May 312019
 

A new book detailing Donald J Trump’s activities in Aberdeenshire launches next week.

Campaigner Suzanne Kelly, contributor of hundreds of articles to Aberdeen Voice over a period of nine years,  releases her book ‘Trump in Scotland:  The Real Real Deal’ on Monday 3 June.

Her book comes out one week before former Trump compliance attorney George Sorial and former Aberdeen Press & Journal editor Damian Bates release their book, ‘The Real Deal’.

Ms Kelly is known for breaking stories on Trump’s activities at the Menie Estate and for her campaigns against Trump’s honorary degree from Robert Gordon University, an award which was subsequently revoked. 

She also launched a petition to block Trump from the UK under its existing hate speech laws.  This was signed by 586,000 people – which was at the time the highest number of signatures on a Parliamentary petition.

She said: 

“I have reported on Trump’s activities in Scotland for many years and have heard first-hand from the residents and film maker Anthony Baxter on a variety of unacceptable events.  We’re talking about water lines being cut, security guards overstepping their remit, journalists being arrested, environmental monitoring simply being abandoned.

“I will have one or two revelations that are new, and a lot of the material may not be well known outside of Scotland:  but it should be. 

“This is a collection – for the first time – of a host of past and ongoing instances of organisations bending over backwards for the Trump brand, despite the promised jobs, tourism and local income never materialising.”

Suzanne Kelly on collapsed Trump course, 2012, photo by Rob Scott.

There are nearly thirty chapters covering different aspects of the Trump development, quoting a wide variety of sources.

“In the past I have invited Sarah Malone Bates, Trump spokeswoman and wife of former Press & Journal editor Damian Bates, to debate the issues with me in public.  That offer still stands.”

The book launches with a party at BrewDog Gallowgate from 4pm on Monday 3 June to which the public are more than welcome to attend. 

The book is published by Milhouse Publishers, and will be available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audio book formats.

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Apr 302019
 

We have seen that petitions can work, and Clive Smith clearly believes in the petition system. Mr Smith has launched a petition requesting Aberdeenshire Council apologises over the Menie Estate planning debacle. Suzanne Kelly writes.

With none of the (hugely inflated?) benefits Trump promised materialising, and the unique environment damaged possibly beyond recovery, is there anyone in the shire big enough to admit this was a huge, avoidable error that has harmed people and the environment?  We will see.

The petition is still in its early days; it can be found here

Clive has shared with Aberdeen Voice what he plans to say if he gets the opportunity to address the Council:

“We all make mistakes. As a resident of Aberdeenshire, I don’t expect Aberdeenshire Council to be perfect, to get it right every time. But as a resident and member of a Council Tax paying household, I do expect the Council to evaluate its own performance, recognise when it gets things wrong and learn from those mistakes so that they are not repeated.

“I also expect the Council to be prepared to apologise for the mistakes it does make.

“The support given by the Council in 2007 and subsequently to the proposed Trump golf resort at Menie was by any measure, a mistake. I am aware, of course, that following due process, the Council at first resolved to refuse outline planning permission for the Trump proposal.

“However, after pressure from the applicant and his backers, the Council expressed its support for the application and maintained this stance through the ensuing public local inquiry in 2008. Then, in 2009, the Council failed to rule out the threat of compulsory purchase orders for acquiring local homes, leaving householders vulnerable to eviction from their properties.

“The case for the proposed resort was based on inward investment and job creation on a massive scale. In addition to the direct spend and job creation by the applicant, it was argued that a ‘celebrity developer’ like Mr Trump would draw in tourists and other inward investment. Association with Mr Trump would enhance the standing and profile of the whole region.

“These benefits were deemed justification enough to allow the effective destruction of a large proportion of an important and irreplaceable site of special scientific interest, a truly amazing sand dune system.

“Ten years after outline planning permission was granted for the proposed golf resort, what has actually happened? A golf course has indeed been built on the site of special scientific interest, so it is no longer a functioning mobile dune system. We have lost an important and unique part of Aberdeenshire’s natural heritage.

“The proposed golf resort has not been built, however, and it is clear that nothing remotely resembling what was proposed will ever go ahead.

“Instead of the six thousand jobs promised, only around one hundred have been created.  Instead of the billion pound investment, the actual spend has probably been less than ten percent of that. Association with Mr Trump, far from boosting our reputation, has become a source of embarrassment.

“In the meantime, some of Mr Trump’s neighbours at Menie have been on the receiving end of behaviours that left them feeling bullied as Mr Trump sought to acquire their homes.

“The reasons given for supporting the scheme have not materialised, the damage has been done. Aberdeenshire has paid a heavy price for Mr Trump’s vanity project at Menie.

“The particularly galling thing about the mistake of backing Mr Trump is that it was entirely predictable that this wasn’t going to end well. The claimed job creation and investment always seemed too good to be true.  Mr Trump has a history of business failures.

“Even the Council Leader, Councillor Gifford, admitted on television that it was not worth it.

“A trade off was made.  Promised gains in exchange for the destruction of a precious and irreplaceable part of our natural heritage.  Aberdeenshire Council never had the means to enforce the deal.

“Knowing this they should have weighed the risks of non-delivery. The consequences were foreseeable.  The impact is catastrophic.  We are the losers.  Future generations are the losers.

“Aberdeenshire Council needs to recognise and acknowledge that its support for the Trump scheme has not delivered and learn from that. And it should apologise for its governance failure, a grave error of judgement, a mistake by any measure.”

Petition link: Apologise for Trump course.

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Apr 222019
 

Duncan Harley reviews Doorways in Drumorty @ Aberdeen Arts Centre

Doorways in Drumorty is loosely based on the writings of a Strichen lass by the name of Lorna Moon who made it big in Hollywood.

Alongside her one published novel Dark Star, Lorna – born Helen Nora Wilson Low – escaped her native Buchan age 24 in around 1910.

Broken relationships and abandoned offspring followed before the talented, and by now re-badged, Lorna Moon took up with the son of Hollywood mogul Cecil B. DeMille and forged a successful career as a scriptwriter.

Her short stories, first published in Century Magazine, feature a clutch of thinly disguised Buchan folk and pull few punches. Titles such as ‘The Sinning of Jessie MacLean’ and ‘Feckless Maggie Ann’ did not endear her to the locals and, in true Lewis Grassic Gibbon tradition, legend insists that her books were shunned by the local library service.

Penned by author/playwright Mike Gibb the play explores the curtain twitching mentality of small-town Buchan. Questionable morality, dubious loyalty, fractured community and tightly held family bonds inhabit the tale and through the course of a series of vignettes the reality of a century old Buchan community is revealed warts and all.

A three-hander – Estrid Barton, Fraser Sivewright and Lucy Goldie take on some dozen roles – Doorways is at points humorous, poignant and even tragic.

Neatly bookended by Lucy Goldie’s Lorna Moon in full 1920’s flapper gear the play hits hard.

A heavily pregnant and destitute Bella Tocher is banished from Drumorty to fend as best she can. A new minister unwisely accepts a dinner invitation and is labelled a thief, the local dentist elopes with the postmistress and – following the theft of a chicken – an innocent infant is subject to divine retribution.

Gossip, double-standards and rumour-mongering infest the close-knit community but of course:

“You’re only the gossip on the street until something more interesting comes along.”

Set and lighting are simple and reek of a more austere era. Fast paced, the character changes are at times difficult to follow leaving some of the audience at least lagging behind the action on stage.

However eventually, when it becomes clear that this is not a tale about Lorna Moon but is a tale based on her writings, the building blocks slide into place.
As for the title; there is speculation that alongside revelling in the name Lorna Moon – she had taken up with Walter Moon in around 1913 – Lorna was a great admirer of kailyard authors such as Ian MacLaren and J.M. Barrie.

Barrie’s ‘Window in Thrums’ and MacLaren’s ‘Drumtochty’ provide some clue as to the provenance of the ‘Doorways in Drumorty’ header.

As Lorna, an admirer of Barrie seemingly said:

“I’d rather be Barried than buried.”

This is in essence an important play and seems destined to re-awaken interest in a woman who, although ruthless in her pursuit of career, nevertheless put the likes of Strichen on the map.

Mind you, at the final curtain and despite the loud applause, it was hard to shed the notion that the long-gone folk in the Buchan graveyards were still cockin’ a lug and shakin’ their heids at the pure cheek o’ the lass.

Stars: 4/5
Produced by Andy Corelli and written by Mike Gibb, Doorways in Drumorty will tour 18 venues across Scotland between 18 April – 18 May 2019

Click here for tour dates and tickets.

Words © Duncan Harley. Images © Andy Corelli

Apr 112019
 

Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s ‘The Little History of Aberdeenshire’.

Duncan Harley’s fascinating new book is described as a little history of Aberdeenshire, yet covers a 4,000 year time span from the Neolithic when peasant farmers built the stone circles that dot the countryside through to North Sea oil.

Along the way we read about battles, plagues and the arrival of the modern era when Aberdeenshire finally became accessible to the outside world: turnpikes, canals and railways were built.

This is anything but a dry and dusty history tome.

As with his previous book, The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire, Duncan throws in lots of quirky and curious facts to liven up the tale.

Did you know that the bulldozers building the Aberdeen bypass uncovered a whole load of new archaeological finds including ninety Roman bread ovens at Milltimber? That it took years to complete the monument to the battle of Harlaw near Inverurie, because of a reluctance to add the armorial shields representing the highland clans?

The expense involved was considered as ‘paying for the arms of the enemy’ (and this 500 years after the battle took place). The shields were finally added in 2011 for the 600th anniversary.

Or how about this? Stonehaven’s oldest building, the Tollbooth at the harbour, was severely damaged during the Second World War when an anti-shipping mine beached next to it.

These and many more nuggets make Duncan’s book an engrossing read. If you enjoyed Duncan’s first book or you are curious about the history of Aberdeenshire, then this is the book for you.

Highly recommended. 

Published by The History Press. £12.00 in hardback.

 

Mar 282019
 

Suzanne Kelly asks a rather obvious question which seems to have gone unnoticed:  If President Trump is not supposed to be involved with his former business interests while in office, then what is the TIGLS spokeswoman’s husband doing posing at the White House and with Air Force One? 

With Aberdeenshire Council soon to vote on whether or not to approve the latest amended plans for Trump International Golf Links Scotland – is Trump breaking strict American emoluments laws? 

A social media account raises the question.

Upon becoming president, Donald Trump had to resign from several Trump business ventures, including Trump International Golf Links Scotland. 

Sarah Malone Bates is the spokeswoman for the controversial venture; her husband is Damian Bates, former Aberdeen Journals Limited executive and editor with responsibilities at the Evening Express and Press and Journal.

On April 17, 2018 Mr Bates posted photos of himself in front of Air Force One and The White House.  What exactly was he doing there?  Even his friends wanted to know, with one asking ‘What are you up to??’

Damian replied ‘Ssshhh.’

Another friend replied ‘Some of us know – but Mums [sic] the word Shssh.’

Click on Image to enlarge.

Together with George A Sorial, the lawyer responsible for ensuring compliance by Mr Trump with the relevant emoluments clauses, Mr Bates is penning a book about how Mr Trump ‘won’ in Scotland. The book is due out 11 June.

Aberdeen Voice contacted Mr Sorial, but has not yet had a reply as to the potential for overlap between a Trump employee’s spouse being chosen to co-author a biography and being at Air Force One and the White House. 

Any reply received will be published in full.

The Press & Journal and sister paper The Evening Express under Bates’ management decreed it would not print any material from the protest group Tripping up Trump, declaring the group was not ‘bona fide’. The group is made up of residents of the Menie Estate, people in Aberdeen City and Shire, and has members further afield. 

Aberdeen Journals also failed to disclose the relationship between Damian Bates and Trump spokeswoman Sarah Malone to readership of the Evening Express and Press & Journal. 

Aberdeen Voice broke the story that the two were married while the paper printed favourable articles about Trump International Golf Links Scotland without disclosing this fact.

The Press & Journal also published a column by Mr Trump while he was running for office.

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Dec 192018
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘And I Am You’ – the new novel by Judy Mackie.

Layla is a splendidly timeless song penned by Eric Clapton and co-songwriter Jim Gordon of Derek and the Dominos fame.

Inspired by an Arabian love story – Layla and Majnun – Clapton’s song made 27 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time and won a Grammy in 1993.

Clapton was of course in love with Patti Boyd – the wife of his friend George Harrison.

Clapton and Boyd would eventually marry for a few years and Layla – the song not the lady – would become ranked amongst the greatest rock songs of all time.

They all remained friends. In fact, Harrison attended the Clapton and Boyd wedding and gave his blessing to the unlikely pair.

Lyrics include the immortal lines:

‘Let’s make the best of the situation
Before I finally go insane.’

And now, some decades after the release of Clapton’s Layla, North-east author Judy Mackie, inspired perhaps by the lyrics, has penned a novel deeply rooted in those far-off but timeless events.

In this exquisitely penned Gothic tale a lonely lady, recently abandoned by a long-time lover, examines her life and finds herself in another person’s body.

Judy is of course well known for her stewardship and editing of Leopard Magazine and her love for all things North-east comes through strongly in this, her dark debut novel. And I Am You is set variously along the North Sea coastline with locations as diverse as Cruden Bay, the massive blowhole of the Bullers of Buchan and the tarry-sheds of Fittie.

Betrayed and abandoned by her husband and with a career in the doldrums thirty-eight-year-old academic Layla Sutherland longs to escape her shattered existence while half a world away, Australian journalist Stevie Nightingale is desperate to shed her identity.

A ground-breaking procedure developed by an Edinburgh neurosurgeon, Professor Blunstone, offers both Layla and Stevie salvation in the form of not just an identity swap, but a full-blown body swap.

The eccentric professor has discovered a previously unknown portion of the brain which, when transplanted, offers the subject the possibility of switching bodies whilst retaining consciousness within the new host.

His discovery of the ‘Me Gland’ throws up both moral and ethical dilemmas but, in the true traditions of eccentric scientist tales, nothing can halt the pursuit of knowledge and once the taboo of using humans for experimental purposes is broken, there is ultimately no easy way back from the unspeakable brink.

“He’s not mad and he’s not evil,” says Judy,

“he thinks he’s furthering human knowledge.”

And I Am You, aside from being set in Bram Stoker territory, has all the elements of a contemporary Gothic thriller. A vast baronial mansion occupied by an obsessed researcher hides a secret hospital wing within sound of the Buchan coastline while two damsels in distress agree to help him crack the age-old secret of the seat of consciousness.

What could possibly go wrong and what might be the ultimate cost of tampering with our sense of self?

As medical ethics go out the window, Layla finds herself inhabiting Stevie’s body while retaining her own identity. Likewise, Stevie inhabits Layla’s body. At first all seems smooth and, alongside a practical exploration of the reality of the situation, elements of conflict creep in.

Layla for example meets up with errant spouse Calum, but in the body of the blonde-haired Stevie. Things, to say the least, become complicated.

Will Buller the dog sort out who is who? What will the subjects experience when, or perhaps if, the body-swap is reversed? Who, or what, is the mysterious stalker?

Blunstone makes clear early on that:

“Quite clearly, body swapping is not for everyone. But for those of a certain mindset the opportunity to occupy someone else’s body is surely the most profound experience a human being could have.”

As I raced towards the final pages of Judy’s novel, I began to wonder if the eccentric professor’s premise that body swapping is not for everyone might be slightly off the mark. After all, who amongst us hasn’t imagined what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes?

And I Am You – by Judy Mackie (289pp) is available for download from Amazon Kindle at £4.99

Nov 272018
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘When Brave Men Shudder – The Scottish Origins of Dracula’ by Mike Shepherd.

The Whitby Dracula connection is well established and has been extensively written about. Bram Stoker’s life and times have also been well documented. But until now, the story of how Stoker came to pen possibly the most talked about gothic novel in history whilst on vacation in and around Cruden Bay has been largely unknown.

Outwardly of course, Cruden Bay is just one of many coastal villages which dot the Aberdeenshire coastline. Claims to fame include a connection with Norwegian aviator Tryggve Gran, who took off from the local sands on an epic flight over the North Sea to Stavanger in the July of 1914.

Then there is the story of the Cruden Bay golf hotel where, for a few years at least, the rich and the famous came to relax and take in the sea air along the links.

Think Jeremiah Coleman of mustard fame and the families associated with Swan Vestas, Horlicks and Bovril.

There were vague tales about how Bram Stoker and his family had spent a few holidays in the area and the local hotel could point to an entry in the guest book written by Stoker and promising to come again.

But, until now, no one had really taken time to research the story and until now, no one had drawn together the multitude of recollections and solid clues which make up the story of how Dracula came to be written in a largely unknown coastal village on the North Sea coastline.

With an introduction by Dacre Stoker, Mike’s new book is brim full of bite-size facts and with a cover based on an original circa 1897 Dracula edition this is clearly a book to get your teeth into. Well, that’s the vampire puns dealt with so onto the content.

Penned in plain language and meticulously researched, When Brave Men Shudder makes for a fascinating read.

Not only has Mike tracked down the various visits, there were thirteen at least, which Stoker made to the area; but he has traced the links between the man’s writings and the local community at Cruden Bay.

Local lore and superstition backed by an interest in the writings of Emily Gerard – who explored long-held Pagan beliefs flimsily shrouded by a ‘surface varnish of Christianity’ in Transylvania – must, says Mike, have excited Bram enormously.

Mike continues:

“In contrast to the peasants of Transylvania, the residents of Port Errol didn’t believe in vampires and had probably never seen a bulb of cultivated garlic. Nevertheless, the similarities between the two widely separated cultures were evident.”

Stoker of course stumbled upon Cruden Bay, then known as Port Errol, completely by chance. Seemingly he had heard that the Aberdeenshire air was “very bracing” and in a quote from the man’s diaries Mike relates that when he first saw the place, he had fallen in love with it.

“Astonishing as it might seem” writes Mike,

“this little-known Aberdeenshire fishing village with a population of 500 was about to change his life forever.”

Many of the landscape features which to this day inhabit the area would have been completely familiar to the Dracula author and Mike’s local knowledge, he lives in Cruden Bay, and careful research has identified landmarks which appear in Bram Stoker’s writings.

Sand Craig, an offshore rock, features in an early short story and the Scaurs – a jagged outcrop – seems to have fascinated the Gothic author.

Stoker apparently stared at the Scaurs for hours on end and may have explicitly referred to them in the Dracula tale:

“it needed but little effort of imagination to think that the spirits of those lost at sea were touching their living brethren with the clammy hands of death … “

When Brave Men Shudder is full of such references neatly linking Stoker’s Cruden Bay experience to passages in his writing.

Of course, it wasn’t all about the writing. Bram and his wife Florence formed sound links within the local community. Indeed, it seems that the locals took to him.

Long after his death one resident was recorded as saying that:

“Bram had a fine sense of humour always joking about something.”

While another recalled that:

“he became a familiar figure with his stout walking stick as he strolled along the sands and the cliffs.”

In essence, this new take on Bram Stoker is both surprising and occasionally scary. Scary because the portrait painted of the man who penned Dracula is that of a family man on a mission to explore that dark side of humanity which most only dream about.

Although the villagers portray him as a genial gent with a sturdy walking stick, his wife and child often became fearful of his moods and occasional outbursts. Perhaps a lifetime spent amongst actors had enabled him to immerse himself in his stories to the detriment of those closest to him.

As for surprises, it seems that Bram wrote extensively in the Doric, was married to a lady who had previously had a fairly serious relationship with Oscar Wilde and never really made much money from that book which, to this day, remains both a Hollywood staple and an international best seller. Who would have thought!

Stars: 5/5

When Brave Men Shudder – The Scottish Origins of Dracula is By Mike Shepherd and is published in paperback (244pp) by Wild Wolf Publishing @ £12.99

Oct 212018
 

Duncan Harley shares his experience of the recently opened ‘Carron To Mumbai’ Restaurant in Stonehaven.  

Scotland’s love affair with Indian food knows few bounds. As a Glasgow student many years ago, I variously got to grips with endlessly bland lamb-bhuna styled carry outs following a good few pints of lager.
Various mediocre meals were served up as authentic Indian sub-continent cuisine and we accepted them as the norm.

It seems odd nowadays, but if the consistency varied from one restaurant to another, we moaned.

A McDonald’s style mindset prevailed and the security of a cloak of blandness took precedence.

Thankfully the days of Indian food by numbers are fast ending and the recently opened Carron To Mumbai at Stonehaven is a stunning example of the new enlightenment in Indian cuisine.

I first became aware of the Carron Restaurant a good few years ago. Family visits for birthdays and get-togethers led me there and the place simply blew me away. The food was one thing, but the Art-Deco setting was quite another. Combine the two and, well you get the drift.

Situated on a tranquil back street in Stonehaven, the Carron building has over the decades become an iconic part of the Stonehaven experience.

Originally opened in 1937, the Listed Grade B Carron Restaurant once formed part of the towns Northern Co-operative Society buildings. The Tea Rooms closed in 1968 and subsequently the restaurant area was used as a supermarket store. 

The adjoining buildings continued trading as a supermarket until the late 20th century and in around 1999 the building was placed on the open market.

Purchased by a caring local business-man, the premises underwent an extensive but sensitive restoration which, at a cost of somewhere near a million pounds, incorporated many the original art-deco fittings and returned the building to near original condition.

The interior was accurately restored using old photographs and original circa 1935 architect plans.

Replica bow-backed dining chairs were installed and the original, somewhat risqué, Picasso styled glass mirror was re-installed and insured for £150,000.

Re-opened as a welcoming restaurant the building continued to attract diners until March 2017 when it suddenly closed. And now in a fresh re-incarnation, the Carron has been re-born as ‘The Carron To Mumbai’.

Following months of hard work, the Carron building has had yet another sympathetic makeover which, alongside freshening-up the original historic interior, has added what proprietor Syed Abdul Hamid – better known locally as Raj, terms a dining experience second to none.

“I had my eye on the Carron building for several years.” says Raj, who has lived with his family in Stonehaven for fifteen years.

When it became vacant, he immediately expressed interest and after extensive consultation with planners and locals alike he embarked on a journey to re-open the restaurant as a celebration of both Indian and European Art-Deco heritage.

“Art-Deco” he explains, is not just a European architectural style.

“In India there are many fine examples of Art-Deco buildings and Mumbai alone has many fine examples. Just Google it and you will find out more.”

“So why Carron To Mumbai” I asked?

“I decided to take account of what local people wanted.” says Raj,

“Clearly the name Carron is important to Stonehaven folk so I decided to retain the name and call the new restaurant Carron To Mumbai.”

So, part Scottish and part Indian in origin, the building has feet in two camps and that, perhaps is the key to this new and exciting dining experience.

On entering from Cameron Street, the diner is shown to a seat in a replica colonial railway-themed wine bar before entering the Mumbai-themed main restaurant via a quite splendid corridor re-created as an Orient-Express railway dining-car.

Surreal? Yes. Inspired? Also, a big yes!

“Cooking is an art.” says Raj, and he is right.

In many ways Carron To Mumbai resembles an art installation.

Dressed to kill, the main restaurant interior reeks of 1930’s opulence. The original interior has had a gentle makeover. The Picasso mirror still dominates one wall and the magnificent bow-fronted window dominates another.

Facing out to the Carron Water, Raj likens this view to the view over his native Bangladesh.

“It is a country of water.” he says and the view reflects this as does the menu.

Described by Raj as traditional Indian food but with a twist, the main courses are available in many variations. Each dish can be served with a wide selection of fish, meat and vegetable mains. And each incorporates locally sourced produce including herbs grown in the restaurant’s own herb garden.

As Raj explains:

“We don’t buy in anything which is ready made and we absolutely don’t use artificial colourings. Everything is made here, in house, from locally sourced ingredients.”

Monk fish, scallops and sea bass inhabit the menu alongside venison, salmon and duck while more familiar Indian dishes incorporate lamb, chicken and vegetables. Portions are generous but, according to Raj most plates return to the kitchen empty.

Will we visit again? Of course, and Janice is of the same opinion. Where else, after all, can you relax in a colonial railway-station bar over a cocktail before taking a luxury train to an Art-Deco restaurant overlooking the historic Carron Water?

The Carron To Mumbai is at 20 Cameron Street Stonehaven
And on the web @: https://www.carrontomumbaistonehaven.co.uk/

Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire plus the forthcoming title: The Little History of Aberdeenshire – due out in March 2019

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Oct 122018
 

It’s Dracula season in North-east Scotland as Duncan Harley reviews Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker.

Local writer Mike Shepherd is about to release a new book about Bram Stoker’s Cruden Bay connection and Dacre Stoker – in conjunction with Illinois born writer J.D. Barker – is about to unleash a prequel to Stoker’s Dracula classic.

Dacre Stoker gave a talk at Cruden Bay in early 2017 and both Janice and I were privileged to attend.

Alongside setting forth some solid ideas about the history and the mythology of vampirism, Dacre let slip the fact that his forbear, Bram Stoker, let loose upon the world that classic of the bloodsucking genre ‘Dracula’.

Indeed, the very venue of Dacre’s mid-winter talk – The Kilmarnock Arms at Cruden Bay – boasts a guest book entry which reads something like:

“Delighted with everything and everybody and hope to come again.”

The signature alongside the entry reads:

“Mr and Mrs Bram Stoker.”

Bram Stoker, author of the Gothic Vampire Horror tale ‘Dracula’, and many other literary sensations, stayed with his wife and son at the hotel for most of that 1884 August. He returned frequently over the subsequent 20 years and wrote at least part of his Dracula tale at Crooked Lum Cottage, one of his holiday homes at Cruden Bay.

There is a strong local belief that his tale of Transylvanian terror was heavily influenced by nearby Slains Castle although Ecclesgreig Castle at St Cyrus and the town of Whitby in Yorkshire also claim to be Stoker’s inspiration. But the jury is still out.

Jointly written by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker, the new Gothic novel, ‘Dracul’ makes no pretence at solving the riddle and, in a volume dedicated to ‘finding the roots’ of the Dracula truth, both Dacre and Barker have penned a bold prequel to the Stoker tale.

Bram’s tales probably reflected his early sufferings

Dracul is described in the PR fluff as ‘Scary as hell. Gothic as decay’. And for once, the cover fluff is pretty much near the truth.

Based on notes left behind by Bram Stoker, Dracul is really a fly-on-the wall insider-vision to what really happened.

Stoker is in a room, in a tower armed with various items. A gun, some mirrors and holy water litter the table alongside some plum brandy and a crucifix for fortification. His fevered mind imagines a night to remember and he awaits with some trepidation the inevitable battle with the undead.

Inevitably, the reader is drawn to the suspicion that this early tale reflects at best a dream sequence brought on by some dreadful childhood fever or, at worst, an over-use of some prescription medication.

Imbued with a sickly childhood, Bram’s tales probably reflected his early sufferings and his later associations with theatrical empressario, Sir Henry Irvine could only have augmented the childhood recollections but in a mainly theatrical way.

But, back to the chase … imagine if you will a pre-adolescent Dracula author – in fact Stoker himself – sitting behind a firmly locked door awaiting the arrival of some dreadful apparition.

‘The Journal of Bram Stoker: From my earliest memories, I was a sickly child, ill and bedridden from birth until my seventh year, when a cure befell me. I will speak of that cure in great length to come …’

The indescribable tension will have you hiding your face in your hands at times and the complexity of the tale might draw you to the very edge of your seat. Blood and guts in nature, Dracul is one of those gripping reads which – by its very provenance – is difficult to put down.

All in all, this is a splendidly orchestrated piece of pure Gothic horror told in the style of the master of the art and by writers who have been privileged to access the family archives.

It’s not often that I pen a spoiler. But suffice it to say that Dracul ends with the immortal words:

“I will stay with you always.”

Stars: 4.5/5

Dracul is available in the UK in hardback from 18th October 2018 from Bantam Press @ £12.99
ISBN: 9780593080108

Sep 052018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Alan Stewart’s new book.

Five years in the making, Alan Stewart’s new book ‘North East Scotland At War’ will appeal to anyone even remotely interested in the history of the North-east of Scotland.
There are plenty of books out there which record the difficult years between the Chamberlain peace accord and the Soviet conquest of Berlin. Osborne’s ‘Defending Britain’ and Gordon Barclay’s ‘If Hitler Comes’ are the classics.

But this book is slightly different and there is certainly room for further historical accounts of the dark days when Hitler threatened our shores.

With a decidedly local slant, North East Scotland At War launches the reader into the minutiae of the defence of the North-east against what was, for a brief few years, perceived as the Nazi threat.

The archaeology of those distant times is laid bare and many of the official documents which record the difficult days inhabit the pages.

A ground-based Invasion never came. But preparations were firmly in in place and Alan’s finely researched history brings the day to day story of those difficult times sharply into focus.

Fougasse – developed by the Petroleum Warfare Department as an anti-tank weapon, Dragon’s Teeth and Railway Blocks feature in this book along with the stories of the stop-lines, the Home Guard roadblocks and of course that secretive plan to harry the invaders using suicide squads tasked with assassinating both their own commanders – who might betray them under torture – and German officers.

Air crashes also inhabit these pages. Alongside the enemy casualties, and they were in the hundreds, Alan details the stories behind some of the Commonwealth gravestones which litter the cemeteries of the North-east.

Training accidents accounted for many of the casualties.

A Czech fighter pilot killed when his Spitfire spiralled into the ground, an air-sea rescue crew lost in a collision with railway wagons on the perimeter of RAF Dyce Airfield and the gravestone of Flight Lieutenant Wheelock – killed attempting an emergency landing – again at Dyce – are featured.

This is one of those books which is difficult to set aside. The minutiae of the location of pill boxes and the stark reality of the bombing maps, feature alongside some difficult tales of children killed on the local sands, not by the Germans, but by the very defences intended to keep them safe.

Landmines and barbed wire were as much a hazard as air-borne bombs and machine gun bullets.

Alongside the difficult descriptions of civilian carnage, Alan has included a number of images of official documents which give a flavour of the times. In a memo marked TOP SECRET, a Colonel Geddes, commander of Aberdeen Garrison, expresses his concern regarding the vulnerability of Tullos Hill.

“I am a little uneasy” he writes, 

“about the defence of TULLOS HILL – Area 4624. This is a very commanding feature, on which the following units are located: A.B. 2 Site, Heavy A.A Bty, Detachment 319 Search-Light Regiment, RAF Wireless Installation and Royal Observer Corps Post.”

And there are literally dozens of such so-far hidden documents sprinkled throughout this account of the time when the invasion of our shores seemed such a certainty.

Profusely illustrated and replete with a plethora of new information gleaned from both local and national records, this is a local history book which I am pleased to include on my bookshelves.

North East Scotland At War – by Alan Stewart is Available from http://www.cabroaviation.co.uk/book.html at £21.99 + £3 P&P

ISBN 9781527215689
Cover image © Alan Stewart