My holiday at home

Mark McManus wearing his trademark black hat, sitting in his electric wheelchair in front of a bookcase.I’ve been coming to the Festival for about 23 years. I was late learning to read, not through any fault of my own, but then my parents got me out of special education into mainstream, and I’ve just loved books ever since and where books can take you without going anywhere. I’ve had serious health conditions over my lifetime and sometimes books were my only outlet to have different experiences. So that frames my love of the Book Festival.

There’s an innate pastoral dimension to the Book Festival for me because the staff are so wonderful, the people make me feel comfortable. There’s a sense of welcome that’s unique to the Book Festival. As somebody with quite significant additional needs, but also very independent, I feel very safe at the Book Festival.

I call the Book Festival my holiday at home, the oxygen and the food for the year. It goes too quick for me!

The Book Festival means so much; it’s a space where I feel appreciated as a whole person, and not just looked at because of my disability. It’s somewhere I don’t have to worry about having to surpass people’s judgements or expectations, to have my place and be valued.

It’s not about shouting loud at the Book Festival, it’s a place of welcome. You see transgender authors on the stage, and you see them as people, not a label. Transgender people are experiencing what disabled people still experience; we’re being othered because we don’t fit the standard box. I think that’s why you’re wonderful, because diversity matters to the Book Festival.

You come and the edges are knocked off you, you meet somebody you might not have met otherwise. You don’t have to like them, you don’t have to agree with them. But you have to see them. And quite often we don’t see the person next to us.

I went to see Rabbi Julia Neuberger and I was thinking about joining a religious order at the time. I told the priest in charge that I was going and I got into trouble for not doing what I was told! I had a wonderful, engaging conversation with her that I wouldn’t have had but for the Book Festival.

In the next few years, I think that having thought-provoking events is going to be hugely important. I will always have my shoulder to the wheel about fairness, about kindness, about the kind of world that I want to live in and be a part of, and I see the Book Festival as a kind of light house on the hill for it all, the thing that makes sure we don’t veer too far off course. That’s what an idea space can be.

I’ve had peaks and troughs and challenges but the Book Festival is my place to recharge my battery. For two weeks, I don’t have to swim against the tide too much, you know?

Whatever else is happening, I’ve always done everything I can to make sure I’m well enough to be there because it’s just so vital and valuable.

Mark McManus