Festival review: Aye Write, Glasgow

With Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish, Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention, not to mention Jenni Fagan, Andrew Marr and Niall Ferguson, the first weekend of this year’s online Aye Write festival featured a hugely impressive line-up, writes David Robinson

Sam Heughan PIC: John Devlin

I miss Aye Write. The old version, I mean. Crowds in the Mitchell, lights down in the main theatre. The hushed chatter. The anticipation. The sudden rush of applause. Stories that slowly bind communal spells. Audience questions that make you wonder or groan. Afterwards, heading off for a coffee with friends or a pint to mull over what you’d just heard.

We had just one day of that old Aye Write last March before Covid brought the curtain down. Since then, all book festivals have been virtual and most have been free.

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This year’s Aye Write costs £5 per event or £50 to see all 60 events staged last weekend and next (each one has a three-week deadline). How many people are taking advantage of that offer is something the organisers are, for the moment, keeping to themselves. Given that hardly anyone is asking online questions, I do wonder.

Jenni Fagan PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic

Highlight of the first weekend? Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish would easily win the popular vote, and you don’t need to have watched the series on Amazon to realise that no two men are as important to Scottish tourism right now.

Their eight-part spin-off travelogue Men in Kilts (“the greatest road journey ever attempted ... without pants”) is already out on Starz and the book of the series topped New York Times hardcover non-fiction list.

Certainly the two seem to be cheerfully bantering mates in real life, and the questions put to them by Janice Forsyth via Twitter in last night’s pre-recorded session came from most of the world’s continents.

If it took an Arizonan writer of Mexican-English heritage to get the Outlander ball rolling, it took an Englishwoman whom most people wrongly assumed was a Scottish man to get Andrew Marr reading.

Marr’s love of DK (Dorothy Kathleen) Broster’s 1925 novel The Flight of the Heron (the first in a trilogy and, yes, Jacobites again) hooked him on books, but so did the fact that his parents made him choose 12 of them from a bookshop in Dundee before they went on their annual Highland holiday.

What else? Richard Thompson’s wonderful session with James Yorkston had me hitting YouTube for a wistful hour of Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny (imagine hearing her sing Who Knows Where the Time Goes? for the first time, one on one: actually, Thompson said, at first she sang it too quickly), while Pete Paphides talked lovingly about the uncool 1970s stars of his personal pop pantheon.

On Saturday, both Jenni Fagan and Irenosen Okojie made a powerful case for turning the imaginative fiction dial to the max, with Fagan’s reading from the opening of Luckenbooth had all the requisite devilry (seriously, check it out).

Finally, local boy Niall Ferguson’s tour d’horizon of pandemics and other assorted disasters past and present reminded you of one thing: things could be a lot worse. Even in Level 3 Glasgow.

Until May 23. Tickets from www.glasgowlifetv.com

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