THE NORMAL hush was broken at a unique library when the first-ever Gladfest got under way.
The Gladstone Library in Hawarden hosted a series of events on Friday and over the weekend, ranging from poetry readings and amateur sleuthing to book-based therapy.
I went along on the Saturday, curious to see what was in store.
The corridors of the imposing building, which dates back to the late 18th century, were full of activity while the reception area was a flurry of ticket sales.
Many of the talks and presentations were sold out.
Outside, two pavilions housed arts and craft displays, some drawn from very close to home, including Christi Bendle, a needlework specialist who runs classes at the library and Sally Pattinson of the Design Studio in Hawarden.
Annette Lewis, development officer for the library, said: “The launch on Friday went very well indeed. We had some of the sponsors here, as well as friends and volunteers.
“Damian Barr, who wrote Maggie & Me, a memoir about surviving Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, did a talk and that was very well attended.”
In the past, libraries have been more famous for their silence than their hustle and bustle but you’re not likely to find a librarian with their fingers pressed on pursed lips at Gladfest.
Annette said: “There’s room for quiet reflection at Gladstone’s. It’s a lovely place.
The reading rooms are obviously meant to be pretty relaxed, as are other areas.
“But we’re not all about that. With the cafe and conference rooms, things can get pretty busy here. We’ve lots of events on, creative writing workshops, one-off lectures, writers in residence and courses.”
A literary festival is a specialist event and while Gladfest covers all sorts of subjects, from theology to murder, it was always likely to draw a more niche crowd with a passion for fiction rather than, say, football.
Even so, there was a thorough mix of ages and backgrounds there.
I sometimes find festivals, whether they focus on comedy, film, stage or, as due in Mold later this month, food, a little frustrating because there is so much on offer that it’s difficult to choose what to do.
Fortunately, the events at Gladfest are staggered so it was entirely feasible to attend most of the talks, with enough time in between to snatch a coffee or chat in Food for Thought, the cafe.
Annette said: “We’re already planning for Gladfest 2014. We know there’s a demand, because we regularly get 30 or 40 people coming to attend workshops, sometimes on a cold, wet January night.
“Because we’re a residential library, there’s a hush to a certain part of it. But libraries are changing – they have to meet the needs of modern readers.
“You see it in public libraries as well, with interactive storytelling and things like that.”
The primary purpose of Gladfest, Annette said, was to showcase the site.
She said: “We’re part of the village and we want to be part of the community. Even if people don’t want to take part in the literary side of things, we’re keeping the cafe open longer so they can relax, or they can browse the art and crafts.”
A steady stream of visitors paid testament to the success of Gladfest.
During a talk by Andrew Tate, who dissected the controversial work of Philip Pullman amongst others, I found a seat in the upper gallery as the room below was full.
Shelley Silas’s scriptwriting workshop was likewise stuffed full of aspiring writers, while Ellla Bourthoud’s ‘bibliotherapy’ sessions, where she matched up books to the reader’s emotional needs, were fully booked.
Louisa Yates, the festival director, revealed Gladfest came about almost by accident.
She said: “The reason we set it up was because we had a list of authors and events we wanted to set up, but we couldn’t find six consecutive weekends to hold them on.
“So we thought, why not hold them all at once?
“One thing that’s come out more than anything is that people thought this was an open day. Our message is that we’re here and we’re open all the time.”