10 March 2020
Dr. Stephen Mooney is a poet, publisher and Senior Lecture in Creative Writing at Surrey University. He’s began at Surrey the same year the Surrey New Writers festival was founded.
Q: What was the first Surrey New Writers Festival like?
A: I remember the first one was run across two days. The first day we were on campus and the programme consisted of a series of intimate group discussions. In the evening of day 2 we decamped to a pub in Guildford to launch two new works (by the poets Allen Fisher and Martin Bakero) with Veer Books, the small poetry press I co-run.
The second day of the event was held at the city’s beautiful Jacobean Abbots Hospital. I think that first year we had a panel discussion about humour in writing (with Surrey University Lecturer Paul Vlitos) and other sessions on poetry and publishing, and editing and how to be edited – quite practical stuff. The workshops and guest panels we started back in 2013 are still a feature of today’s festival.
Q: How do you think the Festival has evolved since then?
A: It’s been run every year since then, with the exception of 2015, when it had a year off. In 2014, the Surrey New Writers Festival found a new home – at G-Live in the heart of the city, where it’s being held again this year.
I think it’s fair to say that, to start with the Festival was pretty focused on the university and what was going on there, but as time has gone on it has encompassed the wider community more and more.
The early format of intimate discussion groups began to change as we began to introduce longer talks with big name writers. In 2016 our Distinguished Writer in Residence, Monica Ali, gave the headline talk. That was a turning point, the attendance went right up that year. More recently the masterclasses, which focus on a particular aspect of writing or a type of genre, have proven to be really popular with students and members of the public.
There are features which have always been at the heart of the festival – the soiree in the evening, for example, which offers a chance to relax, have a glass of wine, mingle and chat with like-minded people, staff from the university and individuals from the literary industry.
Q: Would you say the audience for the festival has changed over the years?
A: These days I think the Festival very much connects with the wider public. There is a literary community in Guildford that we really want to engage with and we want to showcase what we do. At the same time we want to give our students a chance to talk to people who are active in literary matters and circles. And, of course, it offers a platform for bringing to the fore new material, new writers and new talent.
We also run the Surrey Poetry Festival: For the last four years, the two Festivals have been run in parallel on the same day and in the same venue. This year we’ve separated them and the Surrey Poetry Festival will be held in May. I think both events are really helping to broaden the city’s literary landscape and expose the new writing that’s emerging in and around the city.
Interview conducted by Alison Cooper.