The UK’s first ever drive-in book festival launching in Devon

PUBLISHED: 16:33 14 July 2020 | UPDATED: 12:20 28 July 2020

Appledore Book Festival patron Jeremy Vibe. Photo: John Mackenzie

Appledore Book Festival patron Jeremy Vibe. Photo: John Mackenzie

Photo: John Mackenzie

Hundreds of festival goers will sit in their cars at Appledore Book Festival to see authors including Michael Morpurgo, Jeremy Vine, Michael Cashman and Kate Humble

Appledore has staged the annual book festival for 15 years, Photo: Terry Mathews/Alamy Live News.Appledore has staged the annual book festival for 15 years, Photo: Terry Mathews/Alamy Live News.

The first drive-in book festival in the UK will be staged in North Devon after Appledore Book Festival organisers took the bold step to make the event safe for everyone.

Everyone in the room fell silent when the idea of having a drive-in book festival was first mentioned. But any initial amazement was soon replaced by questions - just how would it work? Realising the potential, excitement began to build and Appledore Book Festival director Ann Juby found she had a new project on her hands.

Organisers of the festival, which for the past 15 years has brought authors and book fans together in various historic venues throughout the pretty waterside village, were hoping it would still be able to go ahead as usual this September. But the coronavirus situation made it seem almost impossible, as Ann says: “People have been very concerned about going, even with social distancing, and we said all along that the most important thing was the safety of festival-goers, the authors and all our volunteers. Coupled with that was the fact we couldn’t book the normal venues, like the churches and the community hall.”

However, she says: “We had an amazing festival line-up and many authors were saying they were still happy to come.”

Comedian Lucy Porter will be at the drive-in Appledore Book Festival. Photo: no creditComedian Lucy Porter will be at the drive-in Appledore Book Festival. Photo: no credit

So, when Ann opened a newspaper and read about plans for a drive-in cinema, she thought: “Why can’t we do that?”

Once the festival committee was onboard with the idea, planning of the re-imagined festival began anew but luckily everything started falling into place.

They looked at four potential venues in Appledore before settling on Skern Lodge. The Skern team was “delighted to be involved and has been really helpful,” says Ann.

The grounds of Skern Lodge can accommodate more than 100 socially-spaced cars at each event. The festival will take place over five days, with five events per day, so a potential 500 to 1,000-plus daily audience.

Broadcaster and political commentator Iain Dale will be at Appledore Book Festival. Photo: Steve UllathorneBroadcaster and political commentator Iain Dale will be at Appledore Book Festival. Photo: Steve Ullathorne

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The staging is being set up by Devon company Waggle Events. Tickets will be bought in advance, people showing their e-tickets as they arrive. The authors and interviewers will be on a stage, with a big screen backdrop ensuring everyone has a good view. The audience will be able to hear the event either by tuning into a special Appledore Book Festival FM radio station or through an onsite PA system.

Science journalist, Dr Michael Mosley will be at Appledore Book Festival. Photo: David BostockScience journalist, Dr Michael Mosley will be at Appledore Book Festival. Photo: David Bostock

People will need to stay in their cars, but after the event, signed copies of the authors’ books will be available to buy from the drive-through book stall – using contactless payment.

There will be toilets on site and also an option to order food and drink in advance – which will be served directly to the car once parked.

But Ann says they are keen to encourage people to still visit the village which has an excellent number of cafes, pubs and restaurants tucked in and around its maze of little lanes.

Devon children's author Michael Morpurgo will speak at Appledore Book Festival. Photo: Harper CollinsDevon children's author Michael Morpurgo will speak at Appledore Book Festival. Photo: Harper Collins

She says that the response from both authors and publishers has been very positive with many of the festival’s headliners able to come.

The line-up includes: playwright and former Children’s Laureate, Michael Morpurgo; farmer, entrepreneur and TV presenter, Kate Humble; award-winning science journalist, Dr Michael Mosley; international best-selling author, Adele Parks; actor, former MEP, gay rights campaigner and life peer, Michael Cashman; comedian, Lucy Porter; award-winning gardener and BBC Gardeners’ World presenter, Mark Lane; former British Ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch; broadcaster and commentator, Iain Dale; and the author and broadcaster, Jeremy Vine, who is also a festival patron.

Jeremy says: “Once again, Appledore is at the cutting edge. Lockdown has been so hard for everyone but we honestly believe that, as things ease, people will be more desperate than ever for their annual fix of literature by the sea. If there’s ever been a drive-in book festival before, I’ve yet to hear of it. I hope we have a festival like no other and show the horrible coronavirus that you can’t keep our great writers down.”

Ann says: “The fact that we can still showcase so many of the wonderful authors we already had confirmed is a real thrill and something we thought we wouldn’t be able to do this year. We hope our friends and supporters will come out and join us in celebrating our love of literature, books and the arts.”

Festival info:

The festival will run from Friday 18 September to Tuesday 22 September and tickets can be bought online or by calling the festival box office from 8 August.

Tickets will cost £30 per car for the main headliner events and £20 per car for all other tickets.

There will be an exclusive Friends of Appledore Book Festival drive-in event on the evening of Thursday 17 September and Friends will also have priority booking from 1 August.

The box office on 01237 424 949 is open 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday and 11am to 5pm on Sundays.

Profits from the festival go to support its Schools’ Literary Programme which, last year, benefitted over 6,500 children in North Devon through a range of fun and engaging author events.

Friends’ membership costs £20 and includes invitations to special events, newsletters and a discount on books bought from the festival’s onsite book stall.

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