and a little bit sneezy.

RR: What have you been up to this week?
Working and having a great weekend; sifting through Chatsworth Road Market and various car-boots; and having friends over for Sunday lunch. I went to see a brilliant gig at the Union Chapel, caught up on a bit of festival reading and went to see the Museum Of Everything exhibition at Selfridges.

RR: What has been your inspiration for programming the festival?
Rivers, Nature, psycho-geography, romantics, rebels, and revolutionaries.

RR: How does the Richmond Literature Festival differ from the other lit festivals around the UK?
I like to think it stands out also because of the breadth of the programme. It differs in that it spans nearly a whole month rather than a weekend, in venues all over Richmond & Twickenham: there is something to do on nearly every night in what can be otherwise a cold and dreary November. Hopefully it will feed the mind and soul before Christmas madness kicks off!  

RR: What's new to the festival this year?
We have a great many more events on all of the programmes! These include a new 'destination weekend' at Ham House with Food and Drink writers, an extended Fringe festival with some great pairings of poets, musicians and spoken word artists, and a specially commissioned piece of writing about the Thames by writer, author and broadcaster Michael Smith which we are particularly excited about. Our brand new Literary Salon in a pop up shop, and of course our Fringe party on a boat with Caught By The River!

RR: What are you looking forward to most in the festival?
People coming away feeling inspired, and having thoroughly enjoyed themselves! I hope people discover something new or an event that fires their imagination.  

RR: Who's catching your attention at the moment?
In music, 'Girls: Father, The Son & The Holy Ghost'; in film, Shelly Love; in art Bill Drummond and The Museum of Everything; and in Literature John Burnside - I can't get enough of his work. He is a genius.

RR: Do you see the role of the literature festival changing as publishers shift towards digital?
Hopefully not too drastically. People will always love the immediacy of hearing words penned by the author spoken out loud, and discovering what inspired their work. I think festivals will certainly have to be more inventive with their format, and it's no doubt a difficult time for hardworking publishers and artists in lots of ways with the growth of digital formats. Luckily most people involved in publishing and the promotion of literature are very passionate about their writers and literature as a whole, so a way forward will be found I am sure.  

RR: What do you think of London's literature community?
Inventive, diverse, passionate and hungry. There is so much to choose from, and the standard that’s on offer is actually very high. There are a lot of people out there performing, consuming, promoting and listening. Look at Book Slam – that’s a great format and has influenced many new Literary Salons to emerge in London - it’s packed every month and the best monthly literature night out there I reckon by far. We are lucky we live in a city that has a great number of people on the ground so pro-active in the creation and promotion of literature and the wider arts, and great independent bookshops that are amazing and retain their uniqueness even in these dark days of recession. The creative spirit will always find a way, with or without support from official bodies.

RR: What is the aim of the festival?
To celebrate literature in all its forms. We want people to immerse themselves in new work, to be inspired, try something new, learn something, but mainly to enjoy it and come away wanting more. It's about getting out of your own comfort zone of London and trying an event somewhere else. It’s less than hour from Dalston to Richmond on the overland for example [all aboard the Stratford to Richmond line]. A hope skip and a jump for a great night out.

Richmond Upon Thames Literature Festival

3-27 November 2011

Kirsteen McNish is a freelancer and Creative Director for Kirsteen works in arts and cultural management and specialises in the fields of literature and music and has directed this years Richmond Upon Thames Literature Festival.
Kirsteen works on specially commissioned projects involving leading artists, filmakers and musicians, producing high calibre partnerships with arts organisations and creative individuals. She produces large scale and bespoke events and collaborative work with leading artists and practitioners.