Review of Baker Prize winners event by Angus Dunn

I just spent a most wonderful evening in Skeabost, on Skye. Organised by the Skye Reading Room, it was the presentation of the Baker prize for writing. This might be the best such event that I have ever attended – and for an inaugural event it was stupendous. In the gorgeous rooms of the Skeabost Country House Hotel, we were treated to a lovely warm event, where even entering the Conservatory was special, meeting other writers and readers and finding our seats while a flautist and a viola player played in the background.

The winning story was read by Heather McGruder – who flew over from South Carolina for the event – and Jane Verburg from Cromarty read her runner-up story, and the audience hung on every word. And afterwards, people gathered in the bar and talked for hours, enjoying the palpable buzz that vibrated through the crowd and the evening.

It’s always difficult to isolate the elements that make up a good event – or in this case, a superb event. The enthusiasm and competence of the folk from the Reading Room was a part of it and so was the commitment and generousity of spirit that characterised the readings. Add to this the friendly and efficient staff (who could ask for more) and the wonderful rooms of the Skeabost Hotel.

Oh my, what a splendid place.The wide and handsome stairs are made of carved pitch pine. They must be a hundred years old – I didn’t ask – but their carvings are sharp-edged and the wood grain is gorgeous – planes and angles that sweep through the seasons of the trees’ growing. (And don’t think I didn’t spend a moment or two calculating the position of that apostrophe.)

When I woke in the morning, the windows looked out onto a lawn running down to a still loch. It’s an arm of the sea, but flooded by a river, so that it was fresh enough to allow a raft of wafer-thin ice to confuse the reflection, of trees on the hillside, of patches of rusty bracken against the line of a far-off dyke.

Later, I walked down to the shore. There are sycamores at the edge of the lawn whose bark holds echoes of Pictish cup and ring marks, or rippled water. The sun shone and frosted grass crunched underfoot.

Who  knows what this event will be like next year – or any of the other events that the Reading Room are organising before then. But I’ll bet, like this one, it’ll be an event that you’ll be glad to have been a part of.

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