Vote for the Oak! European Tree of the Year

Please vote for the Suffragette Oak, as nominated by Glasgow Women’s Library, as European Tree of the Year!

The Glasgow Gallivanter

European Tree of the YearGlasgow’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.
  • Marion Dunlop…

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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!


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.

We won! Scotland’s Tree of the Year

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:

And here we are winning at the parliament!

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!

The sound of my own voice

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 March about 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 😉

Mixing the Colours

On Friday, I attended (as a helper) Glasgow Women’s Library’s Mixing the Colours conference about women and sectarianism. I was going to write about it, but my friend Helen MacKinven already did so and, as I can’t improve on what she says, I suggest you hop on over to her blog A way with words and read her excellent post. But first a few pictures!

The beautiful venue is St Andrews in the Square, built between 1739 and 1756. It’s regarded as one of the top six classical churches in the UK and is now a centre for Scottish culture. The lovely group on the steps are contributors to the Mixing the Colours book and film. Other writers, including Helen, have read their work on podcasts which you can access here.

Rachel Thain Gray* is to be congratulated on running this interesting and important project so brilliantly!

*Update, 25/03/15 – Project Development Worker, Rachel, has now posted her speech from the day on the GWL Blog. It’s well worth a read.

Scottish Screen Archive

Hillington Industrial Estate is not generally a very exciting place – but it has some surprising tenants. The Scottish Screen Archive has been located there for the past 9 years, and earlier today I had a fascinating tour of its premises with a group from Glasgow Women’s Library. A rather soulless building has been made attractive with colourful posters and displays of film related artefacts.

We were welcomed by Emily Munro, Learning and Outreach Officer, who gave us a brief introduction to the collection before taking us round the various departments to meet some of the 15 staff and find out what they do.

The collection was founded in 1976 and became part of the National Library of Scotland in 2007. It comprises mainly non fiction / social history material, though also includes anything funded by Creative Scotland. Films date from 1895 onwards and include both professional material (e.g. STV Archive – the BBC has its own – and all Gaelic TV broadcasts) and amateur films such as home movies.  The variety of formats is challenging as we saw later! The archive also holds paper records such as stills, press cuttings, scripts, ephemera and so on. Some SSA “shelfies”:

Next, we met staff from the acquisitions and metadata sections. Material is not usually purchased but donated, and they are very selective about what they accept in terms of subject matter and quality – only about 30%. Films are physically examined and repaired to be watched, assessed, and catalogued if accepted. Some material is referred on to more appropriate collections, e.g. BFI. Copyright and data protection must be carefully considered and agreements can change over time – the subjects of a home movie donated in the 1970s might not be happy to appear online, for example.

In the final part of the visit, Alan Russell, Preservation and Technical Manager, showed us the array of machines required to access and maintain the collection, many of which are irreplaceable.

Some of the less pleasant challenges in handling old film include vinegar syndrome, when the acetate breaks down, fungal growth on the gelatine, chalk separating out of videotape and, most alarmingly, the instability of nitrate film which can explode! (Unless you have some 35mm film from the 50s lying around you should be ok….)

Alan explained that digital restoration aims to make the film appear as it would have done when new, not upgrade it to modern standards or make amateur film look professional. It’s expensive and time-consuming to do, so tends to be restricted to unique items such as colour footage of the Queen Mary’s first voyage down the Clyde.

Find out more about the Archive and its holdings on its website (a new one is launching at the end of the month). Hillington is rather out-of-the-way and viewing facilities are very limited (see the Visiting us page for how to make an appointment) – but this will change in September next year when the Archive will move to the much more central Kelvin Hall alongside sports facilities and the stores of Glasgow Museums and Glasgow University’s Hunterian. This will provide event space, an exhibition area and drop-in access facilities as well as opportunities for cross-organisation co-operation. It sounds amazing!

Thanks to Emily, Alan and all the other staff for a brilliant visit. Before I finish, there is a link with another GWL trip I went on last week to the Glasgow Sculpture Studios. After looking at the current exhibition we took a trip on their Creative Cargo canal barge. It was fitted up as a mini-cinema, in conjunction with SSA, and one of the films on offer was The Bowler and the Bunnet, a 1967 documentary narrated and directed by Sean Connery on industrial relations at Fairfields’s shipyard in Govan. It wasn’t as dry as it sounds! We didn’t have time to see it all, but I was fascinated by discussion of what were then  new-fangled management methods such as job-evaluation. There are a couple of clips on the SSA’s catalogue record if you want a flavour of it.

Never a dull moment with GWL!

March of Women – Part 2

(The background to this project is in March of Women Part 1.)

March of Women has been and gone and it was a great day! The start wasn’t promising because the rain was pouring down when I arrived at Glasgow Women’s Library for the final rehearsals at 11am, but by the time we all spilled out into the streets at 2pm it had cleared and it stayed dry until we finished.

There were three parts to the event:

1. The pageant

In Cicely Hamilton’s 1909 Pageant of Great Women, Woman appeals to Justice for freedom and Prejudice gives reasons why she is not worthy (not clever enough, not brave enough – you get the picture). Three wonderful paid actors played these parts – Lesley Hart (Prejudice), Lucianne McEvoy (Justice) and Patricia Panther (Woman).

Woman makes her case by calling on significant women from history. In our version, Cicely Hamilton’s women had non-speaking parts and we wrote our own parts using mainly, but not exclusively, Scottish women. These are just a few – aren’t we all splendid? I was proud to represent Isabella Elder, and highlighted her contribution to allowing Scottish women access to higher education at the end of the 19th century.

2. The March

After the verdict (and it probably isn’t a spoiler to tell you that Woman wins her case) we formed a procession and marched to Glasgow Green where we were welcomed by SheBoom (a local women’s drumming troop).

3. The Event on the Green

This was the only part of the day in which I felt out of my comfort zone! Because I turned up to a particular rehearsal, I got roped into the choreographed event at the end of the March, on the old drying greens at Glasgow Green. The washing poles are still there – cue many jokes about pole dancing. My partner and I went slightly wrong at the end, but we survived. Then we had our photos taken in our groups, and it was over. I think we all felt elated that it went so well, but sad that we wouldn’t be doing it again. Still, there’s always the film to come…

All photos by John Marsh, who got himself a great seat right at the front. Thanks, John!

March of Women – Part 1

About 18 months ago, I joined a group at Glasgow Women’s Library called Drama Queens. We met at lunchtime or in the early evening and read plays from the library’s collection. One of those was A Pageant of Great Women, written by Cicely Hamilton in 1909, in which Prejudice puts the case against women’s suffrage and Woman rebuts his arguments with examples of great women from history. Now GWL is putting on its own version on 7th March (the eve of International Women’s Day), revised and updated with historic Scottish women. I’m proud to be representing Isabella Elder in this March of Women.

The day itself will merit its own post, but there has been an enormous amount happening in the meantime. Workshops, for example: research / writing workshops to create lines for “our” women and craft workshops to make banners, sashes and rosettes (being hopelessly ham-fisted I’ve opted out of this bit). A lecture (below, left) by Katharine Cockin, Professor of English at the University of Hull and author of Edith Craig (1869-1947): Dramatic Lives – Edith was the director of the original performance. Katharine explained that suffrage supporters in the arts were encouraged to use their expertise, resources and contacts to help spread the word, and in the period 1905-14 many women wrote a play, a poem or a short story, for the first time. Pageants and public spectacles had very specific meanings at that time, and I also found Linda Fleming’s article in Women’s History Scotland helpful in understanding that.

We had a Christmas party at which I did a bit of play-reading with Dr Anna Birch of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (above, right). Anna is March of Women’s Director – she has already directed A Pageant of Great Women, in Hull in 2011 so we are in experienced hands. The third photo above shows rehearsals beginning. These will culminate in a dress rehearsal on Friday 6th: we’ve all had to find white clothing which has not necessarily been easy!

Finally, I spent a very cold couple of hours last Friday in Glasgow Necropolis, where Isabella Elder is buried, being filmed talking about why I chose her. Some of that might make it into the documentary which is being made about the event. I’d like to say come and see us next Saturday, but the pageant is a sell-out. However, you can join us at 2pm outside GWL’s doors as we process to Glasgow Green (details via link in first paragraph). And if you can’t do anything else, please keep your fingers crossed for a dry day!

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?