Skye the Puffling and other stories

The Glasgow Gallivanter

Picture Kelpies Book Launch Picture Kelpies Book Launch

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…

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International Book Giving Day

Forget chocolates and flowers for Valentine’s Day – it’s also International Book Giving Day on Sunday.

The Glasgow Gallivanter

IBGDWhat 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:

In the past I’ve

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Book Week Scotland 2015

Book Week Scotland – how was it for you? I had a great time!

Urban Crime Noir

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 Blinded ManArne 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.

Stuart Neville Those we left behindComing 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 Long Way HomeEva 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!

CILIPS West

Robert Ruthven and Jeanette CastleNot 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

 

Maggie Ritchie
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.

maggie-ritchie-paris-kissWould 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 Ashcroft and 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!

Tackling inequality

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 divide which 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.

Carol Craig Tears that made the ClydeThe 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 😦

The verdict

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.

Aye Write!

The 10th annual Aye Write! has just finished at the Mitchell Library – what does the name mean? In my review of the festival two years ago, I wrote:

There are several levels of pun involved in the title of Glasgow’s book festival: Aye Write! “Yes, write” and “I write” are probably obvious to all, but non-Scots might not know that “Aye, right!” is a Glaswegian expression of some scepticism, a rare example of a double positive making a negative.

So now you know! As two years ago, I attended several sessions in return for volunteering – directing people to the right venues, checking tickets and taking round the microphone for Q&A sessions. It was great fun being able to help and, because I didn’t request any specific sessions that I wanted to attend, I heard from authors that I’d previously known nothing about.

There’s a whole range of talks to suit every taste from celebrity writers, who naturally can turn their event into a performance, to special interest writers, some of whom are obviously not used to public speaking.  Panel and interview formats are also popular and can work very well. Here are my highlights.

John Mackay : The books that made me

Road DanceJohn Mackay is a well-known Scottish political journalist. I didn’t know he was also a novelist – he has written a trilogy set on the Isle of Lewis, the first of which is The Road Dance. In this session, he talked about five books that had influenced him, starting with the Bible. John was born in Glasgow, but from a Hebridean background. His family were members of the Free Church. Favourite part: when he had to explain to his childhood pals that he wasn’t allowed to play football on Sundays because of his church. “Free Church? Does that mean you don’t have to pay a collection then?”

Crime and the city

Crime writing is not my genre of choice, so I didn’t know any of these authors. Stuart McBride, Neil Broadfoot and Malcolm MacKay discussed the importance of, respectively, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow to their novels and why they chose the location in the first place. Favourite part: the Q&A. Chair Russel D MacLean (another crime writer who sets his novels in Dundee) exhorted the audience not to be shy – their questions couldn’t be any worse than one he had been asked: “Have you, or any of your characters, ever been made into bubble bath dispensers?” Then I took the mic to a lady who started “Stuart, I’ve never been able to finish any of your books…..” She went on to say that they were too gory, she worried about him and was relieved to see that he looked normal and quite human! Fortunately, Stuart took this in good part and banter ensued. Kudos to Russel for introducing the signing session by saying “and if you can’t read the books, I’m told they make excellent paperweights”

My era is better than yours

Three historical fiction writers made a pitch for their chosen period: Lindsey Davis (the Georgians), Rory Clements (the Elizabethans) and Michael Arnold (the English Civil War). Favourite part: the result. The chair allegedly had a clapometer which measured audience applause and produced – a three-way tie! I don’t believe it. Not only are the Tudors obviously the best, but I thought Rory Clements was the best speaker and made a proper case rather than just telling anecdotes from his period. But what do I know?

Nikolaus Wachsmann / Eva Schloss

9780374118259These were two separate talks, but they were programmed consecutively and it was obvious that many of the audience for the first had stayed on for the second. Nikolaus Wachsmann is the first historian to write a complete history of the Nazi concentration camps in KL. He tells the full story of the camp system’s development and the everyday experiences of its inhabitants, both perpetrators and victims. It was the question of the perpetrators that fascinated me. How could anyone do such things? Wachsmann outlined a range of reactions:

  • The SS man who vomited at his first sighting of mass murder then got used to it and participated.
  • The SS men who saw it as a profession and were quite business-like about it. One said of a Jehovah’s Witness when asked why he buried him alive: “He was a Conscientious Objector and had no right to life in my view”.
  • One officer wrote to his wife that he “put his head in the sand”. This was a common reaction. Wachsmann says that the claim after the war that the population did not know what was going on was a myth. The camps and the prisoners were in plain sight.

He concluded that, on the whole, perpetrators lived quieter lives than those who suffered – they seemed to be able to forget.

Eva SchlossEva Schloss and her family were taken to Auschwitz in May 1944. Her father and brother died, but she and her mother were freed by the Russians in 1945. Wachsmann cared deeply about his subject, but Schloss’s session (in the form of a discussion about her book, After Auschwitz, with Ruth Wishart) had the added passion of the survivor and bears out Wachsmann’s theory. She was filled with hate for years, also jealousy. After the war her mother remarried – to Otto Frank, making her Anne’s step-sister. She felt side-lined; that her own identity had been overwhelmed by this connection. For years, she didn’t talk about what happened for fear of burdening her own children. Now, she sees this as damaging and wishes she had spoken about it more. The floodgates, for her, were opened when Ken Livingstone asked her to take part in an exhibition.

Schloss also had her views about the perpetrators. She might be happy now (she has had a long marriage and children and grandchildren) but she cannot forgive the perpetrators, nor does she want to. She has no truck with the “only obeying orders” excuse, citing an officer in the early years of the camps who had expressed distaste for his role and been moved elsewhere. What if they had all done that? Not only that, she feels some of the guards took pleasure in inventing even worse things than those that they were ordered to do. Like Wachsmann, she feels that they were, unaccountably, able to live with themselves afterwards and some were just sorry that they didn’t finish the job.

This was a very moving, even traumatic, evening. One audience member I spoke with wondered whether it would have been better to have the sessions on different days, then decided that would lessen the impact and it was better to confront ( I can’t say enjoy) both at once. I agree.

Tony Roper : I’ll no tell you again

tonyroper_cover01This one I actually had a ticket for. Tony Roper is one of Scotland’s most recognisable faces. He is best known for playing Jamesie Cotter in Rab C. Nesbitt and for writing the classic comedy-drama The Steamie. I’ll no tell you again is his autobiography, telling of his Glasgow childhood and his early working life in coal mines, building sites and ship yards before he found his vocation as an actor and writer.

Roper is very, very funny and kept the theatre laughing for an hour. Who knew he was 73? I’d never have thought it. And his real name’s not Tony – not unusual for an actor to have a stage name, but his renaming long predated his acting days. He was called Dennis after his father, but his mother didn’t like his father very much so young Dennis was always known as Junior until he went to work at Bilsland’s Bakery. The van driver he was assigned to kept calling him Tony, because that was the name of his last assistant. Everyone else took it up, and he’s been Tony ever since. Favourite part: Tony imitating Rikki Fulton as Rev I M Jolly.

Apologies to non-Scottish readers who have missed out on some of the cultural references in this post!

Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2015

Robot rumpus, Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens and Mosi’s War were announced yesterday as the winning titles of this year’s Scottish Children’s Book Awards after 28,000 children across Scotland cast their vote. Thanks to Scottish Book Trust, who organised the Awards, for sending me their press release and to Rob McDougall who took these fabulous pictures.

Ross Collins and Sean Taylor are the joint winners of the Bookbug Readers (3-7 years) category for their book Robot Rumpus. Also pictured are Ashton and Michelle from Craigroyston Primary.

Alex McCall wins the Younger Readers (8-11) category for his debut novel, Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens. For more on Alex, see my Children’s Literature blog. Here, he’s with Aaron and Rachel from Buckstone Primary.

Finally, Cathy MacPhail is the winner of the Older Readers (12-16) category for Mosi’s War, marking the third time she has won a Scottish Children’s Book Award. Her companions are Adam and Kenzie from Wester Hailes Education Centre.

Congratulations to them all!

GWL Story Café

I’m just back from a great event for National Libraries Day at Glasgow Women’s Library! Their regular Story Café was given over to library love today. We opened with a list of quotes by women writers in the collection, which were also displayed on the bookshelves. Click on the pictures to enlarge them enough to read the quotes.

Given the endangered state of libraries today, I added a few more that seemed relevant:

Cutting libraries in a recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague. Eleanor Crumblehulme.

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries. Anne Herbert.

Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest. Lady Bird Johnson.

Librarians consider free access to information the foundation of democracy. Marilyn Johnson.

Librarian Wendy Kirk then read a short story, The summer librarian, and Jackie Kay’s lovely poem Dear Library. Through it all, we drank tea, ate delicious food and discussed our earliest memories of libraries. What a great afternoon!

My Book Week Scotland

I more or less moved in to Glasgow Women’s Library for last week’s Book Week Scotland! My first event was Drama Queens – a play-reading group – but this is ongoing and part of a bigger project, March of Women, so I’ll return to that at a later date. Next, I attended the launch party of the Commonwealth Women Writers collection. I wasn’t part of the group which set this up, but I have been very busy over the last few weeks cataloguing the books so felt entirely justified in scoffing my free lunch and listening to several authors reading from their work. I especially enjoyed talking to Velma McClymont afterwards – pictured here with two of her books which I had just catalogued the day before.

Later the same day, the short-listed stories and poems in GWL’s third annual “Dragon’s Pen” competition were read, mostly by their authors. This year, the writing had a sectarian theme to fit in with another GWL project, Mixing the Colours. The non-fire-breathing dragons gave their feedback then retired to deliberate on their verdicts. Things were apparently tense until it was decided that one poem and two stories could be awarded prizes. It was lovely to spend almost an entire day being read to.

On Friday – guess what? More reading! For Reading Hour (complete with tea and cakes) we took turns reading aloud from our choice of story or poem then indulged in some silent reading. I read Maya Angelou’s uplifting poem Still I rise. I was lucky enough to hear her talk once, and can report that she was as inspiring in person as she was on the page.

Book Week Scotland was managed wonderfully, as ever, by Scottish Book Trust. I took part in their vote for the favourite character in a Scottish book – my choice (Miss Jean Brodie) came eighth. I suppose a top-10 finish isn’t bad! I was also interested in their Artworks for Libraries project, especially as I know one of the artists slightly: Rosie Cunningham, who designed a set of flags for Shetland. (I’ve written about Rosie before on my travel blog.)

So, that’s it for another year. Has anybody else been to anything good in Book Week Scotland?

Book Week Scotland 2014

Book Week Scotland logo 2014This year’s Book Week Scotland (24 to 30 November 2014) launched its programme last week – in a boxing gym, apparently. This might seem strange until you realise organisers Scottish Book Trust were using it to illustrate one of this year’s projects – a vote for the nation’s favourite characters from Scottish books. Will Harry Potter swoop to victory, will Miss Jean Brodie sweep the board, or will they both be frightened off by The Gruffalo? Votes can be cast via the Book Week Scotland website and the top 10 characters will be revealed on Friday 28 November. It all looks great fun from the photos (credit: Rob McDougall) and I’ve already cast my vote. Who for? Not telling! It’s a secret ballot after all. But do bear in mind that I am in my prime and have always been la crème de la crème.

Hundreds of other, free book-related events will pop up in a diverse range of locations across Scotland, including some of Scotland’s best-loved writers and illustrators appearing at a major programme of events held in libraries, funded by The Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC). Young children can get further into the Book Week Scotland spirit by tuning in to watch two of Britain’s best loved poets, Roger McGough and Valerie Bloom, bringing rhythm and rhyme to life during a special free author webcast on 27 November at 11.00am. Many pupils will also enjoy a personal visit from Steve Cole, author of Astrosaurs and Cows in Action, who will tour schools around the country during the week.

If your library is important to you, (and if it isn’t, why not?) Book Week Scotland is your chance to declare your feelings. Book lovers are being encouraged to take part in the Love Letter to Your Library campaign to raise awareness about the crucial role libraries play in the lives of individuals and communities. You can post, email or drop off positive stories directly to your favourite library, or pop in and read letters written by members of the public, authors and celebrities. Five large library artworks will also be unveiled across Scotland in North Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Lothian, Edinburgh and Shetland. I’m particularly keen to watch the progress on that last one, because I know the artist.

Book Week Scotland’s Reading Pledge campaign will serve as a gentle motivation to pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read, share a story with your child each night or simply pass on a much-loved book to a neighbour. Be sure to share your pledge on social media and don’t forget to carry it out during the week! You could also read some of the beautiful stories and poems in Scotland’s Stories of Home, a collection written by Scottish people,  150,000 free copies of which will be distributed throughout the week via libraries, bookshops and other outlets. Schools will also receive an e-publication featuring Scottish pupil’s stories of home.

Information on all the above is available on the BWS website – or maybe you have your own ideas? What are you and your library doing?

A bird is not a stone

A bird is not a stone at GWL
Christine, Maya, Magi and Abla

I chanced on this wonderful event by accident. I was at Glasgow Women’s Library for my normal volunteering stint on Wednesday morning when Magi Gibson, Reader in Residence, told me it was happening that afternoon. I decided to stay on and was very glad I did.

A bird is not a stone is a collection of contemporary Palestinian poetry in its original Arabic, with translations into English and sometimes Scots or Shetlandic. One of the poets, Maya Abu al-Hayyat, read from her work and Magi and Christine de Luca read the English and Shetlandic versions respectively. These had been created using “bridge translations.” This was a new phrase to me, but it means that the poems were first translated literally, then handed over to the Scottish poets to write their own versions. One of the translators, Abla Oudeh of Edinburgh’s centre for Islamic Studies, also read and joined in the conversation. This covered not only the poetry itself but the difficulties of making progress on women’s rights in Palestine in its current situation, and the effect of that situation on its children. As Maya pointed out, if a child is aged 6, he or she will have already lived through 3 wars. Horrifying.

As well as Magi and Christine, Scottish contributors to A bird is not a stone include Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead and Jackie Kay. Since the event, I’ve discovered it has its own blog on which you can watch Maya and Christine reading (at the Edinburgh event). I’ve ordered the book for myself from my local bookshop (I’m trying to wean myself off Amazon and Waterstones) and it can also be purchased from its publisher, Freight Books. Finally, there are some great images of the event on Dominique Carton’s site – and a lovely compliment for GWL from Henry Bell, the book’s editor:

I can’t wait for my book to arrive!

23 Librarians and 21 Revolutions

23 LibrariansA big week last week with two launches! First, a project I’ve been working on for a while went live, 23 Librarians. This new blog springs from conversations about widening professional knowledge following last year’s CILIPS Autumn Gathering and Library Camp Glasgow, and aims to give a flavour of the range of library and information work in Scotland today. It’s inspired by the 23 Things concept (in particular cpd23) and the Library Routes and Day in the Life projects: 23 different bloggers will describe what attracted them to the library profession and give an insight into their daily work. It kicked off on Friday with School Librarian, Clare Hemsworth – follow the blog to find out who’s next, look for #23Librarians on Twitter, and get in touch if you’d like to contribute.

On Saturday, I donned my metaphorical pinny again at Glasgow Women’s Library, this time serving wine and cake at the launch of the magnificent new book 21 Revolutions (reviewed here in the Scotsman). In 2012, to celebrated its 21st birthday, GWL commissioned 21 women artists and 21 women writers to create new works inspired by its unique museum, archive and library collections. The book is on sale for £25, or you can view the artworks online or listen to podcasts of the writers’ work. Four of them, Kirsty Logan, Muriel Gray, Louise Welsh and Zoe Strachan, gave readings at the launch. I was too far back to get photographs of anything other than the cake and the wine, but I found a couple of good ones on Twitter.

I do believe that Douglas Adams regarded 42 as the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything – but for me last week, it was definitely 44!