Bookworm: UIlapool Book Festival

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Next year’s UIlapool Book Festival will be the tenth, and so clearly all the stops will have to be pulled out to make it the best one yet. All of which must be a bit of a headache for the organisers, given that the ninth, which ended on Sunday, was such a resounding success.

As this column is perpetually broke, it is unable to offer cash prizes or engraved silverware to participants. All the same, some awards clearly need to be made.

Writer causing sharpest audience intake of breath award: Jenni Fagan, revealing that, after the birth of son Hamish, she had burnt all of the diaries in which she recorded her childhood and teenage years in care.

First runner-up: James Robertson, on disclosing that that the US edition of his Lockerbie-inspired novel The Professor of Truth, is to be published on 11 September.

Second runner-up: Newfoundland superstar novelist Wayne Johnston, reading that bit in The Colony of Unrequited Dreams in which a character mentions Scotland’s culture as having peaked with the invention of the bagpipes.

Best joke involving a banana: Margaret Bennett. It also involves two GIs in the Second World War, two Skye girls, and a tunnel. Oddly, it’s so clean that you could tell it to your grannie.

Most thought-provoking opening to a talk: Palestinian author Raja Shehadeh, reading from Occupation Diaries. In it, he describes turning up to Nablus station to catch a train to Jerusalem. All the passengers are kept in the waiting room until the train arrives. He looks around, at the posters advertising more distant journeys – to Cairo, perhaps, or Jaffa, or even Damascus. Over the Tannoy, an announcer tells the passengers that the train is only seven minutes from arriving. When there are three minutes to go, the passengers are let out of the waiting room to go onto the platform. Where they see an image of a train approaching, but not a real one, because this is an art installation in the old Nablus station, now used as a factory, and the lines are long gone, like the country they used to run across.

Most thought-provoking ending to a talk: back to Wayne Johnson. That bit in Colony of Unrequited Dreams set on the night of the independence referendum of 1948. A train driver celebrates the result (a defeat) by blowing his whistle as he passes the heroine’s railway shack in the night. “What did he imagine we had won?” she wonders. “What, had he ‘lost’, would he have imagined he had lost?” The whole book is about those two sentences, just like the next 490 days in Scotland.