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From Edinburgh to the Highlands – book festivals take centre stage


By Barbara Henderson


It’s hard when you’re afflicted, as I am. It’s an addiction, make no mistake!

All over social media, there are pictures: Edinburgh International Book Festival is open for business. The biggest names in literature mingle among the tents in Charlotte Square, but I am not there to see them. I have to wait.

Almost a fortnight later, my time finally comes.

The Man and I catch our morning train with ease for once. The teenagers are old enough to fend for themselves for a couple of days. No guilt at all, and I practically dance through the entrance gates of the festival once we’re there.

Barbara Henderson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Barbara Henderson at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

We have a tight schedule. Children’s writers Philip Ardagh, Peter Bunzl, Gill Lewis, Lauren James and David Almond for me; lots of high-brow stuff for the Man, and a few joint events. It’s a miracle we fit in eating at all. There is something special about a book festival. You give over an hour of your time, simply to be made to think.

This is rare, isn’t it? We are happy to pay to be entertained through music or theatre, and of course many writers are very entertaining people, but in the end, we give ourselves over to thinking, to imagining. We nourish our mind and our imagination above everything else.

Particular highlights for me this year were BBC journalist Mark Urban and his perspective on the Skripal case in Salisbury, drawing on his experience as Russia correspondent, and an academic discussion about the nature of dictatorships with a Hong Kong academic. But an evening to remember the late Toni Morrison blew everything else out of the water for me. Expertly chaired by the poet Jackie Kay, the many contributors read from the novelist’s work, offered up memories or anecdotes and the musical interludes added greatly to an already very memorable evening. Outstanding.

I never fail to be inspired by visiting Edinburgh International Book Festival, and seeing my own three books on the shelves there only added to my excitement. No wonder I have been returning every year without fail for more than a decade.

There is, however, one downside. A trip like this is a bit of an investment, what with train tickets and accommodation during August, a month when prices commonly triple in the capital. While EIBF tickets are by no means extortionate, if you want to take in a lot, it will significantly reduce the size of your wallet.

Now that I’ve returned, do I feel bereft? Not at all, I tell you. My Edinburgh itch has been scratched, and I have no time to fret – because right here, right now, is the run-up to our own book festival, where every single event and workshop is free.

Launching the NessBookFest.
Launching the NessBookFest.

By the time you read this, NessBookFest which runs from October 3-5, will be a mere three weeks away. Some of our volunteers launched the full programme in the Eastgate Centre outside Waterstones recently, surely the place where book lovers go!

With poetry, history, outdoors, crime, fiction, publishing and Gaelic events as well as writing workshops and an extensive children’s programme, there really should be something for everyone.

This year, the wonderful folks at Eden Court Cinema are showing free book-related films for us and schools have the opportunity to take part in a record-breaking read-in, a kidlit quiz and to see fantastic children’s authors in their local library for free. If all that doesn’t get you excited, book-lover, then I don’t know what will!

Google Eventbrite NBF Inverness.

Look Out for:

Sea Change by Sylvia Hehir.
Sea Change by Sylvia Hehir.

Sea Change by Strontian author Sylvia Hehir. It’s a YA thriller and tells the tale of 16-year-old Alex who struggles to look after his mother and pay the bills. Chuck, an unpredictable stranger, offers Alex the excitement he has been craving – but only until he turns up dead beside Alex’s fishing boat. What now?



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