For 10 days in March there is only one place to be as Glasgow’s Aye Write! takes up its annual residency in the Mitchell Library between 9th-19th to cement its reputation as one of the best book festivals around. Pedants will point out that there are also events at the CCA, Kelvin Hall and Royal Concert Hall, but it is only right that Glasgow’s most famous library is the focus point for a book festival which is international in scope, but has its roots firmly planted in this city.
Here are a few selected highlights to give you something to think about, but you can peruse the full programme at your leisure here. They are all at the Mitchell unless stated otherwise.
Thursday 9th – the much discussed and celebrated new publishers 404Ink are presenting a night of eclectic readings, with Helen Sedgewick, Kevin MacNeil, Karyn Dougan, Chris McQueer and Nadine Aisha Jassat. It promises to be one of the most varied and vibrant events of the whole festival. Other favourite SWH! writers, Sara Sheridan and J. David Simons, will be talking about their latest novels at the CCA, focusing on the importance of compelling characters.
During the festival there are a series of talks, The Books That Made Me, and on the 9th John Byrne kicks them off. The writer of The Slab Boys, Tutti Frutti and Your Cheatin’ Heart, this will be the chance to spend time with a master of written Scots. Nobody currently does it better.
Friday 10th – Few write as knowledgeably and even-handedly about the philosophy and history of religion as Richard Holloway, and it’s the latter he’ll be discussing. There is plenty of music this year, collectively under the banner of ‘Aye Tunes’, and singer-songwriter Roddy Woomble will be talking to Nicola Meighan about his recent collection of lyrics Instrumentals. The Scottish Highlands and Islands are increasingly, and rightfully, better represented in contemporary Scottish fiction, and two writers who have their best known books set in Shetland and Orkney, Ann Cleeves and Lin Anderson, will discuss what makes them such an apt setting.
Saturday 11th – Food, politics, music and poetry provide the highlights of the day. Start your Saturday by joining Bake Off semi-finalist Flora Shedden and ‘ethical carnivore’ Louise Gray talking to Joanna Blythman for a ‘Foodies Forum’. Then walk your literary brunch of by heading to the Royal Concert Hall to hear Lesley Riddoch, Gerry Hassan and Alex Massie discuss ‘What’s Next For Scotland?’.
In the afternoon, Vic Galloway talks to Karl Geary and David Keenan. Keenan’s Airdrie set novel This Is Memorial Device is one of the most eagerly awaited of the year, and there will be a review on these pages soon. You’ll be getting your exercise today as it’s back down Sauchiehall Street to hear music journalist and cultural commentator Paul Morley talking all things Bowie. If you’re running late you can maybe catch a lift with Vic as he’s chairing this event as well. To get you in the mood, here’s David:
Round Saturday off with poetry and crime. You get three Makars for your money at the Mitchell as Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay and Jim Carruth join together for what should be an unforgettable event. Then, in another three header, Steph Broadribb, SJI Holliday and Russel D. McLean (whose novel Ed’s Dead is reviewed here) present ‘Three Slices of Crime’. Don’t have nightmares.
Sunday 12th – It’s always exciting to discover new writers, and Alan Bissett introduces two of the most keenly anticipated, Luke Kennard and Katie Khan. Sunday also features some of Scotland’s finest purveyors of quality fiction. Two of the very best, Carl MacDougall and Ron Butlin,will be discussing their latest books (Someone Always Robs The Poor and Billionaires’ Banquet) as well as the notion of ‘The Root Of All Evil’. Chaired by Adrian Searle, for those interested in Scottish fiction I would suggest it is the essential booking.
Meanwhile, at the CCA, Una and Maria Stoian will be discussing ‘Feminism in Comics’. A form of writing where the attitudes towards women have long been often indefensible, the two will be talking to Sasha de Buyl-Pisco about the ways comics and cartooning can be positive mediums for sharing new feminist narratives. Back at the Mitchell, Unspeakable and Pelmanism author Dilys Rose joins Beatrice Colin to discuss the pros and cons of writing historical fiction. This leaves you with a difficult choice as at the same time elsewhere in the library, Denise Mina will be discussing her latest novel The Long Drop with Neil MacKay.
Another example of the sort of Sophie’s Choice which all festivals necessarily throw up is when A.L. Kennedy talks about the Man Booker longlisted Serious Sweet at the same time as Doug Johnstone, Louise Beech, and Michael Malone will be discussing the writing of thrillers and why the genre’s appeal endures. Elsewhere in the library, another fine cultural commentator with a background in music journalism, Miranda Sawyer and her book Out Of Time will interest anyone who has reached a certain age with fear and loathing.
Thursday 16th – There are events on Wednesday 15th, including the appearance of Labour grandee and Spitting Image puppet made flesh Roy Hattersley, but the next recommendation is music-biographer Tom Doyle talking about his book Captain Fantastic: Elton John In The ’70s. It may seem odd now, but for a time in the early ’70s John was as successful a musician as anyone you can think of, scoring seven consecutive No1 albums in the US, and Doyle will try to relate why. Here’s a clue:
Chris Leslie’s photography and films about Glasgow document a an ever-changing city which has had to cope with the decline of industrialisation more drastically than most. Here he talks about his excellent and moving collection Disappearing Glasgow.
Friday 17th – More music as Daniel Rachel & Dave Randall (ex-Faithless) discuss mixing pop music and politics as a force for social change, with reference to Rock Against Racism, 2-Tone and Red Wedge. Down at the Royal Concert Hall, Charlatans’ front-man Tim Burgess talks to Peter Ross about the second part of his memoir, the excellently titled Tim Book Two. Finally for this Friday, it is widely acknowledged that Glasgow seems to be the perfect city to set crime novels in, and this is discussed by Alex Gray, Les Wood and Douglas Skelton (review of his novel The Dead Don’t Boogie here).
Saturday 18th – One of the finest writers at work in Scotland today is Kapka Kassabova. Her latest book is Border and she will be discussing ‘Hard Borders’ with Garrett Carr, chaired by Roland Gulliver. Four further debut novelists will be introduced to an eager readership on this day. Polly Clark and Sarah Day will be talking to Louise Welsh in the early afternoon, then round the day off when Peggy Hughes introduces Irish novelists Rory Gleeson and EM Reapy.
Music fans are again well served, first by the appearance of Brix Smith Start. Smith Start is likely best known as being a central part of Mancunian legends The Fall during their most commercially successful period of the mid-80s, but the rest of her life is equally extraordinary. Here’s Brix with The Fall. This is how you do it:
David Hepworth, alongside good friend and fellow journalist Mark Ellen, is responsible for some of the best TV and magazine music coverage of the last 40-years. He has a theory that some years are seismic in their culture importance, and 1971, the subject of his book 1971: Never A Dull Moment, is his ‘Golden Year’. Poetry lovers should seek out the event ‘500 Years Of Gaelic Love Poetry’ with Peter MacKay and Iain MacPherson. 500 years in an hour? That’s yer money’s worth.
Sunday 19th – So soon? There’s a timely discussion of ‘Refugee Tales’ with Jason Donald and Laura McVeigh at 1.15pm. At 3pm Catherine Mayer, founder of the Women’s Equality Party, is going to be discussing her book Attack Of The 50ft Women and the research and analysis behind it, as well as the party’s growth.
Susan Calman talks to Val McDermid about the former’s memoir Cheer Up Love. Two of the most engaging speakers you are likely to encounter, they will talk about Susan’s experiences living with depression and how she has become a leading figure in British comedy while living with, what Calman calls, “The Crab Of Hate”.
The perfect event to finish any book festival is to hear John Burnside read his own work, and this is what is promised, as well as conversation with fellow novelist Rodge Glass. Then why not round things off with some quiz action as The Great Scottish Books Quiz which takes place in, where else, the Mitchell Library.
That’s all folks. See you there. I’ll be the one whistling ‘Crocodile Rock’…