Tidelines Book Festival

Ten Years and Counting

Linda Brown

North Ayrshire’s very own book festival, Tidelines, celebrates its 10th anniversary this September. Over four days, from 21st – 24th, a stellar line-up of authors will enthral and entertain eager audiences at the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine. Have you got your ticket yet? If there’s still time, why not check out Tidelines website and book yourself a literary treat?
Opening the festival, writer Liam McIlvanney and footballing legend Pat Nevin are in conversation, with a half-time pie thrown in (not literally). Other speakers are: filmmaker Sarah Grant, authors Catherine Czerkawska and Eleanor Thom, presenter James Crawford, poet Alan Riach, broadcaster and novelist Sally Magnusson and Mayflies author and Tidelines patron Andrew O’Hagan.
At Sunday’s grand finale, playwright Alan Bissett chats with Scotland’s favourite ‘Mary Doll’, Rab C Nesbitt and Two Doors Down actress, Elaine C Smith, about her life in books.
With a ‘Writing for Wellbeing’ workshop run by writer Michael J Malone, two events aimed at young children – Moxi Creative Kids: The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and Cbeebies Hushabye Lullabye with Sacha Kyle – plus Historic Templeton’s Bookshop Walks with Tasting History Ayrshire Tours around old Irvine, there’s something to suit everyone, and plenty of books to browse in Waterstones festival bookshop.
So… how did Tidelines begin? I ask Siobhan Staples, Tidelines Coordinator, about the festival’s origins.
“Tidelines started in 2013 when a man from the local community called John Steele, who is no longer with us sadly, went to the council and said, ‘Why doesn’t North Ayrshire have its own book festival?’ and the council replied, ‘If you want to put one together, we will support you.’ So John and a couple of others, with the help of the local authority, put on the first book festival as part of the Largs Viking Festival that September.”
The following year Tidelines held events at libraries across North Ayrshire before moving in 2015 to the Harbour Arts Centre on Irvine’s busy and vibrant harbourside.
Siobhan says: “Harbour Arts Centre is our home, and we would really struggle to survive without their support. The Arts Officer and the team there are just fantastic. Not only do they do their jobs – box office, technical support etc – but they are really enthusiastic, really lovely and they get genuinely excited when Tidelines is coming up. And that just makes the whole thing a joy. It’s a lovely atmosphere during the Tidelines weekend.”
Over the decade the festival has hosted many big names from our bookshelves like Alex Gray, Chris Brookmyer and Ann Cleeves. During two Covid lockdown years, Tidelines successfully moved online with videoed talks available to watch on YouTube. In 2022, it re-opened its doors for in-person events and welcomed broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove and romance novelist Jenny Colgan.
All this is an amazing achievement; Tidelines Book Festival is a registered charity run by a group of dynamic, hardworking and friendly volunteers. However, last year, the festival was grateful to receive three years funding from North Ayrshire Venture Trust to finance Siobhan’s part-time coordinator role. Tidelines benefits from having one person dedicated to running and developing its work in the community.

For instance, have you heard about Tideline Tasters – one-off author events happening throughout the year? Last January, there was the wonderful Scrievin & Scran evening (more tasty pies were involved – I know, I was there!) hosted by Ayrshire poet Simon Lamb with open mic slots for local writers and poets. More recently, there have been three sell-out nights with rapper Darren McGarvey, Irvine-born writer John Niven and inspirational Judy Murray OBE. Not forgetting Tideline’s children’s author events, promoting reading and books, at primary and secondary schools across North Ayrshire. To celebrate this year’s anniversary, ten school visits are planned, involving authors Alan Dapre, Amy B Moreno and Graeme Armstrong, with some free books being donated to the participating schools. I ask Siobhan about the festival’s aims.
“Tidelines is about putting on a broad range of good quality literary events at affordable prices – providing events that are entertaining as well as informative and which could appeal to people who might not normally think of the written word as entertainment. Flexible ticket pricing was introduced for some events last year. £6/£8/£10 – choose what price you feel you can afford. This worked very well.”
Recently the festival was granted funding from National Lottery Awards For All. Some of this money will finance a limited amount of free tickets for the under 25s, who might not have experienced a book festival before or be able to afford to pay.
“We would really like to get some young people in,” Siobhan tells me, “because they are the future of the book festival. We’d like to know what they think and what they’d like to see.”
Tidelines’ ambitions since that first small festival in 2013 have expanded over the years. These days they do much more, and love to engage with the community through workshops – they worked in conjunction with Cruse Bereavement Care to run a writing workshop for a support group at Kilwinning Library, and also with a housing association, offering a similar workshop to people at risk of loneliness and isolation.
In 2022, before author Karen Campbell spoke about her novel Paper Cup (the main character is a homeless woman), local homeless support charity CHAP was invited to deliver a presentation to the audience, and there was a cash collection for their funds. Charity buckets are regularly shoogled at festivalgoers, collecting spare coins and notes to help finance Tidelines’ valuable schools’ programme.
All this sounds fantastic and I wonder what it’s like being a Tidelines volunteer? Siobhan laughs: “Running a book festival is like running any live event – there are highs and lows. I remember one year, I was meeting Denise Mina, taking her into the theatre; I’m a huge fan of hers and there is a photo of me and another volunteer leading her through and it looks like we are leading royalty. We look gobsmacked. So one minute I’m doing that, and it’s lovely, and Denise is really nice, then the next minute, the ladies loos backed up and I’m having to cope with how to manage the audience visiting the toilets at the break. It ended up with two volunteers manning the gents toilets to allow people in. It was a pretty unglamorous task.”
Tidelines is always happy to recruit new volunteers; they are particularly looking for people to join Tidelines Board as a Trustee. If you have an interest in running events or developing community programmes, or if you have knowledge of finance and marketing, Tidelines would love to hear from you. It is very rewarding work.
I thank Siobhan for filling me in on Tidelines. I just need to order my own tickets now. Maybe I’ll bump into you in the festival bookshop? Or in the queue to get new books signed by the author? Meanwhile, happy anniversary, Tidelines. May you celebrate many, many more.
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