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The Pitlochry Winter Words Festival 2014

Winter Words is ten years old in 2014! Now firmly established as Scotland’s leading festival of the written and spoken word, Winter Words offers ‘stimulation of the literary kind which always goes well with a visually stunning setting’ (Guardian).

The festival kicks off today with our very own Sara Sheridan, writer of the Mirabelle Bevan mysteries.

Englandexpects9Sara’s smart and feisty heroine was introduced to us in Brighton Belle, against the sights and sounds of 1950s Britain. No doubt Sara will be talking about the latest in the series, England Expects, which is due for publication in April.

Also on today is the popular Winter Words Literary Lunch. This afternoon’s lunch is hosted by Alan McIntosh Brown. He was born in Dundee but has lived near Aberfeldy for over forty years. He is a full-time entertainer: a singer/songwriter, musician, broadcaster, compere, public speaker and journalist. His play, The Canary-Bird and King Lear – based on the life of Robert Louis Stevenson – was directed by the legendary Scots playwright W. Gordon Smith at the Commonwealth Arts Festival in Edinburgh, and he has had other works performed at various Scottish theatres.


At 3pm today you can catch Julie Summers, author of Jambusters: The Story of the Women’s Institute in the Second World War. The Second World War was the WI’s finest hour. A third of a million country women set out to make their lives and the lives of those around them more bearable in what they described as ‘a period of insanity’.

At 4.30 p.m. Kari Herbert talks about Heart of the Hero, a superb book that reveals the fascinating untold stories of remarkable women who loved and married polar explorers, becoming travelling companions, administrators, fundraisers and sources of inspiration!


And last but not least on today’s programmed author events is Lesley Riddoch, whose book Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish looks at topics such as housing, health, language and culture, how we identify ourselves and what needs to change, whether the country is independent or strongly devolved.

Saturday 15 February

Kicking off Saturday’s events is New Writing Scotland. A selection of new writers such as Pippa Goldschmidt, Samuel Tongue, Catherine Simpson, Graeme Macrae Burnet and Lynsey May will read and discuss their work at this event, providing an introduction to some of the most affecting, exciting and engaging new writing being created across Scotland.


Saturday’s Literary Lunch is with Birlinn author Ken Cox. Ken’s lunchtime talk will focus on his his book Fruit and Vegetables of Scotland, which won the Garden Media Guild Practical Book of the Year 2012.

Robin Lloyd-Jones will be appearing twice: at 2 p.m. he will be talking about The John Muir Trust’s Wild Space and at 4.30 p.m. he will discuss his book The Sunlit Summit. This book, a biography of Scotland’s most distinguished climber, William Hutchison Murray, is a fascinating read for anyone who has the mountaineering bug, or an interest in history.

In keeping with the climbing theme of Saturday’s programme The Winter Words Festival is hosting an evening with the legendary Sir Chris Bonington. Join him as he recounts the highlights of an epic climbing career spanning the world’s greatest ranges.

Sunday 16 February

On Sunday morning, Ruth Bailey and Jackie Holt will be working with knitters to bring National Bard Robert Burns, William Wallace, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Scottie dogs, sheep, Nessie, bagpipes and much more to life – all in woollen form.

Sunday’s Literary Lunch is with Eddie Small, biographer of Mary Lily Walker, one of Scotland’s forgotten heroines: a social reformer, she founded the first Nursing Mothers’ Restaurant and Infant Health Service. Eddie Small will also be hosting a writers’ workshop. This workshop will be an invaluable way to get you started or provide a focus to look at your work with fresh eyes.


And last but certainly not least on Sunday is photographer Jamie Grant. At Loch Lyon, the road ends and the hills, scored with tumbling burns, take complete hold. This landscape so fired the imagination of photographer (and author) Grant that he moved to Glen Lyon in 2001. He has been exploring it – with a camera! – ever since. The result is a beautiful book, ten years in the making, which recreates an emotional journey of exile and return, reflected in images that inspire though beyond the physical landscape. This promises to be a captivating, illustrated talk.

The Winter Words Festival doesn’t continue through the week, but will be on again on Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd of Ferbruary.

For more information and tickets, visit their website!

Our Favourite Books of 2013

Here at Birlinn we thought we would share with you our thoughts of some of our favourite books of the year.

Art of Hearing HeartbeatsNeville Moir (Publishing Director, Polygon): The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Philip Sendker

A New York lawyer, Julia Win, travels to Burma in search of her missing father and in an attempt to understand her past. Finding herself in Kalaw, in deepest, impoverished Burma, she is approached by a kind stranger, U Ba, who seems to know her. His words lead to a touching, moving journey that will change Julia’s life forever.

This is an unashamedly romantic novel, without being overly-sentimental. The writing is accomplished: his description of Burma, its colours, sounds, and scent is startlingly vivid; the narrative flows beautifully, poetically, and the book is informed with a profound emotional intelligence. But most of all, like few others he writes convincingly and poignantly about the power love has to affect our lives.

A masterpiece.


Northern Earldoms, TheHugh Andrew (Managing Director, Birlinn Limited): The Northern Earldoms by Barbara Crawford

It’s a pleasure to publish a definitive book on the Norse earldom of the north. This story is one of the great tales of Scottish history and the authors sets the Earldom in its rightful place in Scottish history. For Barbara the study of Viking Scotland has been her life’s work and this book is a fitting testament to that. And, although I shouldn’t really say it, it is beautifully produced!


What Presence! (Final Front)Alison Rae (Managing Editor, Polygon): What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos, Introduced by Ken McCluskey

Harry Papadopoulos’s stunning 80s rock photography book is a perfect gift for rock mums and dads and indie kids. And Bobby Gillespie sums it all up: ‘It’s wild seeing this stuff . . . reminds me of being a kid who loved and lived for nothing except for music/bands.’



Vikki Reilly (Sales & Marketing Liaison): Man on the Run by Tom Doyle

Unsurprisingly, as the resident Beatlemaniac, I have been palpitating about this book ever since commission. And, oh! It doesn’t disappoint! Tom Doyle takes us hurtling through Macca’s post-Beatles nervous breakdown, his drug busts, his banned (and occasionally baffling) records, the trials and triumphs of Wings, his Japanese jail time, and the nightmare of John Lennon’s murder. So exciting! And it’ll make you want to revisit the songs, which is never a chore! Ha!

Here he is at the top of his game, singing one of his best…


Lure of the HoneybirdAnna Renz, The Lure of the Honey Bird by Liz Laird

Stunningly written, this book whisks the reader through the various regions of Ethiopia. It presents a fascinating picture of this incredible country, from its people and food to its customs and politics. The undercurrent of folklore and fairy tales throughout the book raises intriguing questions about how these stories have evolved in Ethiopia and how similar stories have developed in countries around the world.


Puffer Cookbook Cover (Front)Jan Rutherford (Publicity Director, Birlinn Limited): The Puffer Cookbook by Mandy Hamilton and David Hawson

A very attractive book bubbling over with tasty and unusual recipes – all created by Mandy Hamilton in the tiny galley kitchen of a Clyde Puffer – but equally good cooked at home. Taste the delights of Mandy’s kitchen with recipes such as Onion, Bacon and Potato Hotpot, Thyme-scented Oatcakes – these are to die for by the way, Craighouse Pier Scallops with Garlic and Parsley, Asparagus and Rosemary Parcels, slow-cooked Lamb Shanks, Puy Lentil, Spinach and Crispy Bacon Salad, Potato and Seaweed Cakes (with guidance as to which seaweed to gather) and many more. David Hawson’s illustrations and the photographs of the Puffer set the recipes off beautifully. This is a real treat and the perfect gift.


Rowing After the White WhaleNiamh O’Brien: Rowing After the White Whale by James Adair

This is an endearing and inspiring story that reminds readers to never become complacent in life. The book is both beautifully and cleverly written with each chapter thoughtfully tied into a passage from classic literature, such as Moby Dick. James’ account of his physical and personal journey quite literally evokes the idiom -do what you’ve got to do and paddle your own canoe!



Dazzling StrangerJames Hutcheson (Creative Director): Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival by Colin Harper

It’s tricky having to choose just one book from an entire year, but I guess my favourite would be Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival written by Colin Harper.
Harper’s research is phenomenal and it is undoubtedly a daunting task he has had to assemble a coherent narrative from the vast amount of information amassed.

Although the book centres on the career of one of Scotland’s most influential artists – Bert Jansch (singer/songwriter and guitarist par excellence) – it is the other cast of characters with which he associated, which fascinate. Harper’s sense of time and place is wonderfully invoked – from Jansch’s early days in his home town of Edinburgh to the international touring he did in Europe and America. This book also reminds us of a gentler time when culture was not quite so dominated by new media and marketing. As Bert’s old flatmate Robin Williamson once said; ‘Be glad for the song has no ending…’
Bert Jansch 1943 – 2011


White GoldJulie Fergusson (Sales, Publicity and Events Administrator): White Gold by Peter Burns

Written with energy and enthusiasm, White Gold brings to life the England team’s journey in the years leading up to the 2003 World Cup. When Clive Woodward was appointed as England manager he introduced a new way of coaching and a new style of playing to the team – a move that was difficult but ultimately worth it. This book explores his influences and inspirations, and includes scientific analysis of coaching techniques as well as players’ potential genetic and biological advantages. But this is not a dry sports book – the dedication and work all involved with the England squad put in is staggering, and we go through each emotional success and failure with them in the lead-up to the World Cup. The game descriptions are vivid and the rundown of the final between England and Australia is dramatic and, even though we know how it ends, somehow full of suspense! I really loved this and highly recommend it.


Waiting for the MagicSally Pattle (Junior Publicist): Waiting for the Magic by Oscar Marzaroli

The photographs Oscar Marzaroli took of Glasgow, in particular those of Castlemilk and Govan, are easily some of the most recognisable images of the city ever taken. Waiting For The Magic has all of those iconic shots: the wee boys staring into the camera – mini hard men in the making; the last gasp of the crumbling tenement blocks; the everyday Glasgow life. I love these shots, and it’s fantastic to have them in such a beautiful package, but that’s not what makes this book so special for me.

It’s the shots of the Highlands and Islands, the rural life and beach life – they are still unmistakably Marzaroli in their use of light and shadow and the unobtrusive nature of his composition, but for me they are a revelation. I had no idea he had taken these shots, and am delighted all over again that he still manages to convey the same power and emotion.
My personal favourite is Kipper-smoking in Fraserburgh, 1962 – it reminds me of a Bellany painting done around that time. Every time I open the book I find something new – it is pure dead magic.


Scotland’s Shame: A blog by John Ashton

Today sees the publication of Scotland’s Shame: Why Lockerbie Matters.


Author John Ashton is our guest blogger today. Below he talks about why this is such an important book.

Scotland’s Shame argues that Lockerbie is the biggest scandal of the country’s post-devolution era. It sets out the failures, distortions and evasions of both the country’s prosecution service the Crown Office and its government. At the heart of the scandal is a failure by the Crown to abide by basic standards of justice, in particular the principle that all relevant evidence to be disclosed to the defendants in criminal trials. Since the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission completed its review of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction in 2007, it has become clear that the Crown Office failed to disclose numerous items of significant evidence. Indeed, on the basis of what it knew, or should have known, back in 1991, it should never have brought charges against Megrahi and his co-accused, Lamin Fhimah. As a consequence of these failings, the wrong man was convicted, the real killers went free and the Libyan people were made to suffer 7 years of sanctions, which destroyed their economy and threw millions into poverty. Continue reading