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St Duthac Book And Arts Festival debuts across the Easter Ross Peninsula with a positive response from the community, visitors and writers


By Margaret Chrystall

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THE first chapter of the new St Duthac Book and Arts Festival has won the support of the local community with its five-day programme in Tain and in the Easter Ross peninsula.

The first St Duthac Book and Arts Festival arrives. Picture: Mark Janes
The first St Duthac Book and Arts Festival arrives. Picture: Mark Janes

The day after writer and BBC journalist Sally Magnusson’s live and online book event at the Carnegie Lodge Hotel closed the festival on Monday night, one of the organisers, Coral Allan mentioned that there had been a comments book in the pop-up bookshop on the High Street throughout.

"We've had such positive feedback," Coral said. "About the shop, about the events.

Attentive sellout audience at the Sally Magnusson event. Picture: Mark Janes
Attentive sellout audience at the Sally Magnusson event. Picture: Mark Janes

"And experienced book festival-goers have just been so complimentary about everything that's happened – the programme and the variety.

“Someone has written ''It's the best thing to happen in Tain in a very long time!”

"And here's one, they were in on Friday 'This is one of the very best book and arts festivals'. And 'There's a terrific buzz about all the events we've attended. The speakers have all been wonderful. Long may it continue in the future'.”

Richard Littlewood of Tain Civic Trust shows a group around the town's highlights. Picture: Mark Janes
Richard Littlewood of Tain Civic Trust shows a group around the town's highlights. Picture: Mark Janes

It was a festival that also aimed to help those attending extend their knowledge of both the town and surrounding area as well as the art and artists flourishing there too.

Part of the art trail included the Studio Smith gallery and The Art Room, North East Glass gave glass-blowing demonstrations and art was also on show at Peggy's Art Class at the Seaboard Centre.

D James Ross of Musick Fyne. Picture: Mark Janes
D James Ross of Musick Fyne. Picture: Mark Janes

And artists from the surrounding area – Bill Shannon, Rosie MacKenzie from Inver, [her glass and bronze also in Brown's Gallery], Sheenagh Harrison on the Tarbat Peninsula and Tain artist Moira MacBeath, all had work on display in the pop-up bookshop on the High Street.

A variety of venues were used including the bookshop – which proved popular with many people during its residency.

Musick Fyne perform. Picture: Mark Janes
Musick Fyne perform. Picture: Mark Janes

One of the organisers, Caroline Cameron, picked out one comment from the book: "Another comment is 'Such a lovely place to visit with music and even an elderly gentleman dancing! I could have stayed all day'. Another one was 'Great buzz, we have come away with a bag of books, old and new' – that was someone visiting from Sussex!"

"It was an empty building and the owner gave us access and free rein basically to do what we wanted," Coral explained.

Liz Treacher at The Underground on Saturday. Picture: Mark Janes
Liz Treacher at The Underground on Saturday. Picture: Mark Janes

"So we've had lots of donated books. We ran a market in April to raise awareness and funds to go towards the festival. We have also partnered up with Waterstones with supplies of new books and lots from our authors – and our local writers.

"And all but three of the events featured local writers. We've got such a talented community here.

"We had three book launches – Helen Sedgwick, CC Hutton and Laura Kirk, with her illustrated book, she was our youngest."

Audience at the Collegiate Church. Picture: Mark Janes
Audience at the Collegiate Church. Picture: Mark Janes

Getting together on Tuesday morning to talk about how the first festival has gone, a group from the six organisers – alphabetically, Coral Allan, Caroline Cameron, Mary Fleming, Dave Macrae, Catherine Williams and Francis Wood – seemed thrilled with the way the debut event had gone.

"Just wonderful! said Caroline Cameron.

Frances said: "March was originally chosen to coincide with St Duthac Day."

But Covid forced a postponement to September.

Yet it's a change that seems likely to become permanent, as September has proved a good time to run it, the organisers believe.

"We have to wait for feedback from the community, but we have had lots of positive comments as well as constructive comments that would help us to improve it for next year. One of them has been to include a shopping basket on the website to make it easier for people to buy more tickets.

Frances Wood also paid tribute on behalf of the team to locals who have supported the event.

"We as a team would like to thank people for buying into this and the community's support – buying tickets and coming to the events and into the shop– and to our volunteers. We couldn't have done it without them, or the businesses and venues, the artists and musicians who were involved. The whole community, really. And, of course, our funders."

Coral said: "When Frances invited her, she jumped at the chance. When the festival was revived for September and Frances contacted her again she said immediately 'Yes, I'll be there'. She was very supportive from the outset."

Local writer – who launched the second book Where The Missing Gather in her Burrowhead Mysteries crime series Helen Sedgwick, said: "It has been a lovely few days in Tain!

"And my event went brilliantly, I was thrilled. There was a big audience. People were so enthusiastic and I thought there was the most wonderful warmth. And my event was in the Carnegie Lodge Hotel, which is a beautiful venue. There were lots of people I didn't know in the audience, but also a real community spirit, I felt. I enjoyed it more than many events I've done because it felt so friendly.

"They had a pop-up bookshop and jut walking down and seeing people looking in the window and going in, it felt as if the whole town came alive.

And after the past two years as well when everything has been closed and it's been depressing. In a small community when everything is shut, it begins to fee like a ghost town and it was just the complete opposite of that. Everyone was excited."

It was the Tain launch for Helen's book.

"It originally came out in July," she explained. "But there were no live events happening then so I couldn't do a launch then."

Helen joked :"It's a little bit sad to have a book out in the middle of a global pandemic!

"You can't engage with people or celebrate with your readers. So the fact that this then happened and we were able to go ahead and we were able to have people indoors collected together, it was so nice and it has really given me that feeling of launching a book that had been totally missing. I had lots of copies and was able to sign them for people.

"And I think a lot of people discovered me, as I sold a lot of my other books! And I sold out of All The Missing Gather copies, so that was great."

Helen confirmed that the third book in her crime series is finished and being edited and sent to the proofreaders and will be out in March next year, she hopes.

Helen was awarded the Gavin Wallace Fellowship last year which means she has funds to support her for a year to work on her next book, the first in a new series, a four-book science fiction quartet, set on four different planets connected through "quantum entanglement".

The festival held events across the Easter Ross Peninsula – Tain, the Seaboard Centre, the Mercat Centre at Milton, Edderton, Inver and Nigg and the Tarbat Discovery Centre at Portmahomack.

FULL REVIEWS – Jeff Zycinski & Karen Barke event; author event with Sally Magnusson – find on www.whatson-north.co.uk under books.

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