Longtime N.L. festival organizer hopes his new project is lit(erary)

Darren Hann is the organizer of festivals like Sci Fi on the Rock, the Trepassey Pirate Festival and the Mount Pearl Renaissance Festival. (Alex Kennedy/CBC - image credit)
Darren Hann is the organizer of festivals like Sci Fi on the Rock, the Trepassey Pirate Festival and the Mount Pearl Renaissance Festival. (Alex Kennedy/CBC - image credit)

There's a new literary festival coming to Newfoundland — one with a bit of a different focus.

In December, Darren Hann will give people a peek into all the steps it takes for a book to make it to a shelf, at the Harbour Book Festival in St. John's.

"That's sort of the little journey I want everybody to see when they come to the festival, to talk to the authors and then talk to the people who physically make the book, the company. And then the people who sell the book," said Hann.

Newfoundland and Labrador has several book-related festivals, most aimed at bringing authors together. The Harbour Book Festival is for people working in the industry as well as readers — a networking event, but also a chance for people to buy books, connect with authors and get a look inside the industry.

"The public can come in, they can go to the main dealers' room and see all the independent writers and people in the book industry. And when I say people in the book industry, we've got people coming that do book cleaning, book pressing, stuff like that," said Hann.

"Anybody that's related to working on books, we're trying to get there for our event."

Holy Grail for publishers

Flanker Press publisher Jerry Cranford said they're excited to be part of the new festival.

"It's been my experience that the best marketing is free: organic and word of mouth. Once a book reaches a critical mass of positive chatter, there's no stopping it. The author becomes part of everyday conversation in households far and wide," Cranford said.

"This is akin to a Holy Grail of achievements for regional publishers like Flanker Press. A new festival connecting authors with new as well as longtime fans is a welcome engine in building that crucial momentum."

The event will feature keynote speakers, and include vendors and presentations throughout the event — authors including Jake Wells and Justin Hodder will be there with their own tables, as will vendors like Adam Roberts of the Dead Arts, who will be selling his handmade notebooks. There will also be hourly presentations, from people like FriesenPress sales representative Ron Such, who will talk about the printing process. Local publishers and illustrators will also be there.

Zach Goudie/CBC
Zach Goudie/CBC

Long history of festivals

Hann has a long history of organizing festivals. He's the co-founder of the long-standing Sci-Fi on the Rock convention, and this past summer he launched the Mount Pearl Renaissance Festival. A self-professed book and festival lover, the Harbour Book Festival is a combination of both passions.

In the past he said he's visited established book festivals where visitors could meet with the various companies making books — and everyone from publishers to authors to illustrators.

"You see all the different parts of putting a book together," he said. "It's not just picking up a book off the shelf and 'OK, I've got a book!' I find with a festival you get to see who makes the books and how many steps it goes through by the time the story comes out of the person's head and their heart and into your hand."

The idea to start a book festival in St. John's has been on Hann's mind for the last year or so, he said. While visiting various markets, he said, he noticed authors and book sellers setting up tables, which got him thinking, "What if we had something specific just for people, authors, illustrations, people that are in the book industry? What if we had a market just for them?"

While Hann said he knows the ins and outs of festivals, he needed some additional help organizing it, so he brought in Engen Books co-founder Matthew LeDrew to give advice.

"I wanted somebody to help me out and give me a bit of guidance from the business side of publishing … and I wanted to get someone involved that was on the other side of the fence that's a publisher and knew more about the industry," Hann said.

"Because when I go into this and when I start this, I want to make sure everybody's included — all the different types of businesses — and there's something that's going to appeal to everybody."

Hann said he hopes the Harbour Book Festival will become a recurring event.

It's happening at the Sandman Hotel in St. John's, from the evening of Dec. 2 through the end of Dec. 3. The cost for an adult ticket for the two-day event is $20, or they can be purchased separately, with the first evening costing $10 and the second day $15.

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