Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 14 May 2016

Have you been Ullapool-d?

Apparently is the hot question on many authors’ lips.  And having attended my first Ullapool Book Festival, as a reader I hasten to add, I understand why. Ullapool is a small book festival with a cosy atmosphere that attracts great writing talent.

Where is it? Ullapool is a picturesque fishing village nestled in the Scottish Highlands.


So why do artists and writers flock to its shores? Well, this is no sleepy hideaway. Ullapool is a forward-thinking community, which knows how to work its strengths. For years it’s been a staple stop-off point on the tourist trail, with both local and foreign visitors enjoying views across the scenic harbour, sampling scrummy fish and chips – and now Ullapool has established itself as an arts hub, attracting musicians, painters and book lovers, by hosting a variety of festivals throughout the year.

It was phrases such as ‘better than any other’ and ‘different to other book festivals,’ that made me decide I wanted to experience the Ullapool Book Festival for myself.

So were its advocates right? Well for starters, the village hall is where it all happens – with a single event running at any time. I attended on Friday this year (the book festival runs from Friday till Sunday) and by the end of the day I’d met other writers, chatted with members of the press, sat next to those involved with Ullapool’s two independent bookstores, made new friends… Another highlight has to be the Fair-trade tent next door, which offers a stunning selection of tray bakes – imagine something Mary Berry would be proud to serve with tea.

But back to books – and here are the writers I was lucky enough to hear…

Chris Dolan – the award-winning novelist, poet and playwright set the tone in his relaxed, humourous style by opening the event as acting chair.

Janice Galloway – is perhaps Scotland’s most famous living short story writer.  Galloway used to be a schoolteacher and knows how to command an audience as she read from her latest collection ‘Jellyfish’.  A fierce enthusiast of the short story form, she likened the process of pulling together a collection as not dissimilar to creating a music album – balancing the long and short, leaving the wonderful crescendo until the end.




Malachy Tallack – having heard Tallack’s travelogue, ‘Sixty Degrees North’,
serialized as Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4, I was very much looking forward to listening to the man behind the adventures. He described himself as ‘no Bear Grylls.’ The man who was torn away from his childhood home in the south of the England at the tender age of 9 and transported to the island of Shetland. His tales of what it was like to live amongst communities surviving on the very edges of civilization was both educational and entertaining.

J. David Simons – began with an engaging talk of what if felt like to be growing up as a Jewish boy in 1950s Glasgow and how his years working on a kibbutz shaped his writing. ‘The Credit Draper’ and ‘The Liberation of Celia Kahn’ are both novels based in Glasgow’s Jewish community in the 1920’s, whilst his latest work and third in the trilogy – ‘The Land Agent’ – is set in Palestine during the same period.

Jim Carruth – read from his verse novella, ‘Killochries’, which tells the story of a burned-out writer from the city, who spends a year in a remote sheep farm working alongside an elderly, religious farmer. Carruth is a master at saying so much, with few words.

Merryn Glover – born to a missionary family in a former palace in Kathmandu and brought up in
Nepal, India and Pakistan, introduced ‘A House called Askival’. Her debut novel, it follows the epic journey of three generations of an American missionary family through the sights, sounds and often violent history of India from Partition to the present day.

Fiona Rintoul – journalist and translator, gave readings from her debut novel, ‘The Leipzig Affair’, which was published in November 2014 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Rintoul also shared her candid experiences of studying at university in East Germany before unification.

All this on one day. If only I’d had the time to enjoy the full three days, this blog might have been twenty pages long!

With such a wide range of thought-provoking work being discussed, I now understand why being Ullapool-d is quickly becoming a badge of prestige for authors on the book festival circuit.


Will I attend the Ullapool Book Festival again? Definitely.

Are there any book festivals you'd like to recommend? 

Small it may be but look out Edinburgh, Ullapool is hot on your heels…

24 comments:

  1. It sounds brilliant Rae! I'd never even heard of it but now I definitely want to go. One book festival I would recommend is Wigtown Book Festival in S W Scotland - there is now a small spring event and a longer one in September, always great fun.

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  2. Thanks, Gill. Wigtown is somewhere I've often thought about visiting, so it's great to receive a recommendation. An excuse to visit another beautiful part of Scotland. :-)

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  3. It was fab to meet you there, Rae. Excellent blog post.

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  4. Wonderful to meet you too, Barbara and loved the pieces you wrote on Janice Galloway and Malachy Tallack for @TVBomb. :-)

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  5. I've heard lots of good things about Ullapool's festival and its creative scene in general. Thanks for the introduction to Merryn Glover. A House Called Askival is going on my tbr pile - sounds like my kind of book.
    I've just posted on TakeFiveAuthors blog about a mini literary festival in Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway on May 27 and 28.

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  6. Hello Mary, A House called Askival is on my tbr list too. Merryn Glover also studied drama and her reading was wonderful as she really brought her characters to life. Off to pop across to the TakeFiveAuthors blog to find out more about the Castle Douglas festival - thanks. :-)

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  7. I hadn't heard about Ullapool's festivals but now I have I will definitely visit in the future. We go to Wester Ross almost every year to visit family and have a wonderful break in the Highlands so I can build this in. Fantastic! Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Oh that's lovely Nicola. The book festival is definitely worth a visit. Hopefully I'll see you there - perhaps next year? :-)

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  8. Lovely blog post, Rae. I've been to Ullapool (and my writing's been inspired by my visit) but I've not been to the book festival - would love to check it out next year.

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  9. Thanks for stopping by, Fiona and great to hear Ullapool inspired your writing. Hope you make it to the festival next year. :-)

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  10. I once hitch-hiked to Ullapool and stayed in the youth hostel. Beautiful place. In 1988, with the Cold War still on the go and few of the visitors were excited about a couple of Russian trawlers anchored nearby. Some talked over-excitedly about Soviet spy-ships! Fond memories.

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    1. Hello Paul, I agree Ullapool is the kind of place that once visited is never forgotten - such dramatic scenery. I can imagine a pair of Russian trawlers would've caused quite a stir! Thanks for sharing. :-)

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  11. I've heard of this one and so pleased to get a first-hand account of it. I don;t think I could have managed all those talks in one day, though .... not without a stiff drink!

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    1. Because I was only in Ullapool for one day, I had to make the most of it! For the princely sum of £90 (or there about) you can buy a ticket that gives access to all events over the full three days - great value for the full weekend. I couldn't drink as I was driving home late on Friday evening, but strong coffee and more than my fair share of tray bakes from the FairTrade tent kept me going!

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  12. Ullapool is fabulous place and I'm not really surprised to discover it has a book festival. It's an incredibly creative place, gives off a really positive vibe. I love to visit - must try and make the book festival some day.

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    1. Can't recommend it highly enough, Jennifer. Fabulous writers, serious questioning, interesting discussion and wonderful home bakes! Who could ask for more?...

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  13. Envy, envy, envy. Sounds terrific, Rae, and that part of Scotland is possibly my favourite place in the world. Over several years in the 70s and 80s I spend 3 weeks every summer teaching kids to sail on Loch Ewe. The whole area is magical. I even set my children's novel there. The idea of combining wandering about there with an actual book festival is close to paradise. Thanks for reminding me of it.

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  14. You're a man of many talents, Bill! Teaching kids to sail on Loch Ewe over the summer sounds heavenly. I'm not surprised you were inspired by the setting. Hope you make it to the festival and thanks for stopping by. :-)

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  15. Like Bill, total envy here, Rae! I think I want to live in Ullapool one day. The book festival sounds wonderful and it's some years since I last heard Chris Dolan, Janice Galloway and Jim Carruth - I haven't heard the others at all. Maybe one day, I'll get there.

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    1. If you move to Ullapool, Rosemary, I'm coming to visit! It was Chris Dolan who introduced me to the festival, who's such a 'natural' at being Chair. I believe Janice Galloway also spoke at the very first Ullapool event and although Jim Carruth was very familiar with the area, I think it was his first time as speaker. I can honestly report all the writers I heard were terrific - highly recommended. Hope you make it one day. :-)

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  16. Hi Rae. This does sound great, although it's probably too far for me to get to. It's such a beautiful, rich landscape & very inspiring. Perhaps one day I'll get around to visiting the Highlands to coincide with the lit festival. Fabulous post. Best wishes. :)

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    1. Thanks, Suzy. The Highlands are definitely worth a visit - stunning, in all kinds of weather. Also, the Ullapool ferry sails to Stornoway, in the Isle of Lewis. (The book festival is simply an added bonus! ) Hope you make it one day. :)

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  17. I attended a talk or two in a festival in Ullapool some years ago, but this sounds much more "professional" than the one I attended. As for Ullapool itself, I still love it after forty years of holidays on the west coast - and will probably have many more. I've even used it in one or two of my stories!

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    1. Hello, Jen. Ullapool and the West Coast hold a magic that seems to aid creativity - it could be the mountains, the harbour, the loch, the calmness that descends as you see it all laid out in front of you. Do you have any other favourite places you'd like to share? Thanks for stopping by and hope you make to the festival one day. : )

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