Read the Past Imagine the Future

On Monday, I went along to the Low Museum in Hamilton to hear my friend and former MLitt classmate, author Ethyl Smith, talk about the 17th century period setting of her debut novel, Changed Times. It was a fascinating illustrated talk about the Covenanters and the important role they played in Scottish history.

The Read The Past Imagine the Future campaign is supported by the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC).

The campaign’s goal is to raise awareness among people of all ages to discover what their local library offers and aims to encourage reading throughout communities across Scotland and to widen knowledge of local and national history.

Here’s an account of the event in Ethyl’s words…

“It wis organised by South Lanarkshire Leisure tae promote reading thru libraries. Seven titles wur chosen tae be available fur readers groups across the county and ‘Changed Times’ is ane o them. It’s sittin alang wi some famous titles so ah’m weel pleased tae hae crept in there aside them.

The theme for the promotion is ‘touch the past imagine the future’ an ah wis asked tae speak aboot the past …. Me bein auld an ma book bein aboot a time 300 hunner years ago.

It wis held in the Assembly Room which is awfy big an posh. Ah felt lik a fish oot o watter in sic grand surroondins.

When ah arrived thur wis a big foto shoot which wis a strange experience fur somebody as hates bein snapped then folk stertit comin in … An they kept comin till the place wis fu. Ah began tae wunner if ah wis in the wrang place but naw they’d come tae hear aboot the Covenanters.

Hert in ma mooth ah began an they aw listened, an luked at ma slides, an laughed in the richt bits. .. Believe it or no thur is humour in that time. Richt enough wi some o it if ye didna laugh ye’d greet.

A yapped on fur an hoor an hauf an maist o ma audience wur still awake at the end which wis a relief.

They said they’d learnt a lot aboot the time, asked questions, wur amazed an saddened by much o it, said thur wis a lot tae think aboot then gied me a big clap.

SO sharin information aboot oor heritage wis worthwhile …. folk dae want tae ken.On this occasion we wur sittin quite close tae the site o Hamilton Palace which hud close connections wi that time in history.

Anither thing the Vice President o the Covenanting Memorial Association turned up. He wis at at ma last event so he’s a richt glutton fur punishment. Wur still speakin so it cudna hae been that bad an tae hae that kinda support is really a guid feelin.”

The seven-month Scottish national reading promotion celebrating the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology focuses on Scotland’s heritage and depicts images and ideas of the future.

Library users can also enter a competition to win a £50 book token by submitting a book review, either to their local library or on Twitter using the hashtag #ReadThePast17 What’s not to like?

And if you get a chance to read Ethyl’s book or hear her speak at an event you’re in for a treat!

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Sharing the Joy of Reading

I was recently asked in a Q and A, “What’s your most favourite thing about being an author?” My answer was, “Without a doubt, it’s meeting readers. For someone to tell me that they’ve read and enjoyed my books is very satisfying and makes all the time and effort worthwhile. I also get a huge buzz from seeing my book on display in a bookshop or library. When I was a student, I worked in a library and I would never have believed that one day my book would be on a shelf. It’s a cliché but it’s truly a dream come true.”

Now THAT’s what I call a chair for a storyteller!

That’s why being asked to host the local World Book Night (WBN) for Falkirk Libraries meant so much to me. There I was, back in Denny Library, where I once stood behind the counter issuing books to readers but this time I was the author!

The old Denny Library where I worked on Saturdays.

The stunning new library is on the same site and it’s now the centrepiece of the redevelopment of the town centre.

I’ve previously blogged about my passion for libraries and I’ve always been very vocal on social media in my belief that libraries are the heartbeat of a community and are essential as dream factories.

The gorgeous new Denny Library.

Books on the shelves of a library are full of people I’ve yet to meet, places I’ve yet to visit and adventures I’ve yet to have and my world would have been far smaller without access to my local library as a child. Growing up with weekly visits to Bonnybridge Library made me an avid reader and this love of words created the desire to become an author.

Fab mural on the exterior of Bonnybridge Library.

 

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the written word than to hold a spoken word event and it was a privilege to spend Saturday afternoon (WBN falls on a Sunday this year so our event was a wee bit early) with poets and authors who came to share their work with the local community.

An honour to read my novel at the library I once worked in!

There were superb readings from debut novelist, Ross Sayers who read extracts from Mary’s the Name,  Emma Mooney read from her novels, A Beautiful Game and Wings to Fly, Charlie Clark read from his debut novel, Empty Dark Moira Martin and Anne Dromgoole from Denny Writers read their short stories, and we heard powerful poetry from Lesley Traynor, Carol Harley, Maggie Laidlaw and Janet Crawford.

 

It doesn’t need to be WBN to have a gathering of performers and it would be great to see libraries across Scotland hosting regular spoken word events. It might be another way of making sure a library remains the beating heart of a community because the worry is, if you don’t use it, you lose it!

Write Now! @ Aye Write!

I’m not a ‘morning’ person (some would argue that I’m not an afternoon or night person either) so I am relieved that my uni classes are timetabled later in the day. A slow start suits me best (my family know to stay well back until at least 9am) but I’d registered for the Write Now! Conference so I found myself on a train into Glasgow yesterday and Friday, long before it was safe for me to be near people.

It was well worth the effort of getting out of bed early. The conference was held in the Mitchell Library and was part of the Aye Write! Book Festival. The days were packed with guest speakers and by the end of the closing remarks, my bum was numb but my brain was buzzing. The blurb said. “The event is aimed at early career writers (folk like me) and scholars of all sorts and to allow attendees to share their research and creative output but also to foster a community of writers and researchers.

Did it do what it said on the tin? Yes! I certainly got my money’s worth out of the two days. An added bonus was getting the opportunity to meet up with the lovely Anne Glennie, a fellow writer I’ve met via Twitter.

The opening session was called ‘Publish and be Damned?’ and looked at the impact of digital publication and social media on the publishing industry. Scary stuff was aired about the global domination of cultural barbarians, Amazon and Google but it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Independent publishers like Cargo and new literary magazines like Octavius mean that the Scottish publishing scene has never been more exciting.

The first day was a Skills Day and I opted to go to the http://www.WRITER session run by Cat Dean. Despite technical hitches, Cat did a great job introducing our group to the wonders of WordPress.com and helped me get this new website up and running.

Over lunch (I passed on the diced dried veg in dirty dishwater aka Scotch Broth and nibbled at the dullest sandwiches I’ve seen at a buffet since 1978), there were readings from creative writing students from Strathclyde University and the talent showcased was intimidatingly good! Watch out for names like Iain Ferguson, Craig Lamont, Mary McDonough and Bryony Stocker.

But the highlight of Day One for me was undoubtedly the keynote address by Christopher Brookmyre. The award winning writer inspired and entertained the audience with his frank and funny account of his writing career. I was heartened by the fact that he wrote four novels before being published so there’s hope for me yet!

I finished the day by attending William McIlvanney’s event at Aye Write! with my best friend Veronica. Wow! He was an engaging mix of humour and humility about his phenomenal talent.We were almost moved to tears when he read out snippets of his latest work. The man is a living legend in Scottish literature!

Day Two was a series of panel discussions. My favourite ones were’ What Happens when Elephants Teach Zoology?’  and ‘Teaching Creative Writing’ about the pros and cons of a creative teaching programme. The key thing that all of the speakers agreed on was that you can’t teach creativity but you can nurture confidence in writers.  The conference round-up was a great finale and threw up questions such as, is Scotland a vibrant creative culture or a provincial backwater for writers?

I left the Mitchell library hungry but full of confidence that Scotland’s literary scene is vibrant and ready to face the future.

Love Your Library





Why do I care that tomorrow is National Libraries Day?

didn’t grow up in a house filled with books (I don’t think the Littlewoods catalogue counts). But I did grow up with my mum taking me and my sister to the local library. The weekly pilgrimage was the only way we could afford to satisfy our appetite for books. I can still remember being transported from my terraced Council house to the seaside boarding school from the Malory Tower series. And I spent hours copying pictures from reference books to create my handmade (does this count as self-publishing?) non-fiction book, ‘Fashion through the Ages’ (my love of books and clothes has never faded). From picture books right through to reference books for my teaching degree, the library was a big part of my life.

When I was a student the first time around, I had a Saturday job as a Librarian’s assistant in the neighbouring town of Denny.


This photo of the shopping precinct, including the library, helps explain why Denny was nominated for a ‘Plook on the Plinth’ award for being the most dismal town in Scotland.

Being on the other side of the Returns desk was an eye-opener. The staff were regularly abused by local neds, used as a free crèche and often we had to reach for the antibacterial spray and a cloth when some of our dodgy  interesting characters returned books (you really don’t want to know why!)

But most folk appreciated how important the library was to their local community and respected the staff. A library isn’t just about books. My village library is very small but there’s music, DVDs anda wireless computer network. It has a Book Group, Toddlerhyme and plays host to the local history group as well as being a venue for mini exhibitions and gatherings.



In the digital age some might argue that libraries are now redundant when information is available at the click of a mouse from the comfort of your own home. But not everyone has internet access or a place to read quietly, especially in deprived areas. I’ve always felt strongly that libraries should also be open on a Sunday when families have more time to visit, students need a place to work and the community can meet for social events.





Libraries are not just the heartbeat of a community; they are a political statement to demonstrate a nation’s commitment to free information for all, regardless of your postcode. It’s so sad that library opening hours are being cut and some libraries are even being threatened with closure.  I’m fortunate enough to be able to buy most of the fiction books I read but I still visit my library most weeks, whetherit’s to borrow a travel guide, hear a visiting writer or pick up a copy of the magazine Booktime. I also pop in to get free doggy poo bags that are handed out so I won’thave anyone say libraries deliver a crap service (excuse the pun) when there’ssomething for everyone, even my dogs.
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Forget Valentine’s Day, love your library while you still have one!