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.