Kathryn Mannix, book festival

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Death on the Fringe, Aug 2018

“The ‘d’ word” – a topic that was once part of everyday conversation in the Western world – makes us uncomfortable. In fact, many avoid using it at all costs and instead refer to ‘passing away’ or to ‘loosing someone’. It is the ultimate leveller (we will all get there sooner or later), and yet we are embarrassed and awkward if we have to refer to it, especially with the dying person themselves or grieving relatives.

Dr Kathryn Mannix however, is not discomfited by death, no not at all. In Being Mortal (a Death on the Fringeand an Edinburgh International Book Festival event at the same time) she launches in with direct questions about who has planned their funeral or spoken to loved ones about end-of-life care. At two Edinburgh events she receives an almost 100% response rate to the first question and notes how unusual we are, so perhaps things are changing. She is on a mission to reclaim the word because, “if we stop using this language we can’t do precision or actual reality when someone is in the process of dying.” And that means we cannot reassure them (which is something she is really good at) after receiving a terminal diagnosis, or find ways to give them the chance to “be the person who they are” without fear or pain getting in the way.

Sarfraz Manoor is Chair for this Book Festival event, and introduces her as a ”palliative medicine pioneer”, stating that the session will form part of a “conversation about life, death and the space between them” which her book, With the End in Mind (2017) is concerned with. A top-level physician and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy therapist, Mannix has obviously been a mover and a shaker in the National Health Service and tells us poignant and amusing stories about her early days in training and on the ward. She is keen to recognise her teachers and acknowledge fellow contributors such as Canadian neuroscientist Adrian Owen who was billed but unable to attend today.

Mannix is well practiced in explaining the likely trajectory of death, has clearly thought through her beliefs and ideas, and listened to many. She appears to be unflappable with a hint of the patronising, but that may be a manner she has had to develop as a woman of this status in the NHS. The knowledge she shares is prodigious and at times she speaks with real compassion. She is fluent in this dialect of death, and her presentation seems to be touching a chord, receiving nods and murmurs of agreement from listeners all round. There is many a wet eye in the audience and she knows and names it.

Susie Orbach, book festival

At the Death on the Fringe and Edinburgh International Book Festival Aug 2018

Susie Orbach 2

Dr Susie Orbach is a bit of a goddess to some people! Her first book and bestseller, Fat is a Feminist Issue(1978) has profoundly influenced several generations of women and girls, as well as therapists and others who work with clients who lap up what she publishes and are influenced by her insights and understanding. Bodies (2009) won the Women in Psychology award for best book, and now In Therapy (from the Radio 4 series of the same name) has caught people’s attention all over again.

Chaired by the fearless and cut-through-the-crap Ruth Wishart at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Orbach is honest and equally straightforward in her presentation and replies. Fielding a range of rather pedestrian questions (Aren’t celebrities just being chronically self-indulgent? If a client falls in love with you, can you carry on?), she admits there are situations when she feels uncomfortable or will occassionally refer someone to a colleague, but also that she talks with trusted associates about issues which trigger her (good practice), and always remains aware of her own reactions and feelings.

In Therapy Orbach book

The In Therapy radio programmes, described by Wishart as “uncannily compelling”, are a device for showing what happens in the therapy room. Data Protection and client respect mean that true-life stories are not an option, so Orbach came up with imaginery scenarios, gave them to actors who ran with them and who then showed up as clients, whereupon Orbach consulted with them.

She seems to have planned to focus on what she thought a Book Festival audience might be interested in and is eloquent on the subject of language. “I find the words reverberate in a certain kind of way,” she says. I have “an intently listening ear, (am) interested in the words which are being said. We notice, together, the cadences, breaks, repetition, whether natural, stacatto, (and we are) listening in a musical way to the shape of the internal world coming into expression.”

There is something for everyone, whether specialist or (potential) client, as Orbach seeks to explain that even if she notices the client is unlikeable (she is pushed by Wishart to focus on this topic), she tasks herself to get behind that and hopes that the person might get to like themselves as a result. Orbach’s dialogue is full of interesting descriptions like, “Therapists are anthropologists of the mind”, and psychotherapy as, “The listening cure”. She sure has a big heart, repeatedly describing her clients sympathetically, with affection and compassion. She comes across as the opposite of jaded after her 40 years in practice.

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Herland, womens salon

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival 21st Aug 2018.

See also the Take-Over Tent and other Revolting Women events today until 26th Aug 2018.

Katie Ailes
Katie Ailes, spoken word artist

Herland is in the tradition of the famous Women’s Salons of the Age of Enlightenmentin which women played a central role. Salons provided a place for women and men to congregate for intellectual discourse.” (see Gertrude Stein et al who “used culture to affect change”) This, the first outside Glasgow, was hosted by the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) at the Edinburgh International Book Festival which has a special Revolting Women theme this 2018 curated by Adele Patrick.

Set in the sparkling Speigeltent, a roundhouse of mirrors, plush burgundy velvet and, on this evening, red lights, Herland is an eclectic mix of poetry and music, wound around a celebration of women of the suffrage movement in this anniversay year of The Representation of the People’s Act 1918 when the first group of women were given the vote in the UK. In attendance are women and some welcome men, between the ages of 16 and 76 (a guesstimate), and the sparky Zoe Strachan and Louise Welsh who compere. They are both novelists dressed in red which they note are the colours of revolution, socialism, menstrual periods, and passion.

quiz and programme

On the tables are home-made crowns each bearing the name of a Scottish suffragette who Adele Patrick in her Wee Review interview, said she hopes will become household names. In the air is some of the The Revolting Women Playlist – Compared To What Roberta Flack, Na Gode by Yemi Alade) which was compiled by Patrick from 100 female Book Fest authors and will be released via Twitter and Spotify. There is a quiz, designed to get us to talk to our fellow table sharers (success!), linking the writer’s names and the tracks they had chosen – with prizes!

The acts are quality: Heir of the Cursed is haunting, complex, making an absolutely beautiful sound with her voice and electric guitar, radical and reassuring through anthem and lullaby;  Diljeet Bhachu and Hannah Lee‘s own compositions, on lilting flutes, are melodic, skilled and cognisant of their Chinese and Indian heritage; Nadine Aisha Jassat delivers her poems in a refreshingly un-poetic way, is eloquent and The Old Codgers recognises her Zimbabwean / Yorkshire inheritance in equally amusing and telling ways; Katie Ailes is a spoken word artist and her first poem is full of fairy godmother wishes for her daughter.

There is good spread of racial backgrounds and local women on the stage; rejoicing in the personal as well as the collective, naming children and parents alongside the much bigger political and sociological picture. It is a relaxing, entertaining, and thought-provoking affair.

Did you know there was a Scottish-Asian Creative Group?

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Diane Atkinson and Jane Robinson – book festival

Diane Atkinson and Jane Robinson were at the Edinburgh International Book Festival chaired by Donna Moore with an introduction by Adele Patrick. Part of the Revolting Women theme. 19 Aug 2018.

Adele Patrick, curator of the Revolting Women theme, opens proceedings at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She took the time to name and challenge: “In this wonderfully auspicious year, the centenary of the Representation of the People’s Act 1918, in which awareness of issues of privilege, power and inequalities are almost omnipresent across the media, with campaigns such as #nomore, here we can reflect on the feminist continuum and audit its progress.”

She passes on to Donna Moore, also from the Glasgow Women’s Library and making her debut as chair, who introduces Jane Robinson. With her ready smile and silver shoes, she sits next to Diane Atkinson, resplendent in suffrage colours; both experts in the history of the suffrage movement with a focus on telling the stories of the individual women involved.

Diane Atkinson 1 (2)

“You could hurl this at a Westminster window and it’ll do some damage!” said Moore, holding Atkinson’s weighty volume, Rise Up Women! The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes. Standing to speak and with no need of notes, the author came to life, showing us photos and hilarious postcards from the times. She regaled us with true-life accounts of the militants and merchandisers of the suffragette movement.

Starting, fittingly, with the Pankhursts (“so charismatic – feminine, fashionable and able to light up a room very quickly”), she chose to tell us about women from all walks of life, all over the UK who joined them, in upholding the slogan, ‘Deeds not Words’, which was adopted after hearing about the working conditions and poverty of so many of their sisters.

These were the women who hit the news with their challenging behaviour: Jessie Spinks, only 17 years old, who changed her name to Vera Wentworth to spare the family embarrassment, “ She stalked politicians, followed them to church and harangued them; jumped out of the bushes when they were playing golf to ask when they would give women the vote; scaled the walls, a bit like a silent film, to suddenly appear at Asquith’s private dinner.”

Robinson, whose Parrot Pie for Breakfast, An Anthology of Women Pioneers is being made into a TV series, has recently produced Hearts and Minds, The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote The book tells of the suffragists, “peeresses and millhands, stepping out” in 1913, “the last long summer before the war” to march to London. This did more than any other single activity to persuade Prime Minister Asquith that “yes, I suppose women are people after all.”

Jane Robinson

As advice to young, disheartened women (a question from the audience), Robinson advised, “…being with other like-minded women, putting one foot in front of the other” and Atkinson added, “Think of actions that will change things.”

Moore ended by asking each writer which banner they would have held: Robinson said Suffragist and Atkinson, Suffragette.

Also by Jane Robinson, Wayward Women: A Guide to Women Travellers review to follow!

Matt Hopwood – book festival

Matt Hopwood was talking to Ryan Van Winkle at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 18 Aug 2018.

Another sold out event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Matt Hopwood has walked long distance collecting love stories as he goes. A former teacher and a musician, he has the appearance of a road-hippie (or ‘Jesus’ as some wee ruffians shouted at him somewhere in Scotland) with long hair in a top knot and a tawny beard. He described himself as “going on this amazing pilgrimage all groovy and pure” when he first started seven years ago. Author of A Human Love Story – Journeys to the Heart, his dad was a Methodist minister and he has discovered that his way is all about love.

When walking he prevails on strangers to accommodate and feed him, and in return he does an equally precious thing, he listens to their accounts of love. This book is testament to his prodigious listening skills and admirable in his aim of building shared experience and compassion by publishing them in book and virtual form. “I hope the reader might think, ‘Ah, there’s someone else that thinks like me.’ That’s when we know we’re not alone.”

On being asked why he walks instead of driving for example, he answers, “What I’ve found is that you enter communities very gently when you walk. Walking allows you to walk into that presence”, quoting Martin Palmer another ‘son of a preacher man’, “’into that sense of sacred drift’.”

matt hopwood 2

The chair of this event is Ryan Van Winkle who then asks what happens after he has amassed the narratives, “You’re the shepherd of these texts. What is that responsibility like?” “I listen to the recordings and the first thing I do is take myself out, then the people emerge. It’s not really anything to do with me.” Not all the stories are in the public eye: “55% are for them (the storytellers) only. My recordings are a gift, offering that reflection for them to hear their own voice.” An audience member asks about giving advice. “I want to help them” Hopwood admits, “but early on I learned that I don’t know anything. I’m just here to learn.”

Hopwood is eloquent with words, energy and gesture; he’s quietly amusing, self-deprecating, and he tells a good story himself. On Van Winkle’s urging he tells us his story, and romantic it certainly is. He sits upright at the front of his seat, touches his heart, squeezes his nose (diagnostic area for the heart in Chinese Medicine!); he opens his palms and moves them from the centre of his chest towards us – the body speaking clearly of his desire for openness and connection through sharing. “This amazing person just kept allowing me to be” he said of his wife in the early stage of their relationship, and when the time came he was ready to offer that to others.

Van Winkle, his knee popping out of his jeans, allows himself to be admirably vulnerable and says: “When I am alone, isolated and reflect, my nerves appear above my skin. Is that why you set out on your own?” Hopwood explains: “I try to be in my body and the now”.  At times he struggles a little, searching for the right vocabulary because this is akin to therapeutic talk and he knows some aren’t familiar and most find it pretty tricky to talk about such matters. “If I’m not”, he continues, “I don’t meet anyone. Nothing happens. But when I still myself, then everything happens, people just sit down beside me.”

“All of my work is really about the guest and the stranger” reveals Hopwood (maybe he refers here to Camus’ short stories with those titles; the bible (see Romans); and Saint-Expuéry (Hopwood read a passage from ‘Letter to a Hostage’)) . He doesn’t elaborate much, but he does speak about the power of the smile, telling a prisoner’s tale for whom the daily smile of his cell mate constitutes love. “That is a sort of a welcome to the stranger”, he says. “The smile says ‘I see you, I recognise your humanity’” and it removes the need to “leave any part of me behind” when you cross a threshold. Usually, he explains, when we go somewhere, cross someone’s threshold, we choose to take part of us and leave the rest behind, it’s what we believe society requires for acceptance. Hopwood, on the other hand, seeks to “open out” to whoever someone is, to welcome the whole of them: “When it’s allowing, it’s love” (the antipathy of rejection and criticism). “It’s all about connection. I can allow myself to be – that’s love manifest.”

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Gerda Stevenson – Quines

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival 12 Aug 2018. There is more in the Revolting Women series. Here is a link.

What an enthusiastic woman is Gerda Stevenson! Sitting alongside Herald journalist Jackie McGlone, she describes the inspiration for, selection process of, and reads from her new book Quines in the Writer’s Retreat at the Book Festival. Quines: meaning a lass; a woman; sounding like ‘queen’,thereby lending an “aristocracy of the spirit”.

McGlone’s eloquent introduction describes Stevenson as “A woman of a thousand skills”, she is an actress from the popular Shetland TV series, poet, writer, lecturer, singer and songwriter. Stevenson, in turn, describes the noble, reconstructed and ancient head of a young woman on the cover of her book: “…she could have been my daughter… Does history really separate us, or does it reveal how much we have in common?”

Gerda Stevenson

In her book (“it feels like their book” says Stevenson in that familiar way many women have of humbly attributing praise to others), she presents poems of deceased Scottish women such as Isabel Emslie Hutton, psychiatrist and doctor; Tessa Ransford, founder of the Scottish Poetry Library; Mina Ray, one of Scotland’s first interpreter trainers; and Betsy Miller, ship’s captain. Standing to deliver poems in Scots and English with an open countenance, she also includes work which honours the Gaelic, using its syntax and lilt.

In the course of her research she unearthed women from all walks of life, an all-female football team, and many fascinating women from Dundee. She gives them a voice, manages to get inside them: in Demerara a slave girl from the plantations brought to “the Black Isle of white people”, she writes. “her spine stiffened in her corset when I declined the sugar.”; and after her twins were stillborn, Mary Stuart’s (Queen of Scots) voice tells us, “tho milk’s ae buckin frae ma breists unner ma lace an steys”.

In a relaxed and sisterly way she laughs with McGlone, sharing personal information: “I’m a Hibs supporter”, and “I’m very interested in Robert Owen’s Utopian thinking”. She is also serious about slavery (tackling it, for example, in Terpsichore about Maud Sulter, “I’m your morning’s sport, a clandestine delight, …. but I’m only marking time; one day ….you’ll be dancing to another’s tune.”  Most of the information Stevenson gives us is in the introduction of the book, but she brings it alive with her erudite charm.

book festival

For other women’s literature events, see also the Revolting Women theme at the Edinburgh International Book festival

This year’s Thomas Muir Memorial Lecture will be given by Gerda Stevenson. Details here.

Graphic Novel of Women – Book Festival

At the Edinburgh International Book festival August 11 2018. There are other events in the Revolting Women series – here is the link

We Shall Fight Until We Win’, A Century of Pioneering Political Women, the Graphic Anthology is at the centre of the Book festival event on 11 August 2018, which looks at the Graphic Novel of Women. Representatives from both Glasgow based BHP Comics and 404 Ink join Chair, Jenny Niven who is Literature Director at Creative Scotland, to discuss this newest disruption in contemporary publishing and the place of this book in the oeuvre of women’s non-fiction. The micro-comic art book publishing and the graphic novel sector are also discussed.

Asking about the genesis of this “slim but powerful volume”, Niven encourages Laura Jones, co-founder of 404 and contributing writer of the Nicola Sturgeon strip, to expand on the way it was crowdfunded through a Kickstarter project, and she stresses the impressively short timescale (nine months) in which they turned it around.

Graphic novel of Women

Heather Palmer, marketing and PR Officer at BHP Comics talks about the potential of the volume to make social change and how it gets women into publishing for the first time. “The great thing with visual work like this is that it is a sort of shorthand” describing how the setting and clothes for example do not need to be spelled out and are therefore easily accessible to school children, which is why it has been directed at schools as well as the general public. Heather mentions that “women are buying it for when their daughters grow up”.

Ever since the Stripped theme began in 2014, graphic novels have been “a really important, joyful part of the festival” Roland Gulliver, Associate Director of the International Book Festival who grew up with 2000 AD and Spiderman, told me. “There is an enthusiasm in the publishing sector”, he went on, “they love being part of an International literary event like this, not being ghettoised”.

book festival themes

This is not a superhero book, no spandex, so sorry about that” says Sha Nazir, art director at BHP Comics, but the women collected here (Emmeline Pankhurst, Beatrice Webb, Noor Inayat Khan, Betty Boothroyd et al) may well become superheros for the next generations as a result of this book.

See also, the Revolting Women series at the Book Festival.