TWO of 2014’s biggest talking points, Scotland’s independence referendum and the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I will be among the topics in focus at this year’s Inverness Book Festival.
Also appearing at the Eden Court during the five day festival next month will be multi-million copy bestseller Kate Mosse, two time Booker Prize shortlisted novelist Sebastian Barry and cultural commentator and television personality Bonnie Greer, along with time for crime from "tartan noir" authors Doug Johnstone, Louise Welsh and Caro Ramsay, real life adventures from Morocco to the Antarctic and events dedicated to Gaelic and children’s writing.
For would be writers yet to make it into print, there will also be advice on hand from the festival’s own literary agent in residence, This is the second year of the festival under the direction of Robert Davidson, who is also the managing director of Dingwall-based Sandstone Press.
"We have learned a lot from last year," Davidson said.
"We’ve worked very hard with the theatre to put this programme together and I’m really pleased with it.
"One of our learning experiences last year was trying to get an afternoon audience, even though we had some great people. This year we have decided to go for more specialist events.
"But also something that is very close to my heart and to Sandstone’s heart is adult literacy and we have two events on Thursday afternoon which are specifically for adult literacy learners and people who are interested in it — 25 per cent of the population of Scotland can’t read well enough to get by. That sits under the surface of everything to do with reading and personal decision making. People can’t get access to the proper information. I would hope that in the future the adult literacy aspect would open out still more and the Book Festival is absolutely the best place for this to be."
This year’s event has perhaps more of an international feel than last year, but still has an eye to the Highlands.
This approach is summed up in the Festival’s contribution to the World War I centenary commemorations where Nairn’s Patrick Watt is interviewed by leading Scottish military historian Trevor Royle about his book Steel and Tartan, the story of the 4th Battalion of the locally recruited Cameron Highlanders.
"I think this book should be of great interest," Davidson said.
"The First World War hit the Highlands like nothing else. Years ago I walked the length of the Outer Isles and in Benbecula, the war memorial had an incredible number of names for the First World War, while the Second World War had something like four. The implication is obvious — all the young men got killed and they didn’t have offspring. I very much hope people will turn out to hear what Trevor and Patrick have to say because it is deeply important for this area."
Also vitally important is the result of September’s independence referendum.
With less than a month to go, Inverness Book Festival looks both backwards and forwards at the story of Scottish independence with Robert Crawford, author of Bannockburns which looks at 700 years of Scottish nationalism, and author and political commentator Iain MacWhirter, whose book Road to Referendum is being released in paperback.
An interviewer at last year’s Festival, he returns to be quizzed by one of Scotland’s best known journalists, Black Isle resident Catherine Deveney.
"We’ll be asking: how did we get all get here? It’s a major crossroads and we have to talk about how the future is going to be if the population decides to go this way or that way," Davidson said.
The travel and adventure strand takes the festival as far as it is possible to go with writer and medic Gavin Francis, author of Scottish Book of The Year Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins.
The former medical officer at the Halley research station in Antarctica, said to be so remote that it is easier to evacuate a casualty from the International Space Station than to bring someone out of Halley in winter.
In contrast, Peter Millar heads to warmer climes with Slow Train to Guantanamo, following his travels in Cuba. Author and television presenter Vanessa Collingridge returns to Inverness Book Festival to host this event.
Local writers will be showcased at an event with Northwords Now, the Highlands own literary magazine, with writing workshops hosted by its editor Chris Powici.
Would-be writers can also turn to this year’s agent-in-residence Isobel Dixon from the Blake Friedmann agency, whose clients include Janice Galloway and Peter James.
Friday’s main guest is Chicago-born writer, cultural commentator and BBC Newsnight Review and Question Time regular Bonnie Greer, who will be in talking about her autobiography, A Parallel Life.
Davidson is particularly excited about Greet’s Inverness appearance.
"I’m part of a generation strongly influenced by the events of the 1960s, Martin Luther King and Bob Dylan, the era that Bonnie Greer is writing about," he said.
"I think Bonnie will of as much interest to our population as she would be to that of Edinburgh or Glasgow or Newcastle, and she is a wonderful and committed speaker."
James Hall, the author of a new history of the self-portrait, should appeal to the Highlands’ busy artistic community, Davidson believes.
Gaelic is also recognised with events featuring noted poet Aonghas MacNeacail in the company of fellow Gaelic writers Gilbert MacMillan and Mark Spencer, as well as a look to the future with Tim Armstrong, author of the first Gaelic language science-fiction novel.
Other fiction highlights include an appearance by bestselling novelist and founder of the Orange Prize, Kate Mosse, whose novel Labyrinth, the first book in her Languedoc Trilogy, topped the UK paperback charts for six months, and Ireland’s Sebastian Barry, who has been twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Scottish crime fiction is represented by Caro Ramsay and a joint event by Doug Johnstone and Louise Welsh, while Douglas Thompson looks to Highland history for his sixth novel, The Brahan
Full details of the festival line up are available at www.eden-court.co.uk or at www.invernessbookfestival.co.uk and tickets can also be purchased there or from Eden Court’s box office on 01463 234 234
Printed brochures detailing all events at the festival will be available from Eden Court in the coming weeks.
Inverness Book Festival 2014 will run from Tue 19 – Sat 23 Aug.
5 Must See Events at the 2014 Inverness Book Festival
1. Sebastian Barry
In a recent list of the top 10 authors to see live, the Guardian placed Irishman Sebastian Barry in first place for his "tour-de-force" readings. Winner of the Costa Prize and twice nominated for the Booker, his fiction touches on the Irish experience of World War I and the effects of independence — both themes which should strike a chord in Scotland in 2014.
2. Kate Mosse
Mosse first made a major impact on the British literary scene by founding the Orange Prize for women’s fiction. She has since gone on to become a major presence on the bestseller charts in her own right with the complex Languedoc trilogy, the first of which. Labyrinth, was broadcast on Channel 4 starring John Hurt and Tom Felton, and has been translated into more than 37 languages.
3. Bonnie Greer
Known to UK readers and television viewers for her incisive cultural and political commentary, Greer was brought up in racially divided Chicago — where Muddy Waters was her next door neighbour.
4. Doug Johnstone and Louise Welsh
It is an east vs west turf war with Edinburgh’s Johnstone and Glasgow’s Louise Welsh both appearing on the festival’s opening night. Journalist, rock musician and former nuclear physicist Johnstone has written six novels, most recently The Dead Beat, which have been praised by such crime-writing peers as Ian Rankin, William McIlvanney and Christopher Brookmyre. Orange Prize nominee Welsh returns to the Inverness Book Festival with her latest novel, A Lovely Way To Burn, the first in a new series set against a devastating pandemic.
5. Aimhreit & Aithreachas/Conflict & Regret
Widely regarded as one of Gaeldom’s greatest living poets, Aonghas MacNeacail is joined by Gaelic writers Gilbert MacMillan and Mark Spencer Turner to discuss their favourite war poems and songs in this important anniversary year.