Friday, 26 June 2015

Female Stories

 
Maya Angelou
I wondered recently - Why are the lead characters of most fairy stories female and when were these stories written and who by?  

Is this because fantasy stories belong mostly to women?  Many characters in the old fairy tales are now out-dated role models for today. They are not proactive or action women, but rather submissive ones, who have to respond to what life might throw at them. Meanwhile the action women are too often portrayed as a deranged witch or a wicked step mother. 

Do these stories of pretty princesses in shiny pink frocks wishing for prince charming to kiss them one day have the best effect on young girls? They give the impression that success in life is about relying solely on good looks rather than what they can achieve in the world.  Looks fade but character and actions remain. Many of the real stories of women appear to be lost.    

Then I read of Agnes Broun, the mother of Robert Burns, who introduced his love of songs. 
This meant Burns learned the joy of music and words and he later would become not only Scotland's greatest bard but one of the greatest poet of love, nature, and democratic political views. She passed on the old stories, rhythms and rhymes.  Agnes gets little mention.

I began to realise that it was often through the women that stories and stories in song were passed down the generations.

I also read similar of Scottish poet James Hogg, who also learnt poetry and language from his mother's vast oral knowledge of the ballads and traditional tales. 

The week before this I had heard of folklorist Margaret Bennett who was key to influencing her talented musician own Martyn Bennett. I was at the wonderful opening concert at Celtic Connections 2014 which was the first orchestration of Martyn's incredible Grit album - one of the best concerts I have been at when I wondered where he got all these references for his music from as if he'd pluck them out of the air - now I know it was from his mother. 

Her background is Scots/ Irish and on her mothers side from Skye and the Stewarts. Her father was a piper. Her talented son Martyn Bennett went with her everywhere and heard as a child all these traditional singers and pipers. Martyn sadly died at the young age of 32 and he was influential in the evolution of Celtic fusion.
Margaret Bennett
I read too of Mrs Bach, or rather Anna Magdelena, who was revealed as the author of the wonderful cello suites by forensic musicologist Professor Martin Jarvis of Charles Darwin university in Australia, in a recent film documentary by Glasgow films.
In the Age of Enlightenment (8TH Century’) most women would never write under their own name and so they have been forgotten by history.  Many women writers used pseudonyms.

Why have so many women's voices been lost or ignored?  One problem has been the lack of women reviewers. Also there is an unconscious bias - a male writer's book will be described as 'an epic sweep', while a women author has written 'a domestic drama'.

I remember my daughter asked if they might study a women author in her English class, to which the boys loudly protested!  Apparently 90% of books studied at school are by male authors! I feel sure it would be much better for girls to study English (and science subjects) separately to the boys. Studies have found that girls perform better in all girls classes, especially in the sciences.  Women read books by either men or women - wheras men mostly read male readers.

Agnes Broun kept a portrait of her poet son, Robert Burns, on her wall all her life. He died before her at the age of 37.    

These are only a tiny few examples of the many incredible lost voices of the many women who have inspired future generations.  There are a great many unsung women heroines of modern art, music and poetry. I began to realise that it was through the women that stories were being passed on. I attend Edinburgh book festival each August and I have been amazed and awed by the talented women authors who attend.   


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Scotland’s Creative Voices fight back

Liz Lochhead
When Cameron talks of the importance of the union, I sense he totally misunderstands the Scottish perspective. Since the war the Scottish people have been treated as second rate and we have had to fight for the survival of our heritage, culture, arts, music, history, literature and more. It has been no easy path.

English appointments have been routinely made to head Scottish Arts bodies for the past decades since the 50s, who knew nothing of Scottish history or culture. Ireland had to fight bloody wars for its nation’s independence. Scotland can achieve independence I hope in today's world - by strong political argument, cultural voices and positive campaigns. The SNP was formed in 1939 to fight and argue for a Scottish Assembly (new Parliament). There was also a Scottish Convention set up in the 1980s, led by Jim Ross, and carefully written up against the undemocratic practices of Westminster.

Yes OK we have had the world renowned Edinburgh festival, but it has never been primarily about promoting Scottish culture - it's history always focused on International Arts (apart from the strictly military Tattoo).

In 2012 Scotland’s creative community fought back. Scottish writers such as Ian Rankin, Liz Lochhead and others -  were all signatories on a letter to the then English director Alexander Dixon of Scottish Arts council, complaining over the way the council was being run. As a result Dixon resigned his post.

In 1992, Timothy Clifford, Director of the National Galleries, planned to close the Scottish Portrait gallery. There was such as public outcry, the plan was changed and we now have a newly refurbished portrait gallery.
 
Ian Rankin
At the Glasgow Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in 2012, I watched all these small and now independent countries enter the stadium and I wondered why Scotland wasn't independent too.  

The Britain of today is no longer about Empire. Since the 1939 – 45 war there has been a drive for small nations to separate from the bigger empires. All the British colonies have been granted their independence and the right to self government. Scotland is alone in still seeking it’s independence and while it has one of the most ancient histories and our education has led the world with Scottish professors teaching around Europe.

All these expressions are civic naitonalism and Scotland has always been outward looking with it's a Bridge of Boats, as historian Tom Devine puts it. 'Narrow minded nasty' nationalism on the other hand is fearful, bigoted, prejudiced and inward looking.

An Independent Scotland would have a bigger voice in Europe.  Tiny countries like Malta and Luxemburg have 5 MEPS and countries the same size as Scotland, Finland and Denmark, have 14 MEPS.  This is not sustainable for Scotland. We need a strong voice in Europe to support our industries and business – our voice on fishing has been lost. 

Irish dancer Michael Flatley, Lord of the Dance, in a recent tv interview spoke of exporting Irish identity worldwide – and of Ireland’s writers, actors and musicians - such as The Chieftains, U2, and it's many wonderful actors and writers.  He said a strong cultural identity is good for countries and for selling that country worldwide.

Young people today will not remember when there was no Scottish parliament and no Celtic Connections folk festival keeping Scottish folk traditions alive. In the 1950s and 1960s the route to success was being an Anglicized Scot or moving to London.


**BOOKS worth reading on Scottish independence



Scotland Cultural Past; Our Independent Future by  Paul Henderson Scott. A former diplomat, Rector of Dundee university.   
https://www.waterstones.com/ebook/scotland/paul-henderson-scott/9781909912687
Follows the broad questions around Scottish Independence - with informed, easy to read articulate essays.

The English invented the legend of Brutus and made up false accounts of the Union. Most Scots were opposed to it- including Walter Scott.  Scott was no unionist, he argues contrary to what some writers put out and cites his essays Malachi and others which have been largely ignored. 
"The process continued with radical argument, political campaigning, the discovery of oil, nuclear subs on the Clyde, the Iraq War and above all by the example of the outstanding success of the other small European nations which have recovered Independence."

*Arguing for Independence; Evidence, Risk and the Wicked Issues by Stephen Maxwell.  Paul Henderson Scott states this book as the most comprehensive on Scottish Independence and that Maxwell writes of his life long work. He is a master of the issues -   the democratic, economic, social, international, cultural and environmental arguments.

Whaur Extremes Meet: Scotland's Twentieth Century by Catriona Macdonald

Unstated: Scottish Writers for Independence.

Arts of Independence by Alexander Moffat and Alan Riach. Explore cultural arguments for Scottish independence.  How the arts fire the imagination.

The Stone of Destiny by Ian Hamilton - made into a film in 2008.
Hamilton writes, ' On the morning of 11 April 1951, I left Glasgow with Bill Craig. At Stirling Bridge we thumbed    a lift from a car driven by Councillor Gray, which contained the Stone of Destiny, now carefully repaired. at midday we carried it down the grass-floored nave of the abbey and left it at the high later. It was a crucifixion.
When we turned away and stood for a minute at the gate, and looked down the long nave flanked by the blood-red sandstone of the wall s to the alter where the Stone lay under the blue and white of a Satire. I heard the voice of Scotland speak as clearly as it spoke in 1320.


Saturday, 13 June 2015

Edinburgh International Book festival 2015

Edinburgh Book festival Charlotte Square

Announced!  A Journey with Words & Stories across the world for over 17 days.
Highlights include Alan Cummings, Paul Merton, Philippa Gregory, William MclIvanney, Robert Crawford, Ian Rankin, Jesse Jackson and renowned authors from over 55 countries. From the Innu tribes Canada; storytellers and illustrators Iran; from Iceland, China, Slovakia, and more...
https://www.edbookfest.co.uk
Alan Cummings
Photos Edinburgh book festival 2014
AC Grayling
Barroux
Isabel Greenburg
Pippa Goldschmidt
Sigrid Rausing