Friday, October 26, 2007

First Minister to open Linlithgow Book Festival

We are delighted to announce that Alex Salmond MSP, Scotland's First Minister and a son of Linlithgow, will open this year's festival. A short opening ceremony will take place in the Masonic Halls at 6.15 pm on Friday 2nd November. The ceremony will be free and open to the public.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fitbaw Crazy

Alistair Findlay, notable not least for The Love Songs of John Knox, has just edited an anthology entitled 100 Favourite Scottish Football Poems. More of that in due course but, meanwhile, here here is some related light entertainment, courtesy of the Tartan Army on its way to do its gentlemanly battle with the Ukraine. Proof that ordinary Scots and poetry are not oil and water:

Vital Event

David Kinloch is certainly a busy man this weather: besides being involved in the bid to establish a writers centre in Glasgow's Merchant City, he's the main force behind Vital Synz, a new Glasgow poetry society, which launches on Tuesday 6 November at Òran Mór with a reading by Liz Lochhead and Carol Ann Duffy. A high-profile line-up, and it's rare to hear Lochhead reading at all these days, since she began to concentrate on theatre. Unfortunately, I won't make it, but a society like this is overdue in Glasgow, so all credit and more power to David.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Becoming a Riality

A letter arrived the other day informing me that issue 63 of The Rialto is at the printers. Exciting news, as it's the first time I'll have had a poem in the magazine and, therefore, the first time I'll have been published in an English magazine. Not that I think it's better than a Scottish publication because it's English, but I'm pleased to be extending my reach south. Still, The Rialto is a good magazine, not least because it gives the poems proper space on the page. Personally, I can't abide the cramming of as many poems as possible into the available space. Just let the poor things breathe!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Orkney: Thursday

When Christine De Luca, Diana Hendry (with her partner the poet and publisher Hamish Whyte) and I touched down on a overcast but none too windy Orkney a week past Thursday, we were met very warmly by Pam Beasant, whose brainchild our visit was. While Christine sorted out her hire car, Pam drove Diana, Hamish and me to our hotels in Stromness.

Anyone who has visited Stromness will know what a quirky wee town it is. The narrow, flagged main street is so tricky to negotiate--what with pedestrians, parked cars and vehicles coming the opposite direction--that even some Orcadians refuse to drive along it. Imagine a single-track rural road with sheer banks of masonry and you'll come quite close. The rest of the town stretches the short way down to the waterfront or up the hill, much of it in narrow closes reminiscent of Edinburgh's Old Town.

Stromness is also, of course, the hometown of the late George Mackay Brown. Wander along the main street away from the hotels, shops and pubs, past the library and you'll find this unassuming council house. The only thing to indicate that it was GMB's home is the blue plaque on the wall:

Mackay Brown's is still a strong presence in the artistic landscape of Orkney, 15 years on from his death. There are mentions of him and quotations from his poetry and prose all over the place. I didn't have any of his work on my shelves before I went, so I bought the Collected Poems from the fantastic little bookshop in Stromness. The shop is that rare thing in this day and age: a real bookish bookshop, crammed with volumes of all kinds and with an interesting poetry section. One delight of the place is the slightly surreal and witty comments on the shelves where one might expect something denoting the genre. The only one I can remember was on the poetry shelves:

In celebration of national poetry day on 8 October, we will be closing.

Anyway, much of my first day in Orkney was not spent in Stromness. After lunch, Pam whisked Christine and me through to Kirkwall for an interview at the pokey and couthy wee BBC Radio Orkney studios. The recording was partly for the weekly Tullimentan (think that's the right spelling) arts programme and partly for Around Orkney. It was a slightly curious experience to come down to breakfast the next morning and hear myself on the radio.

On the Thursday evening, there was a reading at Woodwick House. None of us was involved, but we, of course, went along nonetheless for the fun. When Pam, Diana, Hamish and I arrived at Woodwick, there were flocks of starlings (at least, we think they were starlings) filling the surrounding trees in the half light. Rather eerie. That's what looks like bats in this unfortunately rather blurred but nonetheless atmospheric photo.

The house is another unusual place (anyone spot a theme developing?). Apparently the rooms don't have TVs. Guests are encouraged to walk or to read from the sitting room's wonderfully eclectic little library. The sitting room also contains an upright piano in a beautiful, ornate casing so abysmally out of tune that it can only be described as an unprepared piano. And, along with a varied selection of films on video and DVD, the only TV in the building.

The reading featured Orkney residents Ron Ferguson (former leader of the Iona Community), John McGill and Nigel Wheale plus Shetland writer Laureen Johnson. Quite a varied line-up of prose and poetry. Laureen's set was notable for being entirely--introductions, chat, poems and all--in Shetlandic. John read a gorgeous exerpt from his novel, The Most Glorified Strip of Bunting, in which the main character, marooned on a ice floe, is watching the aurora borealis. Ron read a mix of poems and football prose. Nigel read from his book and very effective new poems the arose from his job as a care worker on Orkney.

Music was provided by flautist Gemma McGregor and pianist Glenys Hughes, who is also director of the St Magnus Festival. They played pieces by the 18th century Scottish composer James Oswald. His work was new to me: a clear and effective combination of Scottish traditional music and European classicism. All the more surprising given that he was writing in the late Baroque era.

The evening passed convivially and a starry night came. That was the end of the first day for me on Orkney.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Writing Among the Merchants?

Maggie Graham, David Kinloch and Robyn Marsack are sending out a questionnaire about the possibility of establishing a Scottish Writers Centre in Glasgow, probably the Merchant City. An e-mail about it arrived in my inbox just the other day. The centre would offer services to writers at all stages of their careers, and to readers groups as well. Sounds a good idea. The survey takes less than ten minutes, so why not fill it out?

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Quick Intimation

Got back from Orkney yesterday after a fantastic few days. I'll blog about it in something approaching detail at some point soon. There will be pictures, though not too many. Now, unfortunately, I ought to go and wash some dishes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Packing Anxiety Cure Wanted

Well, it was a couple of hours ago, but I got over the anxiety and packed. Off to Orkney tomorrow with fellow Shore Poets. It's just possible there might be an opportunity to blog in situ, but I expect I'll write something about it on my return.

Calling all ex-teens

The message below was forwarded through an e-mail list. Not sure I'll submit, but it's a fun idea.

"Nobody Understands Me" - Call out for atrocious teenage poetry

Calling all ex-teens,

Part public-service, part anti-vanity project; we are putting together the most wonderfully, desperately, earnestly poor collection of teenage poetry we can source and are hoping that you can help us.

We will accept work from anyone over 20 but the work has to be your own, the subject something you can look back and laugh about now, and the quality along the lines of "it's a mystery how this has escaped burning!"

The glory will be non-existent as the poems will be printed anonymously, so this isn't a good option for anyone who is secretly hoping that someone will think their poetry is really rather good and offer them a massive publishing deal. Similarly, comedians need not apply, we're only interested in work which is unintentionally humorous.

Unfortunately we can't pay you; this enterprise is purely for fun and to celebrate a shared pubescent talent-deficit, however a lovely copy of the anthology can be sent to you for the meagre cost of home-printing and postage.

Please have a good root through your old journals and select us some thrilling oddities!Poems should be sent to

Please feel free to forward this onto anyone you suspect may have written poetry every bit as bad as yours.

Many Thanks

Philippa Thomas

Not Quite Back to the Forward

The sharp eyed among you will have noticed that, despite previous posts on the Forward prize shortlists, I've not yet commented on the results. The main reason for this, aside from the usual time pressures, is that so far I've read only one of the shortlisted collections in each of the book lists--John Burnside's Gift Songs and Daljit Nagra's Look We Have Coming to Dover!, which won the first-collection prize--and, until I have at least a couple of the other books under my belt for comparison's sake, I don't feel qualified to comment on whether I think the winners were the most worthy. I'm currently reading Luke Kennard's The Harbour Beyond the Movie; no distance through it yet, but hugely impressed thus far. Sean O'Brien's winning The Drowned Book is high on the to-be-read pile. I'll be back to this topic, time permitting.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Things are coming together for the Orkney trip. Besides the reading with Christine De Luca and local Orkney writers, I'll be leading a workshop for an S1 class (non-Scots read 12-year-olds) at Kirkwall Grammar School on the Friday morning (an 8.50 start--gulp!). Should be fun, although the last time I was in an S1 class was probably when I was part of one.

Meanwhile, here's the poster for the weekend's activities, courtesy of Pam Beasant, the George Mackay Brown writing fellow, and initiator of the exchange.

What's New on Tonguefire