I’ve just returned from Les Imaginales, a French literature festival which takes place in the town of Epinal. Without a doubt it’s the best book-related event I’ve ever attended.
In terms of organisation and how it is run, it is very different to UK, or US conventions from what I’ve been told about them. Sponsored by the town, and a number of local businesses, the four day event is free to attend and held in a park. With dozens of craft and book tents, 3 big marquees for panels, and a huge signing tent for authors, the all-ages crowd could come and go as they pleased. With lots of shady places under trees to get out of the sun (it was super hot and sticky in the tents) crowds of people drifted about to visit the festival or wander into the nearby town centre for meals.
On two of the days bus loads of local school children were brought in and there were also art exhibitions, period weapon demonstrations, body painting competitions and all kinds of stuff going on that I didn’t have time to see. A real festival of the creative arts. There was also a fair bit of cosplay. Bravo to the guy dressed up as Conan and also the stormtroopers who must have been sweating so much!
I’m starting to recover now from the event but my voice is still a bit tired from talking so much. The festival celebrated fantasy, SF and the fantastic, which the French use as an umbrella term to include horror writers and I believe the supernatural. The event was brilliant, the organisers couldn’t do enough, and the many volunteers who helped run the event worked tirelessly, including all of the great booksellers.
Also, because my ability to speak in French is limited to what I learned before I did my GSCEs I had to work really hard to break the scar tissue off some old memories. It allowed me to speak to people on a very basic level but everyone genuinely appreciated the effort which was lovely. Thankfully RJ Barker, Ed McDonald and I were provided with interpreters who did a brilliant job translating what other panellists and the moderator were saying, and then they had to translate our rambling nonsense into French. So my thanks to Helene, Romain and Claudine for all of their hard work.
I also had a chance to get to know some lovely authors including my fellow UK peeps, RJ Barker , Ed McDonald, Al Robertson and, of course, Christopher Priest. Also, over the course of sitting beside him for 4 days straight I got to know Steven Erikson a little too. Below is a picture of Steven Erikson, me and Romain, trying our best not to look tired and sweaty!
I met a number of other lovely authors including Marie Brennan, Robin Hobb, Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, plus too many great European authors to name. At times the whole thing also felt a bit like a kind of holiday camp for writers, especially the long breakfast chats which were worth the trip alone.
After the festival I spent a couple of days in Paris with my French publisher, Bragelonne, during which I had a little time to explore the city. It’s an amazing city and I need to go back and see more of it.
If any author has the opportunity to attend Les Imaginales I would highly recommend it. The French fans are so passionate about fantasy and the festival was just a brilliant experience. Now, I’m off to get some sleep and rest my voice.