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Linlithgow Book Festival

16/09/2006
The inaugural Linlithgow Book Festival took place today. I managed to get along to three of the events: the opening talk, the poetry workshop and the closing reading.
In the first event, Lithgae resident John Fowler talked on the subject of his book Mr Hill’s Big Picture, namely, David Octavius Hill and his huge painting of the the Disruption of 1843. The Disruption, a significant event in Scottish history, occurred when the evangelical party in the Church of Scotland walked out of the Kirk’s annual general assembly and formed the Free Church of Scotland. Hill, a Free Kirk supporter, determined to paint the event. It was suggested to him that he could speed up his work by using photography–then a new process–to capture likenesses of the people involved instead of sketching them. This led to his collaboration with Robert Adamson and to their pioneering photographic work, which includes famous portraits of Newhaven fisherfolk, as well as landscapes, architectural pictures and city views, including photographs of Linlithgow.
I first heard of Hill’s Disruption painting and his partnership with Adamson in “Camera Obscura”, the long poem that closes Robin Robertson‘s first collection, A Painted Field. To hear more about them and see slides of the painting was an enlightening and absorbing experience. Fowler, in engaging style, drew us into details of the painting and the stories surrounding those depicted in it. It’s not the greatest piece of potraiture, but it is fascinating. And, as the first painting to use photography–and possibly (though this theory is untested and unproven) elements of collage–in its composition, it has an interesting and significant place in art history. The book should be worth reading.
I didn’t go to the session on the history of the UDA, but I kind of wished I had, as it was referred to several times in Bashabi Fraser’s poetry workshop. She seemed to assume that everybody had been at that event, which was a bit of a fault, but the workshop was relaxed and productive. I got a draft of a decent poem out of it, and other participants produced promising stuff. The session was held in a wonderful Georgian room in Cross House, the halls of St Michael’s Parish Church. The carpet and curtains were criminal, but the plasterwork on the ceiling was really quite fine.
Unfortunately, the workshop ran simultaneously to a talk by Allan Massie on history and historical fiction, which I’m told was very good. Apparently, he was discussing the impossibility of getting at the truth about history and the falsification of history by historical fiction. I also missed the ballad singing that followed in the bar, but I got to the final event of the day: a reading by Iain Banks (to be confused with Iain M Banks, who is the same writer wearing a sci-fi hat). He read from his next mainstream literary novel, The Steep Approach to Garbadale, which will be published in March. I’d never heard him read before and am not, I must confess, deeply familiar with his work. He’s a very lively reader and speaker, gesticulating with abandon and rollocking about his seat, and talks at such a rate and ramble when answering questions that it’s sometimes hard to follow what he’s saying. However, it all made for a hugely entertaining event.
The organisers must deem the first Linlithgow Book Festival a success. Despite less than aggressive publicity, the audiences were of a respectible size. And that so close to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I suspect that, with better advertising in and furth of the burgh, audience figures at subsequent festivals could grow significantly. May Linlithgow Book Festival go from strength to strength!
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