Paisley Book Festival is a relatively young event that is rooted in radical concepts. This year, it takes a slightly different form, as it takes part in Scotland’s Year of Stories and reflects on the histories that reside in Scottish culture. Optimistically, they are planning a hybrid festival, taking place online and across various venues across the town from 17th till 26th February 2022.
Assisting with the programme are guest curators and writers Harry Josephine Giles and Mara Menzies, both with very different lenses on the concept of stories. SNACK caught up with them to find out more about the process and their events.
What can we expect from both of your strands?
HJG: I’ve curated a strand that is about language, and Scotland. And that’s partly drawing on my own work, and Scots, and the Orkney language – the Orkney variant of Scots. I’m also trying to broaden the conversation and the poetics of language beyond national languages, and I’m also considering the role of translation in poetry. And so, it’s a series of three dialogues between poets working in languages, against English, through English, around English in different ways.
MM: Mine was from the perspective of storytelling, because that’s primarily what I do; performance storytelling.
What is it about the festival that encouraged you both to agree to be involved on this basis?
MM: Jess (the programmer) is very persuasive and very passionate, and she’s just this force of nature, you know, she’s this bubble of energy. And it’s natural to want to be part of that. I think when you see what Paisley Book Festival stands for, and the values that it incorporates, it’s really exciting.
So, there was something just really magnetic about being part of that, especially in the early stages as well. Jess was the biggest draw.
HJG: They just came to me with a suggestion that I do something around language and a really open brief on how and what I programme. That’s a gift. It’s just giving somebody a space and a small budget and saying: what do you want to see happen? And this is what I wanted to see happen. I’m excited about these conversations. And I think there’s something about having these conversations that can be valuable for literary culture.
‘Stories Mak Us’ is the theme.
How did you interpret this theme for your events?
MM: Because of my work, and because I work with live audiences mainly…the thing about storytelling is that the audience takes centre stage. The story might change, the words might change, the way you tell the story might change, because you don’t know who is going to be in front of you. So, it’s basically a relationship between people and whoever is telling the story. And it’s always that kind of dynamic.
And so this thing about ‘Stories Mak Us’ – it’s not just that we suddenly come up with stories on our own, you know, we are the people that we have come from, we are the people that we surround ourselves with, we are the places that we exist, we are the societies that we choose to belong to, the groups of people that we choose to make our families, friendship groups.
So all of these things, they’re so intangible. They connect us on so many different levels. And sometimes people forget that. So, I think for me, it was just this whole idea of bringing supposedly different people together and having them explore the importance of these stories and the need to share these stories. And then that way, we’re getting quite a wide perspective of how stories connect us. It’s all about connection and building bridges.
HJG: I’m very interested in the particular words that we use, the grammars, the phrasing, that accents, the choices of language, the choices of code switching.
That the language that we choose, you know, depends on who we’re speaking to – that we all of us use different languages at home, and the shops and office, when we’re on the phone to the government – we choose which languages we speak whether or not we’re, by definition, multilingual.
So, I like getting into the mess of that, and I suppose turning people’s attention towards the complexity of that. And then, occasionally throwing a spanner in the works of language is always fun.
Choosing writers and participants to include within your strands: I mean, it’s a lovely thing to do, but it must be an incredibly difficult process. How did you go about making those choices?
HJG: I find it fairly easy. I just think about who I want to have a chat to, and then I think about writers I know and people whose books are on my shelves. And then they all said yes. And that was very nice. I find that a delightful process.
MM: Oh, mine was the opposite. There are so many people that you admire, you know. Like Josie’s saying, there’s so many amazing people out there. So I had my wish list and put it together. But half of them couldn’t do it. So, it was restructuring everything, and then trying to get new people on board.
There’s just something so lovely about having the freedom to be able to come up with anything. So it was really lovely to have that possibility, and to have those who kind of said yes immediately, amazing.
Which events that aren’t part of your strands are you personally excited by and looking forward to attending yourself, as part of Paisley?
MM: I worked with Raymond Antrobus down in London; I was doing an event with him and he was just brilliant. I’m really looking forward to an event with him that’s on. And I think also just his exploration, because of his work with the deaf community as well, there’s just something really beautiful and physically poetic about that.
So, I think because I’m really interested in not only the language, but the performance of language, as well, I think that he’s going to be somebody really exciting. And his poetry is just amazing.
HJG: That’s one of mine, Mara, that’s one of my events. We started in spoken word at the same time. So I’m really glad that Raymond could come up and do it. Yeah, I’m going to have to see if I can get back to Paisley for Mara’s weekend, because we’re on different weekends. And I really like going to storytelling events, because it’s a discipline I don’t do myself. It’s really nice, like going through an art form that is close to mine.
Paisley Book Festival 2022 runs from 17th to 26th February 2022