Wordplay curator hopes new direction pays off

The new curator of Shetland’s book festival believes there is “something for just about everyone” at this year’s edition, which begins tomorrow (Thursday) with a talk from Judy Murray.

From giants of fiction writing to successful figures in the world of music and TV, the Wordplay programme for 2017 contains a more varied menu than ever.

Former head of libraries in Glasgow Karen Cunningham, who took over control of the festival in June, is keeping her fingers crossed that the new direction proves a hit with audiences.

Curator Cunningham hopes isles readers “rally round” the festival. Photo: Jenny Leask

“I really, really hope it’s going to be something that the people of Shetland rally round,” she said.

From the outset, Cunningham’s aim was to balance the festival’s traditional reliance on poets, authors and illustrators with the need to inject new life into the affair by bringing in different voices from across the UK, some from a book-based background, some not.

A glance at the programme for the four-day event is enough to reveal that her aim has been achieved.

The first guest to appear is Judy Murray, who takes to the Mareel stage on Thursday evening on the back of the launch of her new book Knowing The Score.

Murray will recount the highs and lows she encountered as she battled to give her sons their tennis education, which famously culminated in multiple grand slam victories.

A debate on “post-truth” politics on Saturday will also add to the festival’s new look.

Shetland Times editor Adam Civico will be joined by former Buzzfeed and Guardian journalist James Ball (most well known for working with Julian Assange on Wikileaks) and Herald journalist Marianne Taylor for a discussion encompassing Donald Trump, fake news and Brexit.

And Friday night’s Neu! Reekie!, which is set to be one of the most innovative features, is something which Cunningham is particularly excited about.

“It’s poetry and performance and the whole point of it is to try to attract that slightly younger, off-the-wall type of audience and get people to recognise that contemporary music is very much a form of creative writing and you can do things that don’t conform to any traditionally recognised patterns of poetry,” she said.

Meanwhile, guests from a literary background include former Scots Makar Liz Lochhead, writer Louise Welsh and novelist Christopher Brookmyre.

Other guests include Katie Morag illustrator Mairi Hedderwick, TV writer Chris Dolan (lecturer on Glasgow Caledonian University’s screenwriting course) and American music group The Stray Birds.

“I like to think we have got something for just about everyone,” said Cunningham. “I’m really looking forward to it,” she added.

The festival, which mostly takes place in Mareel, closes on Sunday night with open mic in the Mareel cafe bar.

Tickets can be bought at: www.shetlandarts.org/our-work/festivals/wordplay



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