What’s on at the Paisley Book Festival?
One of the most frequently overlooked periods in Scottish history is the 1820 Radical War. It was an uprising that started among workers across the west of Scotland, but much of its most notable spark was in Paisley. In September 1819, a march in solidarity with victims of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester led to a week of riots and cavalry charges up Paisley’s High St. This prompted Prime Minister Disraeli to say “Keep your eye on Paisley” for fear of a French style revolution. The government deployed troops across trouble spots and even built a permanent barracks in Paisley, completing these in 1822.
This period and the subsequent Sma’ Shot dispute are particularly prominent in the local consciousness of Paisley and its surrounding areas. The inaugural Paisley Book Festival aims to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the radicals by binding local history to contemporary literature and culture with 10 days of events embracing the theme of Radical Voices and Rebel Stories.
The Janet Coats Memorial Prize is up for grabs, for old and young writers alike whose poetry addresses the current climate crisis. There’s a prize for adults and, separately, for under 18s.
Taking place across many venues and cafes across the town, a mixture of free and ticketed events will cater for every age group. Pop up poetry shops will be hosted in Bianco Y Nero and Fairfull cafes to encourage creative writing in those who perhaps have always wanted to flex their verse but have never had the confidence or the platform to do so.
Highlights include an exclusive reading from Maggie Craig on the opening night in Paisley Arts Centre, a Poets in the Library event showcasing Scotland’s foremost radical writers, the Kenyan/Scottish award winning storyteller Mara Menzies telling tales of those who’ve stood their ground in the face of adversity, Kirsty Wark lecturing on Inspiring Women at UWS, sound installations and a big birthday bash for local playwright/artist John Byrne.
At a pop-up space in the Piazza, Luke Winter will be writing custom stories while you wait, for anyone willing to give him a subject matter or title. Nikesh Shukla will be hosting a BAME Writing Masterclass as well as other speaking events. Dean Etta and Eris Young will be discussing their work and writing about queer identities at the Arts Centre on Wednesday 26th in one of the most highly anticipated events of the festival.
Glasgow Women’s Library and ROAR will be presenting a drop in story café focusing on Radical Women – from Jane Arthur and the thread mill workers to the ongoing campaign for equality in publishing.
Other notable names appearing include Kirstin Innes, Sheila Templeton, Ever Dundas, Janice Galloway, Jenny Lindsay, Chitra Ramaswamy, Jenni Fagan, Emma Jane Unsworth and Alex Gray. Also appearing will be Jackie Kay (the current Scots Makar) and Tannahill Makar Brian Whittingham.
Alan Bisset is presenting a couple of events including an evening in Callum’s Cavern with the surreally hilarious and insightful Chris McQueer. Renfrewshire’s only independent publishers, Jenny’s Well Press will be presenting various Scottish writers tying back to the theme of rebellion and the curtain will be drawn on the entire event by the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers (Val McDermid, Christopher Brookmyre et al) with both spoken word and musical performances.
The slogan of the radicals two centuries ago was “Scotland Free or a Desert”. The inaugural Paisley Book Festival hopes to bring back the sense of freedom, rebellion and radicalism to one of the country’s most culturally overlooked conurbations.
From 20th till 29th February.