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!

IBF2023 Review

To borrow the words of one of our guest authors, Chitra Ramaswamy, “what a beautiful, warm, and genuine community book festival” it was!

We kicked off on Thursday 7 September with Lari Don, who visited all of Islay and Jura primary schools with two virtual storytelling sessions for P1-P3 and P4-P7. Lari, who couldn’t visit in person due to long Covid, made these sessions wonderfully interactive, even inspiring some of the pupils to write their own tale!

In the afternoon, renowned palaeontologist and primary school teacher Steve and Anne Brusatte delivered an exciting after-school session at MYCOS, Port Ellen, around the picture book they wrote together, Dugie the Dinosaur. On Friday morning, they brought Dugie to Keills Primary School, joined for the occasion by the pupils from Jura’s Small Isles, before continuing to Port Charlotte in the afternoon. 

Meanwhile, Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve had their own grand tour, visiting first Islay High School for a joint art/English session with a world-building theme inspired by Philip’s Utterly Dark series, before presenting the Adventuremice books they write and illustrate together at Bowmore Primary, and to Port Ellen pupils later on.

Friday was a super busy day, as both Alan Warner and Coinneach MacLeod, aka The Hebridean Baker, also visited the high school to chat about becoming a successful author after leaving school in Oban at 16 and the influence of Gaelic on their work respectively. 

As for Marie C. NicAmhlaigh, she visited the Gaelic Medium Unit at Bowmore Primary for some Gaelic storytelling, skilfully using props to retain the wee ones’ attention and teach them new words.

In the evening, we had a full house for the opening event of our general programme at the Gaelic College with the Hebridean Baker. Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle impressed the audience with a puirt à beul, followed by a beautiful rendition of Sìne Bhàn. 

Martine Nouet’s questions brought forth some very entertaining answers from the now globally-famous, Lewis-born baker, and Fraser Rathbone from Jura Distillery offered both a dram and a cocktail demonstration to everyone present. 

Islay bakers showed their own fantastic talents, Islay Cocoa’s Emma Goudie winning first prize in our competition with her chocolate-dipped shortbread with salted caramel, and the Islay High School students successfully raising money for their Iceland trip with delicious home bakes. A great time was had by all!

On Saturday morning, soft-spoken, mesmerising Kapka Kassabova brought tears to people’s eyes in her talk about her latest book, Elixir, when evoking the bond between the land and people, that we’re losing at our own peril. The discussion delved into foraging and herbalism, and was aptly sponsored by The Botanist, with a gin miniature offered to all participants.

Kapka was followed by Angus Peter Campbell who, as a professional actor as well as author, delivered an entertaining session around his latest novel in English, Electricity, and his translation of Orwell’s Animal Farm into Gaelic, Tuathanas nan Creutairean. Angus also talked about the need to perpetuate Gaelic culture and language in all their richness, the loss of which would be devastating for whole communities. 

Gerda Stevenson, who’d delighted Gortanvogie residents in the morning with poems and songs in English, Scots and Gaelic, gave an incredible reading from her latest poetry collection, Tomorrows Feast. Gerda literally had the audience in stitches and teary-eyed from one minute to the next. 

Laughter was definitely on the menu with Jenny Colgan, who was presenting her latest romantic comedy, The Summer Skies.

Marisa Haetzman, aka Ambrose Parry, and Sarah Smith took to the stage to discuss their respective historical noir fictions, Voices of the Dead and Hear No Evil – the latter featuring an Islay protagonist – just as the golden hour was in full glory over Loch Indaal.

On Sunday, Alan Warner answered Les Wilson’s questions about Nothing Left to Fear From Hell, his masterful book about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape via the Hebrides. The discussion about characterisation, the evocation of landscape and the use of sounds in writing was absolutely fascinating. 

Chitra Ramaswamy gave an extremely moving talk about Homelands, sharing the beautiful aspects of her friendship with now 99-year-old Holocaust survivor Henry Wuga, as well as the story of her own family.

In the afternoon, Steve Brusatte gave us a quick but riveting course in deep time history while chatting about his Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs and Rise and Reign of the Mammals. Steve is a highly renowned name in his field, even working as an advisor for Jurassic World films, so it was a massive honour to have him in our midst. His event was followed by our grand raffle draw.

Meanwhile, generous Gerda Stevenson delivered an excellent poetry workshop at Ardbeg Distillery, while Philip Reeve held a session about his Utterly Dark series at the Mactaggart Leisure Centre, with the support of friend illustrator Sarah McIntyre.

The atmosphere over the four days was one of joy, enthusiasm, and bonding over the love of words and stories, which is exactly what we had hoped for. So a massive thanks to our sponsors, guest authors, chairs, volunteers, teachers and all the various people who helped us make the Islay Book Festival 2023 the fantastic event that it was. And thanks to YOU, the wonderful community who gave such a warm welcome to our authors that all of them, without exception, expressed their desire to come back to Islay before they had even left the island. We hope you very much enjoy reading their books over the next few months. See you next year!

Photo credit: Rhianna Jones

Unveiling our 2023 programme!

The Islay Book Festival committee members have been busy bees in the last few months, and we are so very happy to unveil our 2023 programme!

This year’s festival, including school and children’s events, will take place from Thursday 7 to Sunday 10 September.

Our general programme at the Gaelic College will kick off on Friday 8 September for a special evening with the Hebridean Baker, sponsored by Jura Distillery. Expect Gaelic singing, stories, recipes, a cocktail demonstration, and even a baking competition!

On Saturday, Kapka Kassabova will start the day off with an event fittingly sponsored by The Botanist around her stunning new book Elixir, which focuses on the wild plant gatherers of the valley of the Mesta in her native Bulgaria.

The next speaker will bring us back closer to our shores. Angus Peter Campbell will talk about his new novel in English, Electricity, a beautiful ode to island life, as well as tell us what it was like to translate George Orwell’s Animal Farm into the Gaelic Tuathanas nan Creutairean.

The afternoon will see us move on to poetry as Gerda Stevenson reads from her latest collection, Tomorrow’s Feast, which centres on the legacy faced by the next generation.

After poetry, romance will be in the spotlight as the Scottish queen of ‘Feel Good Fiction’, Jenny Colgan, presents The Summer Skies, her new escapist stand-alone novel set in the Scottish islands.

And to wrap up this busy day, what could be better than a fascinating Tartan Noir panel? Marisa Haetzman, writing under the pseudonym Ambrose Parry with husband Chris Brookmyre, will be in conversation with Sarah Smith, to chat about their respective historical fictions, Voices of the Dead and Hear No Evil.

On Sunday, Alan Warner will take us on a famous Hebridean journey in Scottish history as he discusses Nothing Left to Fear from Hell, his latest short novel about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape after the Battle of Culloden.

Chitra Ramaswamy will follow with what promises to be a moving event about her book Homelands, inspired by her friendship with Holocaust survivor Henry Wuga, who escaped Nazi Germany as part of the Kindertransport to settle in Glasgow.

Our Sunday afternoon session will be all about palaeontology, as Steve Brusatte presents his two popular science books The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs and The Rise and Reign of the Mammals, drawing from the fossil discoveries Steve and his team have made on the Isle of Skye over the past decade.

Alongside this exciting general programme, Gerda Stevenson will run a poetry workshop at Ardbeg Distillery on Sunday afternoon (booking essential as places are limited), and there will also be two children’s events: Anne and Steve Brusatte will visit MYFOS in Port Ellen on Thursday for an after-school session around their picture book Dugie the Dinosaur, while Philip Reeve will present his Utterly Dark middle-grade series at the Mactaggart Leisure Centre on Sunday afternoon.

Our varied school programme will include sessions with Lari Don, Sarah McIntyre, Philip Reeve, Anne and Steve Brusatte, and Angus Peter Campbell for a visit to the Gaelic Medium Unit. Alan Warner, Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve will also visit the students of Islay High School. 

And Gerda Stevenson will bring poetry and songs to the residents of Gortanvogie Care Home.

Mindful of the cost of living crisis, we’ve kept the price of tickets for our general programme low at £5 (£3.50 concession) per event, and, for best value, you can also purchase a festival pass for £30 (£20). Children’s events at MYFOS and the Mactaggart Leisure Centre are free. 

For more information about the individual events and to find out exact times and book tickets, click here.

We hope to see many of you join us in September for a big celebration of words and stories!

Revealing our 2023 line-up!

Our committee has been busy putting together an exciting line-up for this year’s Islay Book Festival on 8-10 September, and we couldn’t wait to share the names of our guest authors with you ahead of the busy season.

Coinneach MacLeod, aka The Hebridean Baker, will open the festivities with his stories and recipes.

Tartan noir will be well represented, with the presence of Ambrose Parry and Sarah Smith.

Jenny Colgan will come to argue that Scotland, and its islands in particular, are a great setting for romance, not only for murder.

Multi-talented Angus Peter Campbell will present his latest novel in English, chat about translating George Orwell into Gaelic, and possibly share a bit about his acting career.

Gerda Stevenson will put poetry on the programme, while Alan Warner will regale us with the Hebridean adventures of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

British and European history will feature prominently in Chitra Ramaswamy’s event, while Kapka Kassabova will tell us what the Bulgarian forests hold in common with the Scottish Highlands.

Palaeontologist Steve Brusatte will talk about the history of life on Earth, and be joined by his wife Anne to visit Islay schools with their picture book inspired by the Isle of Skye’s fossil finds. Star storyteller Lari Don will undoubtedly delight pupils’ imagination. And last but not least, super duo Sarah McIntyre & Philip Reeve will be back to the island to present their new series.

Needless to say, we have a fantastic programme in the works for you, and we’ll be back soon with more detailed information about all our authors’ books and individual events. Stay tuned!

Islay Book Festival: 2021 update

We have reluctantly decided to cancel this year’s event due to the continuing uncertainty over travel and other restrictions linked to the Covid pandemic.

We are not confident of being able to hold a physical festival towards the end of the summer and so have decided to cut our losses and cancel now.

And while we learnt a lot from our online programme last year, and are incredibly grateful for everyone’s contributions and support from across the globe, our feeling is that live events on the island are really what our festival is all about and we don’t want to move too far away from that.

We also feel there is no point trying to compete in a now very cluttered digital landscape.

However, we have decided instead to try and organise some one-off book events this year to support a couple of local publications coming out in May and June respectively. These events will most likely be held online over the summer months.

In the meantime, we’ll be working away in the background on a future strategy for the festival and in particular to try to secure longer-term funding for our activities. We look forward to coming back with a bang in 2022!

Literary stars to deliver online tonic for troubled times

Angus MacKinnon previews this month’s online Islay Book Festival.

Scots Makar Jackie Kay has agreed to open this month’s Islay Book Festival in a welcome filip for the event, which is being held online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alexander McCall Smith, the bestselling author famed for his uplifting storytelling and optimistic view of the world, will also help deliver a literary tonic for troubled times.

The big names’ support was described as ‘fabulous news’ by festival chair Isla Rosser-Owen. ‘Alexander McCall Smith is a global bestseller and Jackie always has something insightful and interesting to say. We’re really looking forward to hosting them and of course all the other writers taking part in our first digital festival.’

Real-time poetry writing with Kornel Kossuth, a children’s ‘How to Draw a Dragon’ session with Kate Leiper, and music from Islay Sessions regular Gráinne Brady and The Bookshop Band are also on the menu for the 27–30 August event.

Continue reading “Literary stars to deliver online tonic for troubled times”

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