Diversity and championing local and emerging writers still powers the mission of Inverness's NessBookFest
Various Inverness venues
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OVER its four days, NessBookFest presented events for all ages across 11 venues in Inverness to entertain readers with others offering inspiration for writers. Often one event could happily do both at the same time. And there may well be someone who managed to attend everything – even the schools events – and their lives will be richer for that.
But even stopping off at a small sample of the events – precision-run by the commited team of volunteers – was guaranteed to get your imagination fizzing.
Part of the festival's mission is championing local and emerging writers.
Three-minute slots before main author events do just that and offer a tantalising glimpse of their work which can give anyone discovering their work for the first time the chance to find out more.
Before Lucy Foley, ALAN GILLESPIE read from his novel The Mash House and a slightly gruesome extract which probably needed his warning – ‘Apologies if you are a cat lover!” Leading into Lindsey Stirling’s talk, short story and flash fiction writer SHERRY MORRIS read a short piece from her longer short story Balloons, where a would-be bride has a claustrophobic moment.
The launch event of the festival on Thursday in Waterstones Inverness featured thriller writer LUCY FOLEY whose The Hunting Party – set in the Highlands – has been a crime bestseller this year.
The book sets a murder at a remote Highland lodge which divides a group of friends at their annual get-together where the cracks in their bond are already starting to create tensions.
The idea for the book – which was a change of direction for Lucy who had previously written historical fiction – came, she revealed, when instead of taking a holiday somewhere warm, as she wanted, Lucy’s husband suggested the couple head somewhere beautiful, but cold and isolated.
“I had been wanting to write a book that would be a modern take on the grand old tradition of the golden age of crime, “ Lucy said.
But she said she hadn’t found the spark until they got to the Scottish lodge for their holiday and were told ‘In the event of heavy snowfall, you may not be able to leave’.
She laughed: “I literally got goosebumps when I heard that – it was perfect, like a locked room mystery!”
For Lucy, the location became like another character, which, she said, brought out something in her group of friends in the book.
Creating a world for your book was also the subject for Inverness YA fantasy writer LINDSEY STIRLING on Saturday morning at Waterstones. Lindsey used her own novel Eagle’s Guard – she is currently writing a sequel – as a case study and also used examples from some of her favourite fantasy books and writers. For example, Lindsey said that Marie Brennan, writer of A Natural History Of Dragons, had gone to the trouble of creating a globe for herself of her world, complete with weather systems that reflected the geography, but chose just to share small parts of it with her readers.
For fantasy fiction, the freedom to literally create a new, unique world goes with the territory. And for her talk giving useful tools and thoughts to would-be writers, Lindsey made a checklist which included choosing your physical setting, mapping your world, creating a history and culture, a language, names – and how to handle magic.
Even magic has to have rules and logic, Lindsey pointed out, if it isn’t just going to become a handy way of solving plot problems and undermine your readers' belief in the book's world and plausibility!
There were no plot problems that couldn’t be solved in the Sherlock Holmes mystery that ROBERT J HARRIS turned into a play starring pupils of Central Primary School who attended his event at Inverness Library on Friday morning.
Introducing his character Artie Conan Doyle – who in real life went on to become the writer of the Sherlock Holmes books, Robert – Bob in real life –talked about how he had created the character of Artie as a young boy who – with his loyal friend – solves mysteries in his home town of Edinburgh. Bob is about to finish the third adventure in the series, the Scarlet Phantom.
But at the talk, pupils got to try detecting a mystery themselves as Bob had created a play where they took the roles of suspects and the detectives, complete with hats, clues, reading out their lines from bits of paper, all to uncover the thief who had stolen a diamond the size of an egg. The pupils discovered the culprit, before Robert had them making up their own story.
And though many familiar characters and scenarios were shouted out, Bob pushed them to test their imaginations to create something original – such as the terrifying people-eating house that became their story’s villain.
A series of events throughout the festival had celebrated poetry – National Poetry Day on Thursday was marked with readings by Myles Campbell and Mandy Haggith, a two-hour poetry workshop at Leakeys bookshop on Saturday afternoon was run by leading Highland poet and writer Anne Macleod and finally in line with NessBookFest’s mission to champion “grassroots and emerging writers” as part of the event’s remit, three local poets read from their work at a packed session in Waterstones Inverness.
It was a first festival appearance for Lynn Valentine and Stephen Keeler.
But KIRSTEEN BELL's blossoming poetry presence had already been boosted at last year's NessBookFest when Kirsteen debuted in the three-minute slot before award-winning novelist Ali Smith.
Among the work she shared this time, her poem Spider delivered one of those lines that stay with you – ‘‘With a shift in the gossamer, wind comes like thought".
LYNN VALENTINE’s moving poem O Canada looked at a time when her late mother had been waiting for an important medical report, she told us, adding resonance to her words and Lynn's poem Last Fruit is a poem worth looking out for and is due to appear in an anthology soon, inspired by the phenomenon of ‘ghost apples’.
There was a thrill in discovering the work of STEPHEN KEELER – the poems he read at the event he told us had never been shared in public before.
The Traveller painted sharp pictures “... old maps taken down once more to trace with buckled fingers”.
And in Remembered: “She signed a copy of her book not looking up/ I stood and watched the way her little earrings caught the light, half hidden among rosewood curls and I was jealous of the man who knew her well enough to know she’d wear them and would think of him each time she did.”
For NessBookFest, donations from those attending events are welcome to help fund the annual festival alongside the contributions of sponsors. With all events free, it means those passionate about books and writing only have to donate their time and energy to go to as many events as they can manage. And with forms to fill in after every event, the feedback of the festival-goers can help NessBookFest tap into an ever-evolving programme that keeps coming up fresh and appealing for both kids and adults.
For more on NessBookFest: facebook.com/NessBookFest And more info on three-minute writers: Sherry Morris: website: http://www.uksherka.com Follow Alan Gillespie on Twitter: @afjgillespie