Award-winning Borders born writer Alistair Moffat will be as sober as the proverbial judge for the duration of this year’s Borders Book Festival, beginning this Thursday, June 14.
More than 30,000 visitors are set to converge on Melrose over the next four days as the internationally-renowned festival gets under way.
Alistair, the festival’s founder and director, spends a good part of the year cajoling fellow writers and publishers to get involved, and during the festival itself he will be chairing or taking part in no fewer than 18 events.
That makes for a somewhat sobering experience, he says.
The Kelso-born 67-year-old said: “I never take a glass of wine or a glass of whisky during the festival because you just can’t, besides having to drive home every night. It’s an unusual four-day period when I’m teetotal.
“I’ll be there on Monday morning to see that everything’s okay and get ready to start all over again.”
Since 2004, the festival has been offering an extensive array of events in the Harmony Garden and across the road in the Orchard.
Alistair believes offering variety is essential to the shindig’s success.
“From politics to comedy, sport to history, fiction to science and cooking to art, all tastes and interests are catered for this year,” he said.
One factor Alistair, also founder of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival back in 1976, has no control over is the weather, and he’s just hoping the sun puts its hat on over the next few days. He said: “I hope the weather holds, but the forecast is not great. It does make a difference if the sun is shining.”
Alistair himself admits the four-day festival is for him personally “a bit of a whirlwind”.
He added: “I’m doing 17 events, either chairing them or introducing them, and doing my own event as well. I won’t have time to bite my finger, but I’m looking forward to the whole thing.
“It’s a bit of a whirlwind for me, but I absolutely adore it.”
He has seen the Baillie Gifford-sponsored festival grow beyond recognition over the last 14 years.
“We had four events at the first festival, and now there are 110, but we won’t make it any longer than the Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday because I think you get fatigue, literally and metaphorically.
“All good parties should know when to stop.
“We have passed last year’s ticket sales already. Last year, we did 12,000 dead, and we’re up on that.
“There are always a lot of walk-ups, and that’s why the weather is so important.”
The former STV chairman is full of admiration for the writers and other guests who take time out of their busy schedules to appear for little financial reward.
“It’s not difficult deciding who is terrific and who isn’t – it’s persuading them to come that’s the hard part because the other thing that we do is we pay everybody £175, in addition to travel costs and accommodation, so, by and large, people are giving us their time virtually for free.
“That’s why the festival guests are genuinely such a nice bunch because they are willing to do that.
“I call on favours all the time every year, because these are almost all busy people, and I know Rory Bremner, Ian Rankin and Kirsty Wark are. I know all these people and, bless their hearts, they agree to come along, but they wouldn’t come back if it wasn’t good.”
Alistair, author of books including 2018’s The Hidden Ways: Scotland’s Forgotten Roads and 2014’s Hawick: A History from Earliest Times, does admit to having a short wishlist of two writers he’d love to turn out at Melrose, with one being more achievable than the other.
“I’d love to get Alan Bennett,” he said. “Obviously, I can’t do it now, but I would have loved to have had Seamus Heaney here. I met him, and I thought he was a great man.
“One thing that we do that is really important is that I ask Rory and Kirsty to help. I use them by proxy. Inevitably, my contacts ran out some time ago, so they refresh it. For example, Rory asked William Hague to come this year.
“As always, we are looking forward to welcoming our audience, authors and supporters to a weekend of fun, entertainment and lively debate.”
Alistair will be giving a talk on the part played by roads in Scotland’s history this Friday, June 15, at 6.15pm. Tickets cost £11, £9 for concessions. For details, go to www.bordersbookfestival.org or call 0131 473 2000.