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What are you reading on your tablet?

In recent years I have enjoyed the events I have attended at Glasgow’s Aye Write! Festival and I look forward to my annual jaunt to the Mitchell Library in the spring.  The opening of the Airdrie – Bathgate line has made the festival readily accessible from Edinburgh by rail, and offers the opportunity for a snack and glass of wine with friends at the Baby Grand at Charing Cross.  So it was with some enthusiasm that I fell upon the Aye Write! 2014 programme which came with The Herald.  I have to own to some disappointment.  Perhaps that is because it is still a book festival and the focus on books rather than writing contributes to it feeling rather behind the pace.

And in this year of decision, there is not much to set the pulse racing.  There is the familiar list of esteemed veterans and crowd pleasers.  Alasdair Gray, Tam Dalyell, Liz Lochhead, William McIlvanney, Tom Devine, Louise Welsh and Alistair Moffat can be relied upon to fill a hall and put on a good turn.  BBC divas are also out in force, with Kirsty Wark and Sally Magnusson both having product to shift; and the organisers cannot be oblivious to the parodic association with Australia’s First Lady conjured up by the title, “An Audience With James Naughtie”.

Again, it’s the usual suspects when it comes to the political content of the festival.  Lesley Riddoch and Gerry Hassan, Iain Macwhirter and Jim Sillars are on the bill, and all will have wise and pertinent things to say about the great debate we are having.  And Douglas Alexander has deftly placed himself beyond satire by choosing the title “Influencing Tomorrow” for his book of essays on UK foreign policy.  But with the exclusive focus on books, what is conspicuously and sadly missing from the programme is any hint of the explosion of web-based writing on Scotland’s future which the referendum campaign has stimulated.  Thus you will look in vain for a session on the excellent new media writing being pioneered by Wings Over Scotland, Bella Caledonia, National Collective, or even The Scottish Review.  And wouldn’t it have been great to have had a session with Robin McAlpine on The Common Weal, or one with Derek Bateman on the art of political blogging?

Similarly, on the literary front there is too much reliance on the tried and familiar.  Margaret Drabble and Bernard MacLaverty are there inevitably, and it is no surprise to find Alan Taylor and Rosemary Goring on the programme given their plucky efforts to turn Scottish literature into a family business.  However, it is disappointing that none of the new authors with books included in The Association of Scottish Literary Studies’ Best Scottish Books of 2013 list appears to have made it into the programme.

I’ll be at The Mitchell in April and I’ll enjoy myself, but I’ll also heave a little sigh that the opportunity to make this an excitingly special and up-to-the-minute festival has been missed.  Perhaps thought should be given to dropping the word “book” from the festival title in 2015, so that the focus can be, as it should be, on good contemporary writing.

Aye Write! – Glasgow’s Book Festival runs at The Mitchell Library, Glasgow, from 4 – 12 April 2014.

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