Book festival marks 200th anniversary of Paisley Radicals

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They were the artisans who stood up against the political establishment to fight for better wages and conditions for workers.

The Paisley Radicals fought against an uncaring government who employed spies and agents provocateurs to eventually bring their protests to an end.

Now, 200 years on, a new book festival will mark the anniversary of their efforts by looking at what radicalism means today.

The inaugural Paisley Book Festival will run from February 20 to 29 next year, with tickets for the event going on sale tomorrow.

Rikki Payne, arts manager for Renfrewshire Leisure, said the anniversary of the Paisley Radicals was an appropriate occasion to start a book festival.

However, he added that, while radicalism is the theme, the festival was not about looking back but looking at what the Paisley Radicals might have been speaking out about nowadays. “We are using the Paisley Radicals as our inspiration and looking at how we honour their ideas and energy now,” he said.

“A book festival is a good way of creating a space to look at ideas.

“There are things in the present that need to be addressed and we will be using these voices of the past as the inspiration to pick a way forward.

“I think the radicals of 200 years ago would look at some of the white upperclass male leadership in the world now and ask what we have been doing for the last two centuries.”

He added: “The radical notion is really strong in Paisley and people feel a close affinity to that particular piece of history. The Paisley Radicals were part of a process of political change which culminated in universal suffrage and the world we see today, which ironically is now more under threat than ever before.

‘‘I think we could do with some of that radical energy and spirit now as people are still struggling for the right to be recognised.”

The opening night event will celebrate Renfrewshire rebels with an exclusive reading from Scottish radicalism author Maggie Craig, poetry from Renfrewshire born Jim Carruth and music from Glasgow-based singer-songwriter Heir of the Cursed.

Playwright John Byrne will also return to his native Paisley for a Big 80th Birthday Bash, featuring readings from his plays, old and new, special guests and probably some cake.

Writers including Val McDermid, Christopher Brookmyre, Mark Billingham, Janice Galloway and Chris McQueer will also be taking part in events throughout the festival.

Jess Orr, its co-producer, said: “What better time to establish a new festival in Renfrewshire that celebrates readers, writers and the value of creativity and fresh ideas than in 2020, 200 years after the everyday people of Paisley rose against the establishment and demanded better for their communities.

“From readings, workshops, spoken word, storytelling and even live performances around the town, we hope everyone will find something to inspire them in Paisley Book Festival’s inaugural programme.”

The festival is part of a cultural regeneration programme sparked by Paisley’s bid to become 2021’s City of Culture. The bid failed but Payne said Renfrewshire Council and Renfrewshire Leisure were continuing to take a radical approach to cultural regeneration as it was intended to continue the energy and drive that had come to the fore during the campaign.

The book festival is part of a programme of arts events that will take place over the next three years.

Keira Brown, festival co-producer, said: “We are excited to reveal a rich and diverse cultural programme for the inaugural Paisley Book Festival, with a variety of events that open the space for debate and reading, from our discussion with Kirsty Wark in conjunction with the University of West of Scotland to our BAME writing masterclass with Nikesh Shukla.

“There is something for everyone in Paisley in February 2020.”

Tickets go on sale at 10am tomorrow at


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