Suc­cess of sold-out book fes­ti­val ‘opens up Is­lay to the world’

The Oban Times - - LEISURE - By Sandy Neil sneil@oban­times.co.uk

Lead­ing writ­ers have hailed Is­lay Book Fes­ti­val as a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence ‘that opens Is­lay up to the world’ af­ter record at­ten­dances made this year’s event the big­gest yet.

Lo­cals and vis­i­tors squeezed into 11 venues across the whisky is­land and neigh­bour­ing Jura to hear from 19 dif­fer­ent au­thors.

The Thurs­day-Sun­day ses­sions ranged from seath­emed sto­ry­telling and singing in the cosy con­fines of An-Tigh Seinnse, a fish­ing vil­lage pub in Port­na­haven, to a dis­cus­sion of foren­sics in fic­tion at the Bow­more Gaelic Col­lege fea­tur­ing top crime writer Lin An­der­son and real-life soil ex­pert Pro­fes­sor Lorna Daw­son.

‘This year’s event was ex­cep­tion­ally big due to ad­di­tional events we put on for the First World War cen­te­nary com­mem­o­ra­tions but what was re­ally cheer­ing was that av­er­age turnout across the ses­sions was up by about a third on last year,’ said Isla Rosser Owen, chair­woman of the vol­un­teer-run fes­ti­val’s or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee. ‘There were a few places where we had to scram­ble to find ex­tra seats but that is a nice prob­lem to have.’

Prom­i­nent poet and writer Don­ald S Mur­ray led trib­utes to the 12th edi­tion of a fes­ti­val that has grown from mod­est roots in a Port Ellen book club.

‘It has been a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence,’ Don­ald told The Oban Times. ‘I loved the va­ri­ety of venues and the fact it was not just fixed in one place, be­cause I think that means you in­volve more peo­ple. The more the world op­er­ates in rip­ples, the bet­ter.’

Don­ald, who was pre­sent­ing his lat­est work, The Dark Stuff: Sto­ries from the Peat­lands, un­der­lined the im­por­tance of hav­ing fes­ti­vals such as the Is­lay Book Fes­ti­val across the High­lands and Is­lands.

He added: ‘It en­ables peo­ple to dis­cuss their own is­sues, it al­lows de­bate, it al­lows peo­ple to un­der­stand things that are hap­pen­ing to them. The world opens up to Is­lay and Is­lay opens up to the world.’

Ciara MacLaverty, a poet who was one of eight au­thors who vis­ited six schools dur­ing the fes­ti­val, de­scribed on her blog the joys of wan­der­ing around Port­na­haven ‘as moon­light fell on sugar-cube houses, and seals coughed and ca­vorted in the vel­vet dark of the bay’.

MacLaverty lived on Is­lay as a teenager in the 1980s, when her fa­ther, the ac­claimed writer Bernard MacLaverty, was a teacher at Is­lay High School. Fondly re­mem­bered, their re­turn to the school and a fa­ther-daugh­ter con­ver­sa­tion in Bow­more’s fa­mous Round Church were among the high­lights of this year’s event.

More than 100 peo­ple packed the pews to hear MacLaverty se­nior re­count how he em­barked on full­time writ­ing af­ter he was re­fused a sab­bat­i­cal from teach­ing to al­low him to fin­ish his novel Cal.

‘It was a gam­ble,’ MacLaverty re­called. ‘I had to look into the fu­ture and ask, “Can you put corn­flakes on the ta­ble for the next four or five years?” ’

The gam­ble paid off with Cal quickly be­ing adapted into a suc­cess­ful film of the same name star­ring He­len Mir­ren, with Bernard’s soonto-be wife Made­line hav­ing to bor­row a dress to fly from Is­lay to at­tend the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. Three decades later, the writer re­turned to Bow­more on the back of rave re­views and a string of awards for his lat­est novel, Mid­win­ter Break. ‘It is 32 years since we left and the won­der­ful thing is Is­lay peo­ple still say to you, “Oh, you’re home for a while”,’ he said.

Poet Ciara MacLaverty with her fa­ther, the ac­claimed writer Bernard MacLaverty, who at one time taught at Is­lay High School, and, right, crime writer Lin An­der­son.

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