I was invited to a book launch last week by my friend Lynne Rickards. She’s a picture book author and her publisher, Floris, was holding an event at the Lauriston Hall in Edinburgh for four of its Picture Kelpies authors. That’s Lynne in the turquoise scarf above, being introduced with the other authors who flank Chair Lindsey Fraser in the centre.
I can’t remember if I met Lynne on Twitter and then bought her books for the library I worked in, or if it was the other way round. Whatever, we soon discovered that we lived quite close to each other and have met several times since. Her current book is Skye the Puffling, and she had brought Skye along with two other characters, puffins Lewis and Harris, who featured in earlier stories. If you know anything about Scottish geography, you will be spotting a trend in the…
What is International Book Giving Day? It takes place on 14th February each year and aims to get books into the hands of as many children as possible. Some facts:
Most children in developing countries do not own books.
In the United Kingdom, one-third of children do not own books.
In the United States, two-thirds of children living in poverty do not own books.
To support the day, you could give a book to a friend or family member, leave a book in a waiting room for children to read, or donate a used book, in good condition, to a local library, hospital or shelter. You can download book-plates from the site to include in your gift.
There are also numerous charities that work year round to give books to children. Ones I like are:
Glasgow’s Suffragette Oak was planted on 20 April 1918 to commemorate the granting of votes to (some) women. Last year, Glasgow Women’s Library nominated it as Scotland’s Tree of the Year and I know that some of you voted for it, for which many thanks. It won, and throughout February the Suffragette Oak is part of the European Tree of the Year competition. On Monday I and GWL colleagues Wendy and Beverly braved the wind, rain and mud to promote it while shivering in white dresses. The photo-call was also attended by the Lord Provost of Glasgow, Sadie Docherty. (A Provost is a Mayor, and a Lord Provost is always a Lord even when she’s actually a Lady.) I would be so grateful if you could reward our dedication by voting for us here!
A bit of background information about some Scottish Suffragettes:
Mary Hamilton – later a Labour MP (1929) and a lifelong campaigner for equal pay.
Do you use libraries? If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance the answer will be yes, but did you know that every week two libraries in the UK close their doors for good?
If you answered no to the first question, is it because you can afford to buy books and pay for a good broadband connection? But what if you couldn’t? As Nick Poole says in a recent Mirror article “It’s hard to understand the impact of these cuts when you’re well-off, have easy access to the internet and can buy the books you want. But for millions of poor families, jobseekers and people with disabilities a library is a lifeline.”
CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) is running a campaign called My Library By Right. Follow the link if you’d like to know more, and please, please sign their petition along with (so far) almost 8000 other people, including famous authors such as Joanna Trollope and Andrew Motion. It relates specifically to English libraries at the moment, but libraries in Scotland are facing cuts too and it’s important that we show our support.
A few weeks ago we escaped a dreary, wet Glasgow for a week in Bermuda. It’s a beautiful place about which a full set of posts will appear on my travel blog in due course. In the meantime, here are a few book and library-related items for your delectation.
Above is the National Library in the capital, City of Hamilton – I suspect it’s the only library, though it also has a children’s section in a separate building.
Elsewhere in Hamilton were these fabulous sculptures of people reading. The telephone box is in the Old Town of St George’s – it calls itself The Telephone Book Swap Library so it’s covering all options.
Book swap in St George’s
Reading on a bench
Finally, next to our hotel was Bermuda College Library. I think I could survive working here.
Reading is the greatest gift – it opens up so many new worlds. It’s not just the obvious benefits of functional literacy: stories have the power to bring emotions to life, by helping children to understand their own feelings and those of others. In other words, reading builds empathy*, the ability to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” – and isn’t this something the world needs more than ever these days?
The children in your life probably already have easy access to this gift. I certainly did – that’s me in the picture, aged three, with one of my Christmas presents. However, many children don’t have the advantages of growing up in a house full of books, or with parents that take them to libraries. Every Christmas, I try to do something about that. This year, I’ve chosen The…
Crime is not my genre of choice, but I really enjoyed this session at the Mitchell Library. I’d volunteered to help Glasgow Libraries out at a couple of events, and this was one of them – it’s a great way to find out about new authors, because it can be quite random where you are allocated.
A panel of three authors, the most famous probably being Arne Dahl, some of whose stories have been televised, talked about “the contemporary anxieties they explore in their works of urban crime fiction”. Arne is from Stockholm, Stuart Neville from Belfast and Eva Dolan from Peterborough, and between them they covered contemporary issues such as immigration, terrorism, the fate of refugees and the effects of violence on those left behind.
Arne Dahl’s books revolve around a tight-knit team of elite specialists who investigate the dark side of Swedish society. They contain lots of characters because he always intended to write an extensive series (10). Asked what he thought about the TV versions, he thought his characters came across as “a bit more stupid” on screen. The shows are “well made enough” – but he really wants people to read the books, while recognising that TV gets his name better known.
Coming from Northern Ireland, Stuart Neville is well aware of the long-term effects of murder. He talked about one victim whose wife and two daughters all subsequently committed suicide, and a man whose walls were covered in newspaper cuttings of his father’s murder 30 years before. His latest novel, Those We Left Behind, concerns a 12-year old boy who confessed to the murder of his foster-father. Seven years later, his probation officer suspects there was more to this case than the police uncovered.
Eva Dolan was inspired by an overheard conversation with a gang-master in a country pub to write about the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. She tackles issues such as immigration and far right extremism, for which she finds the research profoundly depressing – for example, investigating the terrible conditions in which migrant workers live. Another unpleasant result is that she is now identified as a bit of a fascist in the sites that social media recommends to her!
It was interesting to compare the answers to audience questions – for example, do they read crime fiction as well as writing it? Eva does – she wants to know what the competition is up to, check trends and make sure her idea hasn’t been written about before (and preferably get in first before the topic dates). Arne said he didn’t until the point at which he found his own voice. Stuart used to, but has more or less stopped – he was getting too analytical about it, although he finds audio books can bypass this part of his brain. There was general consensus that, even although writers should “touch the untouchable” (Arne), events such as the recent Paris bombings were best mulled over for a few years before being used for fiction.
Would I read these authors? Yes, definitely – when my current TBR pile decreases somewhat!
Not a BWS event, but slap bang in the middle of it and with plenty of love for books and reading, was the CILIPS West AGM. The picture shows past President Robert Ruthven and current President Jeanette Castle who spoke eloquently of her life in and passion for libraries. I was not the only one nodding along in recognition when she spoke of her early start as a primary school library monitor who played libraries at home with her own books!
A brew, a book and a banter with Maggie Ritchie
This was another Glasgow Libraries event, this time at my local branch, Hillhead. Maggie Ritchie’s book, Paris Kiss, is set in the art world of 1880s where young English sculptor Jessie Lipscomb joins her friend, Camille Claudel, in the studio of Auguste Rodin. Rodin and Camille embark on an affair which strains the friendship, but when the book opens this is all in the past. Years later, Jessie has tracked Camille down to an insane asylum and together they look back on their shared memories.
Would I read this book? Yes, I would, and I borrowed a copy from the library before I left. There are serious issues in it, mainly the role of women and the restrictions placed upon them – for example, although British women of the time could access an education in art, they were not allowed to work from the nude figure. In Paris they could. Another issue is the ease with which inconvenient women could be locked up for years, even decades. This enrages me – I think also of the film, The Magdalene Sisters, a much-less known TV film from the 80s, She’s been away, starring Peggy Ashcroftand Geraldine James, and other books such as Maggie O’Farrell’s Vanishing act of Esme Lennox. So why on earth does this book have such a fluffy cover? It looks like a lightweight historical romance. I did, slightly cheekily, ask Maggie this and, as suspected, it’s what the publisher thinks will sell – but I certainly wouldn’t have picked it up in bookshop or library without having attended this event.
GWL Book Bonanza
Where to have the most fun in Book Week Scotland? Glasgow Women’s Library of course! The Bring and Borrow Book Bonanza took place over Friday lunchtime. Sheila Templeton and Velma McClymont read some of their poems, we had a quiz and Claire was presented with a prize for being the top borrower of 2015. My contribution was a series of quotes about books from women writers (might make a separate post of them), plus contributing to the chat and (of course) helping to eat the cake!
GWL Book Bonanza
Reading my quotes
Claire with her prize
Velma donated two of her children’s books
Velma McClymont and Sheila Templeton
Like the CILIPS West AGM this event was not part of BWS, but it was strongly related to books. It took place at Maryhill Burgh Halls, where I have recently started volunteering, and featured a screening of Katharine Round’s film The dividewhich asks the question “what happens when the rich get richer?” Inspired by the book The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, it tells the story of seven people striving for a better life in modern-day US and UK – where the top 0.1% owns as much wealth as the bottom 90%. By plotting these tales together, it shows how life is dominated by the size of the gap between rich and poor, and how economic division creates social division.
The second part of the afternoon consisted of talks by David Walsh from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health who shared some terrifying statistics, and Carol Craig whose book The tears that made the Clyde: well-being in Glasgow puts flesh on the bones of those stats. I came away with that book and her earlier title, The Scots’ crisis of confidence, and a feeling of despair about the world😦
Volunteering is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and attend events which you might not normally have considered. I think I was very restrained only ending up with three more books in the house than I had before! The creative force behind Book Week Scotland is the Scottish Book Trust, so thank you to them for all they do. I think I now need to take their How much could you read instead? test.
Remember Mary Barbouris a campaign to create a lasting memorial to one of Glasgow’s greatest heroes. Mary (1875-1938) was a Scottish political activist who is particularly remembered for her role leading the Rent Strikes of 1915. Unscrupulous landlords thought they could take of advantage of thousands of workers flocking to Glasgow to jobs in the shipyards and munitions factories during WW1. Also, as many men were away fighting or in German prisoner of war camps, the landlords thought the women would be a soft touch. Step in Mrs Barbour and her Army! Read more on the campaign’s page but, suffice it to say, the landlords didn’t get away with it and Parliament passed the Rent Restriction Act, the first of its kind in Europe, setting rents for the duration of the war and for six months afterwards at pre-war levels.
It would be wonderful to have a statue of Mary in Govan, her home, in time for the centenary of the Rent Strikes next year. The campaign has so far raised enough money to commission maquettes (small-scale models) of five shortlisted designs. These were on display at the People’s Palace yesterday, and I went to have a look. Hover over the gallery to see the captions with the names of the sculptors.
Sculptor: Andrew Brown
Sculptor: Morag McLean
Sculptor: Roddy McDowall
Sculptor: Mark Longworth
Sculptor: Kenny Mackay
Opinions were being collected – which would you have favoured? I like the one of Mary vigorously brandishing a placard, or the one with her hand in the air and her army following behind. They both have a sense of movement and determination. However, any of them would be an asset to a city which, as yet, has only three statues of women.
If you’re in Glasgow, or have Glasgow connections, keep an eye on the campaign’s website for news of more viewings. There is also a page on JustGiving if you wish to donate.
In my last post, I wrote about Glasgow Women’s Library nominating the Suffragette Oak, which was planted in 1918 to commemorate some women getting the vote, as Scotland’s Tree of the Year. Well, we won! At a reception at the Scottish Parliament last night we were presented with a trophy, certificate and banner.
Here’s the tree and its banner:
Scotland’s Tree of the Year
And here we are winning at the parliament!
Scotland’s Tree of the Year
Now we go on to compete to be European Tree of the Year next year. I might be asking for your votes again – thanks to anyone who voted for us this time!
Last week, I had the weird experience of hearing my own voice twice. With another Glasgow Women’s Library volunteer I did an interview on Radio Scotland about the Suffragette Oak. This was planted in 1918 to commemorate women being granted the vote – well, some women: those over 30 who owned property. It wasn’t till 1928 that all women over 21 got it. The Library has nominated the tree to be Scotland’s Tree of the Year – it would be great if you could follow the link and vote for us please! The radio interview is on the BBC iPlayer – start at 1hr 49m to hear it.
Earlier in the week, I attended the premiere of the Library’s film Marchabout the suffragette pageant we re-enacted in the Spring. I’m interviewed in that too! So I’m quite the media star these days. Autographs on request😉