Acclaimed Lewis writer Kevin MacNeil has spoken of his belief that island literature is on a massive upswing, ahead of his appearance at the Hebridean Book Festival, Faclan, next month. Kevin will be giving a talk based on his latest book, The Beautiful and Forever, as part of a cabaret night featuring another two island writers, and will then be helping bring the festival to a close as part of a new musical collective with Willie Campbell and Colin Macleod.
Faclan, which features film, the visual arts, talks and music as well as books, is officially on from Wednesday, November 2 to Saturday, November 5, and this year’s theme is the North Atlantic, or An Cuan Siar (The Western Sea) in Gaelic. “It defines the islands and signifies vastness and isolation”, said founding director Roddy Murray, who is Head of Visual Arts and Literature at An Lanntair and programmes the event.
For Kevin MacNeil, a Stornoway cove as well as multi-award winning poet, novelist, screenwriter, playwright and editor, the town “is and always will be home” — and he’s very much looking forward to appearing at its literary festival.
He said: “I believe we’re entering a golden age for Scottish island literature. I edited a book a few years ago called These Islands, We Sing, which was an anthology of poems from the islands. At the time I predicted a resurgence in island prose — and that is indeed happening, with the recent success of books by Amy Liptrot(Orkney) and Malachy Tallack (Shetland) being good examples.” Kevin’s talk has been sponsored by the Royal Literary Fund and he said he felt “truly honoured” to be delivering it.
“The RLF was founded in 1790 and has offered all kinds of assistance to writers and their families, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, James Joyce, and the widow of Robert Burns.
“At a time when literature can seem devalued in society it is terrific that an organisation like the RLF provides humane and practical support.”
Kevin is on stage at 7pm and is followed by Iain Stephen, also from Lewis, who will be reading from his poetry anthology Maritime, with musical accompaniment from Peter Urpeth and Gary Carr.
Then comes Malachy Tallack, with his new book, The Undiscovered Islands. His previous book won the Radio 4 Book of the Week and Mallachy — a writer and singer-songwriter from Shetland – sits easily alongside Kevin and Ian because of the islander connection.
Kevin will appear at Faclan again on the Saturday night as part of Akutagawa, with singer-songwriters Willie and Colin. Hailed as the ‘the new Hebridean supergroup’, with a bit of East meets West as they are inspired by the father of the Japanese short story, this will be their first live public performance together. Words are by Kevin, melodies by Willie, and Colin has added his own unique production flair.
Akutagawa kick off the club night, from 10pm to 1am, which will be a fitting close to Faclan, following on from the evening with Jackie Kay, Scotland’s poet laureate, at 7.30pm.
Kevin said: “Akutagawa is just the most exciting thing. Willie and I have always worked well together and when Colin came on board it just felt very natural. Originally he was going to produce our EP, but he contributed so much it seemed only right to become a trio.
“I often found myself sitting in Colin’s studio as Willie and Colin brought a song to life, just smiling to myself, just feeling grateful to have the opportunity to be there in the presence of two phenomenal songwriters. The three of us seemed to gel really well in the studio and hopefully we’ll get the chance to record again in the future. The Faclan gig will be our first ever live performance!”
With the appearance of this new group — who will be joined by a couple of guests, including Jane Hepburn on violin — and then the DJ set, cocktails and a late license, Faclan will end with a bang not a whimper, to borrow from TS Eliot.
For Willie, Akutagawa has been something new. “I’m really proud of it. I think it’s a really interesting sound and it is unique. It’s about as indie as you get and it’s in Gaelic.” He added: “I think Kevin is a bit of a genius. He’s incredible. I think we should be really proud of him.”
There is an extensive programme of events on offer at Faclan. Other highlights will include Peter Urpeth’s commissioned piano accompaniment to silent documentary Nanook of the North on Saturday afternoon. Former Guardian journalist Madeleine Bunting is launching Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey on Saturday morning. She is followed by Amy Liptrot whose powerful memoir, The Outrun, on returning to Orkney to recover from alcoholism, has won The Wainwright Prize for nature writing and been in The Sunday Times bestsellers list for weeks. Dr Finlay Macleod’s talk on Rona, sponsored by Acair Books, is on the Wednesday night, and preceded by the Island Book Trust’s launch of Alex C Maclean’s No Shame in Fear, about the WW2 Atlantic convoys and presented by DS Murray.
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