Thursday 28 August 2014

Huruki Murakami at Edinburgh

There was a definite hushed awe over Murakami's rare appearance at a book festival.  Twenty years ago he started the ‘Wind Up Bird Chronicles’.  He usually writes in the first person narrative and he said he was uncomfortable with using the third person - that he didn't want to look down at people, but to rather stand on the same level as his characters; it was more democratic he thought. He said his writing has been a long journey.
His first novel appeared in 1979.  He appeared unassuming and reclusive - he said that he wished to be a quiet person and to live a quiet life. He wrote about extraordinarily strange people and events though!.

He appreciated strong interferences to push the story forward.  He enjoyed irony he said and many of his stories are terrifying and scary.  He spoke of the bloody histories and the collective memories of history and he thought that everybody is cursed and poisoned by the past. The Manchurian history was important for his writing. 

The Well. He spoke of his lifetime dream to be sitting at the bottom of the well where he was super heavy. The water might be coming up. He wrote of nightmares and odd unrealistic coincidences and he said that strange coincidences happened to him.

Questions. He said that the translation of his books were good.
He said that  his stories were not planned and that he had no idea where the story was going. 'It is not fun to know the conclusions. I like to think, what's going to happen today. I like to be spontaneous.
'Imagination is an animal I keep alive.'

He said that once a book is gone, it is gone. 
Why were his characters so sad? I didn't notice he replied, Everybody is sad.
He said he liked to write to music that runs through the novel.' I need music to write on - the harmony and rhythm is important to me to keep the readers reading. I need music.'

I am always looking for the right music to help to me write.,

Murakami is a serene and humble man.

Vic Galloway Jura Unbound, Night of Music and Words

Siobhan Wilson

A night of Music and Words. This evening was a highly successful one with Scottish voices. Galloway has written a book 'Songs in the Key of Fife.'  He spoke of the creative people and places - was it the coastline of Fife or that you use your imagination of die he wondered.

Andrew Mitchell of the Hazy Janes began the evening at the Jura Unbound at Edinburgh International book festival 2014, with a strong set of songs on both piano and guitar.  We were treated to powerful and moving readings by authors - Anneliase Mackintosh, Kate Tough and Liam Murray Bell.
Later we had the beautiful voice of Scottish songstress Siobhan Wilson. 

Michael "Vic" Galloway (born 4 August 1972, Muscat, Oman) is a DJ on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio 1, Galloway presents a self-titled show on Radio Scotland (formerly known as Air) every Monday from 8:05pm-10pm and does the BBC Introducing Scotland Radio 1 programme Wednesday evenings/Thursday mornings from 12:00-2:00am. He presents BBC Scotland's T in the Park television coverage every summer and has also presented the station's The Music Show.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

A Bird is not a Stone: Palestinian Voices

Liz Lochhead
Maya Abu al-Hayyat
Liz Lochhead, Scottish maker, Christina De Luca and Maya Abu al-Hayyat, Palestinian poet gave a talk Edinburgh book festival 2014, on their book A Bird is not a Stone, an anthology of Palestinian poetry and is in English, Arabic, Gaelic, Scots and Shetlandic. 

Maya Abu al-Hayyat, who is from Palestine and only got her visa to come to the festival a few days before the event, is an engineer, novelist and poet. There was the shared joy for the writers to be sharing such a cross border event, exchanging ideas and appreciating our similarities. Lochhead enjoyment of Maya’s reading of her poems in Arabic was obvious.

After an introduction from Liz on how the project came about and of their trip to the camps and crowded place that is present day Bethlehem, we were given three very eloquent readings first in English by Lochhead, then in lyrical Shetlander from Christina followed by Maya’s emotive readings. It was interesting the different rhythms and feel of the readings and the depth and beauty of the Arabic voice.
With the Shetlander voice, Christina said she wished to get the right tone and earthiness.

The poems were chosen by the Palestinian poets and then translated by 29 of  top Scottish poets( )

The book contains a foreword by Lochhead on their experiences. She spoke of the lack of water for several days and how everyone wanted to reassure them that they were not terrorists. She said, what else but poetry has the beauty and truth to try to cross boundaries. The last poem was about the many ways to smile.

A Bird Is Not A Stone is taken from George Wiley’s words of the birds that flew over the Berlin Wall. This event about a project begun in 2012 is very timely with all the dreadful killings of present day Gaza

Art and poetry voices may try to carry the silent voices across the world of the ordinary people’s lives and of the mothers who wish to watch their children grow up in a world that is not torn in two.
They thought a Scottish poem we might share would be A Man’s a Man For A That. A thoroughly enjoyable book festival event. 

Tom Devine, talk on the Darien Project, Edinburgh International Book festival 2014

Devine, respected Scottish historian, recently knighted gave a highly informed talk on the Darien Project, relevant to Scotland’s referendum question, at Edinburgh International Book festival 2014.

What went wrong? Major mistakes. Devine said that the Darien disaster of the late 1690s was over blown and exaggerated and his main claim is that the project failed due to poor leadership and that the proposed location for the colony should have first been properly surveyed. These projects required strict military discipline. He also said that at the time many colonies failed in the Caribbean and in the West, including the first English colony.  

In 1698 five vessels left Leith with 12,000 passengers and travelled north round Scotland to avoid the Royal navy. It is a story of both courage and risks to the Isthmus of Panama.  The Caribbean was then a centre of piracy between France, Spain and England. The company of Scotland wished to trade with Africa and the West Indies. There were vast riches to be made in trade with the Spice Islands and with silks. Denmark acquired a colony there just 3 years before Darien. There was enormous opposition from England and the Bank of England withdrew its investments.

The Darien failure was cost thousands of lives who were burned in pits and included leader Paterson’s wife and son. Yet also at the time there were quite often devastating famines and death rates.  The after math of Darien caused a collapse in Scottish confidence and a cold embrace with England in 1707.  He said that there were three main layers around the Darien Disaster if you excavated below the myth. 

(1) Unionist Myth. The Dominance of Unionist thought. That Scotland was a land of darkness, faction and poverty with religious rigidity and was bankrupt.  
(2) Nationalist thought in 1960s and 70s, of historical victimhood – such as the Highland clearances, Glencoe  massacre and the Darien Project. .
(3) Modern Spin – which portrays Darien as a mad farce. The Darien project has been distorted. What happened was similar to the banking collapse in recent years. The Discourse of Prebble – victimhood nation, which recycled the feeling of misbelief and Scotland became portrayed as a mass deluded country that was small, poor and helpless.
He said it was wrong to view Scotland as naive and inadequate.  In the 13th and 14th centuries Scotland was very active trading with the European continent. There were 125 Scottish colonies set up and we were notorious at under cutting, with trading centres in Holland such as Rotterdam and Amsterdam. He said that Scotland was not naïve or inexperienced.

After the Union of the Crowns in 1603….., the fact that England did not support the Darien scheme proved to the Scottish that when there was a choice the English government would support English interests. The English refused to provide support, food and succour to the Darien project. At the time England and France were battling to control the Atlantic trade and England was desperate to defend its northern territories. Spain was then in decline.

After Darien a few were offered full financially compensation plus 43% interest if they agreed to the union, which was analogous with bankers and the RBS scandal of today – and that they then voted for the Union. However Glasgow and the Scottish people were against the Union. The Scottish Law and Church were left to be run in Scotland.

He called the Act of Union an the Act of Concession and not one of victimhood or biased prejudices.

PS On Saturday Tom Devine made the announcement that he was voting YES in the Scottish referendum vote in September. He gave his carefully thought through reasons that he sees  a flowering of the Scottish confidence in recent years.  He feels the union has now run its course.


Friday 15 August 2014

George RR Martins Talk at Edinburgh

"I am a writer who likes to ask questions." He said he liked to do things that some thought couldn’t be done and he liked to break the rules. 
RR Martin brought his spirit of fantasy with him to Edinburgh yesterday. He was spirited in the side gate by his lady helpers to Edinburgh International, Book Festival 2014,and smiled for his photo shoot on the festival walkway.  He has silver white hair and beard and could be one of the characters in his writing.  .

A younger than usual crowd packed into his talk, when he spoke of how Scotland and Scottish history had informed his epic Game of Thrones, now a massively successful HBO tv series.
He spoke with Booker prize judge and literary critic Stuart Kelly, of a visit in ‘81 to Hadrian’s wall, on a cold grey October in the late evening, when he thought of all the Roman legionaries posted there and how it might have seemed the end of the world to them. This later became his Wall of Ice, He also spoke of famous Scottish women who were often Queen Regents to 3 year old kings – such as Lady MacBeth, Mary Queen of Scots. Other Scottish stories have also inspired his writing - the Glencoe Massacre, (the Red wedding) and the writer Walter Scott. He was particularly interested in medieval history and its blood thirsty side.

Martin started out writing science fiction, with a horror twist – such as the Sand Kings. 
He thought since Tolkien that most were writing in a Disneyland style of fantasy. He liked to explore the grittiness of history.

One of his main motivations Martin said, was strong characters who wrestle with the issues. He asked what are their motivations, what is their culture?  Writing about a villain can be fun and looking at their dimensions and motivations. His books are infused with moral realism and he said that he enjoyed writing about broken things – outcasts, bastards as there is more drama and that conflict is the heart of drama.
He was asked about the locations in his books. He spoke of growing up in New Jersey, between 1st street and 5th street and of how he escaped in fantasy to Gotham, Middle Earth and with HG Wells. 

He said, I lived a thousand lives in the pages of books.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Small Beginnings are what bring about Changes

I believe it is only in small beginnings that change can occur. Some think they can bring about changes through some trickle down effect via the big London machine – can we believe this? I think not. It is only through small places that real changes can be made. 

When the Union occurred Scotland kept its Church and Law as its two most important institutions.  Then the main domestic policies were then decided by the courts. With the advent of more democracy the Parliaments became more important.   

This Scottish independence referendum  is NOT about boundaries, nationalism or religious divides.
It is about self determination and autonomy and devolving power and better governance that works for Scotland and for local communities. London's economic policies are NOT in Scotland's best interests.  We have one of the highest levels of child poverty and the divide between the rich and the poorest is only widening here.  

The change Scotland seeks is similar to the autonomy that has seen both Norway and Finland flourish since they both broke away form Swedish control and became independent a hundred years ago. Both countries continue to trade and work with other countries worldwide. 

Scotland is much older than the UK – over 900 years! The UK is a newer country so they will need to apply to be members of the EU!   
Scotland WANTS to work with and to welcome its neighbours. The reason Scotland should be independent is because the UK system and Westminster is not working. We can do better! 

I hope we can have a better relationship and a more equal partnership with the other parts of these British Islands. The Unionists are not silent either - over 90% of the media is controlled by Unionists. It is therefore hard for the Yes believers to get their voice heard.

In the 70s there was a great deal of bad feeling in Scotland – some of it due to the Scottish oil money being lost. Since then we have been allowed a Scottish Parliament (in 1997; even though we voted for a devolved government in 1979)- which I believe has made Scottish people feel somewhat better and we are now able to decide if we want to be able to offer all young people the chance of university education …. and not just the privileged few. .   

We might believe that governments in London will offer improvements?  Well I've waited decades for that.................My belief is that change usually happens in a small way – I cannot see how any changes can happen in Westminster that will then flow to the rest of the country. There is no desire for change in the south of England that I can see. Why should there be? In a centralised country and it suits the south of England to have things stay the same; with its corruption and its tiny favoured elite. 
To have confidence in our future matters hugely. As Nick Barley director of Edinburgh International book festival writes, " We hope that this year's Book festival will help readers and writers of all ages to think about and discuss how to act positively upon the understanding generated by dialogue. The future of Scotland is in our hands."  
In such a forum, admissions of uncertainty are acceptable.. Changes of mind are encouraged. Imaginative leaps are recommended.”,
The important issue is that we are able to air different views in a way that we are not shouted down. Also – that the discussions are not about celebrities on artificial pedestals, but rather about the grassroots where everyone should be free to have a voice.  For me the Scottish questions are one of confidence in our future and in shaping our future country. 

Thursday 7 August 2014

Edinburgh Book Festival 2014

I look forward to another book festival and fringe shows in Edinburgh this August, for its illuminating talks and world famous writers, for its diversity and colour.

It is about the spoken and written word and the Edinburgh International book festival this year will host ‘Dialogue’ events. Director Nick Barley wants the festival to be an impartial platform for discussion and to encourage free speech.
There are events on the questions in the trouble middle east region today, as well as the imminent Scottish Referendum in September.

The important issue is that we are able to air different views in a way that we are not shouted down.
Also – that the discussions are not about celebrities on artificial pedestals, but rather about the grassroots where everyone is free to have a voice. For me the Scottish questions are one of confidence in our future and in shaping our future country.

For several years the festival has offered a place for writers who are unable to be heard and prevented from speaking by their government – the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Conference.  

Having confidence in our future matters hugely. As Nick Barley writes, " We hope that this year's Book festival will help readers and writers of all ages to think about and  discuss how to act positively upon the understanding generated by dialogue. The future of Scotland is in our hands."

Scottish poets have linked to Palestinian voices for the book ‘A Bird is not a Stone’ and Liz Lochhead chairs this event at this years festival.
Often artists can offer images much stronger than mere speeches – through the soul of poetry….

Last year beautiful paper sculptures were given to the festival was a gift.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony

Glasgow’s golden games proved more than friendly or about people – they brought out the best in both the athletes, all those involved in the years of planning and in the spirit of the Clydesiders, who smiled their hello welcomes and gave up their time to make the games such a success.

The ceremony thanked all those involved and all those thousands of volunteers. Scotland showed its generosity with over 5m raised for UNICEF.  Sport brings us together and ignores both political and religious divides.

The Hampden Park was decked out in colourful tents and flags for the closing ceremony party.  Scottish songsmith and soul singer Lulu gave her well kent “Shout” to start the party off. Deacon Blue followed with “Dignity” as those services who worked for the games entered the stadium.   

Lord Smith of Kelvin spoke of the successful games and thanked all involved. He said that Glasgow would never forget the Games. HRH Prince Imran gave the David Dickson award to 
rhythmic gymnast from Wales, Frankie Jones, was honoured with Athlete of the Games for her inspiring others. When he mentioned Team Scotland there was a truly long Hampden roar!  And he said that Glasgow was “Pure dead brilliant!”

The Commonwealth Games flag was passed on the Australian Goldcoast as Gaelic singer Karen Matheson sang the haunting farewell Burns song “Ae Fond Kiss”. The Goldcoast is a stark contrast with surfing and golden beaches – I am certain a fun place for wonderful holiday trips.  After which Australian Kylie Minogue performed a colourful set of her hit songs with her dancers. 

The weather may not always be perfect here in Scotland but peoples’ hearts are true. We have a rich and varied heritage and when Dougie MacLean sang "Caledonia" the voices of the packed crowd rang around the stadium as hearts swelled with warm heartfelt pride in the beauty and possibilities of our country. Dougie always encourages everyone to sing along, which for me is what music is all about. ..or used to be anyway. The ceremony closed of course with Dougie, Kylie, Lulu and the athletes and crowd singing Auld Lang Syne.
As we left the stadium the catering staff were all dancing and singing too. Glasgow loves a party! .

And do the Games leave a legacy? They were an inspiration to see the young people reach their goals after years of hard work.

Sometimes Glasgow sits in Edinburgh’s shadow so it was wonderful to see the city on the world stage give us such proud games.  “Haste Ye Back” as Glasgow said good bye
Thanks to Glasgow for the most successful games yet!

I was a little concerned that those of us who support Scottish independence were told to keep quiet during the games. So I took my YES badge off....What about free speech and all? 
UK Defence minister Michael Fallon insisted the red arrows flew red, white and blue  over Glasgow's opening ceremony - even though as a good will gesture the arrows flew Scotland's blue and white colours when the Queen visited for the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. 

Quote Ian Bell Scottish Sunday Herald.  "For forms sake we should keep score. The Red Arrows lie; the Tollcross incident (lady with a yes flag asked to leave); the two-faced flags with Union Jack on one side Saltire on the other; that bit of censorship on Glasgow Green (no yes badges); those acts of petty propaganda and small minded authoritarianism cant' be pinned on Yes campaigners. Only two of the four can be traced to Games organisers and their terms and conditions.  
Flags don't matter much to me but this sort of thing could make me change my mind. The contrast with the 2012 Olympics remains entertaining still. Which unionist politician didn't use those games to spread the gospel of Better Together at every opportunity and assail anyone who dared to disagree? Then as now , they were dashed unsporting."   

As the referendum in September hung over the event people seemed surprised that Scotland cheered the English athletes.  It can be hard for Scotland's voice to be heard and the media is controlled in London.  We have kept our own Law, church and education since the Union, which was not popular then.  Scotland is a much older country than the UK. It is important that Scotland works for the best interest of those who live here .