Author and illustrator Sally Kindberg reports from Wordplay's tenth birthday
Two taxis, a train and three planes later – it should have only been two planes, but there was a 'maintenance problem' – and I eventually arrived in Lerwick, the capital of Shetland, 170 kilometres north of mainland Scotland. I was there to take part in the tenth Wordplay Book Festival, running drawing workshops and promoting a new omnibus edition of three Bloomsbury comic strip books. Charming author and curator Donald S. Murray met me at the capital's tiny airport and drove me to my hotel, telling me all sorts of weird and wonderful stories along the way. I now know how to make gannet pie, but probably won't.
Islanders are storytellers, and Wordplay was full of them. The next morning at breakfast Jonathan Meades, in a tangerine coloured shirt, discussed the merits of Stornaway black pudding with ex Oz and Time Out editor Roger Hutchinson, who was here to talk about his new book, the true story of Uist islander Angus MacPhee, artist extraordinaire who spent fifty years in an asylum weaving hats and shoes from marram grass and flowers. Later at the Islesburgh Community Centre (Wordplay H.Q), I listened to Simon Armitage read beautifully, tapping his foot to the rhythms of his poetry, his broad face impassive under the almost-Beatle hairstyle. He told us about his ambitions to be a rock star when he was a young man – "or at least, a contender" – and apologised to the treeless Shetland islanders when he read his poem "Redwood". That evening there was a reception and buffet. Exhausted (my Space comic strip workshop was very busy) but happy, I overheard a smiling Orcadian poet say: "There'll be instruments later". Sadly I never discovered what they were, because I fell asleep at my hotel at 9.30 p.m.
Astonishingly bright weather. As I was setting up my workshop in Room Ten, I got chatting with a woman sitting at one of the drawing tables and making up her face (turquoise eyeshadow). We had a chat about the pros and cons of doing one's face in public, and I suddenly realised it was Liz Lochhead, National Poet of Scotland, about to be interviewed. I missed this as it coincided with my next comic strip event, but managed to squeeze into a packed hall for James Naughtie's event afterwards. He talked about the importance of the psychology of politics, the fascination of human interaction, and related brilliant anecdotes about, for instance, the ex-Stasi spymaster who wanted to sell his cookbook after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Peter Mandelson changing his trousers during a BBC radio interview.
Later still, in the green room (aka Room Nine), we were given tiny boxes of birthday cake to celebrate Wordplay's tenth birthday. Mine got a bit soggy in a downpour on the way back to my hotel, but it's going to be one of my treasures. Unless I get peckish on the long journey back to London of course.
Sally Kindberg is an author and illustrator who also runs drawing workshops for both adults and children. Her The Comic Strip Book Big Fat Book of Knowledge is out now. See more at www.sallykindberg.co.uk
More about Wordplay festival can be found here.