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Mallaig Book Festival
10 - 12 November 2023
A Write Highland Hoolie 2022
This year’s Write Highland Hoolie began in Mallaig High School when world-class traditional musicians Ross Ainslie and Tim Edey held a workshop for senior music pupils. This followed the success of the workshop held by Duncan Chisholm and Hamish Napier for the inauguration of the Hoolie School of Music Sessions in 2021.
On Friday morning, Jackie Kay – former Makar, was piped into the school by one of the pupils and held her audience spellbound. Coffee, cakes, and music from the High School Ceilidh Band followed her fantastic event. International exotics zoo vet, Romain Pizzi, was next to bring intrigue to the audience. There were numerous questions relating to everything from tigers to tarantulas, elephants, sharks and even rare snails and whales. One pupil tested Romain's knowledge with her questions relating to snakes.
There were writing and poetry workshops on Friday and Monday, and events for primary school pupils with Chae Strathie and Angela Proctor.
The main Hoolie began when Festival director Polly Pullar gave a moving tribute to the late Lawrence MacEwen of the Island of Muck before there was an electrifying and unique performance, 'A Creative Celebration', with Jackie Kay and the indomitable musical duo Ross Ainslie and Tim Edey. It was the first time the three had performed together in a glorious marriage of music and poetry. Everyone agreed that it was a brilliant event from three performers at the top of their game.
Saturday's programme was packed with a wonderfully eclectic mix of events.
As anticipated, the pre-dinner event was extraordinary. In a fast-paced, slick show, Graeme Hawley, Head of General Collections at the National Library of Scotland, considered fresh ways to perceive the National Library's 30 million things. Graeme took the audience from the Earth's centre to Outer Space in irreverent, thought-provoking nonsense, unveiling the mysterious world of vast library collections.
But there was more to come, as 91-year-old Tearlach MacFarlane took to the stage to give a word-perfect rendition of the ‘S.S Politician’ to celebrate Scotland's Year of Stories. After dinner, his son, Ian MacFarlane, and wife, Ingrid Henderson – two more outstanding traditional musicians, played in the bar and generously let Hoolie goers perform their party pieces.
On Sunday, John Goodlad from Shetland talked to Sandy Richardson about his book – 'The Salt Roads – How Fish Made a Culture.' It was a fascinating session revealing the influence of the North Atlantic fishing industry and Shetland's most enduring export.
To mark Remembrance Day, Sandy Richardson read a poignant poem by Stuart A. Paterson and there was a one-minute silence and a lament on the pipes played perfectly by Mallaig piper Alan MacKenzie. Oscar, a well-mannered dalmatian, added a tuneful canine lament, adding to the occasion.
Hannah Jackson – The red shepherdess, who is making her mark in the male-dominated world of hill sheep farming, made her mark too on her audience. As an ambassador for the farming community and an occasional presenter on the BBC's Countryfile, she spoke passionately about her rise from an entirely urban background to working as a contract shepherdess in the wildest parts of Cumbria.
Sunday afternoon was the time for prizes. Poet Hugh MacMillan presented the inaugural winner of the Deirdre Roberts Poetry Competition, Rafael Torrubia, with a beautifully engraved quaich, plus £250 cash and a £250 book token for the Highland Bookshop. The prize was generously sponsored by Don and Mary (Manson) Michie and The Highland Bookshop of Fortwilliam. Rafael read his profoundly moving poem, 'Lamb,' and told us how much it meant to him to be the first winner of this prestigious prize. Hugh MacMillan from Dumfriesshire then gave a recitation of his superb poems.
Finally, locals and small children poured in for the prize-giving tea party with entertainment from the adored children’s author Alan Windram. There was Gaelic singing from primary pupils and dancing on stage as Alan and the Bookshop Girls – aka Sarah-Louise and Kelsey of Highland Bookshop, went through a join-in routine to delight young and old alike.