Word Café comes back to Raglan next month with almost double the number of guest speakers, panellists and storytellers this time round, say organisers, promising a literary feast for book lovers from both here and out of town.

It’s also a weekend rather than the one-day event of 2013, and will be staged at the town hall – with seating for 150 – after the Old School Arts Centre in Stewart Street first time round proved too small a venue.

Word Café is a festival not only of the written word but of all things bookish including illustration and photography, organiser Emma Brooks told the Chronicle last week. “We’ve put together a broad programme of events that should appeal to all types of book lovers.”

Among the highlights will be sessions with 2014 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship winner and current Waikato University writer-in-residence Mandy Hager, true crime writer and television presenter Scott Bainbridge, popular children’s author Dawn McMillan and ‘Arrival’ travel magazine editor Letesha Randall who lives in Raglan.

Other locals include award-winning children’s author Sarah Johnson – who will launch her latest book ‘The Bold Ship Phenomenal’ at Word Café ahead of its nationwide release – and bakery owner Pisey Leng whose recently released book ‘The Wisdom Seeker’ tells of how she turned her life around after surviving the killing fields of Cambodia as a child in the late ’70s.
Raglan-based wildlife and nature photographer Trevor Penfold will also talk about his life behind the lens and the inspiration it gave him to write and produce books.

One of Word Café’s aims is to celebrate and foster local talent, says Emma, alongside bringing top authors and illustrators from further afield into town. “It’s not always easy to market yourself these days.”

This year’s festival has a particularly strong focus on visual storytelling, she adds, with book illustrators Kat Mereweather and Deborah Hinde and graphic novelist Paul Martin hosting an illustration panel on the Saturday afternoon.

Saturday night’s keynote speaker is James George, an award-winning author and creative writing teacher who is the current chairperson of the writers committee of Toi Maori Aotearoa – Maori Arts New Zealand.

Word Café wraps up on the Sunday morning with a final session on self-publishing versus publishing, which includes among its panellists independent publisher Sally Greer and best-selling HarperCollins author Julie Thomas.

The festival aims generally to promote reading and writing within the community, Emma says, and to promote Raglan during winter. Ideally the concept of Word Café then comes into its own, benefiting the town’s cafés and other businesses at a typically quiet time of year.

“We’re marketing to Auckland and the greater Waikato,” she explains of the literary festival. “And we want people to come for the whole weekend.”
Emma likens the event to that of having an art or music show in town. And because it was a sell-out last time “we decided to go bigger (this year) by selling more tickets to be more self-sustaining”.

Despite the ambitious programme, ticket prices have remained much the same as in 2013 thanks to funding support from Creative Communities NZ and the Waikato District Council.
“We want the festival to be as accessible to as many people as possible,” Emma insists.

A few free sessions are included in the programme, with storytelling in the town hall on the Friday night, an informal open mike night at The Shack on Saturday – where everyday writers get to share their work with the audience – and a children’s workshop at the library on Sunday.

There’s also a writing competition, with festival-goers encouraged to get inspired and pen their entries over the weekend.
Word Café will be at Raglan Town Hall, August 14-16. Early-bird all-session tickets are now on sale at $70pp, a discount of $20, until July 31. Individual sessions may also be on sale at $20, subject to availability. See details and buy tickets at www.wordcaferaglan.co.nz.