A Write Highland Hoolie

A Write Highland Hoolie

Mallaig’s masterclass on how to host a book festival, inspiring and motivating the reader and the aspirant writer.

Do you love to read?  Do you believe there’s a book in you?  What better place to go than to a book festival to inspire and motivate your next book, be it reading or writing one!

 At the end of the road, Mallaig is the perfect place to appreciate a good book. As the days draw in and autumn’s festival of colours enchants, there is a special gathering of readers and writers. We come together here, to pay homage to the creators of books and the myriad of other worlds and journeys that their books take us to, all from the comfort of our very own living rooms.

It is with that cosiness and intimacy that the West Highland Hotel, in hosting this event, was able to set the stage for a fabulously stimulating weekend. The writer platform held two delightfully comfy armchairs each with its own softly glowing standard lamp.  The ‘night sky’ backdrop allowed the spectator to believe they were part of the dreams being created and discussed on stage.

The festival kicked off with a wee dram and an ambling discourse about how wealth snuck into Scotland via “The Illicit Distilling and Smuggling of Whisky”. There was even a little music from Marc Ellington who had stood in for Charles McLean, before we dispersed for a delicious dinner at the West Highland Hotel.

 There were various authors who celebrated the literal environment they lived in and explored:  John Fletcher the deer vet who once upon a time managed the provision of a “black-antlered” stag for the Highlander movie set.  The only problem was that in the middle of summer all stags have lost their antlers, those fascinating appendages that grow back in their full velvety glory each rutting season.  He also imparted his passion for the creatures and an insight how it is also necessary to cull them in order to maintain appropriate numbers of them. 

Polly Pullar described the encounters she was having with pine marten which are returning to the Ardnamurchan peninsula, as the wild cats have retreated…  what will happen as the cats are encouraged to return?

Paul Murton, TV presenter and explorer of the far corners of Scotland, describing the places he visited and adventures he had whilst preparing his beautiful book The Hebrides.

 Then there were the fiction authors – the prolific Val McDermid who has written so many books of crime fiction I’m not sure I’ll ever catch up.  She described that sensation a woman has when she walks down a street at night and doesn’t feel safe.  It is that very real fear that Val taps into to create scenes of crime that have been described as gruesome in their spine-chilling detail. 

And Sally Magnusson explained how she was inspired to turn to fiction by the discovery of a memoir she found in a bookshop in Reykjavik, by an Icelandic Reverend. He was kidnapped along with 400 other Icelanders including his wife and two children, a third being born whilst under passage to Algiers in the 1600’s.  An incredible story, it would be hard to believe if it were not to be written with the keen eye for truth and accuracy demanded in a journalist of such calibre as Sally.  She brings this tale alive in The Sealwoman’s Gift, with a deep sensitivity and understanding of the human condition through the voice of her main character Ásta (pronounced Owster).  A couple of readings gave the book even more life without spoiling it for those of us still to finish it (something I have rushed to do since the end of the festival).

Then there was the little bundle of energy and tumbling out words that is the Scottish Makar (Scottish poet laureate), Jackie Kay.  What an experience she was, with several readings from her new book Bantam and some from her previous collections of poetry including a poignant rendition of Darling, a poem about visiting a dying friend that brought nearly the whole audience to tears.

 I was fortunate enough to attend the Feature Writing workshop by Robert Wight, the editor of the Scots Magazine that was sponsoring the event.  He imparted some incredibly useful knowledge that encouraged and informed our small crowd. We learnt how to put together the most appropriate article for a publication such as his and/or tailor it to other such missives. 

 Last, but not least, there was also the erudite Stuart Kelly being interviewed by my good friend Mandy Barr about his book The Minister and the Murderer.  In the space of an hour, he managed to deliver the essence of a sermon, a funny anecdote about his niece, how he manages to read a book a day in order to review them, his relationship with the church and with his parents, his mother’s (or was it Rumi’s?) dictum “Is it true, is it necessary, and is it kind?”, before skilfully leading us into a very thoughtful Minute’s Silence for Remembrance Sunday, it being 100 years since the armistice.

 So, I am now inspired to actually sit down and try to write.  But also, I now have a pile of new and signed books I’m impatient to read and I am keen to hear more poetry.  Thank you Mallaig and 2018’s A Write Highland Hoolie and everyone involved.


There were other authors and events that I was unable to attend but hopefully I have given you a flavour of this most entertaining weekend.