Friday, November 21, 2008

Dated and Prized

The Ambulance Box grows ever closer to becoming a reality. Chris at Salt and I have just settled on 1 March 2009 as the publication date. If that seems far away to you, as it does to some friends I talk to, it seems tantalisingly close to me!

Speaking of Salt, Will Stone's collection Glaciation won the Glen Dimplex New Writers poetry award 2008 the other week, while Rachel Blau Duplessis has been longlisted for the first Warwick Prize for Writing. The Warwick list is nothing if not varied. Congratulations to Chris, Jen, Will and Rachel!

Oh, and speaking of prizes, the shortlists for the Costa are out. No Salt titles on there, but it's a strong poetry list:

  • For All We Know by Ciaran Carson (more)
  • The Broken Word by Adam Foulds (more)
  • Sunday at the Skin Launderette by Kathryn Simmonds (more)
  • Salvation Jane by Greta Stoddart (more)

Ciaran Carson's is the only one I've read. Adam Foulds' book I've heard a lot about. Kathryn Simmonds won the Forward first collection prize this year, of course. And I know nothing about Great Stoddart's book (I couldn't even find it on the Anvil site when I looked the other day). I have to agree, of course, with Todd Swift about the glaring omissions ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bádhraic Ó Bamaigh go brágh!

You'll be humming it for weeks, especially around 20th January 2009.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Small is Beautiful!

That's got to have been the best wee festival in the world we had the weekend before last. What a cracker LBF 08 was! Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Government education secretary and a Lithgae resident, launched the festival and christened our new participants autograph book. She stayed around for Christopher Brookmyre's sell-out event. There was such a fantastic buzz about the hall as the crowd piled in. Brookmyre, whom I'd never heard before, was an entertaining speaker and reader. There was a fantastic buzz as the crowd piled out too. We couldn't have got off to a better start.

The poetry workshop I ran occupied me for the first chunk of the Saturday. It went swimmingly, if I do say so myself. I had four participants, a comfortable number for discussion and reading round. They were a good group--gelled well, very ready to talk about the poems I used as models--and I was impressed with what they produced in the 20 or so minutes they had to write at the end. We chatted on afterwards for a good half hour, so I missed Timothy Neat on Hamish Henderson and the first Saturday event I sat in on was James Kelman's reading. First time I'd seen him too. I'd heard say he wasn't such a great speaker, but I was impressed. He read from Kieron Smith, Boy; I was struck how well he'd seemed to capture not only the language of the boy but the grammar of his thought processes and how he turned them to poetry without losing any authenticity. He was forceful and articulate too in what he said about Scotland, Scottish culture, Scots language and cultural amnesia.

After Kelman, I took a break, getting back to the festival in time to help out for Alex Gray's event. I didn't hear her, as I manned the front desk partly to keep an eye on any early arrivals for the open mike, but her reading seemed to go down well with the audience (which, incidentally, included Rob A Mackenzie).

The open mike was a triumph. We had a good mix of poetry and prose; a good mix of styles. Usually, such events are hit and miss, sometimes terribly hit and miss. This one was hit after hit: good performances all round and lots of strong writing. Rob read, as did Mandy Maxwell (who came all the way up from Newcastle). Mandy's "Michaelangelo Takes a Sickie" was a highlight of the evening. We also had Fiona Lindsay and Gavin Inglis from Edinburgh and a good local, West Lothian contingent: Grace Cleary, Ellie Stewart, Emma Mooney and a man whose name I've forgotten (sorry!). A handful of us ended up in Platform 3 pub for a bit afterwards-- right next to the band!--and I got home about midnight, I think.

Clear skies and sun helped bring the families out for the children's events on the Sunday. Catherine Rayner showed us some gorgeous original drawings and paintings for her books and shared with us the prototype of a new one, about a moose who couldn't fit in the book. Lynne McGeachie enthralled the audience with The Tail o Peter Kinnen, her fine Scots translation of The Tail of Peter Rabbit, drawing out the children's knowledge of Scots and building it subtly.

The festival ended with Alistair Findlay. Readers of this blog will know how highly I think of his The Love Songs of John Knox in particular, so it was a pleasure to introduce him to the shall we say select audience. It's a pity he didn't have a bigger crowd, because he's a superb reader and brought the festival to a close with virr, wit, intelligence and great fun. Still, he had a book-buying audience, which is always a bonus for the writer.

A huge thank you to everyone who participated in making it such a great weekend. See you in 2009!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes, They Did! (Could We?)

A truly remarkable day in the USA. A truly remarkable day for politics in the developed world full stop, surely. I found myself quite moved first thing this morning hearing President elect Obama's victory speech. And I was moved again this evening watching the scenes of celebration.

President elect Obama. Wow. Let's say that again: "President elect Obama". Even last year, who'd have thought we'd be witnessing the election of the first African American President of the United States? (Who'd even have dared to be certain Bush's successor would be a Democrat?) The adjective historic is overused but it most certainly fits here.

How long, I wonder, until the UK has its first black or Asian Prime Minister? We don't use phrases such as "British Asian" or "British Afro-Caribbean", do we really? Would the political classes contemplate a non-white leader for one of our major political parties at the moment? Would the electorate be willing to vote into power a party led by a non-white man or woman? That's not even going anywhere near the vexed questions of turnout and participation. There's no immediate prospect of finding out but, as the American election proved, politics can be full of surprises.

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