How to boost a Bairn

In this blog and at events, I’ve often referred to my pride in being a bairn, meaning someone who was born in Falkirk. Identity is a key theme in my writing, and I was chuffed to be asked to take part in Bairns Night.

Last Friday’s spoken word online event was organised by Great Place Falkirk whose aim was to celebrate what it means to be a Falkirk bairn and discover different aspects of life in Falkirk, through anecdotes, poems, songs and stories.

It also featured winners of the short story competition ‘500 Words for Falkirk‘ reading their stories and it was a pleasure to be one of the judges.

For the event, I read out an extract from a short story called, ‘Today’s Special at the York Café’ which was featured in ‘Alight Here – An Anthology of Falkirk Writing’ and an extract from my debut novel – ‘Talk of the Toun’ which is set in the Falkirk area.

As I’ve not been able to find a publisher for the last novel I wrote, it’s been a while since I’ve had writing to promote or performed at a book event. It was great to be able to share my writing with readers again and I realised how much I’ve missed it.

Another reminder of my love of engaging with readers came from an out-of-the-blue tweet from @Debbbala. She tweeted about Talk of the Toun,

“Read this book!!
If you’re from Falkirk, you’ll love it.
If you’re Scottish, you’ll love it.
If you grew up in the 80’s you’ll love it. If you’re from anywhere ever and remember being a teenager ever, you’ll love it.
Tremendous”

I tweeted back that she’d made my day, week and month and she added, “It is a fantastic read, had me laughing and crying equally! I’ll definitely be reading more of your books”.

If ever I needed a boost and encouragement to not completely give up on writing, Debbie’s tweet did the trick. Virtual events and social media are here to stay. I’ve never underestimated their impact but this week I’ve felt their power more than ever.

It might just be time to dust off that last manuscript…

 

Behind Closed Doors

Last year, hubby and I joined the National Trust for Scotland and over the summer, we made a bloody good job of getting our money’s worth out of our membership.

holmwood1Many of the NTS’s sites are only open from Easter until the end of summer so our season of cultural visits is back in action. Last Saturday afternoon, we took a trip to the south side of Glasgow to Holmwood House. The property certainly has the wow factor from the outside and didn’t fail to deliver on the inside.

article-2596529-1CD0DD9000000578-920_306x417This unique villa has been described as Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson’s finest domestic design. It was built in 1857-8 for James Couper, a local businessman. Many rooms are richly ornamented in wood, plaster and marble based on themes from the classical world. The decor is being uncovered thanks to the heroic efforts of the conservation team to remove the horrific woodchip (been there, done that so I could empathise!)

Holmwood passed through several hands before becoming a school, run by an order of nuns who used the house as their convent, with each set of folk leaving their mark, for good or bad.

The same thought crossed my mind on the ‘Lamplight Walk’ around Falkirk town centre that I went on with my wee sister and bestie. The walk was organised by The Stentmaisters, a local group of historians who lead tours around the town.

imagesOne of the most unusual buildings in Falkirk is the Tattie Kirk. It was built in 1806 for the so called Anti-Burgher congregation. Octagonal Churches, while unusual, are not unknown in Scotland and they are said to have been built this way so that there was no corner for the Devil to hide in!  Why the building is known as the ‘Tattie’ Kirk is uncertain, but it has been suggested that the site may have been a potato field before the church was built, or that the Minister’s stipend was paid in part in vegetables or that it was at one time used to store potatoes. The building is now used as a beauty salon, treating the bodies instead of the souls of locals!

Tcache_2411661739here were lots of other entertaining snippets of local history which our excellent tour guide, John Walker shared with us, in particular the alleged case of human spontaneous combustion. On December 16, 1904, Mrs. Gladys Cochrane, widow of the prominent local man Thomas Cochrane of Rosehall in Falkirk was found burned beyond recognition in her bedroom. She was found sitting in a chair surrounded by pillows and cushions which were not burned. She had not cried out, and there was no fire in her grate.

I don’t smell smoke when I hear paranormal stories, the cynic in me smells the stuff my dogs deposit in our garden. But there’s also the whiff of intrigue that no one ever really knows what goes on behind closed doors.

Have any buildings inspired an idea for your writing?

From the Mouth of Bairns

download (7)If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that I’m very proud of the fact that I was born in Falkirk which means I can call myself a ‘bairn’. The term ‘bairns’ is used for the town’s football team supporters and folk who come from Falkirk. Bairn is also the Scottish term for young children, though no-one can prove conclusively why Falkirk’s citizens are called ‘bairns’.

download (4)Like so many historical conundrums there’s no conclusive answer. On the basis of scraps of evidence, it seems that the term was commonplace throughout the 19th century and there was said then to be an ‘old’ saying – ‘You’re like the bairns o’ Fa’kirk, you’ll end ere you mend’ so it probably takes the term back to the 18th century at least. The term ‘bairns’ also features on the Coat of Arms of the Burgh of Falkirk with the motto, “Better Meddle wi’ the De’il than the Bairns o’ Fa’kirk” and the motto, “Touch ane, touch a’.”

creative-place-winner-2014But does describing yourself as a Falkirk ‘bairn’ give you a sense of identity? This was one of the questions posed at a writing workshop led by writer Alan Bissett, originally from Hallglen in Falkirk. The workshop was organised to stimulate ideas for a book celebrating the work of local professional and amateur writers from the Falkirk area. It is being produced by Falkirk Community Trust (FCT) as one of their projects following Falkirk being named as a Creative Place Award Winner for 2014.

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Elizabeth Blackadder is arguably one of the UK’s favourite living artists.

When the workshop group discussed how they would describe Falkirk to a foreigner, a common theme that cropped up was the industrial heritage of the town. Although the Kelpies have given Falkirk an instant arts boost, the town is not renowned as being a hub of creativity, despite the fact that famous artists such as Elizabeth Blackadder are ‘bairns’. Although, the situation is improving with events such as Untitled’s monthly spoken word gatherings offering writers a much-needed outlet for their work.

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Alan Bissett’s books have helped put Falkirk on the literary map.

As they say, things can only get better and FCT plan to use the award to work with a number of partners to support a cultural project called ‘Acts of Discovery’, aimed at offering audiences a fresh look at the area and its cultural offering.

Part of the project will be a book edited by Alan with the aim of providing a snapshot of Falkirk with stories and poems that are either based in or inspired by the area.

 

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There’s more to Falkirk than the Falkirk Wheel!

To fire up our thoughts of Falkirk, Alan asked us to think of a place unique to Falkirk. We then had to think of 2 things, 1 smell and 1 sound related to that place. After that we had to choose 2 characters and write a scene involving some sort of conflict. There are many places unique to Falkirk such as Callendar House and park, the Steeple, Brockville stadium etc. but the one that sprang to my mind was the York café in the High Street.

 

download (5)I scribbled down a scenario inspired by childhood visits to the York café (most of my happy memories involve food!) and we then shared our efforts. It was really interesting to hear the diverse range of settings and the workshop certainly made us all reflect on a sense of belonging.

An added bonus for me was bumping into a long-lost friend, Marianne Dryburgh, who in the 12 years or so since our paths have crossed has also completed an MLitt in Creative Writing so we had lots to talk about and catch up on (over lunch in the café of course).

Does your hometown influence your writing?