When I heard about the Cymera Festival of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, I had just applied for the MSc Publishing degree. At the time, I was also a bookseller, and the idea of a festival dedicated to speculative genre fiction was one of the most exciting things I could think of. I had already decided that if I moved to Scotland, I would find some way to be at that festival. So when we were informed that we would have the opportunity to do a placement with Cymera, I was very excited. I kept my options open, but my heart was definitely set on working with Cymera.

As it happened, I was lucky enough to be one of the students selected to work as an intern. Although the physical even has been cancelled due to the current situation with COVID-19, being involved has still been a fantastic opportunity and I am very grateful that the organiser, Ann Landmann, was able to give us some insight into the workings of the festival and how it is organised. My expectations for the placement were very much based on my experience with festivals as a bookseller, where my only involvement had been ordering and ensuring the delivery of stock to the festival event venues. This was completely different.

Each of us was assigned two main tasks for the festival, a group task to design the festival programme brochure and an individual task overseeing the organisation and execution of one of the events at the festival.

Designing the brochure was a labour of love, as we started from scratch. With full control of the design, myself and my fellow interns were able to experiment with the skills we’d learned the previous term, and having that freedom also helped me to gain confidence in making design choices. It allowed us to expand our knowledge as well, like using folders to manage paragraph styles, which later helped me in my production project as well. Despite the festival being cancelled, it was still really good experience and it’s some work I feel very proud of.

The event I chose to oversee myself was the creators’ hall, where local authors and craftspeople would have the opportunity to showcase and sell their wares. This would have entailed helping Ann select the creators who applied for a table, helping them book their tables and organising the layout of the hall. On the weekend of the festival, I would be helping supervise the hall and making sure that things ran smoothly. I was originally drawn to this  particular task because I enjoy organising things but also because it would allow me to get out of my comfort zone. I’ve always been a reserved and shy person and the social engagement involved in ensuring the smooth running of the creators hall would push me to be more open to communication and helping others with anything they might need.

In the end, the physical festival has been cancelled this year, but the creators hall will go on virtually with Q&A’s, and so I was able to contribute to the event even though it won’t be in the way originally intended.

Even though the placement ended differently than expected, and some of the planned experiences couldn’t be completed, it was a fantastic experience and I would do it again without regret. If anything, it’s made me appreciate all of the work that goes into organising festivals even more than I did before, and I hope that next year, Cymera Festival can come back even stronger.