Published: 28/08/2014 11:19 - Updated: 29/08/2014 16:53

REVIEW: Inverness Book Festival

Inverness Book Festival

Eden Court

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LIKE any good book, this year’s INVERNESS BOOK FESTIVAL opened last Monday with a great first chapter that went from storytelling for tots to a double session with master Scottish storytellers Doug Johnstone and Louise Welsh.

In Doug’s event – which also included a bonus mini-gig – he reminded his audience that he wanted to put them at the heart of any story he told.

"If you’re doing it right, the reader is saying all the way through ‘What would I do?’."

That’s THE question of the moment for Scots hovering on the brink of the Referendum decision. So it was helpful that Scottish literature professor Robert Crawford offered an erudite, witty look at how Scottish literature had thought about independence – all the way back to the Battle of Bannockburn.

So where had his own first awareness of Scottish independence begun, his interviewer Susan Welsh asked – a question he had never been asked before, the academic and poet admitted.

Though the literature professor’s answer may have been unexpected – his boyhood Ladybird books on William Wallace and Robert The Bruce – it was testimony to getting your book fans started early.

And this year a new strand of the festival also offered an event for YA – young adult readers – as well as a workshop in learning to write for children and YA readers.

Would-be writers were treated to a gold-dust session on trying to secure a literary agent – first stop for selling work to a publisher. Isobel Dixon, a working poet and agent, gave her unique perspective from both sides of the fence. She laughed that she understood the pain of rejection, but could also offer practical tips about what to send an agent swamped with manuscripts in the first place.

"Don’t make me have to scroll up!" she laughed, advising a one-screen long emailed covering letter.

But with writing as a life-long career, foreign correspondent now travel writer Peter Millar was in no doubt what his reporting life from places like East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell had done for him.

"It hasn’t changed me, it’s made me," says Peter. "All you can do is tell it as you see it."

Former reporter Tony Black has a better eye-witness view than most on the writer’s world – as a successful crime and thriller writer himself. He was responsible for half the quick-fire banter that became one of the joys of the session with Glasgow-born crime writer Caro Ramsay as the two traded the sort of hard-boiled one-liners Caro gives female investigator Costello "that take me three months to think up!", she laughed.

But with a whole year to investigate the Antarctic as a research station doctor, Gavin Francis, offered us something every good book does – a passport into another world.

Most of us will never see Antarctica and have the opportunity to spend time there to understand it, as Gavin did.

"I wanted my central character to be the continent," Gavin told his audience before showing jaw-dropping slides and handing round items like mukluk boots that keep feet warm at minus 50 degrees and an Emperor penguin egg for us to hold.

As he told fellow outdoor enthusiast John Davidson, Gavin made sure he got out of the station every day, snapping on his skis to "have the whole continent to myself". But he always took a phone in case he broke his leg and had to be rescued.

"You don’t know what kind of person you are until disaster happens," Louise Welsh had pointed out, talking about her new trilogy where she lets a plague loose on the world.

Though the last-minute cancellation of novelist Sebastian Barry might have been a disaster for some events, the Inverness Book Festival line-up didn’t really miss him, kept cool and carried on.

Kate Mosse's Big Book Group proved a hit.
Kate Mosse's Big Book Group proved a hit.

Bonnie Greer – arguably a bigger name than Barry – proved many people’s hit of the event in a night where Inverness’s literary status was proved with three first ladies of literature in town, including bestselling Kate Mosse – and appearing elsewhere – Outlander queen Diana Gabaldon.

There was no denying that there seemed to be smaller attendances at some events than have been seen in previous years. And maybe it would be good to have the ability to shift last-minute to a more intimate space for a smaller, but no less enthusiastic book fans.

Festival director Robert Davidson steps down. Picture: Gary Anthony
Festival director Robert Davidson steps down. Picture: Gary Anthony

But the potential for the book festival tapping into the power, energy and love for books of local book groups was clear from what was probably one of the biggest highspots of the whole festival, last Friday’s Kate Mosse’s Big Book Group.

The fun included sharing favourite books, tips on critiquing books, and a book quiz presented by Big Big Group host Craig Melvin. In the audience was bestselling writer and part-time Cromarty resident Ian Rankin (the eventual quiz winner with an impressive score!).

But like the plot of many a good book, Inverness bookfest ends with a shock twist.

Inverness Book Festival 2014 is the final chapter for its director Robert Davidson – also the director of Dingwall-based publisher Sandstone Press.

He said this week: "It has been a great joy to direct Inverness Book Festival in 2013 and 2014.

"Shortly before this year’s festival began I let Eden Court Theatre know that I am not able to continue into another year as the demands of Sandstone Press, probably the most rapidly growing literary publishing house in Britain, have become too great for me to continue."                                                                     Margaret Chrystall

Find individual reviews of these Inverness Book Festival events in our books section. Also, Robert Davidson looking back over his time as director.



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