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Something for everyone in Birnam Book Festival’s packed, varied programme

Professor Devi Sridhar is one of the drawcards at the Birnam Book Festival.
Professor Devi Sridhar is one of the drawcards at the Birnam Book Festival.

It’s had a stop-start history to date, but Birnam Book Festival looks set to go full throttle on its return.

The three-day Highland Perthshire literary jamboree debuted in November 2018 with a bumper line-up that included the likes of folk music legend Peggy Seeger, social activist Darren McGarvey and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove.

It followed that up 12 months later with a first anniversary celebration day starring folk songsmith and theatre-maker Karine Polwart.

A return to a full programme finally arrives next week with the bonus of live audiences set to descend on Birnam Arts.

Vision for the future

Edinburgh University public health expert Devi Sridhar is the main draw at the festival’s big opening event.

A member of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 advisory group, Prof Sridhar will be talking next Friday about her new book Preventable, which looks at how the global pandemic was able to escalate and also sets out a vision for combating future health crises.

Crime writer Louise Welsh will also be there.

Birnam’s folklore-influenced illustrator-in-residence Kate Leiper will also be presenting her magical creations on the night, ahead of a host of workshops she’ll be leading over the weekend alongside a free exhibition of her work at Birnam Studio.

Acclaimed crime writer Louise Welsh will talk about her latest novel The Second Cut – it revisits the brooding Glasgow and double-edged auctioneer Rilke from her 2002 hit The Cutting Room two decades on – at an evening event on May 21.

A varied programme

Earlier the same day there’s an appearance from Bridge of Allan-raised author James Robertson, the co-founder of the Scots language imprint Itchy Coo, which produces books in Scots for children and young people.

The former Glenalmond College student will be joined by Ms Leiper for an all-ages event where they’ll be discussing their anthropomorphic classic The Book 0f The Howlat.

Another highlight on the Saturday promises to be an appearance from award-winning journalist Chitra Ramaswamy, who’ll be focusing on Home Lands, an account of her decade-long friendship with Glasgow-based Holocaust survivor Henry Wuga.

Scottish Kenyan performance storyteller Mara Menzies.

Other hot tickets include Dunkeld-based teacher-turned-children’s author Molly Arbuthnott, performance storyteller Mara Menzies,  and flower-arranging specialist Ann Lindsay.

The first full day of activities concludes with a cabaret from 7.30pm boasting poetry, spoken word offerings and music.

Hosted by performance poet Tim Turnbull, the lively event will also include contributions from fellow poets Andy Jackson and Jon Plunkett, plus Falkirk author and playwright Alan Bissett and Perthshire musicians Gutenbergs.

Language, identity and freedom

Sunday starts with Nicola Wright presenting a children’s storytelling session looking at the theories of self-taught Scottish climate science pioneer James Croll,.

Further inspiration for youngsters comes via a separate look at Caroline Wilding’s illustrated book The Bold And Brilliant Women Of Dunkeld And Birnam.

Scottish writers Jenni Calder, Lizzie Eldridge, Miriam Vaswani and Rosemary Hector will explore the importance of language, identity and freedom of expression via a panel discussion, before an appearance from rock climber-cum-writer Anna Fleming.

Crime literature exponents Martin Edwards and Douglas Skelton will discuss the genre’s significance at a 90-minute sitting with Dunkeld-based romantic novelist Fiona Valpy.

Montrose filmmaker Anthony Baxter will also be at Birnam.

Separately, Newtyle-based Robertson makes a second festival appearance on the Sunday to discuss his latest novel News Of The Dead, with Montrose film-maker Anthony Baxter joining him to highlight his own short documentary companion piece which looks at the author’s creative process.

The festival concludes with musician Jenny Sturgeon giving a performance of her audio-visual extravaganza The Living Mountain.

Inspired by the 1940s book of the same name by Aberdeen-born Nan Shepherd, Sturgeon’s offering combines songs with visuals from the Cairngorms National Park filmed by videographer Robyn Spice and rewilding advocacy group Scotland:The Big Picture, along with National Library of Scotland archive imagery.

Fringe events

Run by volunteers from the Dunkeld and Birnam community, the festival also features fringe events including looks at the role in the First World War of the wood-cutting Newfoundland Forestry Companies regiment and its links to the conjoined settlements, led by local historian Jane Anderson.

There are also chances to browse a collection of must-read books and information on climate change at the extravaganza’s own climate café, as well as to take part in outdoor live poetry get-togethers.

Budding wordsmiths from age 12 to adult are being invited to attend 20-minute flash-writing sessions with author Linda Cracknell.

Birnam Book Festival runs from May 20-22. Tickets are at or on 01350 727674.