When I talk to people who have never been to a book festival about what an exciting experience it is, they often don’t believe me. The truth is, however, that literature festivals capture the experience of any topic worth writing about, which means there is a huge array of events on offer from nature writing to politics, fiction to poetry, geography, history, travel and many, many more.
Aye Write (14-31 March 2019) was founded in 2005 and has since grown steadily as more and more people flock to the festival year after year to meet their favourite authors and to find some exciting new reading material. The two main venues used are the iconic Mitchell Library, one of Europe’s largest reference libraries, and the Royal Concert Hall, both in the city centre of Glasgow. This means that you can easily attend a few events in a row with a nice coffee break in the library or concert hall cafes in between.
Apart from the main venues the festival also offers free events in the community and a special mini festival for younger readers called Wee Write, including an exciting family day on 2 March at the Mitchell Library packed with fun activities and appearances by much-loved authors for all age groups. Workshops for budding writers were also worth signing up for, a series of creative writing workshops from creating believable characters for your first novel to learning how to write poetry. Alas, as is usually the case with larger festivals, there were several events on in both venues at any given time, so it was partly quite tricky to decide which events to go for.
After attending just a handful Aye Write 2018 events last year when I wasn’t living in Glagow yet, I managed to fit in four volunteer shifts beside my day job this time around. One was the opening night of the festival with one of my favourite sessions this year: a sold out reading and talk by Gina Miller, which took place in the RCH (see pic above). While her appearances on TV and radio tend to be on serious political topics, the festival talk was a chance to meet the person behind the news. We learned that death threats and racial and sexual abuse are sadly not uncommon when you stand up for what you believe in. However, having been inspired early on by her solicitor father her memoir ‘Rise’ is an inspiring account of how overcoming obstacles definitely makes us stronger.
On Sunday 17 March I was scheduled for helping out in the Green Room, welcoming authors and making sure they had everything they needed. While I only managed to attend one event that afternoon, it was a pretty intriguing one. Writer Stephen Millar and photographer Allan McCreadie set out to portray the ‘Tribes of Glasgow’ and came across many subcultures I had no idea existed in my new home city, including pagans, cosplayers and many other colourful groups and clubs.
My next time at the festival was on 30 March, the last weekend with another bumper list of happenings. I was back at the Mitchell Library and the first event sounded interesting as psychoanalyst and professor of modern literary at Goldsmiths University spoke about his book ‘Not Working: Why We Have to Stop’. Alas, with only an hour available, we hardly got past hearing about his main theory about the reasons for burnout and giving inactivity a higher value in order to live a more fulfilled existence. But I guess taking that one hour out of a busy schedule for such an event already constitutes a healthy awareness on the advantages of taking stock of our wellbeing.
I also dropped into two other events that day, one was an illustrated talk by photographer Alex Boyd on his book ‘St Kilda: The Silent Islands’ a 21st century perspective on past and present in such a beautiful and remote place with dramatic landscapes. Another was a talk by nuclear submarine officer Eric Thompson giving a first-hand experience of working on a British nuclear submarine in his book ‘On Her Majesty’s Nuclear Service’. The event was well attended by both female and male festival goers, and, speaking to a few of them, most had a personal connection to the topic through family members working in the field or simply an interest in British history. My last event that day was the first fiction reading for me this year. Irish author Donal Ryan spoke eloquently and humorously about his experience writing ‘From a Low and Quiet Sea’, a story both set in war-torn Syria and small-town Ireland.
31 March was the last day of the festival and I was based at the RCH for it. STV news correspondent Mike Edwards discussed his book ‘The Road Home’ an unusual road trip visiting five places named Inverness in the USA, who were all very different in size and character. The other event had an even more local connection. Emily Cutts, a Glasgow campaigner telling us of her lengthy but eventually successful struggle against a housing development in North Kelvin Meadow, known as ‘The Children’s Wood’. The book is called ‘The Dear Wild Place’ and I’m looking forward to reading it. I was amazed at the resilience, positivity and sheer determination of her and the entire community who managed to save this green space through strategic collaboration with other local organisations, businesses and individuals in a constructive way, which is truly inspiring.
If you’d like to volunteer for Aye Write in the future, keep an eye on their website a couple of months before the next festival happens. The shifts I did were between 4 and 6 hours long, which covered about two to three events. You work along other motivated booklovers and we were provided with some coffee and sandwich vouchers to keep us going throughout a busy day.