COMEDIAN and broadcaster-turned-chef Hardeep Singh Kohli is set to headline this year’s Nairn Book and Arts Festival with other guests including STV’s political editor Bernard Ponsonby and crime writer Louise Welsh among almost 100 events planned.
In April it looked possible that this year’s festival wouldn’t happen when it was left with a £15,000 funding gap after discovering the national arts development agency Creative Scotland was not supporting the festival this year.
But a crowdfunding campaign supported by arts lovers and business saw the community rally round and in just four weeks the money was raised to ensure the event could go ahead as planned with a range of top guests now revealed in the programme.
Chairman of the festival David Godden says: "We are very aware that this year the festival almost didn’t happen, due to funding cuts.
"It was only saved by the generosity of local people and businesses in the region.
"I’m very hopeful that when people see the variety and quality of events that make up this year’s programme, they will feel their donation was money well spent!"
The festival (September 12 to 17) – now in its 14th year – has previously played host to top names such as the late Iain Banks, James Kelman, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and previous Scots Makar and national poet for Scotland Liz Lochhead. Crime bestsellers Chris Brookmyre and Denise Mina have also been past guests, as have broadcasters Kirsty Wark and James Naughtie and former politician Ann Widdecombe.
This year the opening night will see Hardeep Singh Kohli cook curry for guests as an entrée to the festival which has also lined up successful novelists including North writers SG Maclean and Cynthia Rogerson plus Simon Mawer – whose Tightrope won the 2026 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction - and J David Simons whose most recent novel A Woman of Integrity is the story of actress Laura asked to play a feisty silent screen star.
Other guests include STV’s political editor Bernard Ponsonby, prize-winning poet Jo Shapcott, acclaimed young Scots singer Siobhan Miller, musician and author Malachy Tallack, rising star pianist Christina Lawrie, critically fêted playwright and novelist Alan Bissett and award-winning Edinburgh band The Blueswater.
The popular Wine and Crime afternoon will feature Nicola Upson, whose admiration for Highland crime writer Josephine Tey led her to write a crime fiction series with Tey as the heroine detective.
Nicola is joined by fellow crime writers Louise Welsh and Lesley Kelly and the crime theme continues with a talk on miscarriages of justice by Hannah Quirk, senior lecturer in Criminal law at Manchester University.
Malachy Tallack will talk about his book The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes – featuring islands once presumed to be real but no longer on the map.
And writer James Miller tells of the horrors of travel in the Highlands and Islands through time based on his recent book on transport in the Highlands.
Three acclaimed poets – Jo Shapcott, Wayne Price and Owen Lowery are set to appear at Nairn’s Little Theatre in an afternoon of poetry, to be followed later by Alan Bissett, winner of the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Writer of the Year in 2011.
Alan brings his feisty Falkirk heroine to Nairn, in his "one-woman" show, the Moira Monologues.
Highlights of the music programme at the festival include award-winning Edinburgh band The Blueswater, celebrating 100 years of the blues.
The festival’s popular trad night features young traditional singer Siobhan Miller, supported by writer Malachy Tallack, also an accomplished musician.
Pianist Christina Lawrie, hailed as a rising star by International Piano, will perform at an event celebrating the life of late local arts patron Gordon Macintyre, co-founder of Nairn Pottery and founder of the Nairn Performing Arts Guild.
The Musick Fyne Soloists are joined by the period instruments of Coronach, including recorders, lute, harp, spinet, viol and chalumeau, to evoke all the elegance and beauty of Renaissance Scotland and France in a memorable performance of the finest 16th-century chansons and partsongs.
The festival’s programme cover was designed by artist Fiona Rodger, well known in the area for her beautiful mosaic at Nairn’s Little Theatre;.
Her cover design celebrates a local inventor’s attempt to fly and the original artwork will be on display at the Court House during the festival, together with a display of painting and photography by five selected Highland artists.
Up-and-coming glass sculptor Shaun Fraser will also show work at KEEK at the Seamen’s Victoria Hall, as part of the fourth New Highland Contemporary exhibition.
Photography is a strong thread this year, with Inverness-based Charlie Phillips, Scottish Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2012, talking about his work, which will be on display at Nairn’s Community and Arts Centre, alongside Harris-based artist Beka Globe’s stunning black and white landscape photography.
Nairn: One Day – Many Lives – a display of selected photographs taken by local residents on a single day (June 30) in Nairn – will be curated by Nairn Camera Club.
Design director at Glasgow School of Art’s new creative campus, Don McIntyre, will talk about his work and give a tour of the campus which is housed in newly-refurbished Italianate buildings on Altyre Estate.
Dr Natasha Ferguson, treasure trove unit officer, will talk about Scottish Treasure Trove discoveries. And hobbyist metal detecting enthusiasts – of which there are many locally – are invited to bring along their own ‘finds’.
Ian Riches of the National Trust for Scotland gives an introduction to estate records and archives, while his NTS colleague Jennifer Melville, head of curatorial and conservation services, investigates the links between the Brodie and Gordon families, via a portrait of a beloved dog by Sir Edwin Landseer.
And unsung Scottish Victorian poets are put under the spotlight by Strathclyde University’s Professor Kirstie Blair.
David Godden, chairman of the Nairn Book and Arts Festival, commented: "We’ve got an astonishing range of talent coming to Nairn this year. We’re proud to present some of the country’s best authors – and local and new writers also get a platform.
"Performance in many guises features strongly, with superb musicians, award-winning playwrights, family theatre and some very well-regarded poets taking the stage.
"Professional artists from across the Highlands will have work on display in exhibitions around Nairn, as will artwork by Fine Art students and youngsters from local schools.
"Kids’ Day is a packed day of free outdoor events for young people of all ages – and we’re also bringing some excellent authors into the area’s schools."
The festival’s ever popular Kids’ Day is on Saturday, September 16 with free activities for young people including street art, mosaic and mandala making, felting, pottery, photography tips from Nairn Camera Club and singing and storytelling with national storyteller Lilian Ross. Also for families, One Man Shoe is a fun theatre performance by Jango Starr – a workshop precedes the show, where children can learn magic tricks and clowning skills.
Gaelic language events, supported by the Gaelic Books Council, include award winning writer and broadcaster Seonag Monk reading for her acclaimed first novel, Mil San Ti (Honey in the Tea) and Margaret MacLeod, Catriona Murray and Ishbel Murray discuss the relationship between Margaret, an acclaimed singer and leading member of trailblazing Gaelic group Na h-Òganaich and The Melbost Bard Murdo MacFarlane, in readings, and song. Both talks will feature a simultaneous translation into English.
Local author events feature Dion Alexander giving an evocative acount of island life on Colonsay, Kathy Fraser on life on a Highland estate, BRM Stewart discusses cybercrime and Sam Derbyshire reads from her recent work.
Writers can also take part in a Meet the Publisher event with Thunderpoint Publishing – and also a creative writing workshop with J David Simons.
Members of local writing group The Pen and I will read from their work.
And the hunt is on for new writing talent with a poetry competition supported by Dollar Academy, with Challenge as a theme with the competition open to all.
Other festival highlights include:
A Taste of the Festival – is a free food fair showcasing local artisan fare, with live music and cookery demos, takes place on Saturday, September 2.
Beside the Bothy Fire – John Burns, mountaineer and actor, and Bob Pegg, storyteller and musician, lead the audience in a riot of songs, stories, poems and laughter about the hills, the people who walk them and the creatures that inhabit them.
William Mather – the festival’s resident portrait artist will rove the streets of Nairn in search of subjects throughout the festival.
Off the Peg – an exhibition of works on paper, returns to Nairn’s shop windows.
After Hours Art – a late opening evening for exhibitions at selected venues on Thursday, September 14.
Nairn Community Centre – will host exhibitions of work by Nairn Academy students and Magnificent Me, Flying childrens’ art competition winners.
Art in Healthcare Exhibition and Talk – the chief executive of the Art in Healthcare charity Margaret O’Conno gives the talk and the exhibition includes artwork from emerging and established Scottish artists.
Artist Leo de Feu talk – the artist will talk about his work portraying Scotland by Rail.
Art workshops will also take place throughout the festival with artist Morag Smith, writer Mairi Sutherland, and ceramic artist Sula Grigg.
And more events include:
Two apple tours will be held – one in Gaelic, one in English – by Nairn’s Orchard group.
Buster Keaton returns by popular demand in silent film The Three Ages at Nairn’s Little Theatre.
Local schools will benefit from talks from authors Cynthia Rogerson, Barbara Henderson and storyteller and singer Linda Macleod.
The Festival Finale rounds off the festival with a night of rock and pop songs sung by a choir formed especially for the festival, led by Rock Therapy and accompanied by Rock Therapy’s band.
For further information on the festival programme, to book tickets and to enter competitions, visit www.nairnfestival.co.uk
To book tickets by telephone contact: 01667 453476 / 01667 455528.
Nairn Book and Arts Festival is on Facebook and Twitter @Nairn_Festival.
The festival has received essential support from Highland Council through Nairn Ward, Nurturing Nairnshire, the Davidson (Nairn) Charitable Trust, the Nairn Rotary Club, Nairn Art Society, Nairn Literary Society and many local businesses. Major business sponsors include R&R Urquhart, Anderson and England, Dollar Academy, Gordon’s Timber.