Author of the Sturmtaucher Trilogy

Category: Self Publishing

GIRVAN ARTS FESTIVAL

And why it’s a big deal.

It’s the inaugural Girvan Arts Festival from the 11th to the 12th of June, and I’ll be appearing on the programme, closing the festival on Sunday evening. The venue holds about 25, when full. It may not seem much, but it’s a big deal to me.

Why? Firstly it’s my home town and I’ll support any initiative to promote Girvan as a cultural hub.

And because I’ve hidden behind a pen name for so long, it is my chance to showcase my writing in my own community.

But there’s another reason.

As a self-published author, getting an appearance at one of the many book festivals that take place every year in the UK is incredibly difficult; in the ten years I’ve been writing, it has only happened once, despite me getting in touch with more than a few organisers of these events.

There are reasonable grounds for this – why should a festival take a punt on an unknown author, without a publisher behind them to give an assurance of quality, and probably with limited book sales under their belt? If it was me, I’d probably think along the same lines.

Despite that, the one festival that did give me a panel (together with a couple of other self published authors, David Videcette and Alison Bailley) was Bloody Scotland, the world-famous crime fiction festival.

It was a number of years ago when, Bloq, my third crime fiction novel did, for a short time, create a small stir in the crime fiction community, and it is credit to Bloody Scotland that they were prepared to put us on the programme, coming on the back of me doing a couple of pop up book launches at the festival – Street Cabinetmaking for my book The Cabinetmaker, and the Bloq Street Nightclub, selling mocktails to festival-goers in Stirling.

Street Cabinetmaking
The Bloq Pop-up Bar

That, a reading at Noir-at-the-Bar in Edinburgh, and a lovely evening with Kirkintilloch Library Book Group being grilled by Sharon Bairden, is the sum total of my public appearances, so I’m looking forward to the upcoming event in the Dome, in Girvan’s Community Gardens, a wonderful venue in a green space at the very heart of Girvan, a stone’s throw from the harbour and the town centre.

I’ll be in conversation with Douglas Skelton, an author with a plethora of crime fiction and true crime books under his belt, who has interviewed some of the greats in Scottish writing, so I was delighted when he agreed to make the trip down to Girvan. And he has connections, with the Girvan area, and with me, long before I started writing.

For a number of years, Douglas and his wife lived in Colmonell, a small village inland from Girvan, with three dogs and a gaggle of cats, and I was their vet while they lived there. Years later, when I started writing, Douglas was a treasure trove of advice on how to get my books out there, which was a real hand up the ladder for me.

We’ll be talking about my books, The Sturmtaucher Trilogy in particular, but we may chat about the writing process too and, of course, we will be taking questions from the audience. Tickets can be purchased on the website. I’d love to see you there.

The Arts Festival is a new event in the Girvan Calendar, joining the successful Girvan Folk Festival, the Ballantrae Food Festival, and the  incredibly popular RNLI Harbour Gala as key events in our neck of the woods, and there are a number of sessions over the two days covering everything from fine art, photography and poetry through to music, flowers, and even regenerative farming, so take a look at the programme – there’s something for everyone.

https://girvanartsfestival.com/festival-information

The Girvan Community Garden is a fantastic resource for the people of Girvan, and visitors. It opened to the public in 2011 and has gone from strength to strength. It is entirely run by volunteers and is used for a number of other events throughout the year, and is well worth a visit.

Girvan Community Garden
The Dome

So, please come and spend an hour in our company, and take in some of the other events at the festival, and a look round the garden. You’ll be most welcome.

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Why Ailsa Publishing?

Ailsa Publishing is me. It only exists to publish my books, to save me having to leave a blank space in the ‘publisher’ field in Kindle Direct Publishing, where both my Kindle books and paperbacks are published, and in Smashwords, which distributes my eBooks to other retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple Books.

But I could have called it Alan Jones Books, which would have fitted in with my social media brand and reflected the fact that I’m a self-published author but, in the beginning, I thought it might look a bit more professional to have a publisher with a different name, not that it ever convinced anyone. 😊

So I scrabbled about for a name for a while, but they all sounded contrived. Living a few yards from the beach, many of them were sea related, but I gazed out, looking for inspiration, I realised I was missing the obvious. There was an enormous rock, staring back at me, so to speak.

Ailsa Craig, approaching from Girvan

Ailsa Craig is a volcanic plug, a lump of granite 1,120 feet high, three quarters of a mile long and half a mile wide. It sits eight nautical miles to the west of Girvan harbour, and it dominates the view of Ireland to the southwest, the Mull of Kintyre to the west, and Arran to the north.

Although many places and organisations are named after the iconic island, in and around Girvan and South Ayrshire, I was quite happy to join them. There’s an Ailsa Street, the now defunct Ailsa Hotel was once a lively hostelry, and the Ailsa Berth is the longest one in the harbour, where the Lady Ailsa used to moor. William Grant and Son produce a malt whisky, Ailsa Bay, at their distillery in Girvan. Further afield, the Ailsa Hospital is on the outskirts of Ayr and, of course, The Marquess of Ailsa owns Ailsa Craig, along with an estate close to Culzean Castle.

The island itself is quite fascinating. The solid, cooled core of a volcano that formed the mountains of Arran, the microgranite rock is particularly hard, making it the material of choice for many of the world’s curling stones, including every stone used in the Winter Olympics since 2006.

The remnants of a narrow gauge railway line can still be seen connecting the quarry at the north end of Ailsa Craig to the jetty near the lighthouse. There is also a second railway which has largely survived, from the jetty to the Gas house, used up until 1911 to transport coal which powered the lighthouse, and the foghorns at the south and north end of the island.

The Lighthouse

The lighthouse, like many in Scotland’, was built by Thomas Stevenson and was completed in 1886. Along with its two foghorns, it warned shipping of the perils of ‘The Craig’, especially in fog or at night. It was manned until it was automated in 1990 and is now solar powered, still flashing every four seconds, 365 days a year.

Paddy’s milestone

Ailsa Craig is often called Paddy’s milestone, due to it’s location at the half way point of the ferry trip from Scotland to Belfast, when the ferries ran from Greenock, further up the Clyde. One of my earliest memories, at five years of age, is passing Ailsa Craig on the way to a holiday in Northern Ireland. The ferries now run to Belfast and Larne from Cairnryan, a much shorter crossing, without the romance of the ‘steamer’ from Greenock.

Back on the island, the ruins of Ailsa Castle, built in 1500, sit facing eastwards, looking down on the lighthouse, half way up to the summit of the island, and the path to the top passes close to it. A small loch, Gary Loch, provided water for the castle, and later, the lighthouse. There is a history of pirates and smugglers, befitting the looming cliffs and caves, and the rocky beach.

Ailsa Castle

Ailsa Craig is now uninhabited, but granite was quarried until the 1950s, and the quarryman’s wife, appropriately named Margaret Girvan, ran a tearoom on Ailsa Craig to cater for the trippers on boats from Girvan. Loads of granite are still taken from the quarry every twenty or so years, for curling stones.

The ‘Glorious’, a local boat, still takes folk out to the Craig during the summer months. They are mostly nature watchers, hoping to catch a sight of the seals that haul themselves out to bask on the rocks of the island’s shores, or the 35,000 birds of the Gannet colony on the south cliffs of the island, the fifth largest in the world.

The Gannet Colony

Birds from Ailsa Craig will travel up to 150 miles to feed before returning to their nests. Gannets are considered of least concern ecologically, with the population increasing worldwide each year.

Puffins have also returned to the rock in increasing numbers since rats were eradicated a couple of decades ago by the RSPB, who now lease the island from the Marquess of Ailsa.

On the lifeboat, we regularly exercise around Ailsa Craig, often ‘rescuing’ people from its rocky shores and the deep water surrounding it. It’s always impressive, sometimes foreboding.

When I chose Ailsa publishing as the name that would go on my books, I knew that the logo had to be the island itself, with its iconic lighthouse, although I had to alter the proportions and scale of the buildings somewhat to fit the outline of the rock and form the letter ‘L’.

It’s the sort of thing that not every reader might notice, but I’ve looked out at Ailsa Craig for the last twenty five years every morning, and every evening, and I love that it’s there on the spine of my books.

I’ll leave you with the view of Ailsa Craig as the sun sets over Kintyre. It never fails to stir me.

Photo: F A MacDonald
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