Come and meet the Capital Writers!

Well, three of them … Jane, Anne and Kate are delighted to be part of the Corstorphine Festival, along with crime writers Wendy Jones and Cecilia Peartree, and author of Literary Corstorphine, Ray Bell.

Do come along to hear some writerly chat (free, and no need to book).

book night detail

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IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE

BOOK REVIEW

In the Blink of an Eye by Ali Bacon

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In Scotland, the 18th and early 19th centuries were a time known as the Enlightenment, a period of great intellectual and scientific advances.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Scotland’s capital city. One worthy of the time said: ‘Here stand I at what is called the Cross of Edinburgh and can in a few minutes take fifty men of genius by the hand.’

He was right – and of course in one way he was also wrong. Women also played a part in the Enlightenment, as this book shows.

In 1843 there was advancement of another sort when four hundred ministers of the established Church of Scotland walked away from their parishes, their manses and their stipends in protest (to put it briefly) at the long-held practice of landowners, rather than congregations, choosing local ministers. In what came to be known as the Disruption, four hundred black-clad minsters and their supporters literally walked away, down Hanover Street and over the Water of Leith to their new headquarters. It must have been a most dramatic sight.

It certainly inspired artist D(avid) O(ctavius) Hill, the main subject of In the Blink of an Eye. Hitherto a landscape painter, he nevertheless resolved on the task of executing a painting incorporating all four hundred of them – and not only that, he wanted each minister to be properly represented, to look like themselves, not as ciphers.

At first he thought to sketch each man before they dispersed from the capital – a massive undertaking. But then one of those scientific advances of the time came to his rescue. Photography was in its infancy and Scotland was at the forefront of its development. Robert Adamson, building on the work of Fox Talbot in England, produced ‘calotypes’ using paper coated with silver iodides. Together Adamson and Hill (the two names are now remembered as a pair, as well as individually) photographed the ministers in preparation for the painting.

Brought together by the Disruption, the two men went on to form a working partnership producing calotypes – Hill the artist and Adamson the chemist. It was, however, to be another twenty-three years before Hill completed his astonishing painting.

Bookended as it were by the story of one (fictional) Perthshire minister who travels to Edinburgh to see the finished painting and is chagrined to find he is not in it, we have here what is not so much a novel as fictionalised biography – not only of D O (as even his second wife called him) but also of several interesting women with whom he came in contact. It’s a device that works well and some of the women, famous in their own right, can (must!) be further read about. There is a good reference list at the end to help with this.

Hill, a widower at the beginning of the book, was evidently a delightful man, kind, sociable and attractive, devoted to his only child, Chattie. His business partner Robert Adamson will always be remembered as a photography pioneer – who knows what he would have gone on to do had he not died at twenty-six.

The first woman we meet is Jane Adamson, devoted sister of Robert (and of John who is also remembered for his photography). Jane’s domestic duties on the family farm in Fife prevented her from accompanying her delicate brother, as she wished to do, when he moved to Edinburgh with its crowded streets and bad public health. Then there’s Jessie Mann, now thought to be the first Scottish female photographer, who experimented at home with calotypes before becoming assistant to Hill and Adamson. We also see Jessie through the eyes of her sister May.

Amelia Paton, a sculptress, helped Hill to finish the painting. Writer and scholar Elizabeth Rigby (later Lady Eastlake) became infamous for her scathing early review of Jane Eyre; she and her family sat for their portraits and she and Hill became close friends. Elizabeth Kemp comes into the story because her husband, architect of Princes Street’s Scott Monument, disappeared, presumed drowned, and photography meant that at least she had his likeness.

Mary Gowans was connected to Hill through her friendship with Amelia Paton. She married, as his second wife, James Gowans, the renowned architect (suspected of doing away with his first wife). Chattie Hill, young daughter of Hill, tried to match-make him with Amelia. And the final Elizabeth, Elizabeth Hall, was a Newhaven fisherwoman. Hill and Adamson’s photographs of the fishing community are one of their finest legacies.

In the Blink of an Eye is the story of fascinating people who lived at a fascinating period of history in, yes, a fascinating city. I do recommend this capital book.

Published by Linen Press at £7.99.

About the author

Ali Bacon was born in Fife and graduated from St Andrews University. After a career as an academic librarian her first novel, Kettle of Fish, was published in 2012 by Thornberry. Chapters from In the Blink of an Eye have been listed in literary competitions and excerpts were performed at the St Andrews Photography Festival and Cheltenham Literature Festival 2016.

 

Choosing characters

People often ask writers how they invent their characters.  Based on someone they know?  Hate? Love? Are inspired by?  Would love to be?   On a writing course while struggling with literary theory, in a last ditch effort to demonstrate some connection with this, I included a cat in my final assignment – Bakhtin, fantasy grandchild of the famous Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher.  (An inclusion that nevertheless didn’t endear me to the markers.)  Thus, the character of Bakhtin, a Russian cat who comes to Edinburgh to learn to write, was created.  Bakhtin’s experience of academia was made bearable only by his flatmates and fellow students, a miscellany of animals, and as with humans, displaying their strengths and weaknesses.

Having survived his two year course, Bakhtin hasn’t returned to Moscow.  He has discovered a desire is to travel.  And for an impecunious cat, what better way to do so, than by receiving free accommodation in return for looking after other people’s pets?  As Bakhtin’s creator, I am constantly searching for animals he can care for when their owners are on holiday.

An opportunity arose several weeks ago when I was taken on to look after a ferret in the south of France.  I knew nothing about ferrets.  But the photos of Molly were appealing. And friends told me that ferrets are lovely animals. It isn’t their fault that they’ve received a bad press: we “ferret” around for things; ferrets smell.  Molly was delightful.  Yes, she was fascinated by my toes, manifested in frequent nibbling of them, but that was fun.  She was naughty, expending much of her energy destroying the under side of the sofa. Given the chance, she’d sneak out of her cage with a cube of chicken – cooked or raw – and, tired of eating it, leave the remains behind something.  Before doing a poo, she’d reverse into her chosen place.  No one could resist her little face.  Her sense of fun.  And within hours of meeting her, secretly auditioning her for a role in The Bakhtin Chronicles: Pet Sitting, I awarded her a part.

Watch this space….

         

A Few of my Favourite Things…

There are so many things I love. I love sunshine and shadows racing each other across hillsides; I love the squeak of fresh snow underneath my shoe and a cat curled in front of the fire when I come in from it; I love bread making machines and fresh coffee made from recyclable coffee pods (hello, Nespresso, you planet-loving coffee god!). *sings* Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

I love something else, too. I love words and what you do with them. I love a good book that I can curl up with in front of that warm fire, preferably with a cup of that environmentally-friendly coffee. And to make my Valentine’s Day complete, I’ve just downloaded a new collection of short stories from fellow Capital Writer Kate.

I love Kate’s writing, especially the way she takes ordinary people in ordinary situations and makes something heartwarming and entertaining from them — just one of the reasons why she’s such a successful short story writer. Today she brings fourteen of them together in one volume, The Palace of Complete Happiness: and other love stories. If you missed them in the magazines, you can get them now.

Can’t stop. The fire’s lit, the cat’s curled up on the hearth and the coffee machine awaits. Happy Valentine’s Day, all! I’m off to read Kate’s book…

VALENTINE’S DAY – IMPORTANT OR NOT?

Valentine’s Day isn’t a big deal in my home.  Admittedly, it took me years to accept that my partner might forget the day or choose to ignore it as his way of countering rampant commercialism.  I learned to realise that it’s what happens between us throughout the year that’s important and that flowers might, and often do, arrive at any time, when he feels like buying them, lilies on Christmas Eve, for example. This is okay. Yes, really. Having said that, I have dropped hints that should he be buying me flowers in the near future, I’d love to have freesias. And as we’ve been apart for several weeks (him due to work, me due to pet sitting in Switzerland), I’m fairly confident there’ll be flowers awaiting my arrival home on Friday evening.

As for past Valentine’s Days, not many stories here. The first card I remember receiving stated: “If you want to be the only pebble on the beach, you’ll have to be a little boulder”.  Nice, yes.  One year I received a card which said: “Who’s my little whosis? Yous is.”  Well, I was thrilled. Perhaps not award winning poetry, but, hey, I had an admirer. Walking downstairs with an inner glow, I saw my mother grinning at me on the ground floor. She’d sent the card. I could have wept. I could have committed grievous bodily harm.

Another year – before my partner’s time – when I couldn’t face work and colleagues’ conversations about cards, flowers, chocolates received, in the knowledge that I was no one’s special someone, I sprinkled a handful of envelopes of varied size and colour on my hall floor, so that when I stepped out of the flat to go to work on the day, I couldn’t instantly tell that the postman hadn’t delivered a card for. Now that was sad.

Today, like fellow Capital Writer Anne, I have treated myself to Kate’s The Palace of Complete Happiness.  This is guaranteed to make a happy day, in addition to being in this beautiful place.

Lutry, on Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Roses are red

 The Palace of Complete Happiness   Congratulations to fellow Capital Writer, Kate Blackadder, on the publication of this latest collection of short stories. I’ve treated myself to a Valentine’s Day copy and, having read all of Kate’s earlier collections, I know it’s going to be a great Valentine’s Day pressie to self.

There’s a lot to be said for pressie’s to self on Valentine’s Day. Around here, they haven’t gone in much for ‘manufactured’ high days. So I’ve never had to return inappropriate lingerie, rescue dying red roses or pretend the box of chocolates was empty on arrival. The only unsigned Valentine’s card, I ever received came in the mail during my first professional posting. It was exciting, but exhausting. And, if you who sent it are reading this, then thank you, but it’s really too late now.

Call me a grumpy old woman, but I do love the incidental gifts which arrive and brighten up any old day. I used to take my aunt flowers throughout the year, but not on her birthday when the rest of her extended family sent them in vast quantity. It’s lovely to be honoured from time to time and to return the favour.

Here’s a wee offering, dear reader, from me to you. Oh, and like me, you could treat yourself to The Palace of Complete Happiness.

The Palace of Complete Happiness

The original Valentine and the reasons for his veneration are shrouded by the mists of time. One theory is that in the third century he secretly married couples so that the husband would not have to go to war – a serious inconvenience to the Roman emperor of the time. Good on him if that was the case.

Since the High Middle Ages, he has been associated with courtly love – defined as the unconsummated love of a knight for a married noblewoman. I wonder how he would view twenty-first century interpretations of his saint’s day …

I expect though that he’d appreciate a nice bit of homemade cake – he can have first dibs on this chocolate and raspberry one:

cake cropped

 

and published on 14 February in his honour is this collection of 14 love stories (all previously published in magazines):

Family at Farrshore - front cover

http://amzn.to/2BzxNa6

Happy St Valentine’s Day!

This Year Jennifer Resolves To…Be Realistic

And that’s just the start!

It’s the same every year. I make a shedload of resolutions, on the principle that if I do that, one of them is bound to be in tune with the moon. Then I’ll wake up at some point in the summer to discover that all’s well with the world, and that while I’ve been mourning my abject failure to read a book every week, I’ve somehow forgotten to eat anything that’s bad for me and, as a consequence, I’ve lost three stone.

You will not be surprised to learn that that has yet to happen.

Last year’s resolutions were a wide-ranging lot, too many to recount and, from my point of view, too humiliating to consider in terms of their cumulative failure. Suffice it to say that not one of them made it past January.

Perhaps, after all, the scattergun approach doesn’t work. What I’ve learned from experience is that my most successful resolutions involve things I’m almost ready to do anyway. In other words, rather than give me a boot up the backside to take on a challenge that’s too big for me, a New Year resolution should really be about encouraging you to make the small changes.

For example, every year I resolve to be more organised and every year I fail. Anyone who knows me will testify to that. While I’ve never knowingly missed a deadline and am rarely late for an appointment, that reliability only holds if I remember to write that decline or appointment in the diary, and write it down correctly if I do. No matter how many times I decide to make that change, I can’t seem to do it.

But I’ve succeeded at other things. When I was about sixteen, I gave up biting my nails. I was ready to. Some decades later, I managed to stop playing games on the computer. Again, I just needed a little nudge away from the habit of clicking on it in moments of procrastination (though admittedly, I’ve found plenty of other time-killers to fill the gap).

So this year I have two resolutions. One of them is to go to the gym more often. I’ll do that, because I already go four times a week so there’s minimal effort required to increase it. And the other is to write more. I’ll do that, as well. Because if I can make writing a thousand words a day an average rather than an exception, a habit, rather than a triumph…I’ll have written 365,000 words by the end of the year.

This Year Anne Resolves to – Just do it.

What am I looking forward to in 2018 writing-wise?

Kew Gardens

I don’t do New Year Resolutions because, after a long time of trying, I know how easily they turn from goals into shackles. What I do like, though, is the idea that I can clear out some of the old year’s dead wood and have a warming bonfire.

A Backward Glance

My domestic circumstances were hectic in 2017. So much so, that when Kate Blackadder came to collect me for supper on the first night of our writing retreat in the beautiful Mirfield Monastery, I’m fairly sure I was snoring on top of my very comfy bed. Kate is far too well-bred to offer confirmation, but there was a tiny smile playing around her lips when I appeared at last on the landing.

Some of the ‘hectic’ was unbearably sad and a lot of it wonderfully uplifting. It was all exhausting. So the first thing to look forward to in leaving 2017 is a bit of order. I need to get some filing out of the way. I need to tidy up one or two issues. I need to stick to my decision to leave a couple of committees.

A Forward Leap

Being part of Capital Writers is an energising move on my part. Already I’ve written a complete, and to my eye, satisfying Scottish Regency short story, Close Encounter. So Leaping Forward, I hope to build on that and complete the new Scottish Regency book I’ve been working on for a while. Great characters and some snappy dialogue, but time must be set aside.

An actual, “Yes please” has come in from DC Thomson, so I am submerged in the new serial I’m writing for them. It is in progress and I have no publication date, but I hope it will be sometime in 2018.

It’s also the case that I’ve been thinking in conversations again recently. I do feel a play coming on. Oh dear.

Being a patron of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh is a great thing to do. I spent Tuesday afternoon in their costume department seeing the costumes for The Belle’s Stratagem which are in production and hearing how it all moves from design to stage. Energising too, and maybe infectious.

I hope I’ll meet you all around the writing scene in 2018 – tap me on the shoulder…

Anne Stenhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIS YEAR JANE RESOLVES TO…

 

One year I set myself twenty-nine New Year resolutions. When I told a friend, she recommended that I change the wording to “guidelines”. Such wise advice – remove the pressure. After all, what’s the point in setting twenty-nine if I’m unlikely to keep even one?

Only recently did I realise that New Year resolutions are such a time-honoured tradition. They originated around 1,770 BC. when the Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year to return all borrowed objects and to pay their debts. It would be interesting to know how they fared.

According to research, only 8% of people currently actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions. Not an impressive percentage. Setting too many, choosing unrealistic goals and being easily discouraged with small failures, explain much of this low figure.

So, what can we do to make our resolutions more likely to succeed? There’s evidence that humans are driven by “loss aversion” – i.e. we are more motivated to recover loss than we are to win gains. Therefore, regaining a level of fitness or appropriate weight may be more effective than to aim for something unachievable.

According to Dr John Michael, a philosopher at Warwick University, we are more likely to keep resolutions if we consider them to important to other people, for example, committing to attending a class with a friend. Particularly so if it’s something we’ve paid for in advance.

Reputation is also a powerful motivator. Making your resolutions public can help you to keep them since the fear that people will think worse of you if you don’t see them through will increase your determination.

Being specific makes a difference. Deciding which days to go to the gym is more likely to be successful than deciding just to go to the gym more often. In fact, something I’ve already found useful. For years, I’ve swum on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and aimed for doing this one day during the week. Since making Wednesdays that day, I’ve been more successful as I don’t find myself saying on Monday, “I’ll go on Tuesday” etc.

This year I plan to do something different. Instead of setting difficult targets like losing a lorryful of weight, I’ve decided to congratulate myself for every achievement I manage, no matter how small. This could be a piece of writing or handling a difficult conversation well. Hopefully, I’ve set myself up for some success.