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The great thing about Book Week Scotland is that is gives authors the confidence to host events all over the country, and audiences the confidence to attend them.

Hosted by Carmilla Vioez, the DAFT Writers’ event at Banff Castle, on 25th November 2016, was a well-attended, diverse, and engaging evening for all involved.  Vioez skilfully brought together a unique range of authors, from a variety of genres and disciplines; genre fiction, biography, poetry and the short story all came together, giving the audience a real flavour of contemporary Scottish writing.

With just a couple of spare seats, the Huntly Writers started us off with two of their members reading from the group’s anthology Open with Care.  The first story was cut short at a particularly tantalising moment, while the second steadily unnerved all present as we struggled to hang onto our sense of reality in a surreal world of hot dogs, chickens, and sweaters.

Up next was Carmilla herself who read an extract from, The Ballerina and Revolutionary, a sinister horror novel that grapples with the taboos that unknowingly blight the lives of so many innocent people. Interestingly, Carmilla’s works are also being turned into graphic novels.

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Kevin Steiner then took centre stage, speaking about his book Alexander Gardner: Visionary Photographer of the American Civil War, a candid exploration of the Scot’s photographic endeavours to document the conflict as it happened.  I particularly enjoyed Kevin’s use of modern-day photographs beside some of Gardner’s seminal works, emphasising just how easy it is to for areas of historical significance to be overlooked in our time.

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Following Kevin, I read a mixture of published and unpublished poems that explore moving, migration, and motherhood.  What struck me as I sat at the front of the room was just how friendly and receptive the audience were: a real sense of comradery and human warmth pervaded the room; each of us feeling privy to this great secret gathering while outside the castle walls unknowing people went about their ordinary lives.  Events don’t always feel that way, so it’s simply delicious when they do.

[The photograph I forgot to ask anyone to take…]

Elizabeth Ball read next, from her novel Dodgy Dates and a Dinosaur, and had us all laughing at the absurd realities of dress codes and office etiquette that we so often accept without question.  I can only say that hope I never work anywhere with a ‘Skirt Day’ policy.

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At this point we had a short interval, during which time we were free to browse authors’ collections and the second-hand book sale put on in aid of Scottish Book Trust.  The evening resumed with Martin Malone making jazz with his poetry, tearing up his set list and instead reading poems that responded to what other authors had contributed to the evening.  World War One poems from his upcoming collections complemented Kevin’s talk of civil war, while poems about his experiences as a new father played to my talk of motherhood.

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Finishing the evening off was headline poet Brian Johnstone, who applauded Martin’s poetic dexterity while unashamedly sticking to his prepared list of poems, a diverse and diverting range of published and unpublished works.

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What I appreciated most about the event was the opportunity to watch Martin and Brian interacting with the audience between poems.  The curse of the new and emerging writer is the compulsion to self-deprecate, apologise, justify, over-explain, and rush.  I am still guilty of this at times, and have to regularly remind myself that the audience have chosen to sit and listen, that they actively want to hear what the readers and performers have to say, that I am not standing up in front of the class reading my essay because the teacher wants me to.  Brian and Martin don’t separate their poetry from themselves, or put on a poetic persona to read their works.  They look as comfortable performing as they would be making small talk on the train.  Because of this, the audience are also able to relax and properly enjoy the images and stories being conjured up for them as if by magic; they too can become part of the story.

What I love most about Book Week Scotland is that it also lets authors experience each other, learn from each other, and come together to create something new and unique.  These events exist only in the moment, and in a world that can increasingly be recorded, delayed and put on hold, it makes them all the more precious.  I can only hope that Book Week Scotland continues to stretch up into northern Scotland and next year sees more opportunities for authors and audiences to come together and celebrate a mutual love of language and stories, whatever form they take.  Who knows, with the dates for 2017 already in place, perhaps I’ll even host one myself!

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