The first book in Peter May's best-selling Lewis Trilogy, The Black House, almost went unpublished.
Speaking to a large audience at the Skye Book Festival in the Aros Centre, Peter said: "My agent sent it to various publishing houses in London, and every single one of them rejected 'The Black House.' I was devastated, as I was sure it was the best thing I had written at the time. However, I virtually forgot all about it until a chance conversation with my French publisher. She said she'd love to read it and six weeks later she called and said she loved it! I was so delighted that someone finally liked the book. It was translated into French and became a huge success. My publisher sold it all round Europe and, finally, the Brits bought it!"
The woods behind the Aros Centre in Portree provided a picturesque setting for the 2016 Skye Book Festival Poetry Walk.
Guided by Davie McClymont and Professor Norman MacDonald, a small group braved muddy terrain and fallen trees to listen to several poetry readings.
Roz Skinner reports from the second day of The Skye Book Festival.
The second day of the Skye Book Festival (Friday September 2) saw the launch of Skye author, Morag Henriksen's, second book. Entitled Tapestry Of Scenes, the book is a collection of Morag's poetry, punctuated with her illustrations and stories from her travels.
Cailean Maclean acted as chairman and interviewed Morag about Tapestry of Scenes. He noted that, while it contains Scottish stories and starts with a tale from Morag's childhood in Lochcarron, it also includes poetry and tales from her adventures in places such as Iceland and Australia!
During the talk, a slideshow of Morag's own artwork was displayed, depicting countryside scenes and portraits.
The audience were treated to Morag reading several stories from Tapestry Of Scenes, as well as various poems. One of her poems, entitled "Feverish Fancies", dealt with delirium caused by influenza. Read in Morag's enchanting tones, the poem came to life and encapsulated an imagination run wild. Morag also recited another of her poems, this one in homage to Sorley Maclean and accompanied by an illustration from her son.
After inviting the questions, the audience requested that Morag sing. She performed a song set in Australia, where she had travelled up the Murray River in a houseboat.
Immediately after the discussion, Morag appeared in the foyer to sign copies of the book.
Morag sums up her book, Tapestry Of Scenes, saying: "It's got silliness and solemnness, life and death... I have taken stories I have written over the years and put them into two books I can be proud of."
Roz Skinner reports from the second day of The Skye Book Festival.
Pictured is Raasay-based author Roger Hutchinson with novelist Joanne Harris
The audience at the Skye Book Festival may have been surprised to learn that least three of Joanne Harris' books were written to annoy people.
The author herself admitted this when she appeared at the Aros Centre (on Friday September 2), saying: "My two early novels were called The Evil Seed and Sleep, Pale Sister. One was a vampire novel - written to annoy my mother. She wouldn't let me read any horror, science-fiction or fantasy, as she considered them a waste of time."
In spite of having two novels published, Joanne had difficulty getting accepted anywhere else. "My agent thought I should have one last try, so he sent one of my books to an expert," Joanne explained. "He replied with a letter around 40 pages long about all the things I was doing wrong. It was quite good, as I was making a sculpture out of all my rejection letters and his helped to finish the head of my sculpture nicely!"
Part of the advice Joanne was given was to set books in cities, add younger characters and avoid the topic of food. The result was Chocolat, a book deliberately set in a small community, with a variety of age groups and centred around chocolate. The book was later turned into a successful film, starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche.
At the Skye Book Festival, Joanne presented her latest book, entitled Different Class. This is the third book in a series set in a boys school in the fictional English town of Malbry. Although Different Class is set after her books Blueeyedboy and Gentleman And Players, all three can be read as stand-alone novels.
Different Class sees the school on the brink of a number of changes, which deeply concerns the protagonist, Roy Straitley. "He is constantly on the brink of disgrace or retirement or both," Joanne explained. "He doesn't like change or technology and in Different Class he has to deal with a new head and a new deputy, bringing in PowerPoint and email. This is coupled with the fact that the new head is a boy he used to teach in his own form and one that he disliked enormously."
Joanne also revealed that it was likely she would return to the school in future works, saying she wanted to revisit various characters.
After inviting the audience to ask questions, Joanne signed books in the foyer of the Aros Centre.
No matter what the inspiration behind her book, each novel is a reflection of Joanne's personality - fascinating, indomitable and humorous.
A photograph of Wentworth Street, Portree, by Margaret Fay Shaw…the few cars that there were there, each took up so much less room!
Report by Roz Skinner
In 1929, a young American woman named Margaret Fay Shaw relocated to
South Uist to nurse her disappointed hopes. Her dream of becoming a
concert pianist had been crushed due to arthritis and she was
returning to the only place she had ever felt truly happy.
Her love of the Gaelic language blossomed as she shared a croft house
with locals, Peigi and Mairi Macrae. Wonder-struck with the culture
and the landscape, she took to documenting her surroundings with her
Her skills threw her into the path of John Lorne Campbell, who was
writing a book with Compton Mackenzie of Whisky Galore fame. Margaret
agreed to supply photographs for the book, marking the beginning of a
lifelong collaboration between the couple. They were married in 1935,
and Margaret always reminded John that he never actually paid her for
the use of her photographs that resulted in their meeting!
Both cherished a deep love of Gaelic culture, particularly when that
culture was expressed through music. This resulted in a lifetime's
worth of photographs, sound recordings and film collections.
Their story will be retold during The Skye Book Festival. The show,
entitled Campbells of Canna In Words And Music, begins with Hugh
Cheape, John's executor, talking about John's early life. Author, Ray
Perman, will then discuss John and Margaret's life together and their
preservation of a vanishing culture. The third stage will see singer
and archivist, Fiona Mackenzie, reveal a beautiful picture of the
couple's life and work. As well as bringing the songs to life on
stage, Fiona will also be showing excerpts of Margaret's films and
Fiona currently works as an archivist at Canna House, on the Isle of
Canna where Margaret and John spent 40 years of their life before
gifting the island to the National Trust for Scotland. She explains
why their life-long passion for preserving culture is so valuable,
saying: “Margaret and John collected a disappearing lifestyle, taping
songs and stories, taking over 6,000 photographs and making films.
John made over 1,500 recordings. Together, they created incredible
jigsaw pieces of Scottish life that you won't find anywhere else.
Putting the pieces of their collection together gives us a picture of
a long-gone lifestyle that we can show to future generations.”
One of the films currently stored at Canna House shows Margaret's
dream finally coming true. After moving to Barra with John, she used
the money from wedding presents to purchase a Steinway piano from
Glasgow. The film shows the piano arriving at their tiny house in
1935 and being manhandled up the stairs.
The collection makes accessible a world that is lost – a world where
sheep were driven through the middle of Portree on the way to the
mart – preserved in Margaret's photographs from Skye, the
Uists, Barra and Canna. The rich and fascinating collection is stored
at Canna House, currently in the throes of renovation. Fiona says:
“We still accommodate requests for information and people can still
visit the gardens. I'm very keen during the summer to have the door
open and people can hear the music or archive recordings wafting out
into the garden. I want them to feel the house is alive and has music
in it. I will also be singing at various events, reminding people of
the worth and potential that is here in Canna House. I'm very much
looking forward to the show in Portree. It's a beautiful story. You
get a feel for the tale of two slightly eccentric characters and how
their lives intertwined and together they achieved something they
probably couldn't have done on their own.”
The story of this ground-breaking couple will be brought to life at
the Aros Centre on Thursday September 1 at 8:30pm.
Writer for The Skye Magazine, Katie Macleod - now based in New York and author of storiesmysuitcasecouldtell.com - interviews musician and composer Freeland Barbour before his visit to the Skye Book Festival on September 1.
“I always wanted to play,” says Freeland Barbour of his introduction to Scottish music. “Though I had piano lessons from age five to about 14, it was the accordion that took my fancy, goodness knows why. Maybe I liked its dissonance!”
The hugely successful multi-instrumentalist – who has founded two cèilidh bands, been a member of four, held the role of music producer with BBC Radio Scotland, and was the first accordion tutor on the traditional music degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – will be at the Skye Book Festival on September 1st to discuss his latest project, The Music and the Land.
“The books are huge!” says Freeland of the two-volume work, published by Birlinn, which reaches more than 700 pages. “About 35 years ago I had the idea to link tunes that I had written with photographs of the places that had inspired me to write them.” To do that, he enlisted the help of two photographers, Robin Gillanders from Edinburgh, and Cailean Maclean from Skye, who will be chairing the event at the Aros Centre.
The books are divided into geographical chapters, with introductions from well-known figures in the Scottish music world, including the likes of Dougie Maclean, Phil Cunningham, and Runrig’s Calum Macdonald. “I feel so lucky to have so many talented folk make a contribution to my efforts,” says Freeland.
In Scotland, the music and the land are inextricably linked – a link alluded to in the work’s title. As Freeland explains, “Traditional or folk music generally relates to the topography that it has sprung from, and because Scotland has such a varied landscape, we have quite a large range of style relating to these various landscapes.”
In fact, it was the view from Glen Fincastle of the hills above Blair Atholl, on a clear summer’s evening, that inspired the initial idea that became The Music and the Land. “I wrote a melody, and thought it would be good to have a picture of the scene as well, for those who would not be familiar with it.” With that, the motion for the books was set in place.
For the photography in the books, Freeland said he “was keen that we showed aspects of the countryside that perhaps don’t make it onto calendars and postcards, and I’m pleased with the results… I knew Cailean would straight away understand the link I was trying to reinforce, and of course he did. I armed him with a list of possible places and people, and what he came back with is, I think, stunning.”
“I think it’s fantastic that Skye has its own book festival,” continues Freeland. “It’s terrific to see cultural variety all over the land, and book festivals have a big part to play.” At the Skye Book Festival, Cailean, whose photographs will be on show during the session, will be joining Freeland in discussion. And as Freeland reveals, “I’ll play a tune or two as well, and there’ll be a few reminisces I’m sure, and one or two faintly humorous tales perhaps!”
Writer for The Skye Magazine, Katie Macleod - now based in New York and author of storiesmysuitcasecouldtell.com - interviews author and cook Fiona Bird before her visit to the Skye Book Festival on September 3.
“Foraging is about using your senses,” explains Fiona Bird, the author and cook who will be speaking at the Skye Book Festival at the Aros Centre next month. “Once you’ve got your eye in, you’ll see wild food everywhere.”
For Fiona, a BBC Masterchef finalist, it will be her first time at the Skye Book Festival, now in its fifth year. She’s “looking forward to an island hop without a long drive” (she lives on South Uist), and will be headlining two events on September 3rd: The Forager’s Kitchen, based on her 2013 cookbook of the same name; and a workshop for children drawn from her most recent book, Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside, released in April of this year.
Foraging may be the latest trend in the food world, but Fiona has been an enthusiast for years, as her book – and kitchen habits - show. “My paternal Granny was a pretty keen forager. One of my earliest childhood memories is of identifying wild flowers with a good whiff of honeysuckle thrown in,” she remembers.
“My Masterchef final recipe used ingredients that deer (venison) might have grazed upon. I cook like this. Ingredients growing in close proximity often work well together. I am not however, a hard core forager. I don’t put a myriad of wildness on a plate just to prove a foraging point. It’s about taste and scent and often this is minimal.”
Fiona’s foraging exploits expanded when she moved from Angus to South Uist in 2012, when her husband took up the GP post on the island. “I started foraging seaweed because trees and hedgerows are lacking in the Uists,” she explains, although she adds that the ditches are more fruitful.
It’s something children can get involved with too, as her children’s book Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside aims to show. At the festival, a hands-on workshop will include the likes of outdoor craft making, seashore discovering, and even a wild tea party at the end of it all – all pursuits that Fiona and her own children were familiar with growing up. In fact, many of the activities and rhymes in the book came from Fiona’s own childhood; she describes it as a “privilege” to have been able to document her memories.
“Our younger trio… had a more relaxed upbringing, not quite feral but I no longer saw the need to rush to the wackier after school activities such as Kumon Maths,” says Fiona of the youngest of her six children. “Some of the second trio are rather good chanterelle hunters. From an early age they were seeking gold mushroom treasure in beech woods and ditches. They soon knew where to peep under moss and bracken – a wild treasure hunt.”
“The book contains a little about toxic berries (and fungi) and the dangers of being out and about in the countryside. Parents may want to protect their children but a child needs to learn about the realities of wildness, as well as treasuring bramble-stained memories.”
There will be plenty for her audience to treasure at the Skye Book Festival on Saturday September 3rd. “The audience makes an event, and with my foraging hat on, local folk always know more than I do,” says Fiona. “It’s a shared learning experience.”
Renowned storyteller Ian Stephen will be involved in the Community and Schools Engagement programme on the Skye Book Festival’s second day (Friday September 2).
From the Isle of Lewis, Ian Stephen made his name initially as a poetry-writing Coastguard in the 1990s and is now a full-time writer, storyteller and artist who draws great inspiration from being a sailor, often of traditional sailing boats.
His prose, poetry and drama have been published around the world and garnered several awards. He was both the first winner of a Robert Louis Stevenson Award and the first artist-in-residence at StAnza, Scotland’s annual poetry festival.
As a storyteller Ian sweeps listeners of all ages away into the realms of his own imagination, creating an experience in which narrative, song, music and evocative visuals all combine to draw you into other parts of time and space.
Ian does regular sessions in schools across the Islands and Highlands. But he rarely plans ahead in detail for the content of the sessions or the exact pattern of the stories. “It’s an improvised form, if it’s the same wording every time you do it, it ain’t story-telling.”
There’s a unique element to the Skye Book Festival and that is the Poetry Walk with Davie McClymont and Norman Macdonald which starts at 11am on Saturday September 3 and is limited to only 15 places.
This year this event involves a walk above St. Columba’s Loch, and a chance to enjoy the landscapes of Coilleshadder and Fingal’s Seat, the views of Ben Tianavaig and the Sound of Raasay.
Those involved will be able to hear, made relevant to a Skye landscape, the poetry of local and international writers, such as Meg Bateman, Seumas Heaney, Sorley MacLean, John Keats, Aonghas MacNeacail (Angus MacNicol), and Robert Frost.
Davie McClymont is the former Portree librarian and Professor Norman Macdonald, who formerly worked for the BBC, is co-creator of the Great Book of Skye.
Davie explains: “This will be the third year that Norman and I will be doing it , and it may well be our last, as we both feel that we should not become institutionalised, and that a fresh presence should have the chance to put their own stamp on proceedings.
Like a TARDIS, author Morag Henriksen's home feels bigger on the inside. Or maybe she just uses the space well. Every shelf is filled with books, every wall is cramming with paintings.
It's a million miles away from the place where she spent her adolescence - a hostel where she stayed when she attended Dingwall Academy. "There were 75 girls all shut in at half-past five at night," Morag reveals. "It was very Spartan. I slept on an army camp bed with grey blankets, and when we finally got a red blanket, that felt like luxury."
That experience seemed to set the tone for much of Morag's early life. "The creative side of me has always been stifled and I've spent the rest of my life making up for it," she explains. Morag was forbidden by her father to go to art college, as it was viewed as a "waste of her academic brain."
So, it's no surprise that Morag makes sure her current surroundings, where she unleashes her creativity through writing and painting, are a warm, welcoming reflection of her personality.
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