Ventures into the Wild

Posted on 13th March 2015 by Svend McEwan-Brown

Festival Director Svend Brown’s personal passion for nature…

If anyone asks what kind of festival East Neuk Festival is I will always say that whether we are presenting music, art, ideas or sand, it is first and foremost a site-specific festival. Everything in the programme is inspired by the place it happens in – such a beautiful, restful corner of the country, but also a very suggestive and inspiring one. Some days I simply drive around the many winding roads, visiting the buildings, enjoying the distinctive lie of the land, gazing out to sea (not while driving) and allowing lunatic ideas to come to me. Some stick, which is how many of our most memorable events have come to pass: electronica at midnight in a Secret Bunker; Tuvan throat singing in an RAF Hardened Air Shelter, a flautist in the dell. And because we allow ENF to evolve each year at an unhurried pace ideas can germinate ideas, mature, and find their own place.

We struggled for some years to find the right way to weave literature and ideas into our programme. We wanted to stand out from all the other wonderful book festivals that grace our cultural scene, and do so by being less general and more thematic than others. Catherine Lockerbie and Jenny Brown had a hand in the development of many of these festivals, so when I turned to them to discuss ENF I was utterly delighted that they had the perfect solution ready to hand. Nature is all around us in the East Neuk, nature of uncommonly varied kinds – coastal, farmland, woodland, freshwater… To celebrate the finest nature writing in such a place is, well, natural. Being a region in which food production of different kinds is key to the economy, what better place to consider the burning ecological issues confronting all of us? Even the effortless pun of the name – Littoral – seemed to urge upon us the aptness of the idea.

Nature writing had not featured heavily in my reading before that time. Ring of Bright Water, Tarka the Otter… I struggled beyond these two. So, as Littoral has developed my own reading has been dramatically enriched. Discoveries have been many, but none more delightful than how this genre called ‘nature writing’ actually encompasses history, memoir, myth, poetry, fiction, fairy tale, investigation, fantasy, and polemic. There is no more marvellous an example than H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Despite its title, it is really a moving book about loss and human frailty that touches on myth and biography. G is for Grief, Macdonald’s personal encounter and relationship with the wild, is exactly the territory we explore in Littoral.

Littoral is intended to be a place for ideas as well as writing. This year there are one or two burning issues on the table to spark debate. Re-wilding the landscape is an endlessly fascinating topic, and an essential one, prompting moral as well as ecological dilemmas. Since once meeting a Swede who felt it was perfectly fair for bears in the North to eat the occasional human (given how many bearskin rugs we have on our floors) I have felt strongly that I’d rather the wolves I meet are on the other side of a tall and sturdy fence, but I look forward to hearing Jim Crumley’s arguments for their reintroduction to Scotland.

The greatest pleasure of ENF is being able to dot about between events, creating your own Festival itinerary. Of course in the East Neuk you can add in a coastal walk or a gallery visit or a cup of tea with a sea view. Whether it is music, art, ideas or sand that bring you to East Neuk Festival, I hope you enjoy it and discover something wonderful and new while you’re there too!

Visit the Programme page for full event details.

Native pine forest at dawn in summer, Rothiemurchus Estate, Cairngorms National Park, Strathspey, Scotland, July 2001. Photograph © Laurie Campbell
Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) male bird on lekking territory and photographed in dappled light in native pinewood, RSPB Abernethy Nature Reserve, Cairngorms National Park, Strathspey, Scotland, May 2001. Photograph © Laurie Campbell

Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) male bird on lekking territory and photographed in dappled light in native pinewood, RSPB Abernethy Nature Reserve, Cairngorms National Park, Strathspey, Scotland, May 2001. Photograph © Laurie Campbell



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