Scottish Storytelling Centre

Want entertainment in its purest form? Look no further than the Scottish Storytelling Centre (SSC) a creative hub off of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. This bespoke building focuses mostly on spoken word performance, stripped of microphones and scripts. Bustling year-round, SSC is particularly busy in festival season.

Marketing and Communications Manager, Lindsay Corr said: “Each summer we become a venue for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and our tagline this year is ‘local talent, international context’. All our shows and performers are based in Scotland, many in Edinburgh, but all deal with international themes.”

These themes include migration, fake news and LGBT rights. SSC has broken ground by breaking down many of these issues for its younger audiences.

Corr explained: “One of our Fringe shows was At A Stretch – a phenomenal mime and movement piece – about two girls who fall in love and don’t really know what is happening. This show is targeted at ages six plus. At A Stretch is a kids friendly LGBT+ show; we think it’s important to cover diverse stories in a way that is accessible to children.”

Making narratives accessible to everyone is something that SSC is passionate about, as Corr said: “People can dip their toe into storytelling at our Café Voices events, which are running during the Fringe. These events are hosted by a storyteller, but are also open floor – meaning the audience doesn’t have to get up and narrate, but they are welcome to.”

This spirit of inclusion runs throughout SSC’s 17 Fringe shows, including Is this a Dagger – Andy Cannon’s historical analysis of Macbeth, (More) Moira Monologues – with Alan Bissett discussing Brexit and Indie Ref 2 from Scotland’s working class woman perspective – and The Loud Poets, who perform poetry for the masses, accompanied by a live band.

“The Loud Poets believe storytelling is for everyone and is something everyone can do – you don’t have to have gone to Oxford University to practice it and it doesn’t have to be pompous,” Corr said.

True to this sentiment, SSC has worked throughout its history with outreach programmes, bringing storytelling to disadvantaged groups.

Corr recalled: “Over the years the Scottish Storytelling Centre has had lots of outreach projects on the go; including Living Voices, which helped older and younger people find common ground amid the digital divide. The project taught older people digital skills and younger people the art of storytelling, to bring their two words together.”

Another project SSC undertook, in partnership with BSL:UPTAKE at Heriot-Watt University was Stories in the Air. In this project SSC worked with BSL interpreters, to boost their narrative skills and make storytelling more inclusive for deaf audiences.

Corr added: “We are also now running a sensory storytelling project for children with additional needs; The Story Kist creates a relaxed space with props that children can touch and smell while experiencing a story, which is run by two highly trained and interactive storytellers.”

A relaxed environment is key to any storytelling and it was this realisation that led to the founding of the SSC building.

Corr said: “The Scottish Storytelling Centre started life as part of an arts centre. Within this centre there was a group of storytellers that had been performing all over the country, but they wanted to have a stand-alone national hub that promoted storytelling, instead of it being an add-on in venues such as theatres.”

So after sourcing £3.5m, recruiting Malcolm Fraser Architects, and undergoing a five- year development, the SSC opened its doors on 6 June 2006.

The SSC building is gorgeous,” Corr enthused.

“It’s the first purpose-built architectural frame for a centre of storytelling, which has been important in providing good acoustics that cater to different storytelling styles and flexible spaces for events,” she added.

To truly appreciate the Centre, Corr encouraged people to drop in.

She said: “The best way to understand what we do is to attend one of our events. Storytelling is entertainment in its purest form, without the barriers of technology, and we want to help people enjoy it.”

Glasgow Women’s Library

Glasgow Women's Library

Ascending the cultural statusphere is a museum unlike any other. From its base in Bridgeton, Glasgow Women’s Library is blazing a trail for the rest of the UK.

“The Library has grown from a tiny grassroots organisation to become the only accredited museum – in the UK – dedicated to Women’s History. It is also a recognised collection of national significance,” GWL Enterprise Development Manager, Sue John, said.

GWL’s status of national significance comes not just from its records of society, but from its social action. The Library grew from an Eighties project titled Women in Profile, which highlighted the cultural achievements of Glasgow’s Women, in the run up to its European City of Culture award.

Since then the library has remained committed to social activism.

John explained: “Outreach programmes are something that Glasgow Women’s Library has always ran. For instance, we have a long standing adult literacy programme and its students often become involved in our other projects.”

Part of these projects has always been the gathering of artifacts on women’s history.

John said: “We collect items that tell the stories of women’s lives, whether it be things from the women’s liberation movement or more recently things collected at Trump protests.”

Throughout the years, as GWL projects grew in number so did its artifacts. Once an impressive collection had formed the GWL went through the robust process of becoming an accredited museum.

John said: “GWL has managed to keep grassroots ownership, because everything in the Library is donated; whether it be the 20000 books, 3000 museum items or 300000 archive items.

“We have kept all of the resources accessible and friendly, to maintain our core values of equality, diversity and inclusion.”

This democratic approach even extends to the museum’s curatorial choices.

John revealed: “We have a project called Women Making an Exhibition of Themselves that gets volunteers involved as the library’s community curators. This means that they help to decide which artifacts make it through to our permanent collection. The community curators pick items and find ways of interpreting their stories.”

Similar interactivity also lies at the heart of GWL events.

John explained: “We host speaker and workshop events that attract both men and women, old and young. For instance, we are hosting Open the Door, a Literary Festival that brings together women authors and aspiring writers. 

The festival will have workshops, performances and networking sessions. Headlining the festival will be writers including, Louise Welsh, Kirsty Logan, Sim Bajwa, Val MacDermid and Lesley McDowell.

John enthused: “The beauty of Glasgow Women’s Library is that we bring together people whose paths might not naturally cross. We have local people rubbing shoulders with Turner Prize nominee artists.”

GWL attempts to make culture accessible to all by offering free activities, Pay It Forward ticket schemes and disability friendly events.

John said: “As a society we are not placing as much importance as we should on the life-changing power of art, culture and heritage. We know that it can be a powerful vehicle in providing opportunities.

“When you improve the lives of women you also improve the lives of their families and the communities that they live within. That is how Glasgow Women’s Library has worked throughout the years to win hearts and minds.”

She concluded: “Everyone is welcome to come into Glasgow Women’s Library. Visitors are greeted with the offer of tea and a tour, they don’t have to spend any money or even have a reason for coming.”

[Photo credit: Keith Hunter]

Day of the Dead


Honouring lives lost and risked for Mexican freedom of Expression is the Mitchell Library Day of the Dead event.

Hosted by The Scottish Writers’ Centre in partnership with Scottish PEN, the event will take place on November 2 -from 5.30pm- in the Glasgow Room.

The free, un-ticketed event will see readings both about the country and from its writers.

Host and writer Jean Rafferty explained: “We’re celebrating the Day of the Dead to honour ‘Absent Friends’ and commemorate the courage of writers, poets, and journalists living and working in Mexico; one of the most dangerous countries in the world for freedom of expression.”

Rafferty has organised the event as part of her role within Scottish PEN.

She explained: “PEN is an international writer’s organisation whose Scottish branch has been gathering for nearly 90 years.

“Scottish PEN supports freedom of expression in every form. For instance, I am chairman at the Writers at Risk society, which supports people who have been threatened for speaking out against their government.”

While the society has paid tribute to Mexican writers before; Rafferty explained that this event has particular significance.

She said: “This year’s Day of the Dead event will be particularly poignant, as we have Mexican writer Lydia Cacho as an honorary Scottish PEN member.”

Rafferty added: “As well as being a great writer, Lydia runs rescue centres for women that have suffered sexual and physical abuse. Lydia’s work will be read at the event.”

The event will also feature readings from Anabel Hernandez, whose novel Narcoland exposes Mexican drug cartel, an exposure which has seen threats on her life.

Rafferty said: “As well as established writers, we will also hear from Mexican student, Bernardo Otaola Valdes, who has written a very moving piece about his plan to go back home and study journalism. Studying journalism in a country like Mexico is dangerous; and shows that Bernardo fits the night’s theme of Courageous Writers”.

She added: “As well as Bernardo’s reading there will be a reading from a Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia’s work. Javier lost his son to the violence, and wishes to share his own final verses.”

Following this there will be an ‘open mic’ section of the night. Here writers can take the stand and respond to the theme: ‘Mexico or Courage in Speaking Out.’

Writers wishing to participate in the open mic section can contact Rafferty via email.

The organiser explained: “The open mic section has seen applications from various people, including Portuguese film writer; Carla Novi, who has made a documentary Desaparecidos, about the disappeared Mexican students.”

Rafferty concluded: “Scottish PEN not only cares about the writers whose lives are endangered in Mexico, but the people all over the country, whose experiences are expressed in the writing.

“Freedom of expression is a basic human right. It is important to support writers because they represent everyone’s struggle.”

West End Festival

West end festival

Celebrating its 20th year in business, the West End Festival has returned to Glasgow with bigger acts than ever before.

Festival Founder Michael Dale said:“The 2015 WEF has a lot of big names, including comedian Elaine C Smith, choir composer Mark Carroll, and (the Gruffalo) author Julia Donaldson.

“There is a real mix of activities scheduled: music, shows, food and drink stalls, galas and guided walks through the city.”

Over 100 Glasgow-based organisations have joined the festival, which showcases arts groups and local talent. The festival does this by presenting national treasures alongside hidden gems.

Dale said: “One of the most exciting local acts at the West End Festival will be a collective of Samba players (from across Scotland). The Samba players will be performing at the end of the parade, on the steps of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, and again at the Kelvingrove bandstand.”

He added: “The bandstand will also be hosting lots of local bands (of different genres) on the last day of the festival.”

Another musical must-sees, Dale said, is the WEF Festival of Choirs. This concert unites Glasgow Phoenix, Govan Gaelic, Dublin Airport, Glasgow Philharmonic Male Voice, and the Govan Schools Combined Choirs, at the Govan Old Parish Church.

He said: “Govan used to be in the same borough as Partick, till about 1914, so the choir concert celebrates this connection to the West End.”

Connecting the West End to the international music scene is Elaine C Smith and Christina Dunwoodie’s show, Torch Song Divas. The show (running at Websters Theatre) will examine eternal themes of love, loss, betrayal in a variety of genres.

Dale added: “Torch Song Divas should be great; it promises lots of big song numbers.”

While the adults are bound to love the gigs, Dale explained there is more to the festival than music.

He said: “The festival appeals to people of all ages, for kids there is a series of children’s author talks, both in and outside of schools.”

Among these talks is Julia and Malcolm Donaldson’s appearance at Maryhill Central Community Hall. Here the authors will be joined by illustrator Nick Sharratt, to recount tales from their books.

Books may not appeal to all kids, and so Dale explained interactive family workshops are also sprinkled through the festival.

He said: “There will be lots of workshops, including those ran by the Children’s Wood group (in North Kelvinside). This group offers nature based workshops exploring things like bugs in the habitat.”

For the less green fingered, there will also be workshops ran by professional artists, making  costumes for the parade.

The parade, Dale explained, was one of the founding principles of the festival.

He said: “The first festival was in June 1995 and it occurred to me then that we needed a way to promote the event; so I came up with the idea of having a parade, not that I had a one to hand, but I didn’t think it would be too hard to make.

“I met some people who wanted to start a parade in Glasgow, and make the costumes, so between ourselves we created the first West End Festival.”

Although it is an iconic part of the festival, Dale stressed that there is more to the event than the procession.

He said: “The West End comes alive in a special way during the festival. There are events throughout each day, including: exhibitions, concerts, food and drink. Those who have never been to the area before will be surprised just how much there is to do.”

He concluded: “A lot of the festival is free, with many people taking part on a voluntary basis.

“The West End Festival Website has a search function that you can use to find free events each day.”



Supply and Demand

Divided City

Image copyright to Corgi books


An interview with author Theresa Breslin

The building is white washed, boxy and in the middle of nowhere. It could be mistaken for a corner shop, if it wasn’t for the big sign that reads: Scotia and Chameleon books.

We walk through the odd, right angle corridor into the warehouse, and the mixture of work and home becomes more apparent. The bright, open plan room sprawls out, with a kitchen area at the front and countless bookcases behind it. Colourful posters of literary characters adorn the walls, and lines of new books stand to attention on shelves. I am given a cup of tea and a seat at the kitchen table, as I wait for author Theresa Breslin to arrive.

I’ve barely had two sips of tea when Breslin flurries in, with books under her arm. She explains that the books are for a local school reading week, which she is helping organise. This reading week is just one of the events Breslin has taken part in, since adopting the role of Scottish Reading Champion.

She said: “You basically talk to kids and encourage them to read for pleasure. It involves doing bits for the Reading Champions website, and writing about your favourite books.”

As well as being a Reading Champion, Breslin contributions to literary journals, and writes books for people with reading difficulties, such as dyslexia. Her other responsibilities include: starting up the West of Scotland Children’s book group, coordinating the Scottish Writers project, being a member of the Scottish Book trust and the UK Government Advisory Committee for Public Lending Right.

Breslin’s attitude of full time writing is reflected in her appearance. Although we are only meeting for a casual interview she is dressed in a smart black trouser suit, teamed with a crisp white shirt. Her formal dress is, however, softened by her auburn, pixie haircut.

The bob suits her mischievous expression, as I ask her about the childhood books that influenced her writing. Breslin leans in to me, as if divulging a secret, pauses a little, and explains that Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities was her ‘epiphany book’.

“I always felt sorry for Dickens, because his books were on the bottom shelf in our library. So one day I went in, and I picked up A Tale of Two Cities. When I was reading it was frightened. I thought: God, this is the first book I’ve read where I didn’t know what was going to happen. It had a great opening line and a great ending. And it made me feel kind of hyper… I thought that’s really what a book should do.”

Despite Breslin’s passion for reading, she didn’t always plan to become an author. Instead, she chose to be a librarian, and stumbled across her calling, while working for a mobile library. Breslin explains that during a stop at Gartcosh, she discovered the village’s steel mills were closing, and it inspired her to write a story about it.

She said: “The situation was really quite bad at the time, and the workers were marching to London and everything. And just about the same time a writers group had started up in one of the local libraries, so I went along.

“I decided to write about the steel mills closing down. When I read it to the rest of the group they thought it was a children’s story, because it was written from the village children’s point of view.”

Breslin’s story won the Young Book Trust Fidler, an award for new writers. She then got it published as her first novel, Simon’s Challenge.

Since Simon’s Challenge was published in 1988 Breslin has released over 30 titles for children and young adults. These include novels, plays, radio scripts and T.V. scripts. Her novel Whispers in the Graveyard won the Carnegie Medal in 1994, and Divided City won the Catalyst Book Award and the RED Book Award in 2005.

Breslin credits her inspiration to ‘real life situations, people, newspapers, being curious, and suggested topics’. Her novel, Bullies at School, was written as a request from a child who was being victimised, and wanted a story written about the topic.

With so many books published, I ask Breslin if writing comes quite naturally to her. She looks abashed at this suggestion.

No, I have to labour at writing. I have to think about it. It doesn’t just happen… not for me anyway. Usually when I’m working on a novel I have written the whole book at least four times before it finally gets given to the editor.

“I’m at my desk writing at half eight in the morning, and I rarely stop before half one… I have to go over and over my work. It is a craft. I think there is talent involved, but a lot of it is a craft.”

But writing has its perks; Breslin visited Egypt to research her Dream Master trilogy, Belgium and France, when she was researching Remembrance, and Italy to research the Medici Seal. She tells of her visit to an Italian castle.

“When I got to the castle there was a sign on the door saying it was closed! I was really fed up, so I slouched against it and it swung open. I fell into the castle!

“So I went up to the cash desk, and there was no one there, but I did see all these school bags sitting. I decided I would just run about quickly before anyone could chuck me out! But when I walked over to wall, to get a look at the view, I saw the tour guide taking a class around! I had to play hide and seek with for a while, so that I could sneak out… but I did leave some money on the cash desk.”

It seems that being a librarian has left a firm imprint on Breslin’s conscience. She explains how this applies to her writing as well.

Breslin moderates the language in her books and the description of violence, which may disturb younger readers or prevent them from accessing texts. As a member of the UK Government Advisory Committee for Public Lending Right she knows what material is deemed suitable for young readers and what is not.

“I am aware of my audience, because I am writing for children I don’t think it’s totally necessary for the characters to come out with a stream of swear words. If I put the swear words in then the target audience would not have been able to access my books. Young readers have ‘gate keepers’, like librarians, parents and teachers, who stop them from accessing things that could be offensive or deemed unsuitable. I didn’t want to block any children from accessing my books.”

Despite Breslin’s censored style of writing, she confronts the heavy subjects of sectarianism and racism in her novel Divided City. Breslin tells me how she adapted a harder, faster style of writing in the Glasgow based novel.

“I wrote my novel Remembrance is like a piece of music, with an overture and an introduction, and all that, but I tried to write Divided City more like a rap. So that the book was telling the reader about the action as it was happening right away, and it was very fast moving.”

Divided City was used for the Ireland’s One Book project in 2005, which attempted to break down some of the country’s north and south divide through the community reading project. Breslin also read the novel at a conference in Luxemburg, where it was used to discuss conflict resolution.

Children’s’ fiction, she believes is as relevant today as it was then.

She said: “I think children are still reading for pleasure. The media likes to focus on negative stories, saying children aren’t reading anymore, because they are more sensational than positive ones.

“I don’t know if children have as much time for leisure reading as they used to, because they are doing enormous amounts school of work; their school bags are much heavier than mine ever were! But they continue to read anyway.”

Rain Rose

dilys rose

Image copyright of Luath Press Limited


An interview with author Dilys Rose

Rain pelts down on the way to the Ramshorn Theatre, me and my mascara begin to run. Not everyday rain, more like the kind Noah faced before he got his arse on that ark. Rain soaks through my jacket, behind my glasses and I reach the door as an Alice Cooper lookalike.

Momentary relief hits as I step inside. But it doesn’t last long. There is a palpable tension in the air, like the first hour of a birthday party. Will anyone come, in this rain?

I receive a plastic cup of wine, and glance around. We are waiting for more to arrive before starting. Faced with the choice of standing or sitting, I take a seat. I see Dilys Rose, also sitting, and relax: if the guest author’s doing it, it must be okay. She and two girls fill the candy coloured table; daughters maybe. I meet her eye and smile. I interviewed her earlier today, so we kind of know each other, but don’t.

I look away at the decor, plain paint walls, dolled up with mood lighting. It’s a Glasgow skyline trick; purple and turquoise beams to make the ugly attractive. Speaking of ugly, a ‘drip, drip’ echoes from the false ceiling. Sympathy nerves start. I only met Rose today, but I’m worried for her. She strikes me as insecure; like the ceiling.

Rose takes the floor. I hold my breath. She dons a prop hat and starts, and that’s it. She’s a different person, confident, not the woman I interviewed.

‘The weather was permissive…’Rose drawls, reading her poem. She attributes the phrase to a Slovakian tour guide’s broken English. Earlier in the day, Rose explained that her writing is part recollection, part invention.

“Writing is about what you observe around you; you always have to take what you know of the world and then do something with it.

 “Before I started writing I did a lot of drawing and painting; I probably wasn’t very good at it. Then when I had been travelling for a while, in my mid- twenties, I lost a whole series of drawings on a bus. I realised that if I was going to be so unsettled it might be better to work in a form easier to reproduce. That’s when I started writing.”

And write she did. In 1989, Rose broke into the literary scene with Our Lady of Pickpockets, a collection of short stories, and Madam Doubtfire’s Dilemma, a collection of poetry.

She said: ‘It looked like I had been really prolific, but they had been worked at over quite some time. It didn’t happen overnight; the process for me was very slow. I was writing poetry and short fiction and gradually things were getting published in magazines, and broadcast on radio. Then, at the end of the eighties, my book of stories and book of poems came out at the same time.”

Since then Rose has written a novel, as well as multiple collections of short stories and poetry. During our interview she explained that her heart still belongs to poetry.

“For me it is about sound and music, I deal with poetry in prose as much as in verse. There has never been a lot of money in poetry and some people say there is not a lot of poetry in money.”

Ever adaptable, Rose told me of her role as librettist in Rory Boyle’s Opera, Kaspar Hauser.

That was a great collaboration, really enjoyable in all respects. The composer and I had worked on a piece together before; then he mentioned he had been reading a book about feral children and wanted to do something on that.

“Kaspar Hauser’s story stood out, which was one that had always interested me. So we started to tell his story and we were fortunate enough to be given the Creative Scotland Award. We also had a director who was very accepting of what we wanted to do, which was to keep it understated.”

The same cannot be said for Rose’s previous musical production, Helter Skelter. Staged in the Tramway Gardens, with contortionists and cabaret dancers, it was described as a ‘dark fairy-tale for adults’. Rose sighed recalling the project.

“It was one of the most stressful things I have ever been involved in. When it came to stage there were terrible problems with the venue, it rained that whole summer, and it was an outdoor production. There were some great ideas, but it was not ready when it was first put on.

“People kept trying to squeeze the show into a narrative. It was conceived as a sort of round idea of fairgrounds and other things to do with childhood. Each individual piece of work was supposed to be considered on its own, and what then happened was the director wanted to make a full narrative out of it.”

Experience, Rose stated, has shaped her writing through the years. During the interview, she said that her style has mellowed from its feminist roots.

“I’m not a man hater; I like the man… that’s not to say he always likes me.”

Despite this, feminist humour still shines through Rose’s poems. At no point is this more apparent than during her performance, when she reads Surrealist Shopping List.

“‘Woman with her breasts out, woman with her throat out…severed limbs, floating limbs, ugly erotica, inside jokes.”

In case we didn’t get the message, she clarifies, ‘It was a very interesting Era, the Surrealist, but very sexist.’

Back at the interview, Rose had admitted she hadn’t done much writing on period fiction, until her recent novel.

It’s about the last person to be hanged for blasphemy in Scotland. His name was Thomas Aikenhead and he was a student in Edinburgh at the time. I have enjoyed the research, but I am writing this, not so much because I want to escape into the past, but because the story of a man betrayed by his friends and sent to the gallows is worthy.”

Equally worthy, is Rose’s 2014 novel, Pelmanism, an intimate account of a father/ daughter relationship, and its maturation through time. She explained the motive for writing such a personal piece.

“The way you see life changes as you get older, especially when you have children.”

Rose admitted these days, she is happiest enjoying a good meal with family.

Tame as family life may seem, I admire her at the recital, as she soberly reads: ‘Her vagina was pay as you go’, inches away from her maybe daughters. Rose doesn’t even blush. The woman has more balls than I thought.

The night ends, we clap, breathe a sigh of relief. The ceiling is still standing, with buckets underneath.


Nick Griffiths

Image copyright of Legend Press

An interview with author Nick Griffiths

From engineering, to music journalism, to young adult fiction, Nick Griffiths’ life has been quite a journey.

He admits: “It took three years of an Electrical & Electronic Engineering course, and one essay to finally click that I fucking hated electronics and should have been writing all along.”

Once granted this epiphany Griffiths started writing for Music mags Sounds, and Select, before branching out to write TV reviews for Radio Times, Daily Mail and the likes.

Despite taking joy in writing, interviewing, and meeting people, Griffiths explained ‘selling myself was the part of journalism I loathed, being terribly British.’

Throwing off the compromise of journalism in 1976 Griffiths began his first novel, In the Footsteps of Harrison Dextrose; a story with as many turns as his own life.

“My original intention was to write a non-fiction, travel book along the lines of Bill Bryson. However I quickly realised that I hadn’t travelled anywhere near extensively enough, so would have to make it all up.”

44 years and multiple books later Griffiths returned to the Dextrose world, in his novel, Looking for Mrs Dextrose (LFTD). The plot sees self styled adventurer, Pilsbury, fight alcoholism and Amazon climates, in attempt to reunite his broken family. Griffiths describes it as, ‘inept travels among the world’s least fashionable corners, looking for Mum’. As one liners go Griffiths certainly has the knack.

Describing his love of language the author said: “Writing entire books can be a painful process and hitting those funny, apt metaphors lightens the load”.

Griffiths cites comedy as his priority in writing.

“I’m pretty obsessed with making people laugh – I’ll be the one interjecting inanities into heated political discussions down the pub – and my books give me the opportunity to do that.”

Noting the risqué edge to his humour, Griffiths states his writing style originates from a ‘childish take on life’, although he says it is not suitable for children, as ‘there’s too much crudeness in it for their little souls.’ Instead, he hopes his writing appeals to the student aged people.

When asked whether his own son read his books as a teen, Griffiths said: “At sixteen Dylan, like most of his friends, did not read books. I was more disheartened by that than I let him know. I just hope that one day he will realise what he was missing.”

‘Reading’, specifically in an ‘overflow bath’, makes Griffiths top list of pleasures, along with ‘fishing, tracking down ciders, badminton’, and getting his ‘loved ones through life half smiling.’

Back on the subject of work, Griffiths talks of the sequel to LFMD, titled, Pilsbury Dextrose and the End of the World. He synopsises it saying, it’s a ‘group of eccentrics sitting on a hill, fully expecting the world to end.’

Aside from the Dextrose world, he said: “There’s a possibility of a sequel to Who Goes There (wandering around the country, finding old Doctor Who locations). I’d also like to write a radio sitcom based around the residents of the Series of Gentlemen Home for Retired Explorers, in Looking for Mrs D. We shall see.”

For more information on Nick Griffiths work, visit his website.

Breaking Barriers


Image copyright of Puffin Teenage Books


An interview with author Melvin Burgess

West Yorkshire based writer Melvin Burgess has shaken up the world of teenage literature. With over 20 titles under his belt, he has written novels, radio, and TV scripts.

The author’s debut novel, The Cry of the Wolf (1990) shot to fame by being short listed for the Carnegie Medal. This was followed by the success of his 1996 novel, Junk, which scooped the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Later Burgess’ 1999 novel Bloodtide won joint first at Lancashire County Library Children’s Book of the Year Award.

Burgess’ narratives confront risqué subjects, such as sex, drugs and violence. I ask him how his novels compare to the ones he read growing up. He sighs, and takes a big breath.

“Well, there just wasn’t stuff for teenagers when I was a kid. It’s also true that realist fiction just didn’t exist. You had fantasy stuff, and then you had stuff that was written as if it was real, where y’know kids would be out catching burglars or discovering treasure, doing things that don’t really happen. I can’t remember reading any realist books when I was a kid that actually told the truth.

“But now people are a lot more open with young people. Society’s a lot more multi cultural, and with the internet it’s a lot harder to keep secrets from kids, so we have to deal with them in a much more straightforward way than we used to”.

In the absence of realist fiction, I ask Burgess what he did read throughout his youth. His tone lifts in indulgence.

The first book I really fell in love with was The Wind in the Willows, I adored that book when I was six, and I was always a big nature boy. I really adored Gerald Durrell, as well, who wrote books about collecting animals in zoos.

“Later I was really keen on fantasy, oddly enough, because it’s not something I write. But after that, the author who had a big influence on me was Gorge Orwell. I like his work because he writes about difficult subjects, such as politics, but does it so simply that it’s easy to understand. Thereby proving there’s no such thing as difficult subjects, just badly written subjects”.

This sentiment certainly rings true to Burgess’ own writing. As he is never one to shy away from social taboos, I ask him if there are any issues he still feels need exploring. He mulls this over for a second.

“Over the last 10 or 12 years since Junk came out, I realised there was this huge area of things that people did not like to talk to young people about, and that they found difficult to be straight with them about. So I have made a sort of career writing about those subjects; and y’know I think it’s great now that people do talk more openly about drugs culture, and sexual issues.

“But sexual abuse is still something that people feel very, very uncomfortable discussing. And I think we have a fair way to go before people are happier to be open about those kinds of subjects”.

Burgess novel Nicholas Dane tells the story of a boy struggling to come to terms with the sexual abuse he faces within a 1980s care home. I ask him if he found it difficult researching the novel. He pauses.

“Well, it was really painful.”

Then dives in.

“What happened was there were several big cases of abuse coming up every now and again, and it was incredibly wide spread, practically in every town and every borough in the UK. And then one came up in Manchester, and I got in touch with a layer who was dealing with the case, and talked to him about it. Then he circulated my name among some of his clients, and I went to interview some of them.”

Burgess slows down a bit.

“It was pretty heart breaking really. The people who were kids in the homes, quite often they had been taken off their families, and they were at a low anyway, and were treated really violently and even sexually abused in these kid’s homes.

“They were so vulnerable it would just break your heart. And those guys had suffered, for decades no one would believe them because they were pegged as ‘bad lads’. Some of them were in and out of prison, taking drugs and alcohol, and whatever chance they had of getting their lives together was very firmly squashed by those experiences. You would be amazed how many people in prison for very violent crimes had been through that type of experience. We all pay the price for that sort of abuse.”

Just as I think Burgess has stopped, he continues.

“So it was very gruelling really…And then I wrote the bloody book. And you kind of distance yourself from it while you’re writing it, and you turn it into a story. But then when I had finished it and had published it and was doing talks about it, it all came back. I remember the first talk I did I was getting really nervous about it, just because I had to talk about such dreadful things in public.

“I think maybe the reason that some of the abusers got away with it for so long, and got through so many victims, was because people found it so disturbing that they didn’t want it to go public.”

Confronting taboos is not always such a hard job, as Burgess recalls his ventures researching other novels.

I’ve done everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. For my novel Doing It, I was talking about young male sexual culture, and showing you can have a sense of humour about it.

“I just asked everyone I knew about their early sex stories, getting people to tell me about their first encounters. There were such great stories, rude, silly and very touching. I got to hear about the nice and charming side of sex, when people are just getting to know about it”.

With the majority of his work being prose, I asked Burgess how the writing process of his TV drama The Well compared. He sounds surprised.

“I really enjoyed it. I mean, you always hear novelist moaning about their team when they try to write for telly, because if you write a novel it’s all your own way really, but you just have to be patient.

“It’s a great relief to do something collaborative, I’ve written over twenty novels, and you’re stuck on your own. So it’s great to be able to go out there and get a lot of feedback from people”.

I ask Burgess if how he combats writers block when he is working alone.

“Funnily enough I don’t get writer’s block. I’m always quite good with ideas. But what happens is, when I don’t know what to do, I just sit down and write any old crap. I just work my way through ideas. So I don’t so much tend to get writer’s constipation as writer’s diarrhoea. But I try not to write more than five hours a day, so I don’t burn myself out.

“As an author, you get a build- up of people emailing you. I’ve got these daily twitter stories and visits I have to do, and all sorts of things going on. So you get a lot of business associated with being an author that’s not actually writing”.

With such ‘business’ in mind, I ask Burges what it was that inspired him to give a talk on Pagan Heritage in November 2009.

“Before Christianity came to Britain, we were pagans. Even though some of those pagan stories have been forgotten for so long, the ways of thinking associated with them, like the traditions and the characters of the old heroes and gods are still oddly familiar to us. Thursday originated from Thor’s day. So I’m attracted to Northern paganism, because it is the mythology out of which our country was born”.

Talking of mythology, my mind wanders to Burgess’ novel Lady My Life as a Bitch. In the story the main character Sandra faces a Buddhist style reincarnation as a dog. I ask Burgess which animal he would come back to life as, given the choice. He ponders the question for a second.

Well, I think actually it might be a wolf. Y’know it’s very tempting to want to be one of the beautiful big cats, but they lead very isolated lives. Whereas wolves, they have a family structure and get on well together. And they are quite exciting.”

For many more revelations see Melvin Burgess’ website.

Waving not Drowning


A feature on Reading the Waves

Most people hate public speaking; imagine then Robbie Gillon’s dismay when the drill of a forgotten phone interrupted his monologue. I cringed as the noise bounced off Street Level Photoworks’ walls.

What will he do, pause until the imposter is silenced? No, he powered on. Like a pro the student finished his exert about fatherhood, “My children will grow to be who they are, who I am and who I never will be.”

As a father, he is no doubt used to interruptions. Like many of the night’s performers Gillian has had to balance parenthood with his creative writing. He and the rest of the readers come from a course that allows school leavers, parents and career- turncoats a start in the industry.

Originally launched at the Nautical College, in 2000, the HND Professional Writing Skills class has since produced award winning students and a bi-annual event, aptly named, Reading the Waves.

The event allows members of the public the chance to enjoy literature, lyrics and low cost liquor (okay wine) served up by students old and new. As well as being an outlet for fresh talent, it traditionally closes with readings from Scottish writers, such as Janice Galloway and Liz Lochhead. Not bad for three pounds a ticket.

Why then don’t more people know about it? Well, The Waves is usually hosted in Glasgow hideouts, like the Street Level Photoworks and the Scotia Bar, and since it’s a college event, it isn’t commercially punted.

Founder, Linda Jackson, explained, “Reading the Waves started years ago; it was organised as a night to make the HND course more concrete and give the students space to connect with previous students.

“This developed into the writers meeting others and doing events themselves.”

Testimony to this is Kady Reilly; ex-student and host of Magic Carpet Cabaret. Inspired by her college performances Reilly got involved with the open mic night, in Glasgow’s Tchi Ovna. Staged on the first Friday of every month, it sees musicians and writers gather to perform their work.

Despite her cabaret commitments, Reilly revisited Reading the Waves, to perform with Gillon and crew. She said: “I love coming here; it’s great to support the event.

“At college Linda always encouraged us to find our own individuality.”

The theme individuality prevailed as Reilly took to the stage to read her poem, The Tribe. Inspired by her time at school, Reilly parodied the culture of bullying, facebook hypocrisy and chav names, waxing, “No joke, there’s a Pocahontas too.”

At the interval she explained, “Every school in Glasgow has its neds, but I went to the second most violent school in the city.

“I got involved in a couple of incidents, but got through it. So I think it is important to show kids that there are more important things than trying to fit in with the crowd.”

More food for thought came as Joanna Bolouri recited her poem Cinderella, a comedy ballad describing the damsel’s boredom in marriage. Cinderella lamented, “She never knew he’d search for her or she would have moved abroad.”

Later Bolouri explained: “This poem was inspired by my daughter, who is six and obsessed with the world of Disney.

“She asked me, ‘Mum when will I meet my prince?’ You don’t want to tell her that it’s all bullshit, so the poem is a modern imagining of the fairy-tale.

“It shows, that just because you meet your prince, doesn’t mean you get your happy ending.”

With a punch line like that it is no surprise her poem went down a storm. However, Bolouri admitted it was the first time she had read that or any of her own material in public.

“I think a lot of new writers find it nerve racking reading their work or even submitting things, so any event like this that encourages them is good.”

“Reading the Waves is great because it is not just residents performing… I have been writing for four years and I know it can be very hard to get anything published.”

However, Balouri has persevered and managed not only to get her work in the Huffington Post, but also made it to mainstream publishing with her debut novel The List.

Balouri was just one of the night’s many stars; later to read was an SQA award winning poet, whose Sudanese name I won’t insult by misspelling, and Glasgow philanthropist Kevin Branigan, who founded charity Kev’s Stars.

Following these performances, the readers got to kick back and relax, with music from Gus Monro and poetry from Des Dillon.

So after rubbing shoulders with Glasgow’s finest, I left with change in my pocket and faith in the budget Arts scene.

For details of Reading the Waves events, check its founder Linda Jackson’s facebook page.

Print and be Damned


A feature on getting fiction published

Alistair Canlin leads a double life. By day he works with retailers in Glasgow, by night he works with strippers, zombies and murders and he’s not alone.

“There are lots of us writers out there.”

Every year hundreds of people take part in the National November Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, all attempting to have drafted manuscripts by the end. Well, they do say everyone has a novel in them.

As if to prove the point, Canlin has written four: Heaven, the tale of a Glasgow strip club, Twisted Love, about a partner turned killer, Black and White, which follows a forensic photographer and Middle Class Zombie.

Yet these are not the fruits of NaNoWrimiMo or any other writing group; instead Canlin’s work comes from an Open University course and self publishing.

“To be honest Lulu is not a proper mainstream publishing deal; I am still pursuing that, along with an agent.

“I have a box filled with rejection letters that one day I intend to paper a room with. Rejection is just part and parcel of being a writer.”

Si – fi author, Tara Harper explained that (in the United States) each year only three out of every 10,000 submitted manuscripts are actually published.

Harper explained this turnover to be a product of the profession’s demands. Work must be well written, edited and commercially popular, to get to print.

With such odds, it is no wonder self-publishing sites have boomed. They give writers the assurance of print and allow them control of production, with some sites offering choice of lay- out and finish.

Despite this democratic effect, the revolution has not been embraced by everyone.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch was quoted saying ‘vanity presses are called vanity for a reason. They appeal to the writer’s vanity, not the writer’s sanity. Stay away if you want to be a serious writer’.

Yet, self- publishing can lead to mainstream success, as Canlin found out, when an American producer read Heaven and wanted to adapt it to film.

Another success story of self- publishing is that of Catherine Baird, a writer from Cumbernauld. She replied to Padgett Powell’s book of questions, The Interrogative Mood, with her own book of answers, The Responsive Mood.

As well as selling her book on Amazon website, Baird read it alongside Powell in Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts.

While the novel had finesse enough to gain his endorsement, it was rejected by Cargo publishers, due to its abstract nature.

This concept of style dictating success is one Baird is familiar with, despite writing and editing Valve literary journal, published by Freight, she is not optimistic about her solo work getting the same reception.

“The stuff I write is never going to be in the genre which millions of people will buy. When it comes to literary fiction, or really exciting Scottish literature, publishers don’t give it as much of a push.”

That being said, there are a wealth of literary journals and magazines on the Scottish writing scene looking for such material. One of which is Octavius, a magazine open to submissions from any Scot in higher education.

Octavius editor, Samuel Best, said: “We saw a gap in the market for student writing, and decided that we should create a platform for newcomers to have their work published.

“Within just a week of launching we had a flood of submissions and some of the pieces were incredible: professional-standard writing without the famous name behind it.”

This quality of work is often the product of writing groups, scribes who share and critique each other’s work to get the best finished product. Many of these can be found in central Glasgow haunts, such as the Scotia Bar.

So if you fancy writing but aren’t sure where to start, why not visit: the Scottish Poetry Library to find a group near you. Or to submit work see Books from Scotland’s list of literary journals.