I’ve attended all 11 Ullapool Book Festivals, writing up eight or nine hour-long sessions per May weekend for the West Highland Free Press. This year was different. As well as my usual piece for the paper I was also one of the featured authors. Thanks to the team at Polygon my first novel ‘Lie of the Land’ is due to be published on the 16th of June. So my eleventh Ullapool Book Festival was special indeed. Number 10, as it happens, was pretty good too: reading a selection of my published micro-fiction brought me to Polygon’s attention.
As far as the mechanics of staging the event are concerned, Joan and the other committee members, the sound technicians, Ceilidh Place staff and the women in the FairTrade marquee (baking galore), delivered an eleventh May weekend to cherish. They make hard work look easy. If it’s of a mind to, Loch Broom in spring might lend a hand, and it often does, though it can just as easily try to disperse the crowd with water cannons.
Being a complete novice, my goal was simple – don’t mess it up. My best guess is that I didn’t, although I have nothing to compare it to, no benchmark of manageable performance anxiety to measure my appearance against.
That being said, there are a number of scenarios that would most certainly have constituted messing it up, even in the eyes of the most generous and fair-minded member of the audience. Those scenarios are too painful for me to delineate, though I can say they occupy a spectrum that ranges from incipient to full-blown mental collapse, with simian-like sub-vocality thrown in for good measure.
I’m glad to say that none of that happened. While I’d stop short of saying my session (quizzed by the literary mainframe that is Stuart Kelly, in front of 200 people) produced a state of emotional equilibrium, it showed me what is possible. Hopefully, I can continue to develop as a writer, and there will be other festivals; other gatherings of creative and thoughtful people. It’s possible. But there is only one first time for anything, and I’ll always remember Ullapool 2015.
Here’s to the future, and to not messing things up.
Michael F. Russell