By Catherine Ogston


While searching on the internet for the collective noun for booklovers this was offered up:  a bookmark of readers.  How very apt as this weekend Blairgowrie was the destination for visitors who enjoyed the book festival BOOKMARK 2017.  A packed programme from Friday 6th  to Sunday 8th  October saw readers and writers celebrate a love of literature in Blairgowrie, Rattray and The Glens.

The festival, held mainly at the Blairgowrie Community Campus, is now in its fifth season.  The weekend was opened on Friday evening by Christopher Brookmyre, the multi-award winning novelist.  He took to the beautifully decorated stage to entertain the audience with his characteristic humour and read extracts from his latest crime novel ‘Want You Gone’.  This was followed by a talk from doctor-turned-novelist Rachel Crowther who shared excerpts from her novel ‘The Things You Do For Love’. She was interviewed by the journalist and broadcaster Fiona Armstrong who is the patron of BOOKMARK.

A chance to draw breath, or perhaps read a chapter of your new book purchased from the festival shop run by Waterstones Perth, and it was back to book business. Saturday’s first speaker was Martin Bell OBE who has not only served as a war reporter and as an independent MP but has eight books under the belt of his white suit. His book ‘War and The Death of News’ explores both personal accounts of war and the state of news reporting today, the impact of social media and ‘fake news’.  Tartan Noir novelist and co-founder of the crime writing festival Bloody Scotland Lin Anderson was up next to talk about her new book ‘Follow The Dead’.  This recently released novel, the twelfth featuring forensic expert Dr Rhona Macleod, has the Cairngorms as one of its settings.

A break for lunch – with food and drink available from vendors Artisana and Seriously Good Vension – and the programme resumed with, fittingly, Ron Butlin sharing his thoughts about writing and extracts from his new novel ‘Billionaires’ Banquet’.  Interviewer Lin Anderson was keen to draw out from Ron his experiences of being an art school model but also to explore the themes of this novel set in Edinburgh in 1985.  Ron shared his enjoyment about also writing for children and taking part in literary events for school pupils.  It would have been hard not to have been moved by his recollection of a small boy who, after hearing Ron read aloud, proclaimed ‘I love you!’. Ron is also passionate about Scotland’s oral tradition and reminded us that ‘the ear is a better critic than the eye.’

The next guest possessed a confidence that belies her twenty-one years.  Flora Shedden, interviewed by food writer Cate Devine, was a contestant on the Great British Bake Off in 2015 and is now the proud author of a cookery book called ‘Gatherings’. She talked enthusiastically about the multitude of recipes she wanted to include in the book and explained some of the process involved in inventing these (scribbling on the back of envelopes seemed to feature a lot) and how the team in London test the recipe and set it up to be photographed according to Flora’s notes and preferences. Flora took questions from the audience about Scots food culture and Brexit, her radio work for Radio Scotland and her column for the Sunday Telegraph. Her next venture is opening a bakery in Dunkeld, along with two other food lovers, where I am sure more recipes will be created, and scribbled on envelopes, for a sequel.

The last speaker of the day, before the fundraising dinner held at the Red House Hotel, was Alan Johnson.  Alan held the attention of a packed room as he talked about his memoirs about growing up in poverty to becoming a member of the government. The third in his series of memoirs ‘The Long and Winding Road’ tells of his trade union work, his propulsion to life as an MP in 1997 and the work he undertook to help the injustices facing the fishermen of Hull. He spoke compellingly of his family history – especially the two strong women in his early life, his mother and his sister – his politics and his love of writing.  Alan also enjoys appearing on television as a regular contributor to This Week with Andrew Neil, and hinted to the audience that he is leaving it open on an invitation to appear on Strictly Come Dancing … you heard it here first.

The weekend rounded off on Sunday with a performance by the Blairgowrie Players of a play by a local playwright.  Robert Mercer Nairne, from Meikleour, has written a play which explores the controversial history surrounding the fate of a silver arrow presented to the people of Rattray in an archery contest. This theatrical production of ‘The Arrow’, held at Blairgowrie Town Hall, included an afternoon tea.

BOOKMARK 2017 was supported by local businesses and organisations, and the event on the ground was supported by a team of volunteers, easily spotted in the vibrant red signature colour of the festival. Dates for next year have already been released (5th to 7th October) so make sure you follow the festival on their website or their twitter handle @bookmarkblair

Everyone, bookworm or not, welcome!



About the Author

Catherine Ogston writes short stories, articles, young adult fiction and is one of this year’s contributors to New Writing Scotland 35.

Discover Perth City Centre this Winter

One of Scotland’s favourite Winter destinations, Perth City Centre is a popular choice for shopping, eating out and being entertained! Perth Winter Festival calendar of events runs from Hallowe’en in October to Chinese New Year in February and brings with it a seasonal extravaganza of markets, shows, family fun and cultural events.

Join us as we switch on the lights of Scotland’s newest city and celebrate with live music, a chocolate festival and a cultural event for the entire community – Perth Winter Festival has something for everyone!