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.”

Scottish Poetry Library

Hankering for a haiku or starving for a sonnet? Then look no further than the Scottish Poetry Library. Situated just off of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, it’s filled with people to help you find just the thing! Even if the thing you want is an opaque verse from childhood.

Finding missing poems is all part of the service, as the Poetry Library’s Communications Manager, Colin Waters, explained.

“People tend to call or email with a few lines of a poem they wish to track down, then our librarians call on our collection, before searching lines, trying variants and consulting colleagues to find it.”

Often people remember poems from milestones in their lives, but forget the title or the author.

Waters explained: “People often want a poem read at a wedding, funeral or indeed at a political meeting. In Scotland, when we experience important moments in our lives we like to hear what the poets have to say about them.”

This vice for verse is, Waters recons, the reason the country has produced so many world class poets.

He said: “The mature generation of Scottish poets – such as Don Paterson, Kathleen Jamie and John Burnside – have won every prize going; and the Scottish Poetry Library is the best place to discover more about this wonderful heritage.”

While Scotland’s poetry is centuries old, the Scottish Poetry Library is young, having been founded in 1984. A brain child of the poet Tessa Ransford, the library first inhabited rooms within Edinburgh’s Tweedale Court, before outgrowing this space.

Waters recalled: “The Library’s collection grew, so in 1999 (after extensive fund raising) the Scottish Poetry Library moved to its current building at Crichton’s Close.”

But the work didn’t stop there; in 2015 the library underwent refurbishment to include a new entrance, sheltered terrace, further storage, recording room and event spaces.

Now the SPL is the only poetry library in Europe housed in its own specially-constituted building.

“The Library has evolved beyond bricks-and-mortar and we are exploring ways of making its poems easier to access beyond the building. We offer postal loans, our catalogue is online and people can download our poetry posters wherever they live,” Waters said.

The library has also increased its interactivity with fortnightly podcasts; as well as email, Facebook and Twitter campaigns. In 2011, the SPL’s Twitter feed was judged to be the fourth most influential in the library world.

Waters quipped: “The virtual door is always open.”

In fact, the Scottish Poetry Library website plays a vital role in recruiting its volunteers. Those interested in helping at the library can fill in an online form describing the skills they could contribute, as well as those they wish to gain.

The library also has a lot to offer recreational visitors.

Water said: “In July the Saltire Prize-winning poet Ryan Van Winkle will be hosting a SPL event at Jupiter Artland.”

He added: “The Scottish Poetry Library has a reputation for experimenting; in the past year its events have featured drag queens, throat singing, and film-poems. So far this year’s events have been somewhat more restrained, but we have interesting shows to announce this autumn.”


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.”

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.

From Coatbridge to Kiev


An interview with author Des Dillon

In Glasgow some things will never change, the Scottish Premier League will divide opinion and home-grown comedy will fill seats. Perhaps this is why Des Dillon’s play, Singing I’m No a Billy He’s a Tim, continues touring theatres years after its debut.

The drama tells the story of a Rangers and Celtic fan clashing during a night in the cells. Although the subject of sectarianism is an old one, Dillon keeps the play fresh by adding contemporary twists to each new tour. So it is no surprise the play struck a chord with audiences across the UK, and received a standing ovation in Belfast. Remembering this, Dillon cites it as the most rewarding moment of his career.

“I felt like I was finally getting recognised as the author I consider myself to be. What’s happened recently for me is that people who won’t read my books will come and see my plays. I’m No a Billy sold 2000 seats at the Armadillo in 2011, and I have never sold 2000 books.”

Commercial success hasn’t come easy to the author who claims he progressed into the writing scene over a period of years. Having grown up in Coatbridge, one of nine siblings, he worked jobs ranging from fruit machine engineer to bouncer, before going to university.

“I went to Coatbridge college to get three Highers and become a PE teacher, but I got the best mark in the country that year for one exam, and that was when my teacher said I should go on to uni and do English.”

Taking this advice Dillon joined Strathclyde University, where he first became published as the winner of the Keith Write literary competition. While Dillon’s poems were popular among the department, he felt his fiction more at odds with the world of academia. Drawing inspiration from the blue collar Glasgow he grew up in, Dillon claims his stories remain at odds with literary circles.

“I wrote my first novel and it took seven years to get published. When I did get published the reviews were like ‘Ned writes book, and ned writes another book’, and it was like this for the first five years.

“My problem is I write for a demographic of people who don’t read books. I’ve got a value system that is totally at odds with the one you meet at book readings and university tutorials.”

The value system Dillon recognises in his work is that of oral narrative, which he claims is inherited from his Irish Scots background. Taking inspiration from his own experiences, Dillon approaches stories as a conversation with his reader.

“Coatbridge has a real Irish culture, with lots of storytelling, and a lot of my work is based on my family and people I know; true stories but fictionalised. My novel Six Black Candles is my six sisters getting together to do a witchcraft spell to kill the girlfriend of one of their husbands…my sisters do actually do witchcraft.”

Quirky as it sounds, the novel became a best seller in Moscow, and when adapted to play was translated into Russian for performance at the Kyiv Drama Theatre on Podol (Ukraine).

“One of the reasons my stuff does so well in the Ukraine is because the area is just one big Glasgow, they have the same dark sense of humour as us, but less of a class structure.”

Parallels between the two places sparked Dillon’s interest in Eastern Bloc history and catalysed his latest project, a story set during the Siege of Leningrad. Unlike previous work, Dillon spent days researching, and learned to speak enough Russian, to navigate his way around the city. Leningrad, now known as St Petersburg, is famous for having endured the longest resistance to German siege, during World War II. It is the pivotal moment of this siege that Dillon focused on.

“During the attack they played Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, which had been written during the siege for the besieged city. When they played it they broadcast it to the Germans and the German morale fell apart. So this was the turning point of the Siege of Leningrad, therefore the turning point of the war in Russia, therefore the turning point of the whole Second World War.”

Dillon credits his interest with pivotal moments down to his abstinence.

“I have been sober for twenty years, and when I go to AA meetings I like to hear stories about the guy’s turning points. I have always had compassion for the underdog, cause I’ve had a rough life myself. When I was a drinker I used to get into fights, but I do all the adrenalin sports, like rock climbing and mountain biking so that’s like my substitute.”

As for relaxation, Dillon turns to poetry.

“I feel at my most blissful when I am in the garden writing poetry. No one really knows me for poetry, but that’s my main thing, that’s what I’ll end up doing once I get these books out the way. I use it to express my more philosophical ideas; questioning the meaning of life. Of course you never find out, but trying to find out is good.”

To read his poetry for yourself, visit the Scottish Poetry Library.