Aye Write diary by Claire Stewart
Glasgow's book festival, Aye Write! kicked off this weekend with the book-lovers of Glasgow descending upon The Mitchell Library for a fix of good, old-fashioned mental stimulation.
On the opening weekend, the enthusiasm of the Aye Write punters was surpassed only by the energy of the heroic staff of The Mitchell's Herald Cafe, who produced approximately eighty thousand gallons of tea, 45,000 lattes and served enough fruit scones to dam the river Clyde (figures are approximate).
Each and every event I went to gave me real food for thought and the whole of the enormous Mitchell building was a-buzz with chat about the books, authors and issues on the agenda.
So here is my round-up of some of the events I attended this weekend:
Amnesty Imprisoned Writers Event - Journalists
Probably the most moving book festival event I have ever been to. Chaired by Shabnum Mustapha, Amnesty Scotland's Director, this event paid tribute to journalists around the world who are risking their lives in the struggle for freedom of expression. Authors Laura Marney, Sue Reid Sexton and Alice Thompson joined exiled Gambian journalist Alieu Cessay in reading from the work of journalists who had been killed in the line of duty. These readings included the last dispatch of reporter Marie Colvin who was recently killed in Homs, Syria. The readers and audience alike were moved to tears at points and the event was underlined with a reminder that there are still journalists risking their lives to bring crucial events to light and we were urged to take action online on Amnesty's website. I don't think any of us needed much urging!
In the Mitchell Library's main theatre, William Boyd held a packed house in thrall with his charismatic explanation of how his current novel Waiting for Sunrise came into being. He described how he had visited Dr. Sigmund Freud's former apartment in London and how it brought a scenario from his book to life - and how Vienna as the setting for the novel had fascinated him at a flashpoint in history, where many important people and events occurred. Boyd's generosity in sharing his processes and ideas made this event an entertaining masterclass for aspiring novelists. When asked if he considered himself a Scottish writer, he answered that perhaps he was a writer who '...happened to come from Scotland.' and cited his current favourite reading as Anton Chekov's short stories.
The room positively radiated with admiration for the man and the signing queue afterwards was a like an enormous human caterpillar of warm and fuzzy appreciation.
As The Mitchell Library is 100 years old, the woman at its helm, Karen Cunningham, masterminded this scheme to offer Mitchell visitors an introduction to the best of 100 years of Scottish writing in a free book, titled Scotland's Bookshelf. Of course this meant that the people who know about such things were forced to agonise over what really was the best and who would have to be left out. At the launch event, Stuart Kelly of the Scotland on Sunday was joined by The Herald's literary editor Rosemary Goring, and three of the writers whose work had been included in the book, Professor T.C. Smout, Janice Galloway and Allan Massie.
Much of the discussion revolved around the agony of what had been left out, (Norman MacCaig! HOW COULD THEY! joking) and the difficulty of settling on the most crucial writers for each decade, to the sad exclusion of others.
Don't worry Rosemary, you had to draw the line somewhere, people will understand.
The role of the free Scotland's Bookshelf book was as Stuart Kelly said 'a primer' for the best of Scottish writing over the last 100 years, and for that it is quite fit for purpose.
Look out for the Scotland's Bookshelf books if you are popping into The Mitchell, you can also download a copy for your Kindle.
What's Wrong with Women's Writing?
This was the Glasgow Women's Library event, where the all-female panel each put forward their own perspectives of the problems facing women's writing. Author Laura Marney talked about the fury she felt at the dreadful covers her former publisher chose for her novels, Prof. Clare Squires of Stirling University's Publishing Studies Course aired some interesting facts about the publishing industry which suggested that in some cases unhelpful stereotypes about writing by women are being perpetuated by women themselves and the onus on editors to seek out diverse voices of all kinds in who they choose to publish. Author Karen Campbell articulated why she thinks that women's writing should no longer be considered as a distinct entity from writing and the subjects that women are 'allowed' to write about. Sue Johns of Glasgow Women's Library outlined the social context in which women are still unequally recognised in many artforms. From the floor we had comments from Glasgow's self-proclaimed second wave feminists about issues that seem to them not to have changed much in thirty years and we heard from Lesley of new publishing house Kohl which aims to be a platform for women's writing, following in the footsteps of Virago.
Apart from the excellent events, the great atmosphere and the tasty scones, the highlight of the festival had to be the Aye Write Reads section of the library - where else other than Glasgow, (the proud heart of socialist Scotland!) would a book festival have all the books featured available to BORROW FOR FREE on the premises!
Reading for all!
From A.L. Kennedy's The Blue Book and Janice Galloway's All Made Up to the books mentioned in the Scotland's Bookshelf sampler, there is a fantastic selection of reading laid out across the ground floor, like an Aladdin's cave of Scottish books!
The Aye Write! festival continues until Saturday 17th March.