Robert Burns called the town of Irvine in Ayrshire, Scotland, a ‘wonderful educative place.’ 1 He’d be pleased to see it still is, especially in September every year when the Tidelines Book Festival takes place. Started by an author, a councillor and a librarian, it has gone from strength to strength since 2013, attracting top literary names from home and abroad. Now based in the modern Harbour Arts Centre at the water’s edge near the Scottish Maritime Museum, my recent visit as a volunteer proved to me what can be done by dedicated individuals fighting for sponsorship and grants to bring the joy of books into the community.
Children’s events involved The Gruffalo and Matilda, story-telling and drama. Adult events brought authors from a variety of genres: Scots literature and a dictionary (it’s the International Year of Indigenous Languages): Overlander, an account of cycling across Scotland: historical, on a WW2 Stornoway shipping disaster, The Iolaire (As the Women Lay Dreaming): on unsung heroes in 1940s Northern Italy in (a now very Scottish town), Barga, with its fake Nazi mountains and segregated US Buffalo Brigade troops (The Sound of the Hours, Karen Campbell): Margaret Skea’s books illuminated sixteenth century Ayrshire (who knew there was a Great Scottish Witch hunt?) Patron Theresa Talbot launched her crime novel The Quiet Ones, leading Icelandic Noir authors Yrsa and Lilja Sigursadottir and Scottish crime writer Denies Mina gave spirited performances and the award-winning ‘Ambrose Parry, i.e. Chris Brookmyre and wife Marisa Haetzman, spoke on collaborative writing and dark deeds in 18th century medical Edinburgh. Non-fiction came also with inspiring historical Scots women in Warriors, Witches and Damn Rebel Bitches! (Mari Kidd), a stunning Hebridean photography book laced with poetry old and re-imagined (Alistair Jackson), and Catherine Czerkawska’s own family murder story. Many events sold out. Attendees included solo visitors, families, writers’ groups and book clubs from near and far. I was amazed at the generous donations made to my collection bucket by people obviously thoroughly enjoying their weekend. The pop-up book shop by local Timber Books did brisk business. Sadly, this Ayrshire company now operates solely on-line: prohibitive property business rates closed their shop. Tragically we have NO independent books shops currently in North Ayrshire or Inverclyde.
Year round, Tidelines charity runs school events, bringing books and authors to children in an area economically deprived since the demise of the fishing and mining industries where unemployment stands 40% above national average.2 The harbour has an adjacent Arts Courtyard involving 16 artists from ceramicists to photographers who exhibited. Festival goers could take in bookbinding classes, Scottish/Gaelic trad music, Scottish Gin tasting (aided by book Gin Galore) and ranger-led nature walks to see waders and wildfowl in the estuary. Nearby, apart from the HAC bistro, are other bars and cafés, but my favourite is the Ship Inn: built in 1567 and liquor licenced in 1754, five years before Rabbie Burns was born. Irvine also has a Burns museum.
Thousands of book festivals run annually in the UK- 53 in October alone! As exemplars of good-natured feel-good gatherings, I think they are unsurpassed. Tidelines may not have had Hay’s 200,000+ visitors, but it was warm, friendly, informative and busy. Credit must go to the organisers of Tidelines and their sponsors (North Ayrshire and Cunninghame District Councils, Specsavers, Scottish Book Trust, Puffers Café et al). Lang may its lum reek! 3
1 Life of Robert Burns, Catherine Carswell, Canongate
2 Office of National Statistics
3 Scots for ‘long may your chimney smoke’ –Scots Hogmanay greeting wishing someone a long and healthy life.

Please note an extended version of this with photographs will appear on next week

  1. WOW! This sounds wonderful Anne! I must add this to my bucket list. Brilliant!!

    • Bit far for you though only 45 mins away for us but visitors from across the pond always welcome!

  2. I didn’t know that Irvine had a puffer! My grandpa had one of the last ones: ‘Roman’. As a former teacher, I found this an interesting article about the struggle to promote books. I was lucky enough to go to a talk (performance?) by Chris Brookmyre at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ conference recently. Very entertaining! I’ll be sure to visit Irvine when I’m next in the area.

    • the Maritime Museum has a lot of interesting exhibits – you should come up and see it some time! Not sure that boat was there last weekend though but always something interesting.

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