ULLAPOOL, on the shores of picturesque Loch Broom, is about to welcome some of the country’s best-loved writers, along with hundreds of book fans, all descending on the town for the annual Ullapool Book Festival.
Now in its seventh year, the festival, which gets under way tomorrow, has attracted a host of award-winning writers including acclaimed crime writer Denise Mina, who opens the festival at 10.30am on Friday with readings from her last book, Still Midnight, and her new novel, The End of the Season, due out this month.
The festival will close on Sunday, May 8, with John Burnside, who will read from his novel A Summer of Drowning, which will be in bookshops next month. He will also talk about his award-winning memoir Waking Up in Toytown.
In between, there’s a long list of award-winning writers such as Robert Alan Jamieson, Stuart Kelly, Bernard MacLaverty – who also wrote and directed the Bafta Scotland awarding-winning short film Bye-Child, and Doug Johnstone, an accomplished journalist, musician and writer.
Doug’s new novel, Smokeheads, was published by Faber and Faber earlier this year, but he’s previously had two novels, Tombstoning (2006) and The Ossians (2008), which received praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin and Christopher Brookmyre.
Doug’s event on Saturday night – when he’s joined by another up-and-coming writer, Aidan Moffat, is one not to be missed as it will be a little bit different. Both lads are musicians and will finish their book-reading sessions by performing a few of their songs; Aidan’s new album is due out this month.
Doug, who hails from Arbroath but now lives in Portobello, Edinburgh, is writer in residence at the University of Strathclyde.
But this is just one of several strings he has to his bow; he’s also a nuclear physicist.
“I grew up in Arbroath and went to the high school there. For a while, my dad was rector at Arbroath Academy before becoming rector at Harris Academy in Dundee,” said Doug.
“I really enjoyed the creative writing we did in my English classes, but I was really good at science and maths so decided to go down that route.
“Although I kept writing short stories, I never considered carving a career as a writer until I had turned 30.
“After doing physics at Edinburgh University, I did a PhD in nuclear physics before working as a systems engineer for Marconi, which was computer-based design of airborne radars and missile guidance systems.
“But at the same time I was playing in bands, and writing for music magazines.
“Once I had a few gig reviews published, I got the bug for writing but felt I’d never make a real go of it unless I quit the quite well paid job I was doing.
“I did a post-diploma course in journalism at Napier and became a freelance journalist. It was a bit of a gamble, but it paid off.”
Doug’s next step was writing his first novel, Tombstoning.
“I’d had an idea for writing a book based around an indie band touring Scotland and falling apart, as this was a world I knew quite well,” said Doug, who started off as a drummer but is now an established singer and guitarist.
“I was also interested in the whole world of the indie band scene and how you could link this with looking at urban versus rural Scotland, so that’s how The Ossians came about.
“It wasn’t my first book published, but the first one I tried to write.”
The Ossians was written in two stints with one version being penned before Tombstoning. Doug hawked the original version around various publishers, having it rejected politely, but always with positive feedback and constructive criticism.
After the thriller Tombstoning was published, he rewrote The Ossians and this time had great success with it.
His latest book, Smokeheads, dips into the world of whisky and involves four friends in their late 30s taking a wild trip to the Scottish Highlands.
Fun events spiral out of control in the book, which has been described as a classic, violent thriller, doused with black humour.
“I get my ideas from all sorts of places, including local newspapers, where I might read a gripping story and wonder what I would do if I found myself in a similar situation,” said Doug.
“I then make profiles of my characters and write vast quantities of notes about them, everything from where they went to school to what shoe size they wear.
“The vast majority of this won’t be used, but it lets me know exactly what each character is like, how they would speak and how they would react to certain situations.”
Meanwhile, Doug’s musical career continues apace with the release last Sunday of a solo EP, Keep It Afloat.
Readers can listen to it over the website dougjohnstone.bandcamp.com, where they can also buy a download of it. Or, better still, they can head for Ullapool where it will be on sale at the festival, along with copies of Doug’s books.
Full details of the festival, including how to buy tickets, are on www.ullapool bookfestival.co.uk. Further information is also available by calling 07754 835935.