Below Margaret Chrystall updates on some book events for 2016 - including writers visiting the area, festival dates and some new book titles to look out for in 2016. Then she picks some favourite books of 2015 ...
BOOK FESTIVAL NEWS:
Ullapool Book Festival has announced its dates (Friday, May 6 to 8) for 2016 and early bird tickets are only on sale until Hogmanay! (Thursday, December 31).
Plus dates confirmed for Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend (April 22 to 24) with guests confirmed an Rankin, Val McDermid, Dr Sue Black, Morag Joss and Professor Niamh Nic Daeid.
Nairn Book and Arts Festival (from Tuesday, August 30 to Tuesday, September 4).
Scottish crime author Stuart MacBride celebrates the publication of his latest novel In The Cold Dark Ground at Waterstones Invernesson January 15 (7pm).
Scottish novelist and crime writer Peter May returns for this Waterstones’ Inverness hosted event in the Ironworks on January 19 (7pm) when he’ll be talking to Nicola McAlley about his new book Coffin Road.
And the following night, January 20, the venue will also stage an event by Scottish writer Christopher Brookmyre (7pm).Read our interview with Christopher next week - and why his latest book might seem strangely familiar to Invernessians...
An Evening With Amy Liptrot (Thursday, February 4) at Waterstones Inverness to talk about her memoir The Outrun about a return to Orkney after 10 years – and the onset of a drink problem while living in London.
A Rebel Inc Fiction Day with Laura Hird and Kevin Williamson at Moniack Mor (Sunday, January 19) The day with the writers focuses on thinking original thoughts – then "growing the courage" to express them.
Doug Johnstone tutor weekend run by the Highland Literary Salon (Feb 26 to 28). The follow-up to his December talk sees Doug back to work with would-be writers.
BOOKS DUE OUT IN 2016:
Once A Crooked Man by David MacCallum, the first crime novel from the Scottish actor best-known as Dr Donald "Ducky" Mallard in NCIS and Illya Kuryakin in The Man from UNCLE, with his fictional hero, actor Harry Murphy, getting caught up with a crime family planning to retire ... a few troublesome associates (January 7, Sandstone) Read our interview with David next week...
Peter May Coffin Road (January 14, Quercus) And we've also been talking to Peter about setting his new thriller on Harris, read it next week!
Ali Smith’s new novel Autumn (August, Hamish Hamilton)
Gods Of The Morning: A Bird’s Eye View Of A Highland Year by John Lister Kaye (March 3, Canongate)
Nick Cave The Sick Bag Song (March 3, Canongate)
The Bricks That Built The Houses by Kate Tempest (rapper and poet) is out (April 7, Bloomsbury)
Star Trek fans might like Leonard – A Life by his co-star of 50 years, William Shatner (February 25, Sidgwick & Jackson)
A BOOK cannot compete with a bomb, Highland writer Michel Faber said after sending a copy of his Saltire Book Of The Year to Prime Minister David Cameron before the vote on whether to bomb Syria last month.
But a book can shake up your life, force you to rethink big issues, inspire plans for a new way of living, trigger emotions or open your mind to a completely different world. Here are 10 from 2015 – with some goodies to look forward to in 2016 too.
1 FICTION: THE BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS by Michel Faber (Canongate, £8.99 APRIL 2015)
Last month, Michel Faber – who has lived in the Highlands for many years – sent his book to the Prime Minister saying that a book couldn’t match a bomb in its ability to cause death and misery. But, in the bitterest black humour possible, he suggested the gifted book could be dropped and possibly kill a Syrian, maybe even a child "their skulls are quite soft".
He is quoted as saying "… at the time I just felt so heartsick, despondent and exasperated that the human race, and particularly the benighted political arm of the human race, has learned nothing in 10,000 years, 100,000 years, however long we’ve been waging wars, and … are not interested in what individuals have to say."
There’s plenty to say in The Book Of Strange New Things which includes an almost forensic look at how two people try to keep a relationship working when they are literally on different planets.
Michel – who still retains his Dutch nationality, was brought up in Australia and has lived in Scotland for over 20 years - uses his own sense of what it’s like to be an outsider to help you see our own world and way we live as an outsider might – or an alien, in fact.
In his speech last month receiving 2015’s Saltire Book Of The Year, Michael said in his speech: "… you’ve made an alien feel very welcome."
That outsider’s view is already there in his 2000 Saltire First Fiction Novel winner Under The Skin, as it is in his newest book.
In the new one, his preacher Peter’s faith is tested when he arrives from Earth – the first inter-planetary missionary to the planet Oasis. There he meet aliens who want to learn about Christianity and Peter tries, battling with beings whose speech is described as "… it sounded like a field of brittle reeds and rain-sodden lettuces being cleared by a machete".
Looking through a window into an ideal, imaginary world crops up in one of Michel’s earliest short stories and Peter’s first view from his bedroom window onto the Oasan planet outside is disappointing and underwhelming … at first: "It was like a supermarket car park that went on for ever. And yet Peter’s heart thumped hard … The rain! The rain wasn’t falling in straight lines it was dancing! "
2 FICTION: HOW TO BE BOTH by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton, £8.99 APRIL 2015)
It’s what’s seen through a window that may trigger a turning point in one of the two stories in the Inverness born and raised writer’s multi award-winning book.
Smart teen schoolgirl George tries to cope with the death of her mother, looking back to episodes and the conversations the two had that are sparring matches of words and ideas.
There’s a moment George remembers which she thinks might have triggered a change for the worse in her mother’s life. Spotting a politician she didn’t like through a restaurant window, George’s mum acted spontaneously: "… it was one of the politicians or spin people her mother had held responsible for something. Anyway her mother had got her lip salve out of her rucksack and she’d started to write on the glass of the window … above this man’s head like a halo … writing the word LIAR…there were security men coming at her from all directions. So she legged it. (Her words.)"
This book – which also tells the story of a 15th century painter - has won the Whitbread, the Costa novel award, the Goldsmith’s prize which celebrates experimental writing, was shortlisted for the Man Booker and won the former Orange prize for women’s fiction, now the Baileys prize, earlier this year.
Some copies start with George’s story, the rest with the 15th century – and that playful, game-changing to shake up old rules also powers a new slant on gender, art and the art of storytelling itself.
Like George’s mum, Ali’s getting involved in a political issue ina hands-on way for her latest book Public Library And Other Stories (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99/eBook £9.99). The issue of library closures is in the spotlight, stories mixed up with campaigning words of support for libraries from writers such as Jackie Kay, Kate Atkinson, librarians and others.
During the time it took to put the book together, Ali apparently worked out that another 1,000 libraries have closed.
Will the book help change things?
3 BUSINESS/BIOGRAPHY: BUSINESS FOR PUNKS by James Watt (Penguin, £14.99)
BrewDog is familiar to music fans in the north as the beer of choice at the Brew At The Bog festival, moving next year from May to the start of June.
Craft beer BrewDog co-founder James Watt’s book might just change your life if he inspires entrepreneurs to set up their own business using the BrewDog philosophy. From the off, as James puts it "start a revolution not a business".
As any self-respecting self-help book can, James makes creating your own business sound easy in a soundbite or two.
But he’s speaking from experience – he was named Scotland’s youngest ever Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010 and in 2014 won the Great British Entrepreneur Awards’ food and drink entrepreneur of the year, retail entrepreneur of the year and great British entrepreneur of the year 2014.
"Be a fish in a tiny self-built pond, then grow that pond … We are not about growing BrewDog, we are about getting more people to drink great beer. Period," is one of his many memorable declarations.
But the BrewDog story – starting in Fraserburgh and now with their brewery in Ellon – is the evidence that the thinking can work.
They now have bars from Japan to Finland. James is great on how he and co-founder Martin Dickie used vlogs and online and social media to turn "customer into fans".
"We’ve also worshipped at the temple of blogging," he writes.
And evidence of living by the "take risks" mantra goes from shooting a vlog whilst naked in a -30 degree blast freezer, packaging a 55% beer in roadkill squirrels to their Hello My Name Is Vladimir campaign, protesting at the "Kremlin’s homophobic policies". Their Not For Gays marketing including an image of James without his shirt while sat on a horse, Putin-style.
"We even dispatched a case to Moscow. We’re yet to hear whether the Russian president is a craft virgin…Or whether it is safe for me to travel to Russia. Ever," writes James.
And the story of the beer company’s rise and rise continues. As well as taking their vlogs to Hollywood their business is also good at recognizing talent. BrewDog label-designer Johanna Basford has gone on to secure a six-book deal with her adult colouring books The Secret Garden and The Enchanted Forest.
4 FOLKLORE/LEGENDS: ARGYLL FOLK TALES by Bob Pegg (History Press, £9.99 NOVEMBER)
Potent folk tales and legends from a region packed with them – and a master storyteller to tell and illustrate them – Argyll Folk Tales is a great follow-up to Bob Pegg’s earlier Highland Folk Tales and Little Book Of Hogmanay.
As he says, he has spent 30 years visiting and working in Argyll. And his 10 years working with Kilmartin House Museum on site-based projects there with people such as Mod Gold Medal winner Joy Dunlop, Ross-shire harper Bill Taylor, community choirs, folk-based drama and storytelling..
"It was the lure of the prehistoric tombs, standing stones and rock art that first brought me to Kilmartin Glen in Mid Argyll, " Bob explains. "And during a sail boat voyage earlier this year, I visited some of the smaller, less accessible inner islands - it’s a fantastic place for old
"Most of the stories in Argyll Folk Tales were gathered in Victorian times, in Gaelic. I hope I’ve been able to retell them for a 21st century audience while keeping something of the bold, wild spirit of the originals."
As well as asking people reading the stories to think about passing them on – "by telling them aloud in your own words" – Bob pays tribute to the legendary storytellers such as the late Duncan Williamson.
"While writing, my head has echoed with the voices of some of the Scottish storytellers it’s been my privilege to know and hear in performance," Bob writes in his introduction.
But the stories themselves – such as The Chest, where a king’s wife who finds herself out on her ear and forced to use her brain to get her husband and her home back – have plots even down the centuries you might still recognize straight out of an average week in Soapland. Timeless, but told by Bob for us.
5 MUSIC: Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus And Mary Chain by Zoe Howe (Polygon, £9.99 APRIL)
THE story of a band is never more intense or riveting than when it involves family – and The Jesus And Mary Chain’s brothers Jim and William Reid from East Kilbride took decades to sort out ways of dealing with their differences – and making the most of what one former band colleague called "the magic" when the two get together to write and perform live.
Coping with shyness, drugs and drink, and violent crowds in London at the start of their career, the brothers’ story is full of six studio albums and seven live and compilations, brotherly ups and downs, encounters with one-time manager Alan McGee and former drummer Bobby Gillespie – who would go on to have his own successful career fronting Primal Scream. And Zoe Howe is so thorough the picture – sometimes sketchy in the past – is filled in with many frank interviews and comments not least from Jim Reid himself, whose quirky sense of humour is one of the brothers’ signatures.
Was William changed by LA , Jim was asked after his brother moved out there. "No," Jim insists. "He stumbles round Beverly Hills like Rab C Nesbitt."
6 POETRY: High Country by Angus Dunn (Sandstone Press £6.99 DECEMBER)
Anyone who normally finds poetry difficult or boring, should try reading this first collection by Highland writer Angus Dunn – though he didn’t live to see the final book published after his death in September.
The collection of poems is chosen from a lifetime of writing. Angus edited Northwords’ quarterly featuring new Highland and Scottish writing. His big novel Writing In The Sand was set in the Black Isle and came out in 2006 and two years later, his book of short stories The Perfect Loaf. He was a tutor at Moniack Mor and winner of the Neil Gunn writing prize. Angus was also a joiner, Ian’s friend and writer Ian Stephen mentions in the introduction, pointing out poetry and Angus’s love of woodcraft are united in poem The Roof Tree.
A bit of joky wordplay in eight-line poem Canna – Can or a sound poem like birds in Estuary At Night are typical. But so are poems that can unite Highland hills with the Himalayas (title poem High Country) and take you into one of the journeys into the landscape – and beyond..
Ian Stephen identifies in Angus’s poems "… wonder and curiosity about history, science, language and myth". Familiar things are given a fresh twist. In Out On The Moorland there’s: "… a dragonfly green enough to taste/A beetle, shiny as liquorice…"
Chris Powici, current editor of Northwords Now, who edited the book with Angus, says: "I think you get a real sense of the person behind the poems. He had a way of looking at the world that is very particular and his poems are an expression of that."
7 PHOTOGRAPHY: On A Rising Tide by Charlie Phillips (Ness Publishing, £19.50 OCTOBER)
With over 100 pages – most with images of some of the Moray Firth’s resident dolphin photography go-to man Charlie Phillips – On A Rising Tide also gives stories and information most of us would never know.
Charlie has spent over 20 years documenting the mammals, so he has witnessed plenty of incidents – from a comedy scene with a dolphin trying to eat an eel before it wraps itself round its jaws to learning sometimes to say nothing. As when a dolphin watcher grabbed Charlie’s arms seeing the very large dolphin Thunder and saying "I didn’t think you got Killer whales here".
But in images like the tumbling bottlenoses on pages 80 and 81, it’s like a dolphin ballet in play – and the full-size page picturess give you the chance to appreciate both the dolphins and Charlie’s skills.
8 CHILDREN: The Hill Of The Red Fox by Allan Campbell McLean (Kelpies, £6.99/eBook MARCH)
The classic youngsters’ book from the 70s – written by Allan Campbell McLean who lived in Inverness – was published again in a chunky paperback with the story of 13-year-old Alasdair who left London for the holidays to visit Skye on the train to Mallaig where a notes he is given gets him wrapped up in a Cold War conspiracy that takes him to the heart of an MI5 conspiracy.
He needs all his courage, quick thinking and his great new friend Donald Mor to get him out of trouble in this story that – even from an earlier time – is still a fast-action read.
There were plenty of other classic kids’ stories given a revival this year – including J M Barrie’s PETER PAN (Birlinn, £12.99) adapted into a bright graphic novel by Stref and Fin Cramb.
And younger readers, and their mums and dads who prefer a more Scottish angle on big hitters should enjoy Julia Donaldson’s tweaked into Scots THE REIVER RAT (Black & White Publishing, £6.99) and TV Hogmanay teatime hit, David Walliams’ Billionaire Boy translated into Scots by Matthew Fitt as BILLIONAIRE BAIRN (Itchy Coo, £6.99).