Nov 082017
 

With thanks to Roger White.

A prestigious North-East Scotland magazine of new writing and the visual arts, Pushing Out The Boat (POTB), is reminding young writers and artists in the North East and
beyond that they’ve got less than a month left to submit entries for their new online venture, ‘ePOTB’.

ePOTB will be the magazine’s first e-zine and will be devoted entirely to work by young people aged 12-17.

Like its parent magazine, ePOTB submissions will be subject to the same distinctive ‘blind selection’ process, which ensures that work is selected on merit alone.

Prize-winning author Juliet Lovering, chairing the ePOTB team, said:

“We know there’s a wealth of young writing and artistic talent out there but this is the first time we’ve given young people the chance to shine in their own publication. Three prizes of £50 are also on offer for the best contribution in the prose, poetry and art categories.”

The ePOTB team encourage anyone considering entering to read previous editions of the magazine, which are available on its website, to understand the variety of work accepted in years gone by.

Young writer Hannah Kunzlik, one of POTB’s previous contributors, said:

“I was published in POTB when I was 16 and it remains one of my proudest moments. Submitting a piece is something I would advise any young person to do with even a passing interest in writing or art. Apart from the creative fulfilment, it’s like gold dust on a CV for college or work.”

The call for submissions to ePOTB opened a month ago. Full details and registration are available at www.pushingouttheboat.co.uk.

The deadline for submissions is 30 November 2017 and the e-zine will be published on the Pushing Out The Boat website in Spring 2018.

Jul 212017
 

By Duncan Harley.

In this comprehensive guide to Scottish mountain bothies, Edinburgh writer Geoff Allan reveals the unique network of mountain huts and bothy cabins which inhabit our wild places.
Geoff has variously hiked or biked to every known Scottish bothy and in this stunningly illustrated book he details all of the 81 Mountain Bothy Association maintained bothies and, in addition, points the way towards the lesser-known wilderness gems.

Defined in the pre-amble as “A simple shelter in remote country for the use and benefit of all those who love being in wild and lonely places” remote bothies are often romanticised and Geoff’s short but concise take on the beginnings of the bothy movement cuts to the chase and advises the reader what to expect of typical bothy accommodation.

Facilities are quite rudimentary. “As a bare minimum” he cautions “bothies will have a table and a couple of chairs.” Answering calls of nature will however involve a short walk plus the use of a spade “Select a location at least 200yds from the bothie, dig a hole at least six inches deep and bury your deposit.”

It is this Spartan attention to detail which makes this outdoors guide invaluable. Not only does Geoff list those bothies which actually have loos, there are eight in the entirety of Scotland, but he takes care to inform the reader about the essentials of bothy etiquette and of the common sense philosophy of leaving the building in the condition in which you might wish to find it.

Essential equipment such as kit, food and fuel is discussed in minute detail and the Mountain Bothy Code is set-out for the benefit of those heather-crunchers intent on taking the high road to those solitary places for the first-time. Regard for surroundings and respect for fellow users head the list and a cautionary warning for the unwary suggests that all rubbish should be placed in the nearest rucksack and carted home!

The core of this book is of course a detailed description of the bothy shelters. Split into regions, the 100 or so buildings are described by size, facilities and location. A useful general history of each building follows and walking routes are detailed alongside breathtaking images emphasising the remoteness of these hidden treasures.

Superbly illustrated throughout, this clearly written travel-guide will both inform the casual coffee-table user and provide an exhaustive reference source for outdoor folk intent on extreme bothy bagging.

The Scottish Bothy Bible (304pp) by Geoff Allan is published by Wild Things Publishing Ltd at £16.99 ISBN 9781910636107

First published in the July edition of Leopard Magazine

Jul 032017
 

David Innes reviews  St Valéry And Its Aftermath by Stewart Mitchell.

Although it is almost inevitable that events are overtaken by time, and that the effect of history on localities dissipates, the name St Valéry-en-Caux, a small Normandy fishing village, continues to resonate in NE Scotland, even 77 years on from the scenes that accord that tiny French port a special place in Scottish military history.

It is said that there is scarcely an NE family which hasn’t been touched in some way by the events of June 1940, the surrender of the stranded and embattled 51st (Highland) Division, and the incarceration of thousands of Scottish soldiers in prisoner of war camps for the duration of the Second World War.

These were our forgotten casualties of that conflict, and it was a gross unfairness and insult to these brave, fortitudinous men who suffered the privations of capture, forced march and imprisonment to be described as having enjoyed an Easy War.

Stewart Mitchell, who named the Gordon Highlanders’ Museum’s excellent 2011 POW exhibition The Easy War, re-tells the story of the lead-up to Dunkirk and St Valéry, using personal accounts, some of which are now in the public domain for the first time, without resorting to military tactical terminology and technical jargon, often confusing to the lay reader.

Those of us who have had a long fascination with this episode of military and social history will have read accounts of the 51st’s manoeuvres, capture, treatment and liberation and of the social outcomes of returning home after half a decade of imprisonment. Tony Rennell, Sean Longden, Saul David, Alan Allport, Julie Summers, and Banffshire’s own Charles Morrison have all contributed to building a picture of a time of uncertainty, fortitude and, all too often, personal and familial misfortune.

It is in the re-telling of personal accounts that Mitchell excels, and he succeeds in making St Valéry more than just another military history. We hear of regular soldiers, Territorials and militiamen called up to serve when war was declared in September 1939, their backstories often of innocent city, village and country loons thrown into the jaws of an unforgiving mechanised conflict, and losing some of their most promising youthful years behind barbed wire.

Yet, there are personal recollections of derring-do, heroism, resourcefulness, smeddum and survival against heavily-stacked odds, told in fitting tribute to often forgotten men.

The volume’s appendix is unique in imbuing a personal touch to what is a harrowing, yet spirit-affirming story. Mitchell’s painstaking research has seen him identify from military records, every Gordon Highlander captured or killed in France in 1940.

My own maternal grandfather, army number 2870474 among the oldest of the Territorials called up at 37, who was 38 by the time of capture, and 44 before he was liberated, is included. That that saw my emotions well up 77 years after that fateful morning in Normandy, verifies that this a book that goes way beyond normal military history, as a chronicle of a part-generation of NE men. For that, it deserves your support.

Stewart Mitchell is making a generous contribution from the book’s sales to the Gordon Highlanders’ Museum Appeal. Please consider giving this splendid local cultural venue your support too.

STEWART MITCHELL
St Valéry And Its Aftermath
The Gordon Highlanders Captured In France In 1940
Pen & Sword Military
235 pp
Hardback ISBN 978 1 47388 658 2
£25.00

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Jun 082017
 

Duncan Harley reviews Mark Jackson’s Red White and Blue.

Mark Jackson’s take on the beautiful game, of rugby, is a welcome distraction from that stereotypical play on sweating giants in short shorts which generally populates the sporting-fiction bookshelf.

Set against a backdrop of rarefied privilege in the lead up to the 1924 Paris Olympiad the story follows American student Jack Morgan as, on the trail of burning ambition, he vows to secure selection for the US Olympic team. Along the way he must pick up a Rugby Blue, bag the girl of his dreams and, of course, win that Gold.

Following a meeting at Stamford University, during which he accepts the challenge “Climb that Everest and perchance other mountains may be scaled”, he secures a scholarship at Oxford and sets off on his quest.

Morgan is young, wealthy and gifted. When he arrives at Oxford in 1923, he is paired, by the sniffy College porter, with new room-mate Saul Warburg.

“What are you here for?” asked Morgan
“Isn’t it obvious? Law. It’s the Inns of Court for Saul Warburg QC. You?” replied Saul.
“Get my degree and win a Blue.”
“Ah, the odd-shaped ball.”
“It’s the Great Game,” countered Morgan.

As if the odds were not already sufficiently stacked against him, Jack soon sets sights on the beautiful Rose. She, an ‘English Rose’, is of course none other than the Varsity team captain’s ‘girl’; and his quest for that coveted Oxford Blue appears to be already in jeopardy.

The setting, in a 1920’s privileged England, echoes realism and while the Red White and Blue storyline is strong, character development is perhaps not so. Heading towards the last page there were still unanswered questions regarding the main character. Additionally, the historical-political context outwith the narrow confine of the international rugby world seemed sparse.

Staccato dialogue inhabits these chapters and a perceptible spectre of a Spillane-like Mike Hammer, minus the whisky-swilling-machismo, hummed along in the background. Indeed the upbeat and sometimes stirring rugby commentary raises suspicion that author Mark Jackson, a newspaperman, was perhaps in some previous life a sports-commentator.

Hopefully this powerful foray into the rainbow world of Varsity conflict is just the first of a long series which will see the mighty Morgan’s sporting career flourish. Perhaps in part two we might hear of his exploits in introducing both the odd-shaped-ball and Jesse Owens to the Berlin Olympiad.

Red White and Blue (163pp) is published by Matador at £8.99  
ISBN: 9781785892851

First published in the May Edition of Leopard Magazine – A magazine which celebrates the people, the culture and the places of North-east Scotland

May 052017
 

David Innes reviews Craiginches – Life In Aberdeen’s Prison.

If you assume that any book about life in prison, even on the non-felon side of the bars, will tell horror stories of desperate bad-to-the-bone incarcerated people, and of the means used to control them, Bryan Glennie’s memoirs of his long career as a prison officer may come as a surprise.
Although Glennie never loses sight of the fact that prison, its inmates, and its culture can be brutal, and that dangerous situations can arise in the most innocuous circumstances, Craiginches concentrates on the more positive aspects, and rehabilitative opportunities offered to those serving sentences.

Of course, our own former Butlins-By-The-Dee never housed the most dangerous and desperate of miscreants housed in institutions like Peterhead, and the brutality and simmering tensions of such jails are only touched upon briefly when the author is a first-hand witness to the aftermath of a riot in the Blue Toon’s grim Victorian penitentiary.

Rather, Craiginches reveals Glennie’s own admirable belief that the primary purpose of prison is rehabilitation of offenders, and that if such second chances have the dual benefit of improving the communities in which prisons are located, there are no losers.

Thus, the reader will learn of the hard graft and dedication invested by prisoners and staff alike in charitable and community projects in Aberdeen and further afield in the city’s hinterland. The author’s enthusiasm for these, and his staunch belief in such projects’ contribution to prisoner welfare and societal re-integration is heartening.

Craiginches shows too the positive impact of initiatives designed to relieve the boredom and drudgery of cell-life, with art classes, sports events and musical entertainment among the devices employed to lighten the debilitating monotony of prison life.

There are also insights to the comradeship among those in the prison service, and of the change in culture from Officer Mackay-like mistrust and suspicion, to the more-humanised atmosphere in prison that, one hopes, prevails today. And, if the contents are occasionally just a little too homely, this is only because of the author’s admirable optimism and belief in the innate good of misguided people.

Craiginches – Life In Aberdeen’s Prison

Bryan Glennie with Scott Burns
Black & White Publishing
ISBN 978-1-78530-121-6
253 pages

£9.99

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Apr 202017
 

With thanks to Emma Brown.

Today sees the launch of a stunning new photo book showcasing one of Britain’s favourite mammals and at the same time making the case for the expansion of its native woodland home.

The Red Squirrel: A future in the forest features jaw-dropping imagery by award-winning wildlife photographer Neil McIntyre, who has spent the last 20 years documenting the lives of the red squirrels near his home in the Cairngorms National Park.

Neil’s astonishing portfolio of images, captured deep in the heart of one of Scotland’s largest remaining fragments of Caledonian Pine Forest, is accompanied by insightful and evocative words from celebrated writer Polly Pullar, to create a beautiful and thought-provoking book which aims to raise awareness of the plight of the red squirrel.

With native woodland covering just 2% of Scotland’s land area, red squirrel populations are fragmented on isolated islands of trees and their long-term future remains uncertain.

Conservation photographer and Director of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, the book’s publisher, Peter Cairns said:

“Neil’s beautiful images shine a unique light on one of Scotland’s best-loved mammals, but squirrels need forests just as much as forests need squirrels. I hope this book will ignite fresh conversations about that crucial link.”

The publication of The Red Squirrel: A future in the forest follows a successful crowdfunding campaign, which ran throughout November 2016 and was supported by over 500 backers.
It is the first in a series of stunning conservation books from SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, a project which works to amplify the case for a wilder Scotland.

The Red Squirrel: A future in the forest is available now from www.scotlandbigpicture.com.

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Mar 312017
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘Scalan – Leaves from the Master’s Day Book’ by John Watts.

Commissioned by the trustees of the Scalan Association to mark the 300th anniversary of the secret seminary at Glenlivet, Leaves from the Master’s Day Book, is a fictional account of the day to day activities at the seminary during the post-reformation years 1741-1756.

John Watts is no stranger to the Scalan story having previously published the thoroughly researched Scalan – The Forbidden College, 1716-1799, a detailed chronological account of the history of the clandestine community from inception right through to eventual closure following the repeal of the Penal Laws.

In this new book, Dr Watts has used his extensive knowledge of both the history of the times and the specific history of Scalan to create a daily diary, or day book, recording both the mundane aspects of daily life at the seminary and the wider political events which impacted on religious life in those troubled times.

Written in a style typical of the mid-eighteenth century the text consists of entries from a fictional diary kept by the college’s tenth master Mr William Duthie detailing events from fifteen of his seventeen years at the college. There is of course no surviving diary however William Duthie was indeed a master at the college and his tenure included a period of reconstruction following the destruction of Scalan by government troops on 17th May 1746.

“Yester afternoon our greatest fear was confirm’d. A troop of 8 Red soldgers marched up to Scal. at about 2 ½ of the clock. Of course they found it empty, w’ nought within, and nought w’out but the peat stack. I imagine they were much chagrin’d to find the birds flown, for now they took out their spite upon the house itself … W’in 2 hours they were away back whence they had come, leaving us only black walls and ashes.”

Scripture study, the arrival of visiting Bishops and the wider context of the politics of the time are all detailed in the diary alongside mentions of whisky smugglers, cattle thieves and events surrounding the 1745 rebellion.

From the outset, Dr Watts states his intention that Leaves from the Master’s Day Book should allow the reader an open door to Scalan and few would disagree that he has indeed achieved his aim.

Available from The Scalan Association and Blairs Museum, Aberdeen (95pp) at £3 plus postage.
ISBN 978-1-903821-81-7

Words © Duncan Harley. First published in the March issue of Leopard magazine.

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Mar 022017
 

Aiblins – New Scottish Political Poetry. Reviewed by Duncan Harley

Conceived on the back of the September 2015 post-referendum conference Poetic Politics: Culture and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, One Year On at the National Library of Scotland, Aiblins is an anthology of recent work by a diverse range of poets all with connections to Scotland.

Co-edited by Katie Ailes and Sarah Paterson the publication presents as a snapshot of the myriad issues concerning Scotland’s poets today.

The poems are written in many styles and address topics as diverse as Indyref and the decaying remnants of Empire.

With a foreword by Professor David Kinloch and an after-word by New Generational poet Robert Crawford, the collection is firmly book-ended. While David reflects on the contribution Scottish poets are making to the “tumultuous, rapidly evolving nature of contemporary Scottish politics” Robert presents the bard’s dilemma: No poet should be obliged to engage with politics. All poets should be free to do so.

Hugh McMillan’s September 2014 neatly summarises the pro-pre-referendum atmosphere:

‘I am the only person here,
this heady day,
And I am balancing the sun
on one finger,
holding everything at bay
for a dream.

And, in what may be post-referendum mode, The Chair by Glasgow playwright Chris Boyland, reflects on:

‘this little girl who’d sat on the chair and
gone around in it, wherever it went.
But no-one could recall her face or,
when we thought about it, who she was
or even if she’d really been there at all.

My personal favourite is by Orcadian Harry Giles: All the verbs from Glasgow City Council’s New Proposed Management Regulating Public Parks … An Elegy. Even that Glasgow Dreamer, Ivor Cutler, couldn’t have made it up.

Intended to reflect on and record tumultuous events which have taken place alongside our borders in recent years, Aiblins is, says contributor Stewart Sanderson,

“Like Scotland, slightly synthetic and in a state of indecision.”

The reader alone will decide whether the collection is truly worthy of the publisher’s claim that it captures the importance of the arts in shaping modern politics.
Aiblins reflects a wide diversity of views expressed in English, Scots and Gaelic but not in Doric.

Indeed, apart from Mandy Macdonald’s Overheard on a bus in Aberdeen, it’s almost as if the North east portion of Scotland has silently drifted off into the North Sea.

Aiblins (130pp) is published by Luath Press at £8.99   ISBN: 9781910745847  

Words © Duncan Harley , Cover image © Luath Press. First published in the February 2017 edition of Leopard Magazine.

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Dec 162016
 

With thanks to Stuart Mitchell.

Audio dramas from Dr Who publishers Big Finish are among the many donations received.

The campaign to raise money for Aberdeen’s Phoenix Club has received some very special prizes from some great celebrity supporters.
Comedian Jason Manford has sent a signed DVD. From the world of publishing Lee Child has sent a signed first edition of his latest novel, US bestselling author (and creator of the TV Show Bones) Kathy Reichs is sending a set of books, and award winning Michael Morpugo is sending a signed book.

We are also getting some audio dramas from Dr Who publishers Big Finish.

Direct donations have come from bestselling authors Kim Newman and Paul Cornell.

We have also received something very special from two of Scotland’s best-selling and most critically acclaimed writers, Denise Mina and AL Kennedy. As well as kindly sending signed books, they have each invited suggestions for the name of a character in forthcoming works; Denise Mina in her next book and AL Kennedy in a forthcoming short story (though that might be a couple of years before publication). The only condition is that it is a sensible and realistic name.

Stuart Mitchell from local company SM Marketing, who is running this campaign said:

“These are incredible gifts from some amazing people which should help to get the fundraising total up, these are a very generous and rare prizes, allowing you to see your name in print by your favourite author, we couldn’t ask for better support.

“Anyone who donates £10+ to the campaign, puts their name in when they donate at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/phoenixclub and then email me at phoenix@sm-marketing.co.uk and tell me which draw you would like to be entered into. I will add you to the draw to name the character after yourself or a loved one.

“If you donate £20 you will be entered into the draw twice and so on. These are very generous and rare prizes, allowing you to see your name, or that of a loved one, in print by your favourite author is very special. It’s great to have these bestselling authors support us in this way. These will bring the campaign to a national audience.

We are still looking from support from local businesses and I know times are tough in Aberdeen but if any businesses can do anything to help please get in touch.”

Best-selling, Costa Award Winning author AL Kennedy says:

“I’m very happy to be giving two signed books to help raise funds for the Phoenix Club. I am also offering the chance for you to have your name used in a short story in a forthcoming collection. My stories are usually miserable… but I do promise not to kill you. Unless you want me to.”

For further information, or if you can help in anyway please go to: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/phoenixclub to donate or contact
stuart.mitchell@sm-marketing.co.uk for further information on how you can help.

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Oct 272016
 

ally-begg-bookBy Red Fin Hall.

What’s the connection between a failed football player, a member of a successful 90s boy band and a TV presenter turned TV producer? The answer: Ally Begg.

Ally was brought up in Newburgh, had trials with Aberdeen FC, was a member of Bad Boys inc, and worked as a presenter on various sports TV channels before landing his current position as producer on beINSPORTS in Qatar.

His book, Begg To Differ, is the fascinating account of his life where everything always comes back to football.

It is an absolute fans’ view of the game, albeit a fan with some notable connections. Like Sir Alex Ferguson.

It is the story of his childhood growing up in the outskirts of Aberdeen and his pestering of his father to go to watch his favourite team, a team that was always at the forefront of his mind, even when he was working for one the rival teams’ television station.

He expresses his dis-satisfaction of the way his music career was handled and his decision to quit the business altogether.

How he deals with a catastrophic leg injury and its long term effect on his life, makes you cringe. Not by the writing but by the excruciating pain he has had to suffer.

The book deals with the ups and downs in his life without asking you to feel sorry for him, and subsequently his contentment in life, being married with a child. 

All in all, it’s a fine read, a giant step away from the usual football related tomes. Well worth investing your money in.

More comments on Begg to Differ here.

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