Hijacked by the Book Trust

In which your correspondent tries to interview a gaggle of the Scottish Book Trust’s Writers, but loses the battle when they commence interviewing one another

Feature by Keir Hind | 30 Jul 2012

The closing event at Unbound this year will be a showcase for the writers who have been supported by The Scottish Book Trust in recent years, specifically George Anderson, Kirstin Innes, Billy Letford, Kirsty Logan, and R A Martens. I rounded up these writers, minus R A Martens, who was away, but with the event’s compere Sian Bevan on hand to make up for that. Bevan says “I very much love the work of the SBT, and have been along to drink wine at many of their events, but one of my main jobs in life is compering and hosting events. I mainly work on the comedy and cabaret circuits, but I have a big gaping space in my heart for the Scottish literary scene – a place I'd like to be properly part of when I'm a grown-up – and it's nice to be able to combine the things I really care about.”

All of these writers have at one time won a New Writer's award, in open submission competitions. It’s a real boost for writers starting out. “It was nice to receive a cheque from them,” George Anderson says, “but even nicer that they have continued to take an interest in me. We are a little family now, the New Writers.” A family? “Ask Billy Letford if he ever regrets nailing a poem under a slate. Billy is a roofer and he writes one-off poems on the underside of slates for posterity. He then doesn't repeat them anywhere else. It must be a strain to let some of them go.” Um, okay. Billy? “If you let it go without anyone seeing it you don’t have to worry about whether it’s any good,” says Billy Letford. “Although, of course, they’ve all been masterpieces. The only thing I’ve actually regretted nailing to a slate is my finger.”

Letford performs poems too though, and he tells me “I read in Airdrie Observatory, which is placed above Airdrie Library. Imagine a telescope supported by a building full of books, beautiful. After the reading the chairs were put to one side and everyone, audience and poets, had a look through the telescope. We saw Jupiter, and two of its moons, Europa and Ganymede. I’d never seen another planet in such detail. I felt like a god.” Who wouldn’t.

Can you add to that, Billy? “Ask Kirstin Innes to imagine Kirsty Logan as a male character from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Which one would Kirsty Logan be… and why?” Not this again. Okay, can you get that out of the way Kirstin? “That's actually pretty easy, Letford. Kirsty is Legolas the elf. Sure, she's got that pretty, Elijah Wood look about her, but she's not really that Hobbitty. Kirsty's calm and feline; you can imagine her feeling spiritually at home in a forest.” Right, so moving on… “More interestingly…” Oh God. “…if Billy had to imagine himself as a female character from children's literature, which would it be?” Billy doesn’t need to answer. But he does anyway. “'I'd be Goldilocks. I love porridge, I’ve always wanted to have curly blonde hair, and you can often find me sleeping in someone else's bed.”

That done, it’s time to ask Kirstin about her upcoming novel.  But no. "Kirsty, if you could run away with any fairytale character, who would it be and why?" she says. “I'm fascinated by mermaids,” Kirsty replies, “there's a sexy red-headed mermaid in my novel, but The Little Mermaid is a bit sappy. Does she have a sarcastic, bookish older sister? If so, I'll swim away with her.” Well, at least you brought up the novel. “It's called Rust and Stardust, and it's a dark fairytale set on a Scottish island.” Chapters are available as a free ebook through Kirsty’s website.

Getting back on track, what of the night at Unbound itself? Kirsty says, “I have no idea what my performance will be like! I plan to write something brand-shiny-new, but I'm still playing around with ideas.” It’s a common problem. George Anderson says “I am very good at ideas but I really hate the actual writing. Loathe it in fact. So this event is perfect for me as it’s all about ideas and not much time to write.” Billy Letford, similarly, says that his poems “go from my head to a piece of paper then I thrash them out on a laptop or computer. Or they go from my head to a piece of paper then nowhere.” He is a very accomplished live performer though, reciting by heart. Lastly, Kirstin adds that “it’s great that the Book Festival does free events.” Any favourites, Kirstin? “Generally the events where people get a bit drunk and a bit saucy, start screaming and shouting. That’s always great.” It sounds like this interview.

How, then, will Sian Bevan do holding this lot together? “When a compere's done their job properly, the audience should feel like a team – a wee family who've just had a marvellous adventure together. The Unbound events are brilliant for having this effect, and I just hope my compering will add to the magic.” Nice. Anything to add, Sian? “Ask Kirstin how her hair always looks so nice…” That's it, I'm done.

The Book Trust writers will be hijacking the festival itself for the last event of the last night on Mon 27 Aug The event is called 'It Will be All Right on The Night', but don't hold that against them. It's free, after all