A dram with Ian Rankin: Islay Book Festival special event unveiled

A dram with Ian Rankin: Islay Book Festival special event unveiled

Ian Rankin is to discuss the role whisky has played in his work and life at this summer’s Islay Book Festival, organisers announced on Friday as tickets for a special event at Laphroaig Distillery went on sale at www.islaybookfestival.co.uk/2019-programme

In the atmospheric setting of the 200-year-old distillery’s Filling Floor,  Rankin will be chatting to leading whisky writer Dave Broom about his passion for single malt and how he passed it on to his most famous creation, Inspector John Rebus.

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Barnhill: Orwell’s struggle to get 1984 from mind to manuscript

Barnhill: Orwell’s struggle to get 1984 from mind to manuscript

Scots writer Norman Bissell has brought to life Orwell’s desperate struggle to get his masterpiece from mind to manuscript in a keenly-awaited new novel that takes its name from the Hebridean hideaway where it all came together.

Barnhill covers Orwell’s final years in London, Paris and Jura and the sacrifices he made — most tragically in terms of his health — as he created the dystopian world of Winston Smith and Julia, Big Brother and the Thought Police.

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International writer in residence announcement

International writer in residence announcement

Cape Bretoner Stacey MacLean is joining Islay Book Festival this year as our international writer in residence working in Scottish Gaelic. Stacey will be working on creative projects with our schools and will also be bringing a bit of Cape Breton flair to this year’s festival as we celebrate the International Year of Indigenous Languages!

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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!