IBF2024 Author Spotlight: Mike Billett

Today we are delighted to bring you another in our series of author spotlights, giving you an insight into the wonderful people who will be with us at Islay Book Festival 2024. Today we’re getting to know Mike Billett.

As well as being a whisky connoisseur, Mike is a leading peatland scientist with a background in geology, soil and water science. During his 40-year career in research and education – at the Universities of Edinburgh and Stirling and at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology – he researched and wrote extensively on the peatlands of the British Isles, Scandinavia and the Arctic, focusing on water quality, carbon, peatland management and environmental change, writing many research papers, book chapters, reports, and articles.

In recent years he has immersed himself in the landscapes, taste and qualities of Scotland’s single malt whiskies and has applied his deep understanding of the science of peatlands to this passion. Peat and Whisky is his first non-academic book.

We asked Mike about his previous visits to Islay, and what he’s looking forward to this time. He told us, “I have visited Islay many times, and not just for the whisky. My first trip was in my early teens. At that age I was more interested in the wild places of Islay and Jura and their inhabitants. I still am, but have since discovered ‘the Water of Life’ and the island’s rich culture and history. We now visit annually with family, friends and our dog ‘Paddy’, attracted by the warm, friendly and relaxed atmosphere of the island and the Ileachs. Each trip throws up new beaches, walks, whisky and friends, but this will be my first time at the Islay Book Festival and for Bruichladdich Distillery to host my event is special.”

Talking about his book and the session he will hold at Bruichladdich, Mike said, “As a geoscientist in a former life and most recently a peatland scientist, ‘Peat and Whisky – the Unbreakable Bond’ is about so much more than whisky. It encompasses landscape, place, travel, personal memoir, popular science, climate change; it is not just about Scotland and Scotch Whisky. It is my first book and what has really pleased me is that the book has been read and enjoyed both by whisky and non-whisky people, as well as finding its way to readers across the globe.”

Of course, there are many authors who will be with us at the Islay Book Festival this year, and Mike is keen to hear more from them too. “What really stands out to me is the special event surrounding the life of George Orwell. Featuring Les Wilson’s excellent ‘Orwell’s Island’, it marks the 75th Anniversary of the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is hard to think of a more influential novel in my generation and one that resonates deeply with today’s divided and dangerous world.”

You can buy Mike’s book at the Festival, or in advance here: Peat and Whisky: The Unbreakable Bond.

Mike will lead a special event on the Friday afternoon at Bruichladdich Distillery, which will include a whisky tasting – this event is already sold out, but you can join the waiting list.

Islay Book Festival 2024 Tickets On Sale Now!

Four days, eight venues, more than 20 different authors – what a brilliant way to spend a weekend! Tickets are on sale now via Ticketsource, and you can find out more about all our exciting events on our website

Multi-session and single day passes for Saturday and Sunday are available for those who don’t want to miss a moment of the programme! Some sessions have limited spaces – these are not included in the passes, and we highly recommend booking for these asap to make sure you don’t miss out.

IBF2024 Author Spotlight: Maisie Chan

Today we are delighted to bring you the first in a series of author spotlights, giving you an insight into the wonderful people who will be with us at Islay Book Festival 2024.

Maisie Chan is a children’s author whose debut novel Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths won the Jhalak Prize and the Branford Boase Award in 2022. Her latest novel Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu is out now with Piccadilly Press and was longlisted for the Diverse Book Awards 2023. She also writes the series Tiger Warrior.

She has written early readers for Hachette and Big Cat Collins, and has a collection of myths and legends out with Scholastic. She runs the Bubble Tea Writers Network to support and encourage writers of East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) descent in the UK. She has a dog called Miko who has big eyes.

We asked Maisie to tell us a bit more about herself and her books.

Have you ever been to Islay before? What are you most looking forward to on your visit? 

I’ve never been to Islay before! I’m looking forward to visiting the island and have already heard great things about it from those who have been. It will actually be the very first Scottish island that I will have visited (and I’ve been living in Scotland for nearly seven years!). I’m looking forward to learning more about the island and its inhabitants and of course, I am super excited to meet young readers! I’m very grateful to be asked to come along and talk about my books. 

What would you like people coming to the festival to know about you or your book before your session? 

I am a versatile children’s author and like to try new things. My novels are humorous contemporary stories about modern Britain, my younger fiction series is a fun, action-packed series with magical zodiac animals and portals. I feel like I’ve written a lot of different kinds of children’s stories so there should be something for all kinds of young readers. 

Is there another author you are looking forward to hearing from during the festival?

I think Denise Mina and I live in the same area in Glasgow but have never met, so I am looking forward to seeing her speak and meeting her. And it’s going to be wonderful seeing my friend and fellow children’s author Nadine Aisha Jassat at the book festival as well. 

Maisie will be part of our exciting schools programming. She will also lead a session at the Gaelic College on Saturday afternoon for children with additional needs.  

Maisie’s books will be available to buy at the festival, but if you can’t wait you can buy your copy of Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu here.

Islay Book Festival 2024: Full Lineup Announced

We are thrilled to fully unveil another stellar lineup for this year’s Islay Book Festival!

Islay Book Festival 2024 Line Up

Author of Mayflies, Andrew O’Hagan, will open our festival in style on Thursday 29 August, answering questions about his new novel, Caledonian Road, from Ileach and BBC Scotland political editor Glenn Campbell.

On Friday 30 August, peat scientist Mike Billett will hold a distillery event in the afternoon, while the evening will see a lively conversation between crime fiction superstars Chris Brookmyre and Denise Mina.

Saturday 31 August will start with a sea swimming session hosted by adventurer and author of Blue Scotland, Mollie Hughes. Sue Lawrence will present her new historical novel Lady’s Rock, set on Mull and Islay. A panel on the theme of ‘Welcoming Nature’ will feature Mollie Hughes, Orkney-based nature writer Victoria Bennett, and poet Alycia Pirmohamed. Concomitantly to this event, children’s author Maisie Chan will hold a fun-filled session adapted to children with additional needs.

Gaelic poetry and translation will both be in the spotlight with a conversation between Taylor Strickland, winner of the Scottish Poetry Book of the Year Award 2023, and Niall O’Gallagher, current An Comunn Gàidhealach Bard.

We will celebrate the 75th anniversary of George Orwell’s 1984 with a special event moderated by the novelist’s son and Patron of the Orwell Society, Richard Blair. Les Wilson, author of Orwell’s Island: George, Jura and 1984, and Gary Younge, winner of the Orwell’s Prize for Journalism 2023, will both feature as participants.

On Sunday 1 September, there will be a poetry walk with Alycia Pirmohamed, organised in partnership with the Islay Natural History Trust. Ronald Black and David Caldwell will co-present their respective forthcoming books, John Dewar’s Islay, Jura and Colonsay and The Archaeology of Finlaggan. Author of All My Wild Mothers: Motherhood, Loss and An Apothecary Garden, Victoria Bennett, will be in conversation with local author Tracey Hunter on the themes of grief, nature and healing.

There will be an afternoon tea with Sue Lawrence, who will tell us all about her new Scottish baking book, featuring a few Islay bakers in its pages. And finally, we’re hugely honoured that BBC journalist and presenter Clive Myrie has accepted to join us to talk about his memoir, Everything is Everything, with Lord George Robertson of Port Ellen.

As well as this general programme, there will be a substantial school programme as usual, with authors Alan Windram, Maisie Chan, Nadine Aisha Jassat, Linda NicLeòid and Mollie Hughes visiting pupils from nursery to senior students. Author Victoria Bennett will also pay a visit to the residents at Gortanvogie Residential Home.

Please sign up to our newsletter for our announcement about event timings, locations and ticketing in due course.

See you all in August!

More IBF24 Authors Announced

We are very excited to bring you news of three more wonderfully talented authors who will be joining us at this year’s festival.

With such a range of knowledge there’s sure to be something for everyone. We can’t wait to welcome these brilliant authors to Islay Book Festival from 29th August – 1st September.

Keep an eye on the website and our social media to be the first to know when events go on sale.

IBF Authors on the Highland Book Prize Longlist

The Highland Book Prize has announced its 2023 Longlist, and several IBF authors feature. Alan Warner, Kapka Kassabova and Sally Huband are all past or future authors appearing at the Festival. Well done to all the authors on the longlist!

The prize is presented by the Highland Society of London and Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s National Writing Centre, and celebrates literature that comes from the rich landscape and culture of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. This includes books written by authors who live in the Highlands or were born there, as well as books whose content is Highland themed.

Twelve books were selected from 76 eligible submitted titles by a team of volunteer readers with a diverse range of backgrounds and experience, in conjunction with the judging panel, Moniack Mhor, and the Highland Society of London.

For more information, visit Highland Book Prize.

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