The first ever Paisley Book Festival celebrated a hugely successful inaugural year. From 20th to 29th February 2020, the festival – which celebrated Radical Stories and Rebel Voices and marked the 200th anniversary of the Paisley Radicals – packed out venues across the town as more than 2,500 people came to listen to the likes of John Byrne, Kirsty Wark, Janice Galloway, Kirstin Innes and many more. There were a host of free events including Luke Winter writing stories on demand at the Piazza Shopping Centre, and young readers got in on the act with a special Bookbug in the Bath at the Lagoon Leisure Centre.

We also hosted the inaugural Janet Coats Memorial Prize, created in honour of the Paisley-born wife of publisher James Tait Black who herself released two volumes of nature-inspired poetry in the late 19th century. The winners – chosen from open submissions from Scottish poets on the theme of climate change – were announced on 28th February; Basara Basit from Paisley triumphed in the under 18s category and Sylvia Telfer from Rutherglen won the adult award.


photo: John Griffin

In addition to this brief overview, there were many highlights to consider over the ten days which also included a schools programme taking several authors to 8 different schools in Renfrewshire.

With a strong opening night event and an evening that saw poets and poetry-lovers huddled in the library in the warmth away from the floods, we have seen a real positive response to the launch of the Paisley Book Festival. Despite the weather many made great efforts to travel from far and wide to see Emily Dodd, Breaking the Mould panel event on low-income and disabled access to publishing as well as Maria Stoian’s Make Your Own Zine Workshop. John Byrne’s Big Birthday Bash, with actors from the Tron singing tracks from Underwood Lane, and PACE delivering an enjoyable section of Slab Boys as well as Paisley-born Gary McNair interviewing John, was a special moment for everyone in the room, including Paolo Nutini. The standing ovation at the end was a magical touch to the evening.

Photo: Kausar Yasin

Following this, a magically intimate conversation between author Kirstin Innes and Janice Galloway about thirty years of The Trick Is To Keep Breathing meant the buzz in the Arts Centre did not leave anytime soon, and Jenny Lindsay’s event saw a surge of book sales of This Script. Sold out events in The Bull Inn and The Lane, as well as Callum’s Cavern meant that Alan Bissett’s Presents strand was well received, and the adrenalin from the packed-out Fun Lovin Crime Writers events saw a great finale to Paisley’s inaugural book festival. This will be a mean feat to follow.

Photo: Kausar Yasin