Book Review: The Storm by Neil Broadfoot

Saraband Books:

Nice review – glad you enjoyed it, Jenny!

Originally posted on Publishing Between the Lines:

The Storm Contraband, an imprint of Saraband Books

I had never had much interest in reading crime fiction until I read Neil Broadfoot’s The Storm. It’s the second book about crime reporter Doug McGregor (following Falling Fast) as he’s thrown into another whirlwind of a case. From the minute a bullet rips open the chest of Doug McGregor’s editor right in front of him, I was hooked. Broadfoot expertly weaves together a mystery that takes the reader from the gritty underside of Edinburgh all the way to the outskirts of Skye. What I loved in particular was the ensemble of characters who populate Doug’s life; some are endearing (such as Doug’s friend D.C. Susie Drummond, a clever and intuitive detective investigating the case), others are tragic or simply terrifying.

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Weegie Words 101 – Glasgow2014 special

Weegie* Words is a pop-up festival to celebrate Glasgow’s finest literary talent in the spirit of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Authors will go head-to-head in specialist rounds to determine the winners of stereotypical Glasgow tropes; sport vs the weather and famous sex scenes vs gritty crime. Aka: STILL GAME vs HURRICANE BAWBAG and THE STEAMIE vs GLASGOW KISS.

WeegieWordGamesLogo-circleSParticipants battling it out include: Chris Brookmyre, Helen Fitzgerald, Laura Marney, Nick Brooks, Tony Black, David Simons, Lesley McDowell, Michael Malone, Jean Rafferty, Helen Sedgwick, Graeme Macrae Burnet, and Kate Tough.

We realised that not everyone will be familiar with the terminology surrounding Weegie Words, so we thought we’d provide a little translation guide. By the end of this crash course you’ll be an expert on Glasgow lingo, from the gusty ‘Hurricane Bawbag’ to the not-as-friendly-as-it-sounds ‘Glasgow Kiss.’

*Just in case you don’t know Glasgow at all, ‘Weegie’ = ‘Glaswegian’

Round 1: Still Game vs Hurricane Bawbag

Still Game: a popular Glasgow-based sitcom featuring two crabbit (ill-tempered, grouchy) pensioners that ran on the BBC from 2002 to 2007. Arguably the weegie version of Last of the Summer Wine, Still Game followed the nosy duo in their twilight years making trouble and griping about anything and everything. It was so Glaswegian that they had to start subtitling it in standard English for audiences outside of Scotland. Banter surrounding sport featured significantly in Still Game and remains a staple of the city’s culture.

For Weegie Words, team Still Game will have to read the best writing they have to offer on the subject of sport and its pride of place in local literature.

Hurricane Bawbag: when hurricane forces descended upon Scotland in December 2011 causing power cuts and school closures across the country, an unknown source tweeted up a storm and coined the term ‘Hurricane Bawbag’ as a hashtag on Twitter.

‘Bawbag’ is a Scots word for ‘scrotum’ and largely used in a mocking manner. You may have an annoying mate who texts you indecipherable rubbish at 4am. That mate could be dubbed a ‘bawbag.’ That person who skips the queue? Bawbag. The hurricane that left numerous homes across Scotland without power for days? Definitely a bawbag.

It became a term so widely used to describe the 2011 cyclone that it now has its own page on Wikipedia.

To take on Glasgow’s love of all things sporty, team Hurricane Bawbag will read out their most dramatic and chilling accounts of what Scotland’s weather has to offer.

(The Scots can be known for their grumpy attitude towards the regularly disappointing weather but they sometimes know how to have fun with it…)


Closing Ceremony: The Steamie vs Glasgow Kiss

The Steamie: another Scottish TV classic adapted from a 1988 comedy-drama stage play featuring four 1950s middle-aged weegie women and their escapades at the public launderette, also known as ‘the steamie.’

Upon reading ‘steamie’ you may think of words like ‘sultry’ and ‘sexy.’ Considering the tabards, the beige leggings and the bullish banter, The Steamie is none of those things. To celebrate Glasgow’s sexier side, team Steamie are asked to reveal their most sultry AND sexy writing for the crowd’s enjoyment.

Glasgow Kiss: a little less friendly and a little more brutal, a Glasgow kiss is simply a rather unfriendly headbutt. Wikipedia says it’s a ‘tongue-in-cheek reference to Glasgow’s violent reputation.’ Though this may be a slightly unfair association, Scottish crime writing has done a stellar job of dramatising Glasgow’s grittier edge. In this spirit, team Glasgow Kiss are asked to share their best crime scenes to go up against the steamiest sex scenes.

Gonnae join us for the Closing Ceremony? Stereo, Renfield Lane, Sunday 3 Aug at 7pm?



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Nadaam – the Largest Empire Games

NadaamGuest post by Uuganaa Ramsay

Every year July 11th and 12th bring me the memories of Naadam, Mongolia’s traditional sporting summer festival. “Eriin gurvan naadam” (эрийн гурван наадам) means “The Three Games of Men”. The “games” are Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery.

Although they are classed as men’s sports, women have started taking part in the archery and girls in the horse-racing – but neither so far in the wrestling. The front of the Mongolian wrestler’s costume is open at the top, the myth being that many years ago a woman was discovered to have won the wrestling competition and the costume had to be altered to prove the wrestler was a man – by showing he had no breasts. In modern times, Naadam is a very colourful event and attracts tourists from across the world because of its traditional and cultural uniqueness and in 2010, Naadam was added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.

Here in Glasgow the atmosphere is buzzing as the country gets ready for the Commonwealth Games, formerly known as the British Empire Games. There are 17 sports – and as in Naadam these include wrestling, shooting and cycling – as well as other team sports such as rugby, hockey and netball. The aquatics sports are almost non-existent in Mongolia, perhaps because of the country being one of the largest land-locked countries in the world.

‘Do you miss Mongolia?’ people ask me. Yes, days like today I miss the excitement of the horse-racing, passing binoculars amongst family and friends to spot whose horse is coming first and whose child (yes, child) is riding it this year. Mongolian folk songs playing everywhere and the chance to wear that beautiful silk deel which was made for the occasion. The taste buds tickled by the smell of deep fried dumplings – huushuur – and fermented mare’s milk is a rare treat if you can get hold of a litre or two. So, I think I’ll go and make some dumplings and see if I can watch Naadam live on my PC.

Hat-deelHappy Naadam!

Uuganaa Ramsay,
11th July, 2014

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The story behind Unfashioned Creatures: guest post by Lesley McDowell

Lesley McDowell‘s Unfashioned Creatures is a gothic novel featuring Isabella Baxter Booth, who formed a close friendship with Mary Shelley during their formative teen years – when Mary began work on Frankenstein. In this guest post, Lesley tells us the story of why and how she wrote it.

Where does the idea for a book come from? I wish the answer for this was straightforward, but instead it’s full of stops and starts and sideways manoeuvring. I’d originally planned to write a novel about Claire Clairmont, the step-sister of Mary Shelley, after reading about her in 1998. Claire captivated me with her spirit and adventurousness. She’d had an affair with Byron, borne his child, and worked as a governess in Russia after her only protector, Shelley, had died.

But I couldn’t write her into a novel somehow. Claire was a great diary-keeper and letter-writer which meant lots of lovely personal information, but no space for me to invent my version of her. After I’d completed a rough manuscript I wasn’t happy with, I remembered Mary Shelley’s stay in Dundee, from 1812-1814, with the Baxter family. Mary had grown very close to Isabella Baxter, who was also only about fourteen at the time. Isabella went on to marry her dead sister’s husband, who was thirty years older than her. That struck me as a dramatic, romantic and odd thing to do; subsequently her husband experienced bouts of madness.

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley

In 1823, after Shelley had died in Italy and Mary had come back to London, she met up with Isabella, whom she hadn’t seen for some time. This meeting greatly disturbed Mary, although she never quite explained why. All she said was that if it wasn’t for the memory of happier times, she would have nothing more to do with Isabella who, she related in a letter to her friend Leigh Hunt, was “very disturbed in her reason.”

That was almost all I needed. I’d always loved Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and the ambiguity surrounding the governess relating the tale – is she mad or does she really see ghosts? – was perfect for Isabella. Best of all, there was very little recorded in her own words – I had the space to imagine her as I wanted.

Then as I began to research the history of madness, I found the 1820s to be an extraordinary time, a time of real hope, of experimentation with new treatments for those “disturbed in their reason”. Practitioners of this new science truly believed they could ‘cure’ madness. A community at Gheel in Antwerp in Belgium also had a radical approach to treating madness.

Many things began to come together – the Scottish Enlightenment had thrown up all sorts of arguments about reason and what made humans human (the very question that leads us to a consideration of madness – if we lose our sanity, do we lose our ‘selves’?). I realised I needed a doctor’s narrative, and thought of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, with its dual structure. I tried to follow the same pattern and tell the story from two points of view – Isabella’s, and that of a young doctor’s, with whom she comes into contact.

I hadn’t written from the point of view of a young man before and wasn’t sure I could do it. I initially made my male protagonist, Alexander Balfour, a very old man but soon realised too much was told in flashback, holding up the pace of the narrative. So I put him in the same time frame as Isabella, and that was that. The sparks started to fly.

Some small liberties with the facts are always necessary with historical fiction, but staying true to the ideas of the time is important. My Isabella is an invention that I’m sure would have horrified the real Isabella, but what matters is that she’s convincing. I want readers to believe in her, and in her story.

Lesley McDowell

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Saltire Celebrates – and mourns.

St Andrew’s day in Glasgow began with a bright morning overcast by the devastating news of the crash at Clutha Vaults. And so Jim Tough kicked off ‘Saltire Celebrates’ at the Mitchell Library with a note of sadness, and culture minister Fiona Hyslop with a timely reminder that life is precious. Both expressed their sympathies for the families of all involved and paid tribute not only to the emergency services, but to the remarkable, selfless and immediate response of ordinary Glaswegians. The Clutha tragedy infused the proceedings with a potent solemnity. Yet the reports of engaged citizen action helped lift the atmosphere with hope as we were promised a celebration of common values, egalitarian spirit and cultural richness. Thus with mixed emotion we were introduced to some outstanding achievements of 2013 in a new and self-consciously non-hierarchical, informal setting at the Mitchell Library.

Ramp House

The Ramp House

Chairing the first sessions, journalist and commentator Lesley Riddoch invited the award-winning Housing Design architects Michael Hughes, Fergus Purdie and Thea and Ian McMillan to describe their work. These three distinct projects all shared qualities much espoused by Frank Lloyd Wright: their designs revolved around the needs of the users fused with an imaginative, multilevel use of space and unified by a strong sense of the total aesthetic. We saw these embodied in a well-executed upper conversion to a suburban home; a beautifully detailed artist’s residence in Perth city centre; and an ingeniously devised compact urban space transformed into a fully accessible, open-plan, light-filled family home. This latter was furnished with ramps around the periphery affording inclusive wheelchair access as well as views of the whole from a series of integrated small spaces (recalling another Frank Lloyd Wright reference in its echo of the Guggenheim NYC’s pioneering ramp and viewing platforms). As well as ramps, there was much talk of stairs and ladders on this panel, which recurred in later segments. Would it be too far-fetched to extend this as a metaphor for Scotland rising to the challenges ahead?

The important climate challenge work of South Seeds and the Energy Snapshot report, followed by insight on how civil engineers on the M80 Stepps to Haggs link mitigated sound and biodiversity issues (whilst keeping the traffic moving), rounded off what had earlier been mischievously referred to as the ‘suits and testosterone’ part of the day. The panellists proved that for our infrastructure to be planned and delivered with the excellence and reliability that we demand of it, the industry must be about much more than we often give it credit for. An audience member underlined this by pointing out that our engineers deserve greater recognition. And practical contributions to greener solutions in our communities are clearly a priority, now and in the future.

An inspirational array of students followed, with travel bursary recipients for architecture and art (more ladders!) and for creative writing and music. In a rather grey crowd, follically speaking, their youthful vision, creativity and talent – and yes, excellent hair – were warmly welcomed.


Dolina McLennan and James Robertson with Janice Forsyth

Broadcaster Janice Forsyth took over the chairing to introduce leading literary figure James Robertson, who is not only an award-winning novelist and poet but a publisher and tireless advocate for the Scots language. His insightful observations on language and its political dimensions prompted much debate on the topic, including from Magnus Linklater, the society’s President. The ever-popular Dolina MacLennan, meanwhile, reflected on some of the highlights of her all-singing, all-dancing (and acting, broadcasting and storytelling) career on radio, television and stage – including the original ground-breaking 7:84 tour of The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil. For these many achievements she was named Fletcher of Saltoun for 2012. Her successor to the award, Willie McIlvanney, was unfortunately unable to join her on the platform, due to illness.

The Scotsman Steps

The Scotsman Steps

Stairs reclaimed the focus as Fiona Bradley told the fascinating story behind the newly re-dressed Scotsman Steps, a work of interactive art by Martin Creed that symbolically incorporates multicoloured stone sourced from around the world. So popular are the steps that members of the audience were heard to volunteer on the spot for cleaning duty to help keep the curse of chewing gum at bay. Moving from the capital to the Hebrides, the stonemason’s craft was also central to the creation of Land Art installation and commemorative monument An Suileachan, a haunting landmark as much as a place of reflection that serves to remind us of the Clearances and more.

The final panel of the day was on literature, a fitting subject for a society whose mission is to champion free speech and promote our cultural life. Authors Meaghan Delahunt and Jean Rafferty and prominent literary critic Stuart Kelly joined Saltire research book winner Robin Lloyd-Jones and myself in a discussion on the artist and national literature, taking as its starting point Meaghan’s moving and thought-provoking pamphlet. Writers being a pretty articulate bunch, it wasn’t long before the discussion broadened from national identity to inclusion and belonging, diaspora, giving voice to the marginalised, the evils of global capitalism and monopoly gone mad, poetry, and how our literary life is to be sustained and nurtured in such a challenging writing and publishing environment. Indeed, when Magnus Linklater was invited to launch his essay on the nature of Scottish identity, he noted that much of his thunder had been stolen. Nevertheless, he introduced his own controversial and interesting points to the national identity debate.

It’s a publisher’s job to promote authors, and I make no further excuse for interjecting here brief mention of a novel highly pertinent to this debate. In yesterday’s Herald, no less a literary luminary than Alan Warner selected Victoria Hendry’s A Capital Union in his Books of the Year round-up. Set in WWII Edinburgh, Ayrshire and Stirling, this outstanding debut centres around the lives of young Agnes Thorne and her new husband, Jeff, an SNP activist. Jeff gives up his academic work on the first Scots language dictionary because of his conscientious objection to serving on behalf of Westminster in the war against Hitler. He faces jail, and Agnes, isolated by the contempt of her new community for Jeff’s refusal to fight, must find a way forward. If ever there were a reimagining of history that sheds light on the issues of today, this “brilliantly researched” [Alan Warner], “startlingly accomplished” [Julie Davidson] examination of national identity “with explosive moments of real poetry and narrative power” [Alan Warner] is one I enjoin everyone to read. Its treatment of Scots language is an added bonus, not to mention its fresh, sharp prose leavened with dry humour.

Returning to the Saltire day, a change of pace was provided by the excellent Stanley Odd, led by smart rapper Dave Hook, who brought the house down with poetry of a more contemporary form. Hats off to them for rocking the joint before a not-so-madding crowd! (I was even more impressed to learn afterwards that they had hot-footed it from the Mitchell to the Yes Scotland social evening in Edinburgh, where they reprised their performance.) Musicians from the Royal Conservatoire rounded off the day with rousing jigs and a wistful ballad, whilst the Mitchell’s catering team served up canapés and wine. All were roundly thanked – participants, organisers and attendees – by David Ward for a day positively packed with much to celebrate.

Mindful of a Glasgow in mourning, ‘Saltire Celebrates’ succeeded in showcasing the wealth of our culture and staunch commitment to our values, in a St Andrew’s Day to remember in more ways than one. Let’s hope the call will be heard by the government for robust support to help our creative practice flourish well into a confident future.

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December 1, 2013 · 10:41 pm

Exquisite Scenes

After much anticipation, last night we celebrated the launch of J David Simons’ An Exquisite Sense of What Is Beautiful. Held at Waterstones in the author’s home city, a crowd of 150+ joined the party, making it the largest event at the Sauchiehall Street branch for several months, according to the regional events manager.

ImageAfter a taste of sushi and sake to set the mood, and an introduction from novelist, playwright and poet Chris Dolan (the author, most recently, of Redlegs), David treated us to a brief reading before explaining what had inspired him to write Exquisite Sense. Nearly twenty years in the making, it all began with a simple short story written during David’s time in Japan. He had been struck by the beauty of a mountainside hotel and, within its grounds, the serenity of a quiet, carp-filled pond and the waterwheel that skimmed it (see the Pinterest board for photos). Happening upon the hotel during an excursion from Tokyo, David had immediately felt a profound connection. The young Edward, his protagonist, was in turn (fictionally) inspired to write his prizewinning novel-within-the-novel, and to call it The Waterwheel. David wasn’t going to reveal much more of the story, though! Only the setting, period and hints of the love story emerged.

Asked about theImage elegant book cover (exquisitely designed by Alice Laurent of AKA Alice), David related an anecdote that brought the entire work full circle. The design features two carp in a tranquil pool.  Serendipitously, it almost exactly matches the composition of a drawing sketched by an artist friend long ago, to accompany the original short story. He hadn’t recalled this drawing until he looked out the booklet not long before the launch, experiencing a moment of déjà vu when he rediscovered it.

Not all of the audience questions could be addressed because spoilers were strictly avoided, but there were some interesting answers nonetheless. Why did David first want to visit Japan, for example? A cracking plate of sushi courtesy of his sister’s expense account, and the realisation that the culture was a complete mystery to him, it transpires. That and the fact that he had been so agitated as a boy learning of the scale of the devastation wrought upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Following the tantalising excerpt and a slew of questions, a long queue formed for David to Imagesign copies, no doubt meaning that readers are cracking open their new book this evening to kick off the weekend by immersing themselves in the story. They’re going to have to cancel any other plans they may have had. This is not a novel easily put aside.

As Chris Dolan pointed out when drawing the party to a close, a title like An Exquisite Sense of What us Beautiful inevitably has a lot to live up to. Yet this extraordinary book, he promised, will not let its readers down.

Intrigued? You can hear an excerpt of the audiobook, narrated by Nick Cheales, on our Soundcloud page.

With thanks to Chris, to all the staff at Waterstones, to Craig, Pete, Blake and Emily for organising and helping out on the night, and to everyone who came to the launch, some of whom travelled quite a distance. And thanks to Blake for these photos and Emily for putting the post together.

Available at selected shops now and on general release on Thursday, March 28. A second launch will follow soon Continue reading

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Cold Ice, Warm Hearts

With Valentine’s Day approaching, we are surrounded by stories of love and devotion to warm our hearts. A warm heart is particularly desirable for a polar explorer; Heart of the Hero, written by Kari Herbert, is an account of seven remarkable women who married these men of ice and snow.HeartoftheHero_coverS

Herbert’s book will be published on Valentine’s Day to mark the 100th anniversary of Capt. Robert Falcon Scott’s memorial at St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Poignantly, though, his wife, the eminent sculptor and fearless adventurer Kathleen, was not yet even aware of her husband’s fate. She was not to find out about his demise or the story of his final days until four days after the service; she was in Tahiti, en route to New Zealand, where she hoped to greet him on his return voyage.

Herbert has been immersed in polar history since childhood, making her first Arctic trip before she was even a year old. Herbert’s own father was the explorer Sir Wally Herbert (who became in 1969 the first man to walk [undisputed] to the North Pole), and she spent years of her childhood living with her family in an Inuit community on an island off the northwest coast of Greenland. Being so closely connected to this way of life, she was drawn to the stories of the explorers’ families. ‘It amazed me that no one had highlighted the crucial role of the wives of our polar heroes,’ she said.

Herbert noticed that the women were often the backbone of the explorers’ expeditions, commonly playing the role of ‘manager, publicist, mother figure, fundraiser, nurse, counselor, and most importantly, muse.’ Throughout her research of the polar explorers and their wives, she encountered unpublished journals and letters containing untold stories of love, drama and loneliness – personal tales that she felt a responsibility to share.

MH_marie herbert-Kari2_1972W MH_Marie-Kari-on-sledge-winterW
The polar accounts describe courageous and strong women who supported their husbands in their adventures. These women are Emily Shackleton, Eva Nansen, Kathleen Scott, Jane Franklin, Eleanor Anne Franklin, Jo Peary, and Marie Herbert, her own mother. While reflecting on writing her parents’ story, Herbert called the experience ‘strange’. She saw into a part of her parents’ lives that daughters don’t normally get to see, and tried to ‘put aside the fact I was their daughter in order to be able to write a balanced account of their lives.’

Through all the trials the women suffer, the two most challenging seem to be loneliness and a struggle to support their husbands’ financial needs. When the only hope of correspondence was to send off letters with ships in the hopes the crew might chance upon their husbands, Herbert admired the women and their ability to handle the separation with stoicism. Beyond that, they were quick to raise funds for their husbands in need, despite the years they often went without seeing one another. Herbert said, ‘Driven by love, pride and a fierce sense of loyalty, they each developed a bond with their husbands that transcended time, place and expectation…Simply put, these women were the beating heart behind some of the greatest polar stories.’

Ultimately, Herbert hopes that her account will help to balance out the record in the annals of polar history. ‘I hope readers will gain a fresh insight into some of our greatest stories of adventure, and will see a very different side to some of our iconic polar heroes. I hope too that these women from now on will gain a little more credit for their contribution, and be appreciated for the tirelessly loyal, adventurous, remarkable people that they were.’

Sir Ranulph Fiennes is amongst those who have stepped forward to praise Heart of the Hero: ‘An extraordinary depth of thinking … A fascinating and hugely enjoyable book which makes a valuable contribution to polar literature.’ ‘Herbert portrays seven wives not only as loyal, loving, resilient, inspirational and practical women,’ says Iain Finlayson in The Times, 9th February, ‘but also as moral heroines and capable achievers… in their own right.’

This post has been contributed by Emily Ferro, intern, currently studying for her MLitt in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling.

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