2013 Orkney Book Festival

The second Orkney Book Festival was packed with events and activities over four days 11-14 April. It attracted capacity audiences for a wide-ranging series of talks, readings, workshops and film screenings. 

Film night at West Side Cinema: That Now and Blue Black Permanent

West Side Cinema was full of enthusiastic film-goers for the opening of the Festival. The first event was the screening of a short film, That Now, made by young artist and filmmaker Sarah Forrest when she held the first Margaret Tait Residency at the Pier Arts centre in 2012. It was a poetic, thought-provoking piece of work, beautifully complementing the main feature, Margaret Tait’s Blue Black Permanent, screened in Orkney for the first time in many years. Gerda Stevenson, who won a BAFTA for the role of Greta Thorburn in Tait’s film, took part in a fascinating question and answer session after the films, along with Sarah Forrest and Margaret Tait scholar Dr Sarah Neely.

George Mackay Brown Memorial Lecture. Margaret Tait: film-maker and writer

Dr Sarah Neely delivered the annual George Mackay Brown Memorial Lecture, Margaret Tait: Film-maker and writer at the Pier Arts Centre. The lecture was accompanied by short films from the Pier Arts Centre’s collection and readings of Margaret Tait’s poetry by Gerda Stevenson, Magi Gibson and Alison Miller. The documentary Margaret Tait: Film Poet by Marissa Keating and Michael Thomas Jones, commissioned by the Glasgow Women’s Library and featuring interviews with the family and friends of the filmmaker, was shown for the first time in Orkney.

Young Orkney Writers’ Prize-giving and Seriously Sassy

The results of the second Young Orkney Writers’ Prize were announced by Magi Gibson and some of the winning entries were read by the young poets. This was followed by Magi’s session for children, Seriously Sassy.

Magi’s audience were enthralled as she wove her way in and out of a selection of the characters in her books, stopping to explore various quirks . . . Centre stage was, of course, given to Sassy the young Eco-Warrior. We undertook Sassy’s eco-quiz and were encouraged to plaster our bedroom doors with Sassy’s message to her parents:

Beating the blues

Rosie Alexander and Alison Miller hosted Beating the Blues, a writing a session which grew from their recent series of workshops at the Blide Trust funded by Orkney Minds. It was a productive event and resulted in new work being read by the authors in public for the first time.

Struan Sinclair: John Rae in Canada

Canadian author and academic Struan Sinclair travelled from Winnipeg to be at the Festival, and delivered a delightfully perceptive and wide-ranging talk on Arctic explorer John Rae to a capacity audience at Orkney Library and Archive. It was a highly entertaining and memorable view of Rae, exploring his achievements, renowned endurance and personal quirks with sympathy and imagination. 

Books that changed our lives

Authors Alison Miller and Magi Gibson, current Readers-in-Residence at Orkney Library and Archive and Glasgow Women’s Library respectively, took the audience on a journey through some of the authors and books which had changed their lives. Hosted by writer and comedian Ian Macpherson, the journey was an honest, engaging and moving taste of some remarkable writers, including Alice Munro, Lewis Carroll, Margaret Atwood and John Donne, and included a few surprising personal confessions along the way.

Brian Murray & John Flett Brown: the poetry of Robert Rendall

Brian Murray, who has contributed so much to Orcadian scholarship, and most recently co-edited Robert Rendall: Collected Poems with John Flett Brown, rounded off the third day of the Festival with a celebration of Robert Rendall’s poetry. Six well-known local readers: Graham Garson, Fiona Matheson, Alison Miller, Melvin Wick, Harvey Johnston and Emma Grieve, delivered a thoughtful programme of Rendall’s verse.

Reading by Alison Miller, Struan Sinclair & Gerda Stevenson

The Kirkwall Hotel was the venue for a sparkling evening of readings and music hosted by the outrageously funny Ian Macpherson. Alison Miller read a moving extract from her published novel Demo, set in Glasgow, and tantalisingly from a novel-in-progress, set in Orkney. Struan Sinclair, back in Orkney for the first time since his year-long residency in 2002, read a set of sharply-observed and engaging stories. Actress, writer and director Gerda Stevenson rounded things off in inimitable style, with work from her forthcoming poetry collection, If That Were Real, and some beautiful songs. Accordionist Dave Linklater improvised an accompaniment to one of the songs, and he and partner Gemma McGregor, played two engaging sets.

Bryce Wilson and Stromness: a History

On the last day of the Festival Bryce Wilson read extracts from his forthcoming book Stromness: a History to a capacity audience in Stromness Library. From early chapters describing the development of Stromness, Bryce read a section on John Rae, including some fascinating letters and diary extracts. The book, due to be launched later this year, has been a massive undertaking, and is eagerly anticipated.

Workshop with Ian Macpherson: comedy writing

‘If tragedy is all there is – in a play, a book, a story – it’s life-denying. Shakespeare knew this, and Ian Macpherson . . . reminds us of this pitfall, and of the necessity for comedy. “Comedy exists in the space between what we are and what we think we are,” says Ian.’ – Sylvia Hays, workshop participant

Magi Gibson & Ian Macpherson: Bemused

The Festival finale consisted of an evening of poetry, stories and conversation in the company of Magi Gibson and Ian Macpherson in the Stromness Hotel. It was a great mix of wit and hilarity, with some intensely moving moments, delivered by this hugely talented duo.

Festival Book Fair

The Festival included a book fair in the MacGillivray Room at Orkney Library and Archive, with publications from Stromness Books and Prints, Orkney Heritage Society, Brae Editions, Hansel Cooperative Press, Claire MacLeod, James M. Irvine, Orkney Museums and the GMB Fellowship, amongst others. It was a great opportunity to browse through some of the astonishingly wide range of publications on offer in Orkney.





The Orkney Book Festival was run by the George Mackay Brown Fellowship, in partnership with Orkney Library and Archive, and funded by Creative Scotland. The organisers gratefully acknowledge the support of the Reader-in Residence, Pier Arts Centre, West Side Cinema, Glasgow Women’s Library, Orkney islands Council, the British Film Institute and Glasgow Film Festival. They would like to thank everyone who supported the festival in so many ways, and helped to make it a huge success.

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