I don’t wish to be cruel, or at least I don’t enjoy it, but for a few years now the Aye Write! Book Festival has felt like it had lost its way somehow. While there continued to be must attend events, the programming appeared to lack focus and thought, with panels often featuring writers with little in common, or there were similar writers appearing in different rooms at the same time, splitting potential audiences.
I’m genuinely delighted to say, having taking time poring over this year’s programme, that Aye Write! seems to have rediscovered its mojo. You know a festival is on the right lines when it threatens to bankrupt you as you add tickets to your basket. While all successful events rely on a good team, kudos must surely go to Bob McDevitt, this year’s guest programmer, for presiding over such sterling work.
Things could have got off on the wrong foot by programming a day of events separate from the rest of the festival. Saturday the 28th March was dedicated to Scottish politics and social issues, looking at all thing pre and post referendum as well as contextualising Scotland today by looking to the past. It was a cracking line-up, including Iain Macwhirter, David Torrance, Polly Toynbee, Owen Dudley Edwards, James Meek, Kirstein Rummery and Henry McLeish. If any subject could take a day dedicated to it it is Scottish politics and society, and what could have been sidelined managed to be a success. It was risky, but I think they pulled it off. If this is to repeated in the future, however, the situation could be made clearer in the programme and on the website, both of which proclaim the dates of the festival as 17th – 25th April. It could confuse a stupid person.
As for the rest of the festival, with regard to fiction, there is a fine mix of big names and the up and coming. One of the headliners is Irvine Welsh, who will be in conversation with his fellow Rebel Inc alumni, Kevin Williamson. It’s ostensibly to talk about his latest novel A Decent Ride, but I’m sure there will be much more in store as the two talk about Welsh’s career to date. Welsh is on at 19.30 on Friday 17th.
One of the books of last year was Michel Faber’s The Book Of Strange New Things, and Faber is at the Mitchell on Sunday 19th, 18.00. He is probably now best known as the author of Under The Skin, his excellent 2000 novel which was adapted for the cinema by Jonathan Glazer last year, and which infamously starred Scarlett Johansson. If anything, The Book Of Strange New Things is even odder and even better. I can imagine that the question and answer session at this event will be one of the more surreal of the festival. Like Under The Skin, it’s sci-fi…but not as we know it.
Mark Miller is arguably Scotland’s most successful writer at work today. In his chosen field of comic books, he’s certainly one of the best. Aside from his work for DC and Marvel comics (which have seen him write one of the great Superman stories for the former, and basically set the template for the movie world of the latter), he has also written Wanted, Kick Ass and The Secret Service, all of which were made into films, and he has penned other successful series including Jupiter’s Legacy, American Jesus, The Authority, Superior and Nemesis, and that’s just scratching the surface. Let’s not underplay this, Millar is a man who has changed global pop culture. He’s at Aye Write! on the 21st April at 7.30pm.
Last year we were lucky enough to record Glasgow’s Poet Laureate, Jim Carruth, as part of our Empire Cafe podcast. He launches his first formal collection, Killochries, on Sunday 19th at 16.30pm, and it is bound to be one of the highlights of the festival. The event is chaired by Robyn Marsack from The Scottish Poetry Library, and I can’t think of two people I would rather listen to talk about poetry. Other poetry highlights include Kei Miller, Marion McCready, Andy Jackson, and the wonderful George The Poet, who you can see below performing ‘Mother Tongue’:
One of the best music biographies of recent times was Zoe Howe’s Barbed Wire Kisses, her biography of The Jesus & Mary Chain. You can read the Scots Whay Hae! review of it here, but even better than that she is appearing at Aye Write! on stage with one of the original line-up, Douglas Hart, who is going to show some of his excellent music videos as well. This all takes place on Friday 24th April and 19.30.
Normally, that would be the musical highlight of any book festival, but not every festival has Nicola Meighan talking to Mark Ellen about his book Rock Stars Stole My Life. Meighan, who is another former podcast guest, is Scots Whay Hae’s favourite writer and commentator on Scottish music, and Ellen is just one of the great music journalists. He was involved in the inception of Smash Hits, Q, Mojo and Word magazines, and has been hugely influential in my music education. If I was to pick one event to go to at this year’s Aye Write!, this would be it. Nicola and Mark are on Saturday the 18th at 4.30pm in the afternoon.
As if I planned it, here’s some audio of Mr Ellen, amongst others, talking to Zoe Howe about her work on the Word podcast:
..and I need no excuse to post a bit of J&MC:
That’s dealt with the music, now for the sport. A few years ago now I was part of the team who organised the Margins Book & Music Festival at The Arches in Glasgow. By far and away our most successful event, which we could have sold out 10 times over, featured Spanish football journalist Graham Hunter, who was launching his book Barca: The Making Of The Greatest Team In The World. Well, he’s back along with fellow La Liga luminary, Sid Lowe, and if you are a fan of serious chat about the beautiful game, this is an absolute must. If you can get a ticket, that is. The two are on on Friday 24th at 21.00.
Scottish crime fiction continues to be phenomenally popular, and it is well represented this year. If I had to choose one event, it would be John Gordon Sinclair, Tony Black and Michael J. Malone, who appear together on Friday 24th, 18.00. This is because Black and Malone have both had books published recently, with The Last Tiger and Beyond The Rage respectively, that stretched them as writers and took the reader to unexpected places. And it’s Gregory! But seriously, Gordon Sinclair’s novel Blood Whispers was very good, and you can read the Scots Whay Hae! review here. At other times during the festival you’ll also find Iain Rankin, Helen Fitzgerald, Quintin Jardine, Stuart MacBride and Neil Broadfoot.
There are plenty of other events to suit all tastes. Just a few names to look out for include David F. Ross, Graham Lironi, Anneliese Mackintosh, Karen Campbell, Jackie Kay, Kirsty Logan, Kevin Bridges, Philip Miller, Kirstin Innes, and, the third Ronnie, Barbara Dickson. You can peruse the full programme here, but the event that gives you the most bang for your buck is the one celebrating the festival’s 10th anniversary, which features Christopher Brookmyre, Denise Mina, Louise Welsh, Alan Bissett, Jim Carruth and singer Carol Laula. Starting at 21.00 on 17th April, it should be a wonderful night. In fact, it looks like being a wonderful festival.