Book festival Aye Write cancelled due to lack of funding

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This year's edition of Aye Write, a major book festival in Glasgow, has been cancelled after a funding bid to Creative Scotland failed.

The event, which has been running since 2005, regularly attracts leading authors to venues like the Mitchell Library to discuss their work.

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, comedian Janey Godley, and author Ian Rankin are among those who have appeared at the festival.

Organisers said they would reapply for funding and hoped the festival would return in May 2025.

The Wee Writes festival, a separate festival for children, has also been cancelled.

In a statement published online the organisers of the event confirmed that their 2024 funding application to Creative Scotland had not been successful.

The Herald reported that they had applied for a grant of £75,500.

The organisers acknowledged there would be "considerable disappointment" at the decision to cancel the festivals.

They added: "While bids from events for funding support continue to exceed monies available – especially during the current difficult economic climate – some events will inevitably miss out, and we recognise that decision-making around funding award recipients is extremely challenging."

Creative Scotland was itself subject to a £6.6m budget cut by the Scottish government last year.

It become embroiled in controversy earlier this month when it emerged that it had awarded £85,000 for a show involving "hardcore" sex performances.

The funding body has now cut its support for the show and is trying to get back the money it has given the project so far.

The first minister said that the Scottish government will look at what support they can give the festival, which he described as a "fantastic festival" and a "cultural icon".

Speaking during First Minister's Questions he said that Creative Scotland funding decisions should be made independently of government, but that he would look at what "potential support the Scottish government can provide."

His response came to a question from Conservative Glasgow MSP Annie Wells, who criticised Creative Scotland's decision.

She said: "“The public will be appalled that Creative Scotland have effectively pulled the plug on this renowned and much-loved festival, when the same quango managed to find over 100k to fund a porn film.

“Creative Scotland have serious questions to answer over their judgment and priorities."

'Vital to our wellbeing'

Nicola Sturgeon, who appeared at Aye Write in 2023 with Janey Godley, said the announcement of the cancellation of Aye Write was "really bad news".

On X, formerly Twitter, she said: "I know money is tight but very much hope that a way is found to get Aye Write back on track.

"Books, culture generally, are so vital to our wellbeing - and never more so than in the troubled times we live in today.

"Book festivals are opportunities to celebrate the wonder of literature and those who create it. We mustn’t lose that."

Damian Barr, the author of Maggie and Me and host of the BBC's Big Scottish Book Club, said he was due to appear at this year's festival.

"Aye Write has been such a vital part of my life as a writer and reader," he said on X.

"This is such a shocking and damaging loss for Scotland's literary ecosystem. Surely the money will exist?"

A Creative Scotland spokesperson said they understood the "significance" of the festival but "difficult decisions need to be made on a daily basis".

The spokesperson said they are currently only able to support 30% of applications to its open fund due to budget constraints.

The inaugural festival was held in 2005, but was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Last year around 175 authors appearing in more than 120 events across 10 days.

Crime writer Val McDermid, poet Liz Lochhead, comics Frankie Boyle and broadcasters Sally Magnusson and Aasmah Mir also made appearances last year.

Pauline McLean

The cancellation of Aye Write has come as a great shock, not least to authors booked to appear at this year’s festival.

Among them Damien Barr, who was due to discuss the National Theatre of Scotland production of his memoir Maggie and Me.

“This is a shocking and damaging loss for Scotland’s literary eco system,” he wrote on X. “Surely the money and will exist?”

The council-funded charity Glasgow Life had funded the festival since it first began 20 years ago. That small event had expanded by 2023 into a 10- day festival featuring more than 175 writers. They’d even added a children’s strand, Wee Write.

The programme was supported by Creative Scotland, with a £70,000 grant. Glasgow Life, which supports a network of cultural venues and other festivals hoped a £77,500 grant from Creative Scotland’s open fund would support a similarly sized programme this year but it appears their application has been unsuccessful.

Creative Scotland say funding applications now far outstrip the funds they have available although they also face criticism for awarding a grant to a controversial project involving non-simulated sex.

The problem is that Glasgow Life face the same pressures. There is simply not enough money to go around. They seem resigned to Aye Write being a series of pop up events this year, while applications get underway for multi year funding which would allow the full festival to return in 2025.

The news has shocked authors and audiences alike, but it will also send a chill through the entire sector.

If Glasgow’s only book festival can’t find funding, what hope is there for other cultural organisations.