Inverness used to have a book festival. It was good, too. Run by Sandstone Press’s Bob Davidson and held at Eden Court Theatre, it attracted big names and a decent audience. But then visitors’ numbers dropped, Sandstone Press became more and more successful (and therefore busier) – and Eden Court had to make a tough decision. The Inverness Book Festival was discontinued. I was one of many who were dismayed. Surely, a town of our size, full of creative people and buzz, needed a book festival! We had Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre on our doorstep. Authors of stature and reputation lived in the area. There was no reason why it shouldn’t work.
For years, nothing happened with this frustration, but an impulse tweet at the beginning of the year changed all that. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it went something like ‘Gutted there is no Inverness book festival anymore. Anyone want to help me make this happen again?’ A couple of people got in touch. I made more of a thing of it at XPO North, and met more likely volunteers. In the summer, we decided to meet. And then we did that thing, when in your enthusiasm, and carried away by the moment, you decide something reckless: Let’s run this thing this year, for a couple of days, rather than giving ourselves time to put funding and all in place. Let’s appeal for people to appear free of charge, although we will pay them if funds come together. Let’s cash in favours. Let’s make most events free. Let’s run it in the library and at cafés and in bookshops and goodness knows where else. Let’s really, really do this.
Over the following two days, 11th and 12th November, a host of events will take place at Inverness Library, Waterstones, Leakey’s Bookshop, Velocity Café, Inverness Museum, the Victorian Market, the Tooth and Claw pub – even the Old High Church!
The full programme, to be announced in the coming week, will offer something for everyone. Confirmed participants span a range of genres: crime, children’s fiction and picture books, poetry, illustration and graphic novels, literary fiction and also non-fiction, with a strong Gaelic programme included in the plans. From the beginning, we at NessBookFest have relied on the support of the community. ‘We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the creative community, both locally and further afield,’ says NessBookFest treasurer Mel McKay. ‘There is a real sense of goodwill. Thankfully, a few local businesses have already pledged to sponsor events and we are hopeful to receive further local funding.’
I am the chairperson, and I can barely keep up with the speed of events. We have Waterstones Book of the Month author Helen Sedgwick discussing writing and science with Lochlan Bloom, a panel of Highland-based women crime writers: Helen Forbes, Shona Maclean and Margaret Morton Kirk. The children’s author Michelle Sloan will appear, with teenagers’ events featuring Rachel Kennedy and Christina Banach. Eminent music journalist (and Kate Bush/Thin Lizzy biographer) Graeme Thomson will be there, as well as Outlander consultant herbalist Claire Mackay. Private Eye, Viz and Faber Music illustrator Drew Hillier discusses his life in the illustration business so far. George Wyllie art fans can catch his daughter Louise and culture journalist Jan Patience chatting about their collaboration on his biography. We have crime-writer Denzil Meyrick, too. Bookbinding, creative writing and illustration workshops, led by professionals. Schools events. Children’s activities. A Gaelic festival strand. Poetry events. A literary walking tour of Inverness. An event featuring migrant stories.
And the best thing? Events are ticketed, but free, with a respectful request for donations. No barriers. And now I can say with confidence:
Inverness has a book festival once more. And it’s going to be so, so good!