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!

And the winner is...

Congratulations to Katie Anderson for winning our IBF Spirit of Islay photography competition for her stunning picture of the window at Kilnave Chapel. Some photography and whisky-filled goodies will be winging their way to Katie over the next few days! Enjoy!

Kates moments - Instagram_2.png

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!

Spirit of Islay Photography Competition shortlist

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 islaybookfestival@gmail.com

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 islaybookfestival@gmail.com 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: https://goo.gl/YsRp5S

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

Fundraising around Islay

Our fancy bright orange collection boxes have arrived!

If you see one of these on your travels around the island and you have a bit of loose change, we'd be really grateful if you would consider popping some of that in the box for us!

Many people don't realise that Islay Book Festival is a charity and we have to fundraise each year in order to put on the festival. The more money we raise, the more we can offer our islanders and visitors in the way of events, so every penny really does count!

All donations will support this year's festival.


Many thanks from us 😊

Author announcement - Alan Windram

And it's time for another author announcement! One for our younger audience this time!

We are really looking forward to Alan Windram's visit this year, which is going to be lively! Alan is the author of the hugely popular Mac and Bob series of picture books. Alan's exciting new robot picture book, One Button Benny, illustrated by Chloe Holwill-Hunter, will be published this summer.

Alan also works with Sticky Kids theatre, which regularly tours schools and theatres throughout the UK, and Alan is an accomplished singer-songwriter with four independent albums under his belt. He has toured extensively with some of Scotland's top musical artists.

Alan lives in Argyll and Bute with his wife and two cats, Sparkie and George.


Our travelling books - An update (1)

Exciting times as our first #IBFwildbooks catch from Port Askaig bus shelter has travelled all the way to Hull Interchange!

Here's the great note about Sara Sheridan's On Starlit Seas that we received from the person who picked up the book:

"My husband and I were at the annual whisky and music festival, waiting for a bus to a distillery. My husband loves whisky and I love the settings of most distilleries and enjoy learning about the process. I saw the book and thought it a great idea to release a book to encourage reading. I love reading but this was a new author to me. It came with us from Islay down to Hull for the City of Culture festival and I found it a great read. We are travellers and it was interesting to read of a historic female writer who travelled independently. I recommend this book for a journey. I am leaving the book at Hull Interchange."

We hope to see many more of these #reviewsfromthewild

Our travelling books

We have lift-off for our travelling books! 📚

To coincide with whisky week, we're going to start releasing our festival authors' books out into the wild around Islay! Watch out for them over the next few weeks in phone boxes, bus shelters, benches, cafes, hotels, public toilets, ferries... Who knows where else?

Many thanks to the generosity of our authors' publishers for gifting us the books, and to our volunteers for helping to place them around the island. Even the Islay Book Festival baby 'helped' with the packing!

We look forward to seeing where the books end up! Please pick one up, take it with you, log it on bookcrossing.com with the code provided in the book, read it (of course!), review it (if you want to), and then leave it somewhere for someone else to pick up.

Tweet us if you find one of our books at @IslayBookFest #IBFwildbooks