Weaving a magic spell

Chrys Salt and Joanne B Kaar

Angus McPhee, Weaver of Grass

Galloway poet Chrys Salt has woven words inspired by the remarkable life of Angus McPhee. Her new collection of poems “Grass” has given a voice to a man who remained silent for 50 years after being traumatised by his experiences in the Second World War.

The Hebridean crofter lived for most of his life at a mental institution near Inverness, only returning to his home in South Uist a year before his death. During his years in hospital he found expression by weaving extraordinary objects with grass and many were lost, through decay or distruction, before they were saved by an art therapist.

Joanne B Kaar, a last-minute replacement for author Roger Hutchinson, is the artist in residence for the festival and was influenced by the work of McPhee. Based in Caithness, Joanne was an artist focusing on traditional skills but had never woven grass until she was commissioned by the Horse and Bamboo Theatre Company, staging a play based on McPhee’s life. The poetry and weaving gave an insight into the life of this gifted man beyond anything a lecture could have given.

Garry Shaw

Pharaoh: Life at Court and on Campaign

You would be forgiven in thinking Garry Shaw had spent years touring the literary festival circuit. But this is his first book and his first appearance at a festival. His work as a lecturer gave him a solid base in how to impress. His illustrated talk took the audience through a day in the life of a pharaoh from waking up, through consultations, sport, conflict and the odd visit to his wives. With an eye for humour and detail, Garry blew the dust away from the subject of Egyptology and revealed the human being beneath the mythology.

Caspar Henderson

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary

Stuart Kelly made no secret of his enthusiasm for Caspar Henderson’s reworking of the compendium previously popular in the medieval period. “Quirky, beautiful … funny and not at all stuffy,” he said, adding that it was his top tip for Christmas present ideas. Taking the audience through a selection of some of the creatures featured in the book, they had a flavour of his humour and obvious admiration for these odd and bizarre examples of the animal kingdom. But this wasn’t a “let’s look at the funny animals” approach: the award-winning writer has a passion for the natural world and admiration for the way life can exist in the most inhospitable places.

Tahir Shah

Timbuctoo

The County Buildings were buzzing by the end of Tahir Shah’s electrifying appearance. He talked of discovering the story of 19th century American sailor Robert Adams in the archives of the London Library, which he has turned into a novel. The extraordinary tale of a young man shipwrecked and sold into enslavement in Timbuctoo helps to shine a light into a largely forgotten part of history – the millions enslaved in North Africa between the 16th and 19th centuries. But Tahir’s role as a man creating a new publishing model that was equally interesting. He has self-published a new book out of choice because he wanted to create a thing of beauty and so lead a revolution.