A range of events took place on Days Two and Three of the Skye Book Festival 2016 – sadly, we were unable to cover the first day as no staff member was available. Here, Skye-based photographer and writer, Roz Skinner, reports on some of the key sessions on Friday September 2 and Saturday September 3.
The first book in Peter May's best-selling Lewis Trilogy, The Black House, almost went unpublished.
Speaking to a large audience in the Aros Centre, Peter said: "My agent sent it to various publishing houses in London, and every single one of them rejected 'The Black House.' I was devastated, as I was sure it was the best thing I had written at the time. However, I virtually forgot all about it until a chance conversation with my French publisher. She said she'd love to read it and six weeks later she called and said she loved it! I was so delighted that someone finally liked the book. It was translated into French and became a huge success. My publisher sold it all round Europe and, finally, the Brits bought it!"
After finishing the last book in the Lewis Trilogy, Peter revealed he had received many requests to return to the Isle of Lewis in future books. He even had a vision for the opening of a book set on Luskentyre Beach. A man would be washed up on the pure sands, with no idea of who he was or how he got there. But, Peter remarked, that vision was not a story in itself. It needed something more.
That something more came when he heard about the disappearance of the bee population from a professor of genetics in Canada. "In the last year, the bee population fell in the U.S. by 50%," Peter said. "Certain pesticides destroy the bees brain cells and ruin their memory. Discovering this triggered me to remember my image of the man washed up on the beach - a metaphor for the memory loss of the bees."
The result was Coffin Road, Peter's latest book, which he signed for his many fans on the night.
Peter revealed that he has signed a contract with a publisher for three books, which he said will "almost certainly" be set in the Western Isles. This was met with a murmur of approval from the crowd in attendance. Peter went on to say that it was possible the books could form another trilogy and he had a "vague notion" of what it might be about. "I'm off for a 3 week holiday in the Outer Hebrides, and part of that will be to do a little research and see if my vague thoughts can coagulate into something solid," he smiled.
On Wednesday September 14, Peter will be attending an event at the Isle of Harris Distillery. "They heard I was going to be coming there on holiday and asked if I could do an event," he explained. "When they said the word 'distillery', I immediately said yes!" The evening will feature a talk from Peter and readings from Coffin Road.
Visitors to the last day of the 2016 Skye Book Festival were able to enjoy a double dose of foraging tips from Uist-based forager and BBC Masterchef finalist, Fiona Bird.
After accompanying Fiona outside for a workshop on foraging and discovering outdoor edibles, festival-goers were able to listen to Fiona discuss various wild ingredients and how she used them. Her talk was complemented by a slideshow of the many uses she had for her finds.
Also present at the talk was the delicious scent of wild rose petals and multiple wild herbs, all foraged by Fiona. In front of her stood a table, laden with outdoor goodies, which she invited the audience to sample.
Fiona taught the audience amazing uses for seaweed, bog myrtle, honeysuckle, elderflower, wild garlic and hawthorn leaves - to name just a few!
Fiona's foraging has prompted her to write several books on the subject, including "Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside" and "The Forager's Kitchen." Her fascination for foraging has also introduced her to a cast of fascinating people, including Barra's Canon Angus MacQueen.
Fiona said: "He told me about his life on the machair. Early in the morning, he was sent to feed the cattle. He was given a piece, which he was supposed to eat at lunchtime. However, he had usually eaten the piece before he had even got to the machair, let alone to lunchtime! That is when he started foraging, eating the clover and seaweed."
The second day of the Skye Book Festival saw the launch of Skye author, Morag Henriksen's, second book. Entitled Tapestry Of Scenes, the book is a collection of Morag's poetry, punctuated with her illustrations and stories from her travels. Cailean Maclean acted as chairman and interviewed Morag about Tapestry of Scenes. He noted that, while it contains Scottish stories and starts with a tale from Morag's childhood in Lochcarron, it also includes poetry and tales from her adventures in places such as Iceland and Australia! During the talk, a slideshow of Morag's own artwork was displayed, depicting countryside scenes and portraits. The audience were treated to Morag reading several stories from Tapestry Of Scenes, as well as various poems. One of her poems, entitled "Feverish Fancies", dealt with delirium caused by influenza. Read in Morag's enchanting tones, the poem came to life and encapsulated an imagination run wild. Morag also recited another of her poems, this one in homage to Sorley Maclean and accompanied by an illustration from her son. After inviting the questions, the audience requested that Morag sing. She performed a song set in Australia, where she had travelled up the Murray River in a houseboat. Immediately after the discussion, Morag appeared in the foyer to sign copies of the book. Morag sums up her book, Tapestry Of Scenes, saying: "It's got silliness and solemnness, life and death... I have taken stories I have written over the years and put them into two books I can be proud of."
The audience at the Skye Book Festival may have been surprised to learn that least three of Joanne Harris' books were written to annoy people. The author herself admitted this when she appeared at the Aros Centre (on Friday September 2), saying: "My two early novels were called The Evil Seed and Sleep, Pale Sister. One was a vampire novel - written to annoy my mother. She wouldn't let me read any horror, science-fiction or fantasy, as she considered them a waste of time." In spite of having two novels published, Joanne had difficulty getting accepted anywhere else. "My agent thought I should have one last try, so he sent one of my books to an expert," Joanne explained. "He replied with a letter around 40 pages long about all the things I was doing wrong. It was quite good, as I was making a sculpture out of all my rejection letters and his helped to finish the head of my sculpture nicely!" Part of the advice Joanne was given was to set books in cities, add younger characters and avoid the topic of food. The result was Chocolat, a book deliberately set in a small community, with a variety of age groups and centred around chocolate. The book was later turned into a successful film, starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche. At the Skye Book Festival, Joanne presented her latest book, entitled Different Class. This is the third book in a series set in a boys school in the fictional English town of Malbry. Although Different Class is set after her books Blueeyedboy and Gentleman And Players, all three can be read as stand-alone novels. Different Class sees the school on the brink of a number of changes, which deeply concerns the protagonist, Roy Straitley. "He is constantly on the brink of disgrace or retirement or both," Joanne explained. "He doesn't like change or technology and in Different Class he has to deal with a new head and a new deputy, bringing in PowerPoint and email. This is coupled with the fact that the new head is a boy he used to teach in his own form and one that he disliked enormously." Joanne also revealed that it was likely she would return to the school in future works, saying she wanted to revisit various characters. After inviting the audience to ask questions, Joanne signed books in the foyer of the Aros Centre. No matter what the inspiration behind her book, each novel is a reflection of Joanne's personality - fascinating, indomitable and humorous.