Ullapool delivers another book festival to cherish…

West Highland Free Press – 14 May 2015 by Michael Russell
Photograph: Charlie Hopkinson

MICHAEL RUSSELL attended – and was part of – this year’s Ullapool Book Festival. Here are just a few of the highlights…

Crime writer Val McDermid, arguably the top draw at this year’s Ullapool Book Festival, likened last week’s General Election result to the Reformation. Bringing the festival to a close, she said the “schism” that now divides an SNP-dominated anti-austerity Scotland from a uniformly-blue south of England really is on that scale.


“You have to wonder where we are going and how we get there,” McDermid added. “But that is one of the exciting things about being in Scotland right now. In England, people there are amazed at what has happened here because they don’t have the same sense of control over their lives or the same sense of political engagement. And it’s not just the chattering classes in Scotland who have this level of engagement — everyone is interested in it.”

McDermid, along with Ian Rankin, was the first to follow in William Mcilvanney’s bloody footprints (the creator of Laidlaw himself being a beneficiary of the revitalisation of the genre pioneered by PD James and Ruth Rendell). McDermid’s 28th novel, ‘The Skeleton Road’, starts with human remains discovered at the top of a Gothic tower in Edinburgh and, as is her wont, links recent events — in this case, the Balkan wars — with the dreaming spires of Oxford. Documenting social history is as important to her as creating gripping crime fiction.

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Bombard England with Scottish books to save the UK

I spent election day in Ullapool in the far north-west of Scotland for the book festival. Over dinner, writers of fiction, poets, travel writers and literary critics plunged into vigorous discussion. By the morning, the atmosphere was subdued and bemused. How could the English have done this?

After the election, the burning need for the English and the Scots to understand each other is clear. I prescribe a course of reading

The overwhelming majority of Scots who supported the SNP in Thursday’s election have nothing against the English. We don’t hate you. We’re not eaten up with envy either. We’re not trying to pick your pockets or force-feed you haggis. We acknowledge that we lost the referendum vote last year. We know last week was not a rerun. We understand that for the time being, we are all in this together.


Photograph: Rupert Hartley/Rex Shutterstock

We’re not dancing in the streets, in spite of a party specifically committed to making Scotland’s voice heard having claimed 56 seats out of 59. We’re not cracking open the champagne, even though we’ve made our point to the two main parties and their Lib Dem lapdogs – you don’t speak for us or our aspirations. We’re not rejoicing the way we anticipated because we know what’s coming.

Scotland voted SNP and England voted Tory. It’s not our fault David Cameron has five more years. If every voter in Scotland had obeyed Jim Murphy, Labour would still have been 40 seats adrift of power.

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Ruth Rendell

No one can equal Ruth Rendell’s range or accomplishmentVal McDermid

Current British crime writing owes much to a writer who consistently showed that the genre can continually reinvent itself…

Ruth Rendell was deservedly the most decorated of British crime writers. Among her many distinctions were a clutch of Daggers (four gold, one silver and the diamond for a lifetime of achievement) and two Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America who also gave her their Grandmaster Award. She was also garlanded with the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence.

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