from this …..




to this.


The intention was to locate the first day of the Ullapool book festival on Isle Martin. The elements had other ideas and it was decided that it would not be condusive to our enjoyment to ferry us across to the island to conduct our literariness in gales with a windchill factor of 40 degrees. So we were tucked cosily into the Ullapool village hall.

The organising committee spent the rest of the day compensating for our disappointment. So while we were supposed to be walking round the island during lunchtime, we trekked virtually via the wonders of powerpoint. This is where the marquee would have been standing ….

Interesting snippets that emerged during the talk were a) mass production and commericialisation of Marsala wine was pioneered by John Woodhouse, one time resident of Isle Martin and b) it was Lord Nelson’s favourite tipple. The ships bound for the battle of Trafalgar were loaded with £600 worth. Nelson’s unfortunate death, however, means that the bill has yet to be paid!

Following the talk we were all treated to a glass of the wine together with a slice of lemon cake. It was compensation for our cancelled trip. You wouldn’t be spoiled like this at the bigger festivals. Other major differences at the Ullapool festival include no bookshops at the festival and no signing queues at the end of the events. Thus can the authors enjoy themselves, mingling with the audience in the tea room and the hall entrance, being the audience in most cases too. The authors at this festival attend all the events and contribute to the discussions. This is reflected in the standard of the questions from the floor!

Ullapool prides itself on being the most Scottish of book festivals and it certainly was on the day I was there with poetry and music in Gaelic. The non-Gaelic speaking linguist in me spent the time admiring the melody inherent in the language. In addition to English I know 5 other languages and I was confident that some words would emerge through connections with others that I know. In 4 hours only one did so: gun with a very guttural g at the beginning. It means the same as the Dutch geen (also with a very guttual g) i.e no as in no understanding forthcoming!

My curiosity now piqued, I have a new research project.  Where did Gaelic originate and how come it is so divergent from the rest of the European languages.  I’ve since come across some Speak Gaelic in 12 weeks CDs and I am tempted to try them out, should I return to Ullapool next year.

Of course, I enjoyed the English speaking events. Andro Linklater revealed the links between his award-winning biography Sir Compton MacKenzie and his book Wild People which documents his time with the head-hunters of Borneo. Both books have been added to the TBR.

The absolute highlight of the day was A L Kennedy’s stand-up performance of  Words – an 60-minute show in which she talks of importance and power of words with all the humour and passion and intensity she possesses. This is a new show and only her third performance of it. But it was faultless – no stumbling at all. No notes either. I believe she’s taking the show to the Edinburgh festival this year. Take note and grab a ticket if you can. You’ll also discover why she takes to the stage bare-footed!