Organisers of the annual Nairn Book and Arts Festival have announced this year’s programme, which takes inspiration from Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022, with a diverse array of events celebrating the ancient myths and modern legends of Nairnshire, the Highlands and the North East.
The family- friendly festival, running from Saturday 27 August to Sunday 4 September, will feature a ‘creative takeover’ of Nairn’s High Street with a storytelling fancy dress theme, alongside author talks, street theatre, live music, storytelling, exhibitions, creative workshops, tours and two paranormal investigations - a first for the festival.
The festival’s launch day will feature a parade of silk flags featuring ‘Stories of Nairn’, the culmination of a major collaboration with international arts production company Kinetika, artist/ storyteller Lizzie McDougall and local community groups. The festival’s finale day will see events taking place at indoor and outdoor venues across the town, from author events to multilingual storytelling, a costumed ‘Wandering Woodland’ childrens’ parade, live music by local bands, creative activities celebrating nature and a large scale flag installation.
A host of critically-acclaimed and award-winning authors from Scotland and across the UK will make an appearance, including Walter Scott Prize-winning author James Robertson discussing his seventh novel News of the Dead, Andrew Greig, talking about his latest historical fiction novel Rose Nicolson, Iain Cameron reflecting on Scotland’s winter mountains with his book The Vanishing Ice, and Sean Lusk with his debut novel The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley - the Scottish Book Trust’s book of the month for June.
The popular Wine and Crime event returns, featuring CWA Diamond Dagger award winning author Martin Edwards talking about his latest book ‘The Life of Crime’, a Q&A with Times Bestseller, LGBTQ+ writer Mary Paulson-Ellis, author of The Other Mrs Walker, and Jennifer Morag Henderson in conversation with Martin Edwards, discussing her biography “Josephine Tey: A Life”.
The programme features a diverse range of authors, poets and performers, including writer
Nikki May, an Anglo-Nigerian author, who will discuss her recently published debut novel WAHALA, currently in development as a BBC TV Drama, Mae Diansangu, a Black and queer poet from Aberdeen, whose work has been featured on BBC Radio Four’s Tongue and Talk, and writer and singer Marcas Mac an Tuairneir, a founding member of the LGBT music collective 'Bogha-froise.' The current Gaelic editor of Northwords Now, Marcas writes and publishes in Scottish Gaelic, English and Polari.
Tanera Bryden, the festival’s Creative Coordinator commented: “ This year we have dug deep into a rich seam of modern myths and ancient tales from Nairn, the Highlands and the North East of Scotland. Storytellers, poets and musicians will bring them to life in Doric, Gaelic and English, and we’ll be celebrating them with costumed parades and outdoor performances. We are excited to be collaborating with Kinetika as a major partner this year to create beautiful flags telling ‘Stories of Nairn’, drawn from our community and history. And we have a brilliant line-up of some of the country’s best authors and poets, covering everything from crime and Scottish historical fiction, to the fragility of our natural environment and the glories of Scottish river fishing.
We’re grateful to our funders and sponsors, our partnerships with local businesses and our team of amazing volunteers. The festival brings joy to so many, and without their support, it just wouldn’t happen.”
Festival activities begin with the ‘Creative Takeover’ of Nairn High Street on Saturday 27th August, with a fancy dress storytelling theme, parade with hand painted silk flags by Kinetika, circus and stilt walking entertainment from Fly Agaric, live music from Feis Nairn, acapella choir The Accidentals and Nairn’s Gaelic Choir, and outdoor theatre performance ‘A Discovery of Memories’ - an interpretation of recollections gathered from friends, family and elderly Nairn residents by Nairn Youth Theatre with Borealis Theatre Arts.
The programme features a host of live music events including The Cattachs and Gallachs of the Grey Coast, an eclectic and dynamic evening of music and poetry inspired by the far north and north-east counties of Scotland, developed as a collaboration between three of Scotland’s finest artists - the poet and Caithness Makar George Gunn, Gordon Gunn and Andy Thorburn.
Well known singer songwriter Martin Stephenson will be appearing with his Good Will Trio, featuring Rupert Hughes (guitar/vocals) and Niles Krieger (violin/mandolin/dobro/vocals) both from the award-winning bluegrass band, The Often Herd.
There is a particular focus on Isobel Gowdie, the so-called ‘Witch of Auldearn’; the festival’s programme cover artwork by Rachael Forbes is inspired by Isobel’s life, and there will be a special exhibition dedicated to her at Nairn Museum, with paintings by artist Julia Jeffrey, as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022. Artist Helen Wright will discuss her mural of Gowdie’s life in Auldearn, while American author Nancy Kilgore will discuss her latest book, Bitter Magic, inspired by the story of lsobel.
The languages of the Highlands and North East feature strongly with a range of Gaelic, Doric and Scots language events, including Gaelic poet Eoghan Stuibhart (supported by the Gaelic Books council) and storytelling by writer, folklorist, ethnologist, broadcaster, and singer Margaret Bennett, founder member of the Grampian Association of Storytellers Jackie Ross, and Jess Smith, an author and storyteller whose work focuses on the lives of the Scottish Traveller community.
The Festival Finale takes place on Sunday 4 September, on Nairn links, and features a costumed ‘Wandering Woodland’ environmentally themed procession for children, accompanied by local samba band ‘The Penguin’s Tuxedo’, Kinetika’s ‘Stories of Nairn’ flags will be installed at the Wallace Bandstand with artist-storyteller Lizzie McDougall uncovering the stories behind the flags, along with readings from local writing group The Pen and I , nature -themed creative activities with Nature 4 Health and an afternoon of live music by local musicians, curated by young performers Kenna and Morna Ross.
More Festival Highlights:
Exhibitions include ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ - the festival’s biennial Open Exhibition - returning with a selection of paintings, prints, textiles and photography by artists from the northern regions of Scotland. Nairnshire artist Eve McDonald will be showcasing her popular scrap metal artworks at a new temporary ‘sculpture park’ at Nairn Community and Arts Centre. Textile artist Susie Rose Alexander, will exhibit her ambitious new work The Clouds of Unknowing, at the Original Spinning Arts Studio. Artist Jonathan Shearer, gives a talk about the art of painting landscapes outdoors, in the extreme weather conditions of the remote Highlands.
The programme also features a rare tour of Black Isle Bronze, the UK’s premier sculptural and architectural bronze foundry based in Nairn, while local historian John Urquhart takes a journey down Nairn’s High Street. Highland Paranormal will lead tours and investigations of Viewfield House, home to Nairn Museum, and the historic Auldearn Cemetery.
Author talks: Edinburgh based doctor and award winning writer, Gavin Francis, discusses science and kindness. Author, musician and fishing enthusiast, Malachy Tallack, talks about his new book Illuminated by Water. Gerda Stevenson, reading from her critically acclaimed book of short stories Letting Go: A Timeline of Tales will be in conversation with Thomasin Collins of Luath Press. There will be a platform for readings by creative writing students Linda Blackwood and Dawn Tripp from the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Young theatre collective Crimson Tea Productions present The Ghosts of Campfire Stories - a play based on the old legends of the Sea Maiden of Kessock and the myth of the Kelpie of Loch Ness: the origin story of Nessie, and Norse Gods share their own stories, highlighting the importance of Norse mythos in Scotland.
The festival offers a range of creative workshops including ‘Forest Beings’ workshops for children with Sadie Stoddart, and a Silk scarf making masterclass with Ali Pretty (Artistic Director of Kinetika). Sean Lusk and Meg Pokrass will share the secrets of how to write sparkling short fiction with a two-day creative writing workshop.
School Outreach Programme: authors Kenneth Stevens, Ross Sayers and Gaelic poet Marcas Mac an Tuairneir, will visit local primary and secondary schools.
Artists in schools: Environmental artist Gordon Maclellan aka Creeping Toad returns to local primary schools with forest-themed storytelling and creative workshops, with a ‘wandering woodland’ procession on Finale Day. Iona Gibson takes a zine making workshop to Nairn Academy.
The ‘Stories of Nairn’ storytelling flag project has been supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund. This fund is being delivered in partnership between VisitScotland and Museums Galleries Scotland with support from National Lottery Heritage Fund thanks to National Lottery players.
Nairn Book and Arts Festival runs from Saturday 27 August to Sunday 4 September 2022.