Kirsty Gunn: Culture popping up all over our ‘reimagined’ nation

Crime writer Val McDermid is appearing at ReimagiNation Glenrothest ' a pop-up offshoot of the Edinburgh Book Festival. Picture: Alan McCredie
Crime writer Val McDermid is appearing at ReimagiNation Glenrothest ' a pop-up offshoot of the Edinburgh Book Festival. Picture: Alan McCredie
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Pop-up is now de rigueur. Where once it might have meant a kind of children’s book, or Jack-in-the-Box-type toy, now the word indicates a fun activity that’s more for grown-ups. A pop-up is something that appears here or there for a short time only, be it a shop or a bar or a restaurant ... or, most recently, a festival.

Pop-up is now de rigueur. Where once it might have meant a kind of children’s book, or Jack-in-the-Box-type toy, now the word indicates a fun activity that’s more for grown-ups. A pop-up is something that appears here or there for a short time only, be it a shop or a bar or a restaurant ... or, most recently, a festival.

I’ve only learned properly about that aspect of pop-up quite recently, during a conversation I had with my friend, Edinburgh’s PR guru Fiona Duff, who filled me in on the meaning of a pop-up Fringe Festival – a bit like having a part of the main Festival, she said, only in North Berwick.

And now, having heard from the clever bunch at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF), I know all about “ReimagiNation Glenrothes”, too, a kind of mini Charlotte Square in August that is popping up in Fife in May. So pop-up books for tots be gone! Pop-up literary and cultural festivals are where it’s at, and both these gigs look absolutely terrific.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival announced the mini version of itself last week, with details of a jam-packed schedule of readings and literary events for adults and children in one of Scotland’s oldest “new towns” that range from crime writing queen Val McDermid to football commentator Archie MacPherson.

With events as diverse as comic-drawing workshops for children, whisky tasting sessions for their parents, and walking tours as well as readings and discussions, the ReimagiNation Glenrothes promises to extend all of the fun of the best-known book festival in the country across the water to the Kingdom of Fife.

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It is part of ReimagiNation New Town Festivals that are taking part in other locations across Scotland throughout the year. “Having travelled from Cumbernauld to Irvine and East Kilbride, it has been fascinating to see how these distinct communities have played a part in the shaping of a post-industrial Scotland,” says Janet Smyth, programme director of the EIBF. “We’re excited to announce this particular line-up for ReimagiNation Glenrothes developed specifically with the thoughts and wishes of the town’s residents in mind.”

The key to the pop-up thinking here, then, might also be in the spelling. Or rather that use of the capital N for Nation. For culture these days is all about politics, it seems, and imagining every literary event in terms of a particular perspective – what it is about culture that makes it Scottish – is coming to be seen as the norm.

But still, how can one criticise a programme set on sharing the educational and social conviviality, all the sheer jolliness and mind-expanding qualities of the most established book festival in the world by hosting events at other times of year, and in other places? That can only be a great thing.

ReimagiNation itself is part of Booked!, a sort of EIBF roadshow that’s been hosting various literary events around Scotland over the past year, bringing authors and big names to places that may not have otherwise been on the book festival circuit. As one visiting writer, the Brighton-born, East London, Italian-Trinidadian, young-adult book author Patrice Lawrence, puts it, “curiosity and widening horizons” – that’s what it’s all about. These events give access to the kind of thinking that says “if I can do it, you can do it too”, she says, reminding us of the importance of bringing diversity, of gender, race, educational background and

class, to all people, everywhere. That notion of ... enabling, that cultural events of all kinds may be introduced to those who may not have thought culture was their kind of thing. And to be introduced to all kinds of culture, not just the sort that’s deemed by politicians and arts bodies to be relevant or Scottish or whatever the current remit is. Well, that might be something for all of us, in all of our communities, to think about.

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And a cultural programme must be about more than just bringing great writers like Patrice to a part of Britain she may not have otherwise visited. It must be about access, too – in practical, pick-up and drop-off, terms, I mean. It’s no good having a wonderful writer or children’s puppet theatre come to your part of the world if there’s no way you can get out to the library or hall in that part of the world where she’s at. That might be some distance away, or there might not be a bus service that runs at the right time. So we might be creative in our thinking about this kind of infrastructure, too. I’ve written in these pages before about the importance of supporting the various cultural activities that are going on across Scotland all the time right now – and the idea that there might be a way that Booked! could underpin these events, as well as those they themselves generate, that they might support activities self-started by local communities – helping with everything from publicity to, as I’ve suggested before, transport and practical assistance. That would make a mighty difference. The difference between having a creative writing workshop for, say, local children in Brora, to one that also takes in kids from Helmsdale and Portgower and Golspie. And their teachers. And their parents. Putting them all together in the same buzzy-activity-filled space to make art and imagine new futures.

Back to Fiona Duff, then, who was filling me in on the exciting pop-up “Fringe By The Sea” in August when I was around at hers – because there’s an example of local enterprise bringing about, with support, its own result. In this case, £1.9 million in revenue – an entire local economy being refreshed and charged every year through cultural activity and its spin-offs in accommodation, food and drink and tourism. You have things like book events in the local chippy, Fiona told me. And interesting programming that puts Ruth Davidson and Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh and one of our most beautiful and thoughtful writers, on the same bill. Oh, along with The SugarHill Gang from New Jersey, one of the oldest rap bands ever. Now that’s pop-up! Ten days of it, in fact, kicking off on 3 August and bringing in 12,000 visitors to a seaside location compete with marquees and donkey rides. What’s not to like? I am going down there to read from my new novel that has a bikini in the title and, given the location, am seriously considering building some kind of swimwear element into the proceedings. Fringe by the Sea ... indeed.