Social media campaigns 2018

Last year we left 'wild books' around the island for people to pick up, read, and pass on. It was an awful lot of fun tracking where those books ended up, with reports coming in of books turning up in London, Manchester, County Wicklow in Ireland, Blair Atholl horse trials, and even North Carolina! You can still tweet updates to us about these using the hashtag #IBFwildbooks. We'd love to keep hearing from you!

This year we're doing two social media campaigns. We have 'Where Will You Read Yours?', where we're encouraging people to tweet us pictures of their favourite reading spots. We have a lot of great spots for reading on Islay, and local photographer Ben Shakespeare has been making the most of them with a few of his fantastic pictures taken to help us get this off the ground. You can send us your pics on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag #WhereWillYouReadYours.

Our other campaign involves an author take-over of our Twitter account! Starting next week, some of our authors have volunteered to run our Twitter account for a few days each. They will be announced in advance so you'll know who they are, and they're invited to post anything they like. So keep a close eye on the account every Wednesday and Thursday from next week, as it'll be your chance to find out more about them, to interact with them and ask them questions, and even to share some tips on what to see on Islay while they're here! The hashtag for this is #authorinvasion.

The other hashtags we're using for the festival this year are #IBF18 and #IBF2018. Both will do, so please don't forget to have a bit of fun with us over the next few weeks and to post your pictures, quotes and feedback from this year's festival at the end of September. We look forward to tracking the festival online!

'The Watcher', by Ryan Van Winkle

American monument at Oa.jpg

I am on a cliff

watching the sea roll into the rocks, the shore,

churning white foam and all that cold black below.

I could be any where water meets land.


But I am here,

watching silhouettes and shadows roil

towards sharp rocks. If I kicked a stone,

it would fall, it would sink, disappear. Bodies

face down in the sand. Night, day, then night


over & over again I hold the high ground,

no longer count the bodies piling up stiff,

a horizontal terracotta army. The dangers

of water and war,


rock by rock, build a sad, stoic cairn. Limbs crack

at inhuman angles. Clothes tear, exposing

a chest too cold to touch and smooth

as a varnished hull. Another doll-like body

of a boy, carried to a new land.


Like a cliff, I remain, unmoved

two thousand years old and water

water everywhere. Green water, brakish water,

stone water, starlit water, the north star guiding

some souls home, some souls on course


going away. I want to come down.

Attend to the meaty things broken

on the beach, stacked up. I want to bake

scones all night and use up all the flour.

From this cliff


I could kiss every shore

touched by loss. When the moon is high,

when new rocks get kicked hard, when

it is night again and those heavy terrors

begin to drop.

American poet Ryan Van Winkle visits Islay and Jura's schools

Last week we welcomed Edinburgh-based American poet Ryan Van Winkle to Islay and Jura to offer a series of poetry workshops in each of our island schools. These were organised in collaboration with the WW100 Islay project and aimed to help each of the schools create a short poem based around the local WW1 experience of Islay and Jura, and ultimately one combined school poem for the WW100 commemorations in May.


Ryan faced a number of challenges, not least of which was how to fit 7 poetry workshops into just 4 days and how to put up with Isla’s driving and chitchat! But he also had to work out how to present not just poetry but the tricky theme of WW1 in a way that was accessible and enjoyable for schoolchildren ranging in age from 8 to 14. All of this during a cold, snowy week in the Southern Hebrides!

The workshops were very well received, in particular by an excited bunch of primary school students. Port Charlotte Primary thought that Ryan was “awesome” and the pupils at Bowmore’s Gaelic medium unit thought it was one of the best days at school they’d had. One particularly enthusiastic student declared, “You’re the best person I’ve ever met!” They seemed to like him, and the feeling was mutual!

The students worked on personification, using this as a technique for focusing on the war memorials dotted around Islay and Jura, and also talked about what they would miss about Islay/Jura if they had to go away. With Ryan’s encouragement, the students produced some lovely lines for their poems, which we hope to share with you in due course.

During his visit, Ryan also recited his evocative and moving poem, 'The Watcher', at the Tuscania commemoration held at the American Monument on the Mull of Oa and at Kilnaughton military cemetery on 5th February, a poem he’d written especially for the occasion. It was particularly poignant having Ryan in attendance, as an American, to help remember the American servicemen who lost their lives in the Tuscania wreck and to recite his poem at the graveside of Private Roy Muncaster, the only remaining American buried on Islay.

Ryan is now back in Edinburgh busily tidying up the schools’ poems and weaving together the combined poem for 4th May, which will also be based around the students’ workshop contributions. We’ll report back on the project, and the poems, as it all progresses.

Volunteers Fair Story

So we started our year by attending Islay High School's Volunteers Fair on 10th January. We tried to engage the students with a number of fun activities, which included guessing the titles of two mystery books; guessing the weight of a stack of books (once person was spot on!); we had a book quiz and the chance to win a £30 National Book Token; and finally we had an 'add a sentence to the story' game that continued throughout the fair. Well, a lot of people have been asking to find out what happened in the story, so here it is with all its bizarre plot twists and turns!

It was a cold and windy night in Bowmore and the rain was beating against the windows of the Round Church. The sounds the wind was making echoed all around the graveyard. The woman in the red raincoat glanced nervously at the headstone. Tears ran down her face and memories came flooding back, of feelings of failure and disappointment. She was unable to move. If she did, who knows what would happen?

She fell flat into cereal. A car went past and the VTEC kicked in and then it crashed. Then the driver got stunned, and someone put a sticky bomb in his car. It exploded and he died and it turns out it was his brother Fip who exploded him. [And it had started off so well!]

Years past and one long summer's day Fip [now a woman] stared thoughtfully into the long blue horizon. It was wet and rainy. The terror of past events haunted her waking memory. She said, "I know some slamming door puns, you'll open up to it." Then she sat down and did nothing. She then walked to the door and said, "Peep once, peep twice, peep thrice up the spine of [???]."

She then mangled the door with a chainsaw and screamed in anger to her imaginary friend. "Help me!" The imaginary friend listened closely to her pleas. Their once flat expression morphed into an insane smile...

Next up will be our Islay Show story at the beginning of August!

7 Things to do with a Nessie: a poem by Islay High

If Nessie appeared in my bus I would...

1) Take a million pictures on Instagram and get 3 billion likes - alerting the FBI (X Files).

2) Sell it to the butcher - look, Nessie fillets!

3) Bring her to class to eat the teacher.

4) Steal her tartan hat - she runs through the rugby pitch as the bagpipes play her in...

5) Fill the bus up with water and drive her to the ocean - she gets into the pipes and becomes pals with It.

6) Knit a sweater.

7) Wild haggis.

From a workshop facilitated by Ryan Van Winkle with Islay High's first year English students, exploring the use of lists and imagination in poems based on Moniza Alvi's poem '10 Things to do with a Cloud'.

Islay Community Poem

Sing me a song of Islay,                          

of windswept hills                           

and silver sand,                                              

where crofters keep cattle                              

and work the land.                                

Sing me a song.                                   


Sing of the shingle shore

the strength of riptides and waves,

waves of turquoise and green

and every colour in between.

Sing me a song of the shore.


Sing about powerful light

shining on distant hills,

the dark cloud skies

and the gloaming.

Sing me a song about light


Sing me a song

about fishing and creel,

lobster and scallop and salmon,

fresh food from astonishing seas.

Not forgetting Islay cheese.


Sing about weathered cliffs,

the chatter of water on stone.

Skeins of wild geese overhead,

startled roe deer as you pass,

trees, bracken, and gorse.

Sing me a song.


Sing me a song

a song about place,

Kildalton Cross,

a square lighthouse,

the single track

across the moor,

over the Rhinns

to the western shore.

Sing me a song about place.


Sing me a song

about dreich,

drockit, mizzle and haar,

the sea’s loud roar

the rain’s downpour

Sing me a song.


Sing about finest whisky

matured in strong barrels.

Sing peating levels of barley,

iodine, seaweed and salt.

Pour me a dram.

Sing me a song of the malt.


Sing about Botanist Gin,

flowers of summer

out on the machair,

hills of heather,

Atlantic weather

distilled all together.

Oh sing me a song about Gin.


Sing me a song

of beauty and space,

the peace of the place,

enduring purpose…

like paradise,

the people you find

and their kindness.

Sing me this song.


Sing me a song about home,

of heritage and humour,

how the island of Islay

means home. Home

and marriage and family,

united in community.

Sing me a song about home


So sing me a song about Islay.

When it's time to leave

we want to stay.

We want to stay

for a year and a day,

not board CalMac’s ferry

and sail away.


So sing me a song

Sing me a song 

Sing me a song of Islay.


by Pauline Prior-Pitt, 2017


Pauline very kindly composed this poem for us over the Islay Book Festival 2017 weekend based on word contributions from the public. We think she did a fantastic job and many of us were moved to tears when she read it for us at the end of the festival. Thank you, Pauline! Please come again!

Spirit of Islay Competition Finalists

The voting is over and we now have our four fabulous finalists! Click on the images below for a closer look.

We'll be printing postcards of each of these images to give away over the festival weekend, so do come along for your chance to get hold of some!

Next stage: Konrad Borkowski will select the winning photograph out of our finalists and will announce it at the end of his session at the ICCI on 30th September, so make sure you're there!

Poem: Souvenir of Islay

Islay local Catherine Ann Macleod Thomson has kindly given us permission to share her lovely poem, ‘Souvenir of Islay’, on our website to help us get in the mood for Pauline Prior-Pitt’s Islay Poetry Challenge!

Souvenir of Islay

I'd like to paint a picture true
Of hills and heather,
Skies of blue.
Little lambs just born skip free
Among the daffodils on the Lea
And ponies graze and canter there
As Highland cattle fill the air
With sounds like music in my ear
As happily dance the wild roe deer.

As you look out across the bay
May all your cares just fly away.
As you watch the rising tide
May it carry a message to your side.
As the waves lash high upon the shore
And the geese fly high around Bowmore.

Come to this island of laughter and love
Where stars are twinkling up above.
A welcome here sure to find
From gentle folks whose hearts are kind.
There’s magic in the island air
As gentle waves are lashing.
And the lonely piper plays his tune
To set your feet a-tapping.
A rainbow rests upon the hill
And peace is here to stay
As we watch the moonlight calm and still
Shine brightly across the bay.

© Catherine Ann Macleod Thomson

For more details about the Islay Poetry Challenge, click here.

Pauline Prior-Pitt's Islay Poetry Challenge!

If you were writing a poem about Islay, what would you include? Which words spring to mind first? Whisky, waves or willow warblers? Ceilidhs, cows or camper vans?

Well, we're setting a bit of a challenge for award-winning poet Pauline Prior-Pitt. Pauline will be asked to create a real-time poetry composition for Islay over the Book Festival weekend, based on word contributions sent in from the public! Pauline will then read her Islay poem at the end of her Sunday afternoon session.

To contribute a word to the Islay poem, tweet us @IslayBookFest using the hashtag #IslayPoetryChallenge, message us on Facebook, or email us at

We will also have a board up over the Festival weekend, so you'll be able to drop in and see how things are taking shape, or just to add another word to the poem!

Thinking caps on please!

Programme Announcement

We're still dotting a few 'i's and crossing a few 't's, but we're proud to announce that our full programme information can now be viewed on our website and online booking is open for most bookable events.

You should find a whole range of fun and stimulating events for all ages. This year we're mainly based at the ICCI (Gaelic College) in Bowmore, but we're also offering events in Port Ellen, the Oa, Portnahaven and Port Wemyss, and Bruichladdich. In addition, each of the island's schools will be receiving author visits.

28 September is also our 'Jura Day' this year. We will be sending poet Ryan Van Winkle over to Craighouse to offer a workshop at Small Isles Primary School and he will also be hosting a celebration of poetry at the Jura Care Centre. Our bookbinding workshop leader, Corinna Krause, will also be joining him to offer a bit of a taster session.

And in the run-up to the festival, we are going to be running our photography competition, which is linked to Konrad Borkowski's fantastic slideshow of photographs from his recent co-authored book, Whisky Island, and we're also going to be running a poetry challenge for Pauline Prior-Pitt, so get your thinking caps on as we'll need your help (details to follow soon)!

Please do have a browse of what we have on offer this year. We hope you're looking forward to the festival as much as we are!

See you at the end of September!

Islay Book Festival Photography Competition: Spirit of Islay

We’re really looking forward to welcoming Jura-based photographer, Konrad Borkowski, to Islay on Saturday 30th September and to get us in the mood we thought we’d run a wee photography competition!

Konrad’s book, Whisky Island, features a range of photographs that capture the working spirit of Islay’s distilleries throughout the seasons, but there’s more to Islay than whisky. It’s time to get out and about and discover what the Spirit of Islay means to you for your chance to win a Konrad Borkowski print, as well as a bottle of something smoky (under-18s will get the value of a bottle in book tokens)!


To enter, simply share your Spirit of Islay photographs with us on Facebook and Instagram by tagging #IBFspiritofislay. (Don’t forget to make your photos public for your entry to count!)

Not so keen on social media? Don’t worry. You can also enter by emailing us at using 'IBF Spirit of Islay' as your subject line.

So go get snapping! We're really looking forward to seeing your photos!


Terms and Conditions:

+ All entries must be submitted on before 1st September 2017.

+ There’s no limit to the number of photographs you can enter, and no entry charge.

+ A longlist selection of entries will be displayed on our website for the duration of the competition and opened up to public voting.

+ Entries will then be shortlisted by the Islay Book Festival committee based on the number of 'likes' that each photograph has received. The winner will be chosen by Konrad, and announced at Konrad's book festival session on 30/09/2017.

+ The prize of a signed print of one of Konrad's photographs is non-exchangeable.

+ By entering the competition you are giving Islay Book Festival permission to use your photograph(s) on our website, prints, advertisements and any displays at the festival itself.

+ All photographs must be your own work or the work of the person on whose behalf it has been submitted with their permission.

+ Proof of age may be requested before we hand over the booze.

Author announcement - Jenni Minto and Les Wilson

We are so excited to be offering a couple of guided walks this year with Jenni Minto and Les Wilson, the editors of Islay Voices, a superb collection of writings, poems, songs, and oral histories about Islay. The walks will be to the Oa and the American Monument (for more details, click here) and to Port Wemyss and Portnahaven (click here).

Jenni studied accountancy at Aberdeen University and then worked for BBC Scotland in a variety of business support roles. She now works in the Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte and is chairing WW100 Islay, which is planning Islay-wide commemorations marking the centenary of WW1 and the impact it had on the island.

Les is a writer and award-winning documentary maker who specialises in Scottish historical subjects. He is the author of a novel, Fire in the Head, and co-author of Scotland's War, an account of WW2.

Jenni and Les are married and live in Port Charlotte, Islay, where they moved in 2011 after having a holiday home there for many years.

Author announcement - Ryan Van Winkle

We're very lucky to have popular performance poet and workshop aficionado Ryan Van Winkle joining us this year. Ryan is kindly fitting us in on his way to judging duties at Wigtown Book Festival's poetry competition!

Ryan will be offering a poetry workshop at Islay High and will also be the star attraction of Jura Day, which will take place on 28 September (details to be confirmed soon).

Originally from Connecticut, Ryan is an Edinburgh-based poet who has performed to audiences all over the world. His second collection, The Good Dark, won the Saltire Society's 2015 Poetry Book of the Year award. Ryan enthusiastically encourages the reading of poetry, some say ‘by any means necessary’.

Author announcement - Ken MacTaggart

We're going a bit intergalactic this year! Not only do we have Alan Windram's new book One Button Benny for early years, but Dr Ken MacTaggart is also joining us for a family-friendly exploration of Outer Space. From the Space Age to space tourism, with slideshows and fun demonstrations, this promises to be a great session with something to interest all ages!

Ken is a journalist who covers spaceflight and astronomy topics, and he has worked in many countries as a writer and technology adviser. Ken is also co-editor of NASA’s Apollo 11 Flight Journal and has contributed to The Scotsman, The Herald, The Independent and other newspapers and magazines.

Ken is also the author of Haynes' Astronaut Manual, which was recently BBC Sky at Night ‘Book of the Month’. In it he interviewed most of the surviving astronauts who made nine trips to the Moon and back almost 50 years ago. Ken's book also features some fantastic photography by British astronauts Tim Peake and Helen Sharman.

Ken’s interests cover the human side of spaceflight, the Scottish origins of several astronauts, and how the lives of these intrepid explorers were changed by their unique viewpoint on the Earth. Ken's family originates on Islay.

Author announcement - Linda Macleod

We're delighted to announce that Linda Macleod is going to be joining us this year to visit Bowmore's Gaelic medium students and to offer a children's Gaelic storytelling and song session over the festival weekend.

Originally from North Uist, Linda is already well-known as a Gaelic singer and has more recently been busy across Scotland representing the Gaelic Books Council as its Young Gaelic Reading Ambassador.

Read more about Linda here:

Linda's sessions are sponsored by the Gaelic Books Council.

Welcome to Islay Book Festival’s new website as we enter our second decade!

Ceud mìle fàilte! We’re so thrilled to be launching this new website, created by the talented Rhianna Jones, as an online platform for Islay Book Festival as it enters its second decade. Although our programme is not yet 100% confirmed, we’ve included some of our session information here so that you can have a browse of the new site and get a glimpse of how the festival is coming together. Our finalised programme will be launched in July, so please do check back then for full details and even book a few tickets!

In the meantime, make sure you check out which events have already been opened up for early bird booking. Due to anticipated interest, we’ve opened online booking for our two evening events, Colin MacIntyre’s ‘From Stage to Page’ and Sara Sheridan and ES Thomson’s ‘Criminal Conversation’. And due to limited places and the need for pre-booking, we’ve also opened up early booking for our two adult bookbinding workshops (see one and two here) and our writing workshop. Don’t forget to use your ‘Early_bird’ discount code for 10% off when you purchase your tickets (valid until 31 July).

And while you’re visiting our website, please also take a look to the top left of your screen, where you’ll find a super logo designed for us by S1 art student, Sarah MacPherson, from Islay High, developed into digital format with the help of Brian Palmer and Rhianna Jones. We’ll be featuring this design at our festival this year, so make sure you pick up some branded merch while you’re here!

So what’s on at the festival this year? After our break in 2016, this autumn, from 29 September to 1 October, Islay Book Festival is aiming to bounce back in a big way. With an enthusiastic new team of volunteers in place, the festival is planning a lively programme of events aimed at increased variety, community engagement, and especially fun!

Islay Book Festival first grew out of a book club based in the village of Port Ellen, hosting its first festival in 2006. Islay has since held ten successful festivals in Port Ellen and has hosted a range of famous authors including Val McDermid, Ruth Rendell, Ali Smith, Julia Donaldson, Iain Banks, Chris Brookmyre and Mairi Hedderwick to name a few.

In just ten years, Islay Book Festival has gained an established presence on Islay’s busy events calendar and has also become a feature of the UK’s annual book festival circuit, and it is a particularly popular festival for authors. Who wouldn’t want a trip to Islay, after all?

As the festival approaches its eleventh instalment, the team has decided it’s time for a fresh approach. The festival is going to be on the move this year, based more centrally in Bowmore but with events happening across Islay in order to make the most of what this fantastic island has to offer and in a bid to reach as many people as possible. The festival will include writing workshops, guided walks, bookbinding, Gaelic storytelling and song, poetry, music, puppetry, crime, science, a ‘Meet the authors’ tea, books in the wild, and much more. We’re so keen, in fact, that we’re also about to add an extra day to the festival so that we can hold some events on Jura this year, so watch this space!

Authors and participants included in our exciting programme of events, for both adults and children of all ages, are Colin MacIntyre (Mull Historical Society), Helen Sedgwick, Sara Sheridan, ES Thomson, Pauline Prior-Pitt, Alan Windram, Barbara Henderson, Linda Macleod, Ken MacTaggart, Ryan Van Winkle, and Islay’s own Jenni Minto and Les Wilson, with more to confirm. Also featured will be Corinna Krause of Sollas Bookbinding.

There may also be whisky…

While you’re waiting for the confirmed programme to be announced, watch out for our authors’ books that we’ve been releasing into the wild across the island! Check phone boxes, benches, cafes, hostels, hotels, public toilets, bus shelters, distilleries. You might get lucky and find a free book! Please take it away with you, read it, and then leave it somewhere for someone else to find. Our books have already travelled as far as Hull and London. We look forward to seeing where they’ll go next and hope they'll carry news of our festival with them.

– Posted by Isla