A day among the Radical Voices at Paisley Book Festival
- Lynsey May
- 24 February 2020
The List's Books Editor spends a jam-packed day at Scotland's brand new literary festival
The sun is (briefly) shining as I set off to enjoy everything I can in one literary-packed day at Paisley Book Festival. This is the third day of the brand new festival and I'm excited to see a few of the events inspired by the powerful theme, Radical Voices and Rebel Stories.
My day starts with an exploration of the venues. Supported as part of Future Paisley and with backing from Renfrewshire Leisure and Renfrewshire Council, the new festival makes excellent use of the town's public spaces. I start in the hub at Paisley Arts Centre and discover plenty of friendly helpers decked out in distinctive gold t-shirts.
Books are available for sale upstairs thanks to a well-stocked and friendly pop-up bookshop from The Edinburgh Bookshop. The festival has its own brand of tote bags, notebooks and pencils to tempt attendees (this editor included) and to encourage them to foster their own Rebel Stories. I could've spent far longer browsing if it wasn't time to take my seat in the centre's main theatre.
Novelist Kirstin Innes is one of the festival's several guest curators and her strand includes my first event of the day, Othering Mothering with Chitra Ramaswamy and Emily Morris, chaired by Innes herself. Ramaswamy reads from her lyrical and powerful memoir Expecting and Morris treats us to a chapter from the angry, funny and exuberant My Shitty Twenties.
Two different portraits are drawn, each subversive by the fact of their subject matter and their refusal to infantilise or weaponise the experience or becoming a mother. The following discussion touches on everything from the impossible standards of motherhood sneaking their way into Instagram culture and the ways true stories of women are silenced and passed over.
The event is billed as baby friendly and swathe of soft cushions and toys at the front of the stage entertain a couple of young children throughout. Innes' curated events – Rebels, Mothers, Others – started on Saturday night with a conversation with the fantastic Janice Galloway and concludes later on Sunday (more on that later).
I then pop on over to Paisley Central Library to find out more about the Make Comics History event that's just finishing. Paul Bristow, author of a new graphic novel exploring the Paisley Radicals of 1820, led an enjoyable hour-and-a-half exploration of the ways to tell stories to audiences of all ages. When I arrive, I find the temporary library abuzz with conversation, crafting and bright gold t-shirts.
Meanwhile, back at Paisley Arts Centre, poet Raman Mundair has stepped in to facilitate a BAME Writing Masterclass following an unexpected cancellation. Author of the poetry collections A Choreographer's Cartography and Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves and editor of Incoming: Some Shetland Voices, she brings a wealth of experience to the workshop.
Next is my last event of the day, Writing Rebel Women, and the last in Innes' curation – a conversation between herself and fellow writers of 'prickly women' Jenni Fagan and Emma Jane Unsworth. The audience is treated to readings from Scabby Queen, Luckenbooth and Adults respectively and the audience is silent and enthralled throughout. The authors then share a little of their experiences as artists who seek to create complex and credible characters – and how that's translated over a variety of mediums, including scriptwriting and the various additional challenges there. Despite the busy theatre, the event feels intimate and it's a treat to hear from some the most highly anticipated books of the last few years.
While I had to scoot off home shortly after, I can happily impart that the festival runs until 29 February and there are lots of excellent events still with tickets available. And with such a strong showing only a few days in to their inaugural festival, it seems hopeful that we'll be circling the dates in our calendar again in 2021 – where rebel voices will be just as essential then as they are now.
Paisley Book Festival, various venues, Paisley, until Sat 29 Feb.