Paisley Book Festival: Radical voices, rebel stories

As the very first Paisley Book Festival gets ready to shake up Scotland’s literary scene, we ask three of its appearing writers to reflect on their experiences, challenges and hopes for the Scottish publishing industry

Feature by Katie Goh | 18 Feb 2020
  • Paisley Book Festival

Storms aside, as the days get longer and brighter, dare we say that spring is on the way. Just in time to shake off the winter blues, the inaugural Paisley Book Festival opens on 20 February welcoming some of Scotland and the UK’s most exciting contemporary writers, from legends like Janice Galloway, to local heroes like Chris McQueer.

Inspired by the 200th anniversary of the Paisley Radicals' week of strikes and unrest, the new book festival aims to foster a grassroots, politically minded, contemporary spirit reflected in its programme. Workshops and masterclasses focusing on BAME, LGBTQ+ and disabled writers recognise the challenges faced by these groups, not often enough acknowledged by the publishing industry, as well as presenting solutions, support and solidarity. A special shout-out to Eris Young, a member of The Skinny’s Books team, who discusses writing queer identities with Dean Atta and Laurie Brown on 26 February.

It’s an exciting programme bursting at the seams, reflecting the rich and diverse voices coming from all over the country. To celebrate the brand-new festival, we thought we’d ask a few of its appearing authors to reflect on the contemporary Scottish literary scene from where they stand, whether that’s the crime genre, the challenges the industry needs to address, or the literary heroes who have led the way.

Ever Dundas

Author of Goblin and the forthcoming HellSans

There are many brilliant writers working in the contemporary Scottish literary world (I’m particularly excited about Jenni Fagan’s new novel Luckenbooth), but there’s still a lot to be done in terms of equality and access. It’s difficult for writers to earn a living, but even more so if you’re disabled or chronically ill. This isn’t recognised in the publishing industry or by arts funding (although, Creative Scotland now has an Inclusion Fund, which is a start).

I’m disabled (I have M.E. and fibromyalgia), and in response to challenges myself and other disabled writers have faced, I set up the Crip Collective, an informal Facebook group for disabled people working in the publishing industry in the UK. The group is there to provide mutual support, share resources and discuss challenges. 

I’m very pleased to be able to discuss these issues at Paisley Book Festival with Julie Farrell, Briana Pegado, Stuart White and Lynsey Rogers. I’ll also be speaking at a Literature Alliance Scotland meeting about making the industry more accessible, Julie Farrell and I will be working together to encourage event organisers to take access seriously (as a best practice example, Lighthouse Books is great), and Jeda Pearl Lewis is working on putting together an anthology by writers and other creatives who have chronic illnesses. I also want to give a shout-out to the brilliant work being done by the Scottish BAME Writers Network. Change is coming.

Ever Dundas will be in discussion with Stuart White, Briana Pegado, Lynsey Rogers and Julie Farrell on 22 Feb, 12.30pm, Paisley Arts Centre

Caro Ramsay

Author of Absolution, Singing to the Dead, Rat Run, The Sideman and the forthcoming Mosaic

Being a member of the crime writing community is a great privilege. In the chaotic world of publishing, it seems that we walk our own path, usually straight to the pub. The Tartan Noir pack is a strong, creative, supportive network of writers of all kinds of crime. From Robert Louis Stevenson to Buchan to Mcllvanney, today’s crime writers really do stand on the shoulders of giants. And people keep expecting the crime writing bubble to burst but you only just need to look at the amount of Crime Writing festivals now hosted in Scotland to see the passion and appetite that our fans have for fiction on the dark side.

Why are we so successful as a genre? I might argue that crime fiction has a very clear perspective on who is buying the books. Good crime writers have learned they have to be “entertainers,” they have to be worth listening to and engaging. That doesn’t mean we have to be nice. The big publicity bus is out there and the crime writers will be the first writers on it (with a wee detour to the pub on the way). The only challenges the crime genre faces are the limits of our imagination, and maybe political correctness!

Caro Ramsay will be in discussion with Douglas Skelton on 24 Feb, 7.30pm, Paisley Central Library

Kirstin Innes 

Author of Fishnet and the forthcoming Scabby Queen

As a reader, I came of age in the mid-late 90s, right in the middle of a huge boom in Scottish writing that dealt with contemporary life. This meant that the books I loved in my teens were all about reconfiguring the world I could see around me through words. Trainspotting, obviously, but also AL Kennedy’s short stories, Ali Smith’s early novels, and most of all, the work of Janice Galloway. 

The Trick Is To Keep Breathing, Galloway's ground-breaking (and also form-breaking) book is thirty this year, and it seems sometimes that the huge achievements of that book – artistic, political, domestic, textual, sexual – are overlooked as we celebrate Irvine Welsh or Alasdair Gray as Our National Writer. Janice Galloway gave us ways to write the ordinariness of lives into art and make something extraordinary out of the mundane.

Her influence is so clear in today’s best contemporary-set writing: underpinning the delicacy with which Kerry Hudson approaches class politics, the beauty that someone like Chitra Ramaswamy or Amy Liptrot can find in understated emotion and, most obviously, in the way Jenni Fagan’s work lurches brilliantly from poetic nuance to proper belly-aching, and very Scottish, wit. It’s an absolute joy to be able to host Galloway in conversation at Paisley Book Festival and including her in a strand with Ramaswamy, one of the most outstanding nature/non-fiction writers working today, as well as Fagan, the author I am more excited about than any other right now, feels like a particularly fitting tribute. 

Kirstin Innes is the guest programmer of the PBF strand Rebels, Mothers, Others. She interviews Janice Galloway on 22 Feb, 7pm, Paisley Arts Centre; hosts Chitra Ramaswamy and Emily Morris, 23 Feb, 1pm, Paisley Arts Centre; and is in discussion with Jenni Fagan and Emma Jane Unsworth on 23 Feb, 5pm, Paisley Arts Centre.

Paisley Book Festival runs 20-29 February