Mary Irvine’s blog: Writing about Greece and Byres Road Book Festival

byres road

Hello there,


Have fallen behind recently with reading/writing reviews/events etc. Gave myself three weeks to finish my novel set on the island of Spetses. What a friend described as ‘a thinly veiled biography’. It is now ‘finished’ and is going through stringent edits, not only proof reading but inconsistencies, loose ends, especially getting rid of redundancies. The course I went on in the summer (Alan McMunnigall) was invaluable. And I have been ‘brutal’. It’s much tighter now. Whilst it’s with my proof reader I shall utilise the time to catch up on a few of the neglected writings.


Byres Road Book Festival – Once upon a Time in the West End – 24/09/2017

One day, three sessions, all different, but well worth the effort on a ‘dreich’ day.

Maggie O’Farrell was up first.

iam i amAn audience of 120 +. This author began with an excerpt from her ‘memoire’. She later explained she didn’t call it an autobiography, is normally written in chronological order. She chose to be anecdotal as she believed life was a series of layers. Her book, therefore, is a look at her life through experiences – near death experiences. She found this formula very liberating and had benefitted greatly from her diaries which she had kept faithfully from a very young age.

During the ensuing question time Maggie stated she had no plans to write another non-fiction book as she enjoyed fiction writing too much. And ‘Yes’ she is working on another book but ‘No’ she wasn’t going to discuss it.

I was sitting near the back so was pleased when Maggie stood at a lectern to read. I could see and hear her quite clearly. However, the actual interview proved not so good. Maggie and the interviewer were on the same level as the audience. Surely not beyond the nounce of the organisers to arrange a temporary stage – I know blocks are available – so that the interviewer and interviewee could be seen by all in the audience. I couldn’t see the interviewer at all. I could see the top of Maggie’s head and part of her face if I leaned to the right and the 50 or so people in front of me didn’t choose that moment to adjust their own position. There also seemed to be a problem with the sound system. So I did miss a lot of the discussion.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death – Maggie O’Farrell, published Headline and available in hardback at £9 from Amazon

Mallachy Tallack by Craig Colahan

Mallachy Tallack by Craig Colahan

Mallachy Tallack

A short break for book sales and signings, a quick efficient tidy of chairs and replenishment of leaflets and it was the turn of Malachy Tallack who spoke most fluently with ne’er an erm or um. He stood at the lectern for his entire talk, turning occasionally to illustrate with PowerPoint the existence/position – or not – of some of the islands about which he spoke.

I have to admit I have heard Malachy speak about his book some time ago and I also listened to his Radio 4 interview more recently. Listening to someone as knowledgeable and interesting as Malachy more than once is like reading a book more than once. You always discover something new, something you ‘missed’ on a first or second reading.                                   

A fascinating talk of islands, imagined, fanciful, wishful thinking, appearing, disappearing, wrongly charted. It deserved a larger audience. The book is well written, packed with interesting information and most beautifully illustrated by Katie Scott

Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fates – Malachy Tallack, published Birlinn General and available in hardback at £7.94

byres road

Byres Road

There was over an hour until the next presentation. I decided to take a walk down Byres Rd to find a hostelry to partake of some sustenance. Didn’t really know ‘what I fancied’ but finally entered the ‘Crollas Gelateria’, telling myself it was to have the soup advertised. I did have the soup. It was hot, tasty and reasonably priced. But… the real reason I’d chosen that particular establishment was the selection of ice cream I’d spotted! I LOVE ice cream. I think ice cream is like beer. None bad, just some better than others! In the end I succumbed – didn’t actually take long. Now came the difficult bit, the choice. I eventually went for my all-time favourite – banana split. It was gi-normous. Quite big enough for two people. If you decide to call in with a friend I suggest you order this and ask for two spoons. Staff were friendly and attentive.

(Crollas Gelateria 221 Byres Road | Hillhead, Glasgow)

move on

Many Voices –Scottish Pen

Back to the Hillhead Library for ‘Many Voices’, a new project by Scottish Pen. Part of this programme is a co-operation with the charity ‘Move On’ who work with the young vulnerable/homeless, enabling them to express their feelings in both writing and the spoken word. We heard about their work from one of the facilitators, Karen Campbell, whilst many of the people taking part in the project shared their feelings through their own poetry. Kerrie O’Brien reviewed a similar project in Dublin in which she had been involved. To raise money for the homeless she and other writers had produced ‘Looking at the Stars’, a book of poetry by new Irish writers. She urged those present to support the publication of a similar volume in Scotland.

This was somewhat different from other ‘Pen’ presentations I have attended but was informative and enjoyable – this was nearer home, in all respects.

To find out more about ‘Many Voices’ contact Heini Huhtinen at

‘Looking at the Stars’ a limited edition of 1,000, now sold out. 15,000 euros was raised for the Simon Community 

All in all a good literary day out.

Mary Irvine, October, 2017




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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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