According to novelist Louise Welsh, it’s like this: ‘There are certain occasions that draw novelists and poets out of their lairs, blinking into the daylight. Ullapool Book Festival is top of my list.’
No wonder then, that she is the Honorary President of the annual festival which returns to Ullapool 6th-8th May. There is no doubt that for a place of its size and location, Ullapool Book Festival has once again attracted a stellar line-up of writers and performers: a magic mix of well-established Scottish favourites like Janice Galloway and relative newcomers like Malachy Tallack and literary novelist and playwright Merryn Glover, whose critically acclaimed debut novel A House Called Askival spans several decades in evocative settings like India and Pakistan.
Familiar names such as Bernard MacLaverty, whose varied work has been read in schools for decades, mingle with authors who will be less familiar to British audiences – but thanks to sponsorship from the University of Strathclyde, Canadian writers Lisa Moore and Lynn Coady will get a chance to introduce their work to a new audience here. Thriller authors Helen Fitzgerald and Doug Johnstone are set to, erm, thrill their audience side by side in an anticipated Saturday double bill.
Poet Tom Pow and Gaelic writers Martin Macintyre, Norma MacLeod and Norman Maclean are further participants, alongside man-of-the-moment Kevin MacNeil, whose book The Brilliant & Forever features a talking alpaca as one of its main characters. What’s not to love?
But up-and-coming Scottish talent will also have its share of the limelight: on Saturday, three Moniack Mhor (Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre) prize-winners will take to the stage and showcase their work. Current affairs feature in a three-expert panel on the Middle East, history buffs will enjoy Emeritus Professor James Hunter’s event on Highland and Emigration history and for those wishing for a break from book events, acclaimed fiddler Duncan Chisholm will introduce Kin in the Community, a combination of archive footage, new folk music and multimedia exploration of cultural heritage through film. The fact that audience members can sample finest Ross-shire malt whisky, smoked salmon from Wester Ross Fisheries, smoked cheese from Ullapool Smokehouse and oatcakes from Ullapool Bakery just sums up what this festival does better than most:
It does local! Events are all on-site, with half an hour free between events for conversation, sustenance – or both! Ullapool’s USP is simple: Visitors have access to writers and performers in the way they rarely do elsewhere.
There are some things the festival does not do. It doesn’t do children; it doesn’t do fluffy; it doesn’t do light. But if you enjoy being thrilled, amused, educated, challenged and transported to other literary worlds, then Ullapool is probably for you. Just get your tickets and go for a scenic drive up the West Coast! You know you want to.