The doors may be closed at Scotland’s Theatre in the Hills but the team at Pitlochry Festival Theatre are are thrilled that the Winter Words Festival 2021 will still be going ahead between February 8-14.
The festival – the seventeenth – may be a little different this year but, with a smaller series of digital events, it will be live and interactive, and will still bring together well-known, and loved authors, playwrights, poets, adventurers, broadcasters and TV personalities in one virtual place.
To list but a few illustrious names, guests include multi-award-winning novelist and poet, Mark Haddon, best known for his award-winning novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark will be in conversation with award-winning radio producer, Polly Thomas, talking about theatre and literature working together.
Also featuring in this year’s line-up will be archaeologist, historian, author and broadcaster Neil Oliver; actor, presenter and writer, Shobna Gulati, who played Sunita Alahan in Coronation Street; TV presenter Dallas Campbell, whose programmes explore science and space; author Denise Mina; former Makar Liz Lochhead; Kirstin Innes will be talking about her latest book, Scabby Queen, as well as her love of performance; and brothers Colin McCredie, best known for playing DC Fraser in Taggart, and professional photographer and author.
Shobna Gulati, who is making her first appearance at the festival, is excited. “I think every festival embodies a sense celebration and togetherness,” she says.
“Winter Words is a place where people join together in the appreciation of the written, spoken or sung word and the beauty of that. It’s programmed just as spring is starting to say ‘I’m here’ and gets us engaged once more with the freshness of what’s out there in the creative world – all the stories and thoughts we are all wanting to read and enjoy in 2021.
“It’s like those winter words can begin their respective journeys into full bloom as the year progresses,” she smiles.
Disappointed not to be able to come to Pitlochry, Shobna is determined to look on the bright side.
“I mean it would have been wonderful to hang out in picturesque Pitlochry and be amongst people who love words as I do in person but it’s not to be,” she says.
“The positive here is no matter where you are in the world you can ‘dial in’ from the comfort of your own home and the discussions and conversations take an even more global appeal.
“I’m all for that international share, the availability and the simplicity of that.”
Shobna will be talking about her book Remember Me?: Discovering My Mother as She Lost Her Memory.
“I want the experiences I talk about and our story to resonate universally and particularly to start the conversation around dementia to highlight everything that this cruel disease can impact,” she says.
“This story is definitely my story and I’ve been wanting to tell it for the longest time in my own words. I’m looking forward to sharing this time with [PFT artistic director] Elizabeth Newman, someone whose work and way of working I admire very much.”
Much like everyone, lockdown has had its challenges for Shobna. “It’s tough every way – socially, emotionally, personally, financially, in every way isolating and difficult,” she says.
“My heart is broken for those who have lost their loved ones in this dreadful time and have to deal with the grief of that alone or with ‘virtual support and no human contact. It’s truly devastating.”
The festival is a bright light on the near horizon and Shobna hopes it will bring people from all ages and backgrounds together to celebrate their passion for words and their common interests.
“And it’s about learning and sharing – what’s not to love about that?” she smiles.
Another newcomer to Winter Words is Dallas Campbell, a familiar face from The Sky at Night, Airport Live, Bang Goes the Theory, The Gadget Show and Stargazing Live with Brian Cox and Dara Ó Briain.
“I was so pleased to be asked and I’m looking forward to the diversity of people at the festival, with so many different backgrounds, talking about so many different subjects – I love that,” he says.
Dallas will be talking about his book Ad Astra: An Illustrated Guide to Leaving the Planet, an in-depth look at the history, science and culture of human spaceflight.
“Most people associate Neil Armstrong and so on with space flight but I take a more arcane stance. My story begins in the Jacobean period – our quest, yearning to travel in space goes back along way and I hope people will feel a sense of wonder and adventure, that anything is possible.”
Dalls grew up in Perthshire and is sad he can’t come to Pitochry for the festival. “Everything I do involves standing in front of people and all my live shows have been canned,” says Dallas who is working on a book about conspiracy theories. “I’ve had to readjust to working online and rethink a lot of stuff but the benefit of that is that the festival can reach out to people all over the world.
“I hope people will enjoy the diversity, come along with no pre-conceived ideas, and get a new view of the world.
“the power of creativity can transport us out of our homes and our usual experiences, and whisk us away somewhere wonderful. We all need a bit of escapism at the minute.”
Author Kirstin Innes, who lives in a small village, is a big believer in the value of events that bring national authors and performers to local audiences, rather than expecting everyone to be able to access something in a city.
“It’s lovely to be a part of such a long-running festival, especially in the theatre’s 70th year,” she enthuses. “As an author it’s usually a really great way to get to your readers, too – I love Pitlochry so much that I’m gutted I’m not going to be there in person.”
Kirstin will be talking about her latest book Scabby Queen.
“It’s such a big book – there are 24 different narrators, and it spans the last five decades of British political history as one woman lived them – that I’m still continually surprised by the questions people come up with to ask me about it.
“I’m excited that Winter Words want to focus on the idea of performance– my main character, Clio Campbell, is a very charismatic, chaotic popstar turned political activist, so conversation tends to be about the political side of her life. I’m looking forward to bringing out the show-off side of her – and maybe of me, let’s be honest…” she smiles.
Impressed by the diversity of the programme, Kirstin reveals what she’s looking forward to most: “As ever, of course. I really want to catch Denise Mina’s event as she’s never, ever boring. I once bumped into her when I was heavily, uncomfortably pregnant, and where everyone else would lie and tell me I was glowing – I really wasn’t – Denise quite honestly blurted: ‘Bloody hell, you’re the size of a truck!’ It was the biggest laugh I had the whole gestation,” she chuckles.
“The Highland Book Prize event looks great too – Malachy Tallack and Kapka Kassabova are both beautiful writers.”
Currently co-writing a history of The Arches in Glasgow, the theatre and club venue that closed in 2015, Kirstin is also working on a play about Jean Milligan, the woman who saved Scottish country dancing, for the National Theatre of Scotland.
“I’m hoping to get time to finish my new novel, Semiprecious, this year too, if my kids ever go back to nursery!”
The final word goes to Elizabeth Newman, artistic director at Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
“Winter Words is so much a beloved part of the PFT calendar and we were determined the festival would go ahead if at all possible,” she says.
“We may not be able to open the building, but Pitlochry Festival Theatre is very much alive and working hard to provide a wide variety of activities and interactive online programming for its audiences and communities, and Winter Words is very much part of that.
“From the brilliant success of our In Conversation With… series last year, talking with some of the UK’s leading artistic directors, we knew we could offer our audiences an engaging, interactive space which would work well for Winter Words.
“We can’t wait to join together with them to celebrate the words, the stories, and the turning towards spring, with refreshed hope for this coming year.”
Winter Words runs from February 8-14 and will include live Q&A. All tickets will be limited this year – visit pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com or email box office on email@example.com