We met with Jean Squires who has been nominated by the committee of Blairgowrie, Rattray and the Glens Book Festival as its Perth Pioneer. In 2016, BOOKMARK’s October festival sold almost 1,000 tickets over seven events, and aims to increase ticket sales further in 2017, its fifth year.

As a former English teacher and one of the founders of this successful book festival, Jean explains how BOOKMARK was conceived and how it has thrived.

“Blairgowrie has a number of book groups and one of the book groups with Christine Findlay in it was quite instrumental in starting BOOKMARK together with our local Councillor Caroline Shiers. The conversation was held, ‘Wasn’t it a wonderful festival we visited? Blair could do with one of those. Let’s do it.’”

However, the idea was more than just a light-hearted conversation between three book lovers. As a group of women who each previously held professional careers, Jean, Christine and Meg Luckins worked with Councillor Shiers to form the first executive. Together they started the ball rolling, soon gaining wider support from an enthusiastic and committed team of volunteers.

From the first festival in October 2013, the executive worked hard to establish BOOKMARK’s appeal, leading to their success in 2016 in attracting high calibre authors such as BBC Scotland’s Sally Magnusson, Sir John Lister-Kaye, Maggie O’Farrell and James Naughtie.

“People are amazed by the programme, the names that are willing to come and support it… It’s encouraging people with their reading and it also gives people the confidence that Blairgowrie and Rattray is a happening place, and it’s encouraging others to think they can do things. I know that Discovering Blairgowrie, the business network, are now considering an arts festival following on from BOOKMARK.”

“As soon as the festival is over, we do monitoring and evaluation… and then we’re straight into planning. We’re already inviting authors at the moment… some authors approach us now because we do have a very good reputation.”

In addition to the main festival, the executive collaborated with local schools for the children’s festival, complete with author readings and writing workshops which were attended by over 760 children last year. Jean believes that getting young people engaged with books at an early age will give them a lifelong appreciation of reading. One demonstration of the breadth of BOOKMARK’s impact is the work with Blairgowrie High School Art Department in hosting their art exhibition which has now become embedded in their curriculum.
“It’s encouraged lots of children to buy books and to enjoy reading, then the knock-on effects of encouraging creative writing. We have grandparents coming to us saying, ‘My grandchildren were so thrilled with the author visit – that’s what I’m buying them for Christmas, books.’ So, it has had an impact.”

Jean spoke about Perth’s bid to become the UK City of Culture 2021 and reflected on how people all across Perth and Kinross can benefit from engaging with an enhanced programme if the city were to win.

“I think we’re living in very unusual times and people are worried about the way things are going. I think the arts – reading, writing, the arts in general, City of Culture – provide people with hope, inspiration, enjoyment of the arts and also give them vehicles for exploring their feelings… the arts deal with difficult subjects, but they give you a framework and they help you have an understanding of the world around us. They also open your mind, extend your horizons and give great pleasure.”

Last year the festival teamed up with the Blairgowrie Players local amateur dramatics society to stage a play the day following the festival. Jean and her colleagues hope to do the same in 2017 as well as forge new links with groups across Perth and Kinross to help expand what the festival can offer visitors.

You can find out more about BOOKMARK here

Jean Squires with Provost Liz Grant and Christine Findlay

BOOKMARK’s Patron Fiona Armstrong with author Maggie O’Farrell