FIona. Hello, dear hamster dudes! Yes, I am indeed, I’ve been running tours for 6 years now! But no, I’ve not ever thought of doing a hidden hamster tour.
Well, sadly, so far I’ve not found any record of hamsters doing anything significant in Aberdeen!
But, I’m sure they did! Just because things are not written down, doesn’t mean to say they didn’t happen! There were loads of secret tunnels and cellars they could have hidden in and witnessed some local dramas over the centuries – although they’d have to be careful of cats!
BUT, sadly hamsters did not arrive in Britain until 1939! You’ll love this though – the name hamster comes from a Persian (Iranian) word meaning “oppressor”!
It all started because I lost my dream job in Portsmouth as Conan Doyle Projects Officer! The funding was never renewed, so I just had to come back home. I decided there and then to never ever work for a council again, cos every council job I’ve ever had I’ve been made redundant from!
Anyway, I kinda started it even before I went to the south of England, as early as the spring of 2010, when I took a group of photographer friends around Old Aberdeen, which is where our main university campus is and has the oldest buildings in the city. At that time I had a job as curator for Grampian Police, so I got to indulge my interest in crime history – I planned to write a tour going round the sites of famous murders in the city, and when I came back in 2011, folk were like, “When are you doing this murder tour?” I wrote it up, put an event page on Facebook and 25 people turned up. It was scary! But folk liked it, so I kept doing it. I have 18 different routes now with 4 new ones planned for next year already. Basically, I take people around a set route and tell them stories about the different sites. I also do three routes which are “ghost tours” – which means that they are street theatre walks involving local actors who are playing real people from the past. That goes down very well. Tours involve a lot of writing to start with, then a lot of walking and talking!
Because, sadly, almost all of our historic buildings have been demolished and the folk in charge don’t seem to care! I have always wanted to know “what was there before” and take people back in time, if only in their imaginations. Our city was founded as a royal burgh in 1176 AD, but there’s evidence going away back to Neolithic times, so people have lived in the area for thousands of years.
Loads of them! But my real favourites are Johnny Milne, Aberdeen’s last executioner who only got the job because the city needed a hangman and it was a better alternative to being transported to Australia which he would have been as he had been arrested for stealing beehives from his employer. He had a bossy wife who made sure he took the job!
I also love all the street characters who sold food, goods and generally made a nuisance of themselves, e.g. “Blin’ Bob”, aka Duncan McGillivray, a hawker who would make up all sorts of nonsense to sell anything. He once bought a stock of old newspapers at the time of the Crimean War, and sold them pretending they were current. He was accused of being a liar, but he said, “Aa newspapers print lees, so I should be allowed tae sell lees an aa!” I have a huge cast of characters in my head most of the time when I’m on a tour.
They vary! Every Halloween since 2011 I have put on a street theatre performance at a specific place featuring tragic, horrible and scary stories, that’s what the ghost tours came out of. One year when we did “Ghosts & Ghouls of the Aultoun” which goes round the uni area I mentioned earlier, we had fifty people on the tour, it was mad! It was also downright freezing! But folk love being scared. I think it’s because deep down they know it isn’t real, but they like the thrill of being scared in a safe way. I don’t dabble with real spooks! .
Last year we had our first indoor performance at the old medical school in Marischal College, it was called “Burkers, Bodysnatchers & Bloody Surgeons” featuring true and semi-fictionalised stories from the time of Burke & Hare, only in Aberdeen, it was the students themselves who would go and dig up bodies to dissect. There was also a storyline about two girls who disguised themselves as boys to study medicine as no woman was allowed near a university until 1891 in Aberdeen. It ends up with the two girls being found out and bumping off the lecturer who uncovers their secret – they are then helped to hide the body by the horrible, scary Sacrist Pirie, who already has his own trade in killing off Travelling people to sell to the surgeons! It was such hard work, but it was so impressive! To hear and see the cast bringing my work to life was fantastic, it’s the best compliment an author can have to see their work on stage exactly as they wrote it!
Oh I was writing about other things long before I wrote local history! I’ve actually been writing stories since I was about six years old! I got inspired by “The Little Match Girl” and after that I just seemed to come up with fantastical plots and characters.
Eventually I realised that it was easiest to write about things I knew, so the first novel I wrote was all about North-East fisher folk and it was published online in 2012.
Indeed, see above, I was employed as the project officer for the Lancelyn-Green Collection, one of the world’s biggest collections of books, artefacts and other ephemera about Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve always liked Holmes since the Granada TV series and Jeremy Brett. My Mum bought me the complete Holmes short stories years ago and I devoured them! The reason that the collection was left to Portsmouth City Library is that ACD had his first medical practice in Southsea, which is the seaside bit of Portsmouth/Portsea Island (yes, it is an island, but joined to the mainland by a road now), and he got bored so he invented a detective based on his old tutor, Dr Joseph Bell, from Edinburgh who had taught him the skills of observation and deduction. Bell was a nicer man than Holmes though, and was married!
I have written a play and a novella featuring the traditional Victorian Holmes & Watson, but I also wrote a piece of fan-fiction about the BBC Holmes, which was great fun. I have a half-written novella called “The Riddle of the Dancing Dragons” which is Holmes again in his Victorian days, and features him and Watson going to visit a relative of John’s who has been looking after her two nieces. One of the girls is about to be married to a confectioner, but the younger sister can’t stand him. The relative also has an “adopted” son who we would probably describe as autistic in modern language, but he’s different, he’s detached from ordinary folk and Holmes is the first person to be able to talk to him. It promises to be a good one if I can ever get back in the right mindset for it!
Yup – my pen name is Janet Swan and I’ve self-published a novel “Of Fish & Folk”, a novella, which is a pastiche of Ian Rankin’s Rebus, but has a female police detective in Edinburgh called “All the Sinners Saints” and a poetry collection called “A Different Gunpowder Plot.
Hidden Aberdeen 2 – which would be my fourth history book with Black & White Publishing (if they accept it) and I’m in the middle of the sequel to “Of Fish & Folk” – also planning to write a new script for Halloween, and a special war-time performance set in a real concrete air raid shelter. I do hope you like your knitted hats – that’s one of my stress-busting hobbies, knitting! Love to you all and be kind to each other, thanks for inviting me onto the blog! Mwah! xxx
Connect with Fiona-Jane here
Find her on Amazon.co.uk here.
Dundee, John Quinn, Joseph Lee, Juteopolis, Mary Brooksbank, Mary Queen of Scots, Mary Shelley, Mary Slessor, O halflins an hecklers an weavers an weemin, Play, Verdant Works, William McGonagall, William Wallace, Winston Churchill
. was the story of jute in Dundee. How it got there, how Dundee came to be known as Juteopolis and how the mills are all gone now, how the Irish came during the famine in their droves, quadrupling the population in no time at all in a city which was unprepared for the onslaught, how they joined Highlanders being cleared off their land, courtesy of the Duke of Sutherland.
But it was also the story of weaving in the city and how the city and its people, who are not an easily impressed people, have always kept their story moving forward. The title says it all. Halflins were children who did half a day at school and half a day in the mills. Hecklers? Well, Dundee gave the world the word.
‘For any woman brought up in the Dundee tradition there should be no straining for equality no, need for a new consciousness of the power of women. We have inherited a freedom which seems unnecessary to verbalize. We are just waiting for the world to catch up.’
Why did the women have this freedom? Because they were the family breadwinners.
Shey…Well…..talking that… because there’s a story that William Wallace went to school in Dundee and got in a ‘rammy’ –a row–with the English governor’s son, Selby, killed him,
thus becoming an outlaw but not before being hidden by a weaving woman just outside Dundee who sort of suggested he disguise himself…..
Shey. Indeed. Dundee has quietly furnished the world with one or two weel ‘kent’ folks, or folks who were inspired by their stay in the city.
Mary Shelley said Dundee was where she got her idea for the famous ‘unbeast.’ Ian Fleming’s grandfather worked in the jute mills here. We also had a scene involving from mill girl, to missionary to magistrate Mary Slessor.
She was also known as the Mother of All the People. So we had a wee song about her too , one of two we wrote especially for the show, here sung by the most fabulous choirs, Loadsaweeminsingin and The Lochee Linties. In the middle of the first proper utterly chaotic run through, what they had done from scribbled music with Mr Shey’s words had my jaw on the deck.
William McGonagall … with two of his drunken hecklers….
and an enactment of the only known instance of the famous Scottish play where the lead character refused to die. We had a wee onstage riot courtesy of Dundee woman Mary Brooksbank who wrote the Jute Mill Song, a visit from Mary Queen of Scot’s ghost, . And did I mention Winston Churchill, famously served a maggot in his kipper here
and flung out the town which, despite being the drunkest city in the British empire elected a prohibitionist instead.
We also had a scene featuring Joseph Lee, Dundee’s fighter writer and forgotten WW 1 poet. Michael Marra’s daughter Alice, also a professional musician, sung her dad’s amazing Happed in Mist as a solo at this point. It was stunning. Here’s his version.
and then Mr and I recited one of the poems before the scene started. Alice was so stunning I could hardly speak. For once.
‘I dreamed that a man went home last night, from the trench where the tired men lie.
And walked through the streets of his own, old town. And I dreamed that man was I.’
Shey…I played tour guide Em Fae Dundee, opposite Mr who played Ken O ‘ Dundee, the sort of keeping everything together hardly off the bloody stage, parts, William Wallace, A singing Suffragette, and on the Sat night cos we were two members of cast short, Mary Brooksbank, mill worker Jeanie
and an American tourist. Oh and on opening night I do believe I also played an unscripted football fan…don’t ask……….A certain blond wig was on the wrong props’ island at that stage…
Shey. Pretty difficult because none of the stellar cast ever intended to be on this play and so far as I was concerned my directing days were done. Five weeks before the play was due on the theatre company who had been involved pulled out. Meantime the fabulous choir run by Alice Marra, had learned all the songs, several of which were written by her late father, Dundee musician Mike Marra. Tickets had been sold. It took two weeks to put together this cast under the name of a theatre co Mr and I once ran.
Oh and of this cast, if we now add in the sound technician, there were four originals. Lol, here’s an oldie. Anyway of our ‘new hastily constructed’ cast, only five had ever done any serious theatre work. And two who had, could not do the Saturday night. I had to think about the overall look of the play–hence the tee shirts and the cast never leaving the playing space, I had to think about the difficulties of that nonetheless wonderful playing space the High Mill at Verdant works, a former mill now a museum, about working each scene in a way that would let folks who had never been on a stage, shine–for example rather than cluttering the Highland clearance scene with a cast of thousands, why not just have the whole thing read, even the ‘Be off with you’ bit from the proclamation, as if it was part of it. I also divvied up the parts in a way that might allow them to rehearse together where they were related to one another. We had the mill during the day but that was no use to some of the cast. There was no time for blocking rehearsals going on for weeks, or technical or props ones either. This play went out there on opening night having been run start to finish twice. There were bits that had been talked through, in terms of business and props at a meeting and then only had one rehearsal. I have to say the cast were wonderful. LOL and I am not saying that cos more than my Mr were family.
And it’s not easy being right up against an audience, although, the audiences were wonderful, it’s not easy never going off stage either, although okay…we did have a slogan, ‘Every night a different show.’ That was in terms of the ad libbing Mr and me did after he did little things, like start the wrong scene, not know what scene we were meant to start.
Shey…No doubt, all down to the fact that on opening night, I spoke the word you never EVER say onstage or off…….
When, in a noble moment as Mr wandered up and down waiting to hear the immortal words ‘Turn Hellhound, Turn.’ and would be waiting yet since he’d cut the speech that made scene of the entire scene, and my older girl who had taken the sword fight scene off me the night before, stood saying, ‘ What do I do Mum?’ and she is trained, I stepped forward and spoke. I also had McGonagall escaping the killing fields not floors. Oh well. You know, a fabulous time was had by all. Mr Shey loved us for putting on a different play from what he wrote. And yep, the cast were so good, I’m glad they all said at the after show party, they are well up for another run.. ….
Ba Cottage, Catherine Cavendish, Dundee, Glencoe, Hard to Protect, Ian Fleming, Incy Black, James Bond, James Bond and Dundee, Newport-on-Tay, Peter Fleming, Robert Fleming, Shehanne Moore, The wrath of the ancients, The Writer and the Rake
AH and aw in equal measures. Firstly AH because this the long awaited third book in the Hard To series featuring Incy Black’s own special Black ops. Aw, because she says trilogy although I hope that the exciting Freya Dervish will feature somewhere along the line in another book. No pressure there now Incy, just saying. Although I’ve read the other two books in the series, in many ways this book is a standalone.
In true spy honey trap tradition, Will Berwick, secret agent hot and complicated, is asked to seduce the secret of her brother’s whereabouts, from Dr Treherne, ice angel extraordinary. Not the best thing to ask him to do when she’s been evaluating him for months re his suitability to return to service. Trust me when I say that you just know that in the not too distant future Angel will be evaluating other aspects of his suitability because it’s plain they are under one another’s skins. However, Incy Black’s skill lies in keeping them at one another’s throats. This couple don’t give an inch for very personal reasons and it makes for great chemistry. You want to know they will heal one another’s pain. A pain they don’t admit to. Add this to a plot full of twists and turns, Incy Black’s own unique voice, and the result is explosive.
Ha, well I’m being facetious when I say in my spare time.
My full-time job is as a Post-Production editor for television, but between trying to write and having twins aged 2 1/2, work can sometimes feel like the time that’s left over! Glasgow is a good city to work in at the moment for post-production as there are several companies based here, along with STV and BBC Scotland. I work at BBC Scotland, and have done for the last ten years. I started out doing various jobs – photo-copying, runner, camera assistant and eventually worked my way up to editor. The work of an editor involves, at it’s most basic, telling a story with moving pictures and sound. It’s often difficult to describe exactly how that happens and it varies between different types of programs. The basic mechanics involve sitting in front of a computer screen and television monitor, either on my own or with a producer or director and figuring out how the story should unfold. There is a technical side to it, but in relation to my love of writing and story-telling with words, there are a lot of creative similarities.
I have worked on various programs, and as I say, all are different and present their own challenges. A lot of my more recent work has been on Children’s programs, which, with a young family seems quite appropriate. If anyone watches CBeebies or CBBC the chances are they will have seen my name on the credits to something, like Copycats, Comic Relief does Glee Club, Nina and the Neurons and My Pet and Me,
to name just a few. There’s a long list of other shows including The One Show, Trust Me I’m A Doctor, The Secret Life of Books, The Review Show, Sportscene, T in the Park. A couple of things I am most proud of are editing the final interview given by the author Iain Banks that he gave about two weeks before he died – ‘Iain Banks – Raw Spirit’. We literally finished editing the program on a Friday, and he passed away on the Sunday. It was very emotional and touching, especially as I am a big fan of his writing. Another, completely different, thing I worked on, as part of a massive team was the BBC Sport coverage of the London Olympics in 2012. I was based in the Olympic Park for the duration of the games and got to edit some amazing footage and sporting events, as well as experience the Games from a unique perspective. I have just finished a series of special programs of ‘My Pet and Me’ where they went to film wildlife in the Galapagos Islands, with the same cameraman who filmed for ‘Planet Earth’. They will be on CBeebies in March and we’re all really pleased with them – well worth looking out for even if you don’t have preschool kids in the house!
I ignored my Career Guidance Advisor at high school and decided to go to University and study Film & Television Studies at the University of Glasgow because film was something I had always enjoyed. At the time you had to do the course combined with another subject, so I combined my love of film with my love of reading and ended up with a MA degree in English Literature and Film & Television Studies. I loved doing this course, but my Careers Advisor was right on one level because at the end of the course I had no idea what job I wanted to do, or how I was going to turn my love of film and reading into viable employment. After a bit of time working in shops and temping in banks I gave up my flat, moved back in with my Mum and started at the bottom as a runner. There were definitely times when I was delivering mail round offices, doing the tea rounds and photo-copying scripts that I wondered what I was doing with my life and with my degree, but after a lot of long hours and hard work it all worked out in the end. My ‘break’ came while working as the mailroom assistant on BBC Scotland’s soap drama River City. I was able to spend a lot of time with various departments, learn how television was made, and had access to editing equipment – that was when I decided editing was for me.
Well, like I said, I had always enjoyed reading and equally I have always enjoyed writing. From a very young age at primary school I would write little stories. In the years when I was working long hours trying to make my way into a television career I stopped writing for a long time with only occasional half-hearted attempts at starting to write a novel or short story. Partly, in the days before online blogs and self-publishing, there was always a part of me that thought it was a bit pointless because no one would ever read what I had written. Only in the last couple of years have I returned to writing regularly. At the start of last year I finally did an online writing course with Strathclyde University and through that caught the bug again to tell stories with words. With the stories I wrote for that course I decided to start a fiction writing blog and try and get my stories out to an audience rather than leaving them unused and gathering dust.
As part of the writing course and for my blog I have concentrated on short stories. With a blog it is much easier to gain a wider readership with short pieces. I really enjoy the satisfaction of sitting down to write a piece of flash fiction or short story and having it finished either that day or within a short period of time. There is an instant sense of gratification and achievement when something is complete – especially if you know you have written a good one, which doesn’t happen everytime!
The difficulty I find with writing a longer piece is you don’t get that instant gratification and feedback – it’s a long old slog and you have to keep these characters and plot swirling around in your head for a long time without becoming bored by them – something I have always struggled with.
However, as well as keeping my short pieces going, the target over the next few months is to get a novel finished. I have an idea and a rough plot and am literally starting to write the first few pages now.
Getting towards the end of last year I realised I had a good six months worth of short stories and flash fiction pieces that amounted to a reasonably substantial piece of work. There were also enough recurring themes and ideas among them all that I thought they would work together as a collection of stories. Having not self-published before, it also presented a good opportunity to learn about the process involved in doing this. It also meant I could find a new audience for these stories and keep them fresh rather than disappearing on the web and never being read again. I had no great expectations at the start of the process, but I’m really pleased with how it has turned out and I think it stands as a really good selection of my work. I called it ‘Collected Sketches’ because I felt the stories leave a lot for the reader to do, they are in many cases starting points that give you something to think about after reading, to fill in the rest of the story as they want to – that’s a kind of fiction I like to read as well.
It’s been said before by plenty of others more qualified than me but the simplest advice is to keep writing and keep reading. Don’t let doubt get in your way. My other tip would be to not be afraid to get your work out there somehow – whether self-publishing, via a blog, entering competitions – make sure it gets read and take back all the advice and criticism that comes your way – 99% of all the feedback will be constructive and encouraging and it is so fufiling to know that people are taking the time to read your work and respond to it.
I am proudly Scottish, but it’s a very fluid question at the moment with the political situation in the UK and Europe. I support independence in principal for Scotland, but would also like us to remain within the European Union. I have an English mother and other relatives, so I am by no means a hardcore independence campaigner. It has also been a tricky time working for the BBC, which has been seen by some to be biased against the independence campaign and anti-Scottish. From my position on the inside that’s not an argument I agree with particularly, and I try to avoid getting into that particular debate! All the uncertainty in Scotland and more widely round the world does mean there is a lot of fresh material to use as a writer – these are interesting times, and my writing does tend to use real world situations and scenarios (as opposed to fantasy or hard science fiction) In my writing I do like to try and bring a sense of Scottish-ness to my stories, and being born and bred in Glasgow, even a certain Glaswiegian sensibility to my characters – and the novel I am starting just now definitely does that, as well as touching on some of the politics of the day (although it’s never a good idea to get bogged down in too much political debate in a fictional novel).
My film reviews were something I started a few years ago to try and use my education and keep my hand in at studying films. As a film student I always find it difficult to narrow down favourites, but I guess spy films (think Le Carre through to James Bond) would be at the top of my list. However, anything that is a good film I will watch, regardless of genre – which is also true of my reading preferences. If I ever find the time I would like to return to doing more regular film reviews on my blog alongside my fiction writing, but at the moment I’m concentrating on the fiction work.
As I mentioned the target for 2017 is to get a first novel written, edited and out there – whether that’s sending in out to agents and publishers or self-publishing I will decide once I have a finished novel. Alongside that I will continue to write my short pieces and there is always the opportunity to follow up my first collection of stories with further collections if this first one goes well. Keep an eye on my blog for further news. I’m really enjoying the writing and the journey that I’m on at the moment, so hopefully it continues to be fun as well as productive. And I have to do that in as well as carrying on my editing career and chasing after two toddlers with way more energy than I have!!
Collected Sketches is a series of short stories and flash fiction exploring human nature and the world that we inhabit. Sometimes funny, sometimes scary, from the everyday to the imagined future, exploring locations across the globe, these stories reflectt the globalised society we live in today, the recent history that has led us here and the future we may have already created.
Iain Kelly lives in East Kilbride, near Glasgow in Scotland, where he spends almost all my time raising his twin son and daughter. In his spare time he works as an editor of television programmes. Highlights of his work include London Olympics 2012 / Sportscene (BBC Sport), My Pet and Me / Nina and the Neurons / My Story / Same Smile (CBeebies), Copycats / Comic Relief Does Glee Club / Who Let The Dogs Out and About? (CBBC), Time To Remember (BBC4), Trust Me, I’m A Doctor / 2012 – Scotland’s Year to Remember / The Review Show / The Culture Show (BBC2), Iain Banks – Raw Spirit / Question Time / Weakest Link (BBC1) among many others.
Going to the chapel….” A story of how love can triumph against the odds. .. by Shehanne Moore.
When my girls here…
were wee I made friends —
(That’s a wedding photo booth joke pic by the way ) with a great couple who had two boys..ok and who ARE pictured above! We would joke we should just arrange their marriages to each other, save a lot of bother, our kids getting their hearts busted for starters. We liked each other as families and the boys were great boys, handsome, good nice guys to this day. Down the years we often reminded ourselves of that joke when we saw our children get hurt, make mistakes, choose partners we could see were wrong for them, have their hearts broken to bits.
I also had another friend, a lady I taught. She spoke a lot about a woman she knew and her son, Daniel.
Daniel was quite a looker apparently. Suddenly, at the grand old age of 17 he was working part time beside my daughter 18, in the local co-op. (Quite a place for romance, all of you ‘looking for just that out there.’ My other daughter also met her partner there too).
Daniel was quite a looker, young vibrant–as I noticed one night she asked me if I could run him home to Tayport. Despite the fact it was miles away and me and Coreen were just going up the road. I thought…no problemo…. Are you kidding?
I watched them talking in the car mirror that night. And I just knew my daughter’s name was going to be Coreen Pow one day and it had nothing to do with how Daniel looked and everything to do with the way they looked and how they acted together. They just seemed right. NUTZ I thought. In fact, certify me now.
That Christmas holiday Daniel was leaving for Stirling Uni and I guess Cor made her move on the night out. He did too. He also said he would phone her to arrange to go out. It was an early instance of let down. Daniel was a player she said and full of himself.
That did not tally with the person who my other friend had talked about over and over.
Years passed.. A lot of years. Down them I watched my girl make every mistake going in some ways, watched her trying to make things work with men I knew it would never work with, watched her getting hurt by men I’m going to be exceedingly polite about, listened to her crying down the phone having been walked out on by some boy who wasn’t worth the time of day she thought she was making a life with and who ‘thought’ he’d come back the day we’d to help her move out of the house he’d just had to have, watched her having her life put on hold. I also watched her and Daniel never quite letting go of the other in terms of keeping in touch. Every time there was a break up, I’d say I still see you with him and I am never wrong. She’d go titz.
Whenever she was free, he was with someone. Whenever he was free, she was with someone. Eventually after something like 12 years, they were both on online dating. She told me she had clocked him there. I told her what I still saw. You could hear the going titz and the ‘would I drop it’ halfway to the North Pole. BUT they were advising each other online……
About dates…. One night, having had yet another lousy date they were advising each other when Daniel said ‘ I don’t suppose if I asked you out you’d come?’
Coreen said, ‘Are you finally asking me?’
This was just so they could advise each other some more as friends. Within months they were engaged. They’re my beacon of hope about love because they work brilliantly together. All that time apart has brought them close together.
And I had a great day on Saturday. From the business of the wedding being moved outside at 8 am and then 93 chairs being moved back inside …many of them already occupied…at 12 30 when it started to rain. Moved by groom and guests and hotel staff too cos there was like 30 mins to go. Of the sun coming out again so we could all enjoy the drink’s reception in the beautiful grounds with a saxophonist playing the best of songs…….
To mah wee grandbaby walking hand in hand with the flowers girls through half the hotel corridors with the rings, then saying NUT to taking rings and girls down the aisle. (He did eventually) To my younger girl’s dress bursting down the back just BEFORE the meal so I had to assure her I would do my Indiana Jones bit and think of something. She sneered at kirby grips….
It was one of the best days I always knew in my heart of hearts would happen.
Ps –my friend’s two sons have found the happiness they deserve too.
It’s an anthology of poetry from in and around the City of Dundee in the early 21st Century –‘a cast of voices who speak for and about Dundee in poetic terms’.
This is no longer the Dundee of the Jute Mills – it is the Dundee of the V&A on the Waterfront (without forgetting the struggles of the past and the poverty which still stalks) The anthology expands on earlier anthologies Seagate and Seagate II and Whaleback City which was inspired by the city its history its architecture and its landscape and its people.
Times being hard and poetry sometimes being a difficult sell it has taken poet Andy Jackson the Editor a couple of years to get off the ground. In the 20th Century Dundee’s poetic and literary reputation was overshadowed somewhat by the ghost of McGonagall.
But scratch below the surface and we can boast Mary Shelley having lived worked and conceived Frankenstein here,
War Poet and Fighter Writer Joseph Lee judged on a par with Owen and Sassoon, The Republic of Letters in the 19th Century the poetry and songs of Socialist icon Mary Brooksbank and more recently the work in word and song of Michael Marra two distinguished Professors of Poetry in WN Herbert and Don Paterson. AL Kennedy anyone? Then there’s prize winning poet John Glenday, Ellie McDonald Street Poets Gary Robertson and Mark Thomson. There’s the comic genius of DC Thomson’s Dudley Watkins creator of Oor Wullie Desperate Dan etc and contributors to human happiness thereby. And you’re still at the tip of the iceberg! Hence I’m honoured to be in this company. The Official launch where I’ve been asked to read along with other poets takes place at the burgeoning Dundee literary festival in October. The festival this year has drawn Hollywood actor Alan Cumming Poet and former Makar (Scots Poet laureate) Liz Lochead, prize winning author James Kelman and more.
MARY BROOKSBANK– The Jute Mill Song
Michael Marra If Dundee was Africa.
The Seagate is today one of the main thoroughfares in the heart of the city – effectively its first street dating back over a thousand years. The name originally ‘Seagait’ means road to the sea.
A good question. I suspect there is one but that it may be buried away beneath the streets of the City with other hidden history such as that of our hamster forebears! Put it this way – if there isn’t one there should be!
Cox’s Stack is an iconic city landmark today an Italianate campanile chimney towering around three hundred feet above the skyline. It’s in Lochee aka Dundee’s little Ireland and at one time it stood above the largest jute mill in the world when the industry employed near fifty thousand people mostly women and children on what were known as the killing floors. Cox’s is the one chimney left out of over a hundred.
I wanted to write it because it speaks to the history of the City of Dundee and the spirit of innovation and survival which has characterised its people my forebears among them down the centuries.
Urbi et Orbi – the city and the world. At least that’s what I aim for. One of my fellow poets in it Beth McDonough said she thought of me as an ‘urban poet’ which I took as a huge compliment. Edinburgh Glasgow London Rome and York have also inspired me. As does History particularly as a Scot of Irish descent the history of both countries. The first ever poem I wrote was about the battlefield at Prestonpans. I’d gone to the nearby sports centre to watch my daughter in a badminton tournament and at the break I went for a walk and was struck by the juxtaposition of past and present.
The Battle of Prestonpans was the first significant conflict in the Jacobite Rising of 1745. which ended at Culloden in 1746
A man more sinned against than sinning. Scratch beneath the cliché about ‘best writer of bad poetry’ and you might be surprised. He was probably autistic and he may have been playing the ‘daft laddie’. In addition he has stood the ultimate test – that of time. WN Herbert Dundee’s makar(official poet) a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University described him as a ‘journalist’ with an amazing ‘ability to be inspired by absolutely everything’. That said some of his rhyme and meter would give you a migraine!
Not one – unsurprisingly I’m particularly fond of some of the greats in the canon – Yeats, T.S.Eliot, Dylan Thomas and John Donne. And Bob Dylan. I’m also partial to Seamus Heaney and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
I’ve written a play about the jute story – ‘O Halflins an Hecklers an Weavers an Weemin’. We’re planning to stage it in the High Mill at Verdant Works Museum Dundee next year. There are some poems in the pipeline on different subjects – I’ve just had three accepted for the Hampden Park Football Museum Memories’ Project in conjunction with Alzheimer’s Scotland. And I’ve written a modern historical novel about a Dundonian in Edinburgh in the politically turbulent Scotland of the early 1970s (UCS work-in/Miners’ Strike/Bloody Sunday etc). He meets a beautiful English girl who reminds him of Maddy Prior lead singer of Steeleye Span. They make a date for during the blackout in a Catholic Teachers’ Training College/Convent but instead he meets an Irish girl. When he sees her in trouble at a protest march about Bloody Sunday he goes to help and it complicates from there…so I may have some edits to do soon. It’s called ‘The Eyes of Grace O’Malley’.
An EXTRACT from Cox’s Stack by John Quinn part of the Seagate 3 Anthology.
A Scottish ex-English Teacher of Irish extraction. Tour Guide at Scotland’s Jute Museum Verdant Works Dundee, John has had work published in ‘Poet and Geek’ ‘South Bank Magazine’ ‘Poetry Scotland’ ‘Dundee Writes’ and ‘Then Dawn Treader’, not to mention Seagate 3.
Definitely – even Shey couldn’t make that up!
The Black Wolf : Rough and violent. We carve up things to make lanterns.
Kara : Callm, they seem so scared of us. Do you think someone has said something about us to them?
The Black Wolf : I can’t think what. I mean, I’ve killed everyone who might say something. From the 16th century in Ireland and Scotland, the festival included folks going about dressed up, reciting verses, or singing a song. Nowadays it’s called trick or treating, or guising. We also have parties.
Kara ; Oh aye. We’re not savages you know. We are very sociable. Fallon, Callm’s wee daughter plays knife throwing. She can hit a hamster at 20 paces. That was a joke by the way. Although she can. She takes after her father that way. No we play ducking or dooking for hamsters, I mean apples in a basin of water, and then there’s the treacle game. That’s where we hang a treacle covered hamster, sorry, scone, on a string from the ceiling and you have to eat it with your hands tied behind your back as it swings back and forward.
The Black Wolf : Princess, did I ever tell you how scary you are?
Kara : When I went to the bother of getting the little sods a recipe?
The Black Wolf : You’re not exactly a cook. Anyway, they’d probably sooner spread treacle on your shoes and eat them.
Kara : Just the same. Here it is.
8 oz self-raising flour (all-purpose flour with baking powder in USA)
2 oz butter
1 oz caster sugar (fine granulated sugar)
Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons black treacle (molasses) or golden syrup (light corn syrup)
Pinch of salt
Approximately quarter pint of milk
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter. Mix in the sugar, cinnamon, treacle or syrup and enough milk to make a soft dough. Knead this on a floured surface until it is both moist and elastic. Cut into rounds. For hanging, the rounds, need to be large and flat. Hamster Dickens sitting on them as opposed to eating them would give the idea shape.
Grease a baking sheet (cookie sheet) and place the rounds on this. Brush with a little milk and bake for 10/15 minutes in an oven, pre-heated to 425F/220C/Gas Mark 7 until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack and hang. covered in treacle, voila —to quote by late father’s (courtesy of yourself Callm), French friend– from the ceiling.
The Black Wolf. Better hamsters than you have asked me that. But gather round,
let me finish this with a Scottish ghost story about a man who did.
Several versions exist, but they all involve the Earl Beardie, thought to be the 4th Earl of Crawford playing cards at Glamis Castle. One of Scotland’s most haunted castles.
The clock struck 12. Midnight. It was now the Sabbath so no-one would play on.
The earl was angry. He said he would play with the very devil himself.
The door flew open. A tall man dressed in black walked into the room.
The stranger was, of course, the Devil, who won the nobleman’s most precious possession – his immortal soul. After his death, Earl Beardie was condemned to gamble with the Devil for all eternity. Often, at night, the sound of raucous play emanated from the fateful chamber.
Eventually, the occupants of the castle had it sealed up.