My Book Week Day Out In the Highlands

Gabriella and her mural
Category: Reading

Getting out and about in Book Week Scotland offers a great chance for me to connect with some of the people I’ve been emailing but have never met and to see the interesting and varied events that are taking place outside of Edinburgh. On Tuesday, armed with badges and bookmarks, I jumped onto a train and headed up past the snowy Cairngorms to Inverness.

In the evening I made my way along the river to the Highland Literary Salon. Writing can be a solitary career, and the salon provides a place to socialise and chat to other authors about good and bad experiences and find out a bit more about the industry. On Tuesday we began with a light-hearted workshop about ‘What makes bad poetry’ by the witty and charming Helena Nelson, poet and founder of Happenstance Press. Helena started by saying she originally analysed lots of prize-winning poems to work out ‘what makes a poem win?’ but discovered it is an almost impossible task and that it is quite a bit easier to work out why poems don’t win.

Armed with a list of 50 things that contemporary poems do too often, we read through several poems that have already been published to work out what would make them work better. We cut out first stanzas, proving the old adage that less is often more, and took out the word ‘so’ to make images stronger. This provoked a lively discussion as we didn’t always agree, and proved just how difficult it is to decide if a poem is good or bad. You can find out more of Helena’s pet hates (particularly ‘leaning verbs’) on her brilliant blog.

We were joined by 3 more writers for the main part of the evening – Kenneth Steven, Rivka Spicer, and Jane Riddell. They have all been published using different methods including self-publishing and print-on-demand and we had an interesting panel discussion about how these worked, and the different writing styles they suited.

The next morning I wandered through the town to Inverness Library for the unveiling of our third Book Week Scotland Mural. The building was a little tricky to find, hidden behind the bus station, but it’s certainly noticeable now with a brilliant, bright print designed by artist Gabriella Marcella wrapping the columns at the front. The words "Folk would read the weather... like a sign, a look, a face, a book. What are you reading?" are emblazoned in both English and Gaelic inspiring people to go into the library. Then, as part of a workshop with some local children, I was led by Gabriella to roam the library shelves looking for interesting new discoveries and old favourites, which we then took inspiration from to create our own books from coloured paper and card, felt tips and a trusty photocopier.

A quick dash to the bus and Sophie (SBT's Head of Programme - she had also been at the library) and I were on our way North to Cromarty. It’s a small village on the coast with a big artsy heart and a very warm welcome. After finding some excellent pies at the local bakery we made our way to the Cromary Arts Trust event at the Old Brewery. We were ushered into a room full of tables, tea, scones and people. The tables had copies of Treasures on it, and throughout the afternoon people read their favourite story, or read things inspired by the book to the rest of the group. A particular highlight was Anne Macleod singing a lullaby in Gaelic.

This was a lovely event and exactly what Book Week Scotland is about: a community coming together to share stories and have a blether about books; meeting old friends and making new ones, and all accompanied by tea, scones, cream and jam. Annoyingly we had to head off all too soon to catch the bus, but as Sophie and I made our way to the bus stop (via a very quick stop at the Dutch cheese shop) to start the long journey back to Edinburgh we were certain that whilst this may have been our first trip up to Cromarty, it definitely won’t be the last.

What has been your highlight of Book Week Scotland? Let us know in the comments below?

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