What’s the Story? Folklorist Margaret Bennett to discuss a lifetime fascination with local tradition


A meeting with Margaret Bennett requires no enticement unless you are not aware of who she is. If a stirring has brought you to Scotland and the Isle of Skye, and you find yourself absorbed in the traditions of the people who have lived here and you endeavour to visit and study historical sites, listen to the music and read the books about them, our July meeting should be marked with a star and arrangements should be made to bring your friends who have these same interests. It should not be missed.

A little more allurement…if you have become obsessed with the culture of the Gaels and Scots and the Lowlands and the Highlands and the Isles, and if you hear the whisperings of the past that have created the voice of today and they send a trilling through your own spirit, Margaret Bennett right now is being added to your calendar and there is nothing that will prevent you from an evening with “Scotland’s foremost folklorist”!

Margaret comes from a family of tradition bearers, whom she describes: “A Hebridean, Gaelic-speaking mother and Lowland, Scots-speaking father, who both spoke English. One sang Gaelic songs, the other hee-durram-haw-durrams and played the bagpipes. One leaned far to the left, the other did not. They raised four children between two cultures, three languages, surrounded by a wealth of domestic, social, religious, cultural and political paradoxes.”

Bennett has written over ten books, including Scottish Customs From the Cradle to the Grave. She is a member of the Scottish Storytelling Forum. Her life has been filled with music, traditional and revival, and she has featured on media productions and music productions with her son, the late, sensational international star of the Celtic music scene, Martyn Bennett.

The folklorist, writer, singer and broadcaster will bring her wealth of talent and knowledge to the Edinbane Hall for an evening event at 7.30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 25, to talk about what inspired her to write about the traditions of Scotland and the Scottish diaspora. Her talk will be illustrated with fieldwork examples of recordings and photos of Skye tradition bearers, whose way of life, songs and stories are now recorded for posterity.

Everyone is welcome. Admission fee is £5; free for members.

Workshop: Earlier that day, Margaret will lead a workshop at the Shinty Club in Portree, at 2:00 p.m. She will instruct on how to research and record oral traditions for local archives and/or as an accurate resource for writers. The workshop will begin with an overview of the exemplary work undertaken by the School of Scottish Studies fieldworker, Eric Cregeen (1924-1983), colleague of Calum Maclean and founding member of the Oral History Society. Cregeen is regarded internationally as one of the most influential oral historians of our time.

The afternoon session offers an informal and practical introduction to oral history interviewing, with an opportunity to handle recording equipment and discuss some of the issues around oral history, life stories and memory. Topics include how to document the material to preserve local tradition and how writers can research and use the material in their own writing. The fee is £5; members are free. Please feel welcome to show up if you find you would like to attend. Skye Camanachd Shinty Clubhouse (Pairc Nan Laoch) is located on Struan Road across from the West Highland College, on the way out of Portree.

For more information about these events, Reading Room membership or general questions, please get in touch with us at skyereadingroom@yahoo.co.uk or message us on Face Book at the Reading Room – Skye.

Both the evening talk and the workshop are part-funded by the Live Literature Fund via the Scottish Book Trust.

An evening with Zoe Strachan

The Reading Room presents writer Zoë Strachan on Tuesday, May 30, for an evening reading and probably delicious discussion on all writerly topics.

Zoe

Zoë will talk about her work, including a sneak-peek at her work-in-progress, a new novel called Lips That Touch. It’s a love story set between 1935 and 1966, in small town Scotland and is based in part on family stories. She intends to discuss research, process, publishing and “everything in between”.

If we are lucky, this will include her 2011 novel, Ever Fallen in Love, which was Shortlisted for the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Scottish Books Awards 2012 and the Green Carnation Prize 2011 and was nominated for the London Book Award 2012 . The story plays with a frenzy of tension, interweaving the tone and pace of young, queer love with the mature hindsight of regret and envy.

Her first novel, Negative Space (2002), lauded as a powerful portrayal of grief and healing, was the winner of a 2003 Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the 2002 Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award. Her second novel, Spin Cycle (2004), is set in a launderette and tells the story of three of its workers; it is a “murky and dazzling” novel about women in emotional turmoil.

Strachan’s short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies and have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4. She has written many articles and reviews for newspapers, including The Herald, The Scotsman Magazine and The Sunday Times.

Her stage play, Old Girls, opened in Glasgow in 2009. She has also written a stage play, Panic Patterns, with Louise Welsh, performed in Glasgow in 2010. Her short opera, Sublimation, written with composer Nick Fells, was part of Scottish Opera’s Five:15 series in 2010, touring Scotland and also travelling to South Africa.

Zoë teaches on the Creative Writing Programme at the University of Glasgow and is an established tutor, teaching courses for the Arvon Foundation and Moniack Mhor. A Scottish Book Trust scheme allows her to visit festivals, schools, prisons and community groups, to share her expertise. She is a writer who excels in digging deep into haunted searches and memories, exposing the raw layers of psychology. The detailed exploration in her writing should elicit profound discoveries in our own writing, so this is a chance to rev up motivation to get in there and write–or appreciate those who do.

She is on the Board of Directors of Glasgow Women’s Library; a Patron of the Imprint Festival in East Ayrshire; and a supporter of Scottish Pen. Zoë lives in Glasgow with her partner, writer Louise Welsh.

Patrons wishing to dine before the reading are welcome to join some of us at Edinbane Inn, around 6 p.m. Our evening at Edinbane Community Hall begins at 7:30 p.m. Admission for non-members is £5. Our very reasonable memberships are always available.  Be sure to check out our book table for interesting reads at bargain prices. Copies of our Anthologies 1 and 2 may be purchased for £8.50 each.

Refreshments will be served. Everyone is welcome. For more information, contact us at skyereadingroom@yahoo.co.uk or message us on Facebook (The Reading Room – Skye).

Roger Hutchinson Reads From New Book (AGM follows)

Our guest reader for Tuesday, April 25, will be Roger Hutchinson, who will be giving us a glimpse into his new book, The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker : The Story of Britain Through It’s Census Since 1801.

Brave Roger. To have taken on the quest to create a cohesive (and interesting) statement about Britain’s census with any number of pages suggests to me 700 milliliters of whisky at 43% and 100 grams of 84% chocolate. What was he smoking?

Thank goodness census records aren’t all numbers. Or at least the digits tell stories that we wouldn’t have without them. With the national census, people began to lose anonymity. We began to find out what the population was, who died and from what, and the numbers became the colour and texture of life–a self-portrait of the British Isles.

For example: Britain in 1801 still had its share of nomadic descendants and the enumerators had to follow them to their haunts: “The numbers living out of houses vary with the seasons; in winter they shrink into dwellings, and in summer they swarm again in the fields, which have irresistible charms for the vagabond race, as well as for their near relatives, the hop-pickers and haymakers. Mixed among them are found some of the victims as well as some of the outcasts of society.” *

In The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker, Roger Hutchinson looks at every census taken at the beginning of each decade for 200 years. All human life is here, from prime ministers to peasants and paupers, from Irish rebels to English patriots, from the last native speakers of Cornish to the first professional footballers, from communities of prostitutes to individuals called ‘abecedarians’, who made a living from teaching the alphabet.

Hutchinson is adept at producing books that talk about the people. He has over twenty publications, many of which you will see in every shop that sells books in Scotland, including Calum’s Road; St. Kilda: A People’s History; The Toon; Silent Weaver; and A Waxing Moon: The Modern Gaelic Revival. Because he is a journalist with the West Highland Free Press and a Raasay resident, he is also a local favorite author.

Following Roger’s presentation, we will have refreshments and then have a short AGM meeting to report on 2016, tell you about our programme for 2017-2018 and find out how you’d like to see the Reading Room develop in the future.

The event will be held at Edinbane Community Hall, starting at 7:30 p.m. The lighter evenings should make parking easier, and rumour has it that Edinbane Inn is open Tuesday nights again, for anyone wanting to make an evening it.

Admission is free to members and £5 for non-members. Everyone is welcome. Our reasonable membership is available at every meeting. Reading Room anthologies, Island Life and A Stillness of Mind, are for sale at £8.50 each, and we have a Good Read selection of literary works at prices that will make them jump into your hands.

For further information about the Reading Room, please email us at skyereadingroom@yahoo.co.uk or message us on Facebook, at The Reading Room-Skye.

This event is sponsored in part by Scottish Book Trust.

* Great Britain Historical GIS Project 2004-17. The GBH GIS is a network of collaborating academic researchers. For details please contact Humphrey Southall (Humphrey.Southall@gbhgis.org).

Helen Sedgwick Talks About “The Comet Seekers”

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Spin out of your orbit for our night with Helen Sedgwick, author of “The Comet Seekers” (Harvill Secker, UK, and Harper Collins, USA, 2016).  It will be interesting to discover how the biophysicist working on cancer research found her way to … Continue reading

‘Two Books and a Song or Two’ and a Farewell to Linda Henderson

The Reading Room will salute the New Year with a literary social event at Edinbane Community Hall on Tuesday, January 31, from 7:30 p.m., during which we also will be bidding adios to our president, Linda Henderson.

At least two Good Reads selected by our panel will be presented for discussion:           Wilma MacRuary’s choice is The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion, and Tom Coles has picked The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson. Check out these books if you want to participate.

We will also hear about Morag Henriksen’s latest book, Tapestry of Scenes–a mix of her short stories and poetry with artwork by herself and her family. Morag will treat us to a song or two during the evening.

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Linda Henderson

The Reading Room has been fortunate in Linda Henderson, who, happily for her, will be moving to the Nairn area in February. She took over as chair of the Reading Room in April, 2014. I remember the evening well, with memorable Reading Room organizer, Richard Neath, handing accolades to another memorable organizer, Charlotte Johnson, who was stepping down from the big chair.

I know Linda must have had to take a big breath before taking that step, because it is a helluva job heading this small but muscular literary group. It can’t be done alone, but if you consider all that must be accomplished by the few dedicated people who do the running, the position of chair is pretty intimidating. Hurrah for Linda’s passion, effort and creative fortitude that were so necessary to sustain the vision.

In her time, the Reading Room has presented about 30 events, including a retreat on Raasay. We also produced our second anthology, edited by Linda. She says, ‘It’s been fun and I’ve met some wonderful writers and welcomed them to Skye from all over Scotland. I’ve been supported by a great team who have never let me down and who have more exciting and fascinating events up their sleeves.’

Linda is going to be concentrating on her own writing, knitting and taking on a new garden as well as looking forward to ‘all the cultural events that the wider Inverness area has to offer’. Best of luck to her in all her endeavors and we hope to see her at future events.

Whatever else we get up to on the 31st will depend on whimsy, so come prepared to contribute to the party. Refreshments will be available and our small collection of used books will be displayed for sale, along with our second anthology, Words from an Island – A Stillness of Mind.

Everyone is welcome to join us. Admission is £5 and free for members (membership available at door).  For more information, please contact us at skyereadingroom@yahoo.co.uk or message us on Facebook: The Reading Room – Skye.

Zoë Strachan Cancelled.

MANY APOLOGIES. ZOE STRACHAN HAS HAD TO CANCEL, DUE TO EMERGENCY. PLEASE JOIN US ON SEPTEMBER 27 FOR Ian Stewart and Alistair Christie, authors of Trig Point Walks on the Isle of Skye and Raasay. 7.30 p.m. at Edinbane Hall..

The Reading Room presents writer Zoë Strachan on Tuesday, August 30, for an afternoonZoe workshop and evening reading.

In her evening appearance, she will talk about her work, including a sneak-peek at her work-in-progress, and read from her latest novel, Ever Fallen in Love (2011). The story plays with a frenzy of tension, interweaving the tone and pace of young, queer love with the mature hindsight of regret and envy. The novel was Shortlisted for the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Scottish Books Awards 2012 and the Green Carnation Prize 2011 and was nominated for the London Book Award 2012 

Her first novel, Negative Space (2002), lauded as a powerful portrayal of grief and healing, was the winner of a 2003 Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the 2002 Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award. Her second novel, Spin Cycle (2004), is set in a launderette and tells the story of three of its workers; it is a “murky and dazzling” novel about women in emotional turmoil.

Strachan’s short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies, and have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4. She has written many articles and reviews for newspapers, including The Herald, The Scotsman Magazine and The Sunday Times.

Her stage play, Old Girls, opened in Glasgow in 2009. She has also written a stage play, Panic Patterns, with Louise Welsh, performed in Glasgow in 2010. Her short opera, Sublimation, written with composer Nick Fells, was part of Scottish Opera’s Five:15 series in 2010, touring Scotland and also travelling to South Africa.

Zoë teaches on the Creative Writing Programme at the University of Glasgow and lives in Glasgow with her partner, writer Louise Welsh. She is on the Board of Directors of Glasgow Women’s Library; a Patron of the Imprint Festival in East Ayrshire; and a supporter of Scottish Pen.

Afternoon Workshop: Zoë is an established tutor, teaching courses for the Arvon Foundation and Moniack Mhor. A Scottish Book Trust scheme allows her to visit festivals, schools, prisons and community groups, to share her expertise. She is a writer who excels in digging deep into haunted searches and memories, exposing the raw layers of psychology. The detailed exploration in her writing should elicit profound discoveries in our own writing, as she leads this workshop, titled “Writing for a Reaction”. The workshop will be held at Aros in Portree, from 2:00 p.m., (Tuesday, 30 August). £5 members, £10 non-members. Meet in the foyer. Space is limited, so jump to it! Email the Reading Room at skyereadingroom@yahoo.co.uk or message us on Facebook.

Patrons wishing to dine before the reading are welcome to join some of us at the Edinbane Inn, around 6 p.m. Our evening at Edinbane Community Hall begins at 7 p.m. for 7:30. Non-members, £5. Our very reasonable memberships are always available.  Be sure to check out our book table for interesting reads at bargain prices. Copies of our Anthology 2, A Stillness of Mind, may be purchased for £8.50.

Refreshments will be served. Everyone is welcome. For more information, contact us at skyereadingroom@yahoo.co.uk or message us on Facebook (The Reading Room – Skye).

Bad Boy Nick Brooks Coming to the Reading Room

Nick_Brooks9lowThere may be some steam rising from Edinbane Community Hall on Tuesday, July 26, when our guest reader takes the floor.

Nick Brooks is a novelist and poet who lives and works in Glasgow. He has twice won a Scottish Arts Council (now Creative Scotland) Writer’s Award and most recently, was awarded a grant by the Royal Literary Fund. His first two novels, My Name Is Denise Forrester (2005) and The Good Death (2007), were both published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

His third novel, Indecent Acts (Freight 2014), is reported entirely by the protagonist, Grace, a semi-illiterate 40-something mother from Drumchapel, one of Glasgow’s most notorious schemes. It is written in Grace’s inimitable misspelt patois, with hilarious and moving effect. 

Brooks’ latest works include a collection of erotic haiku, called Sexy Haiku (2016 Freight).  Dubbed ‘Zen porno’, there is reason we (hope!) to expect some rakish…voluptuous…oh!…that is to say, perhaps riggish material, if not behaviour, from our guest.

A first collection of poetry, The Dog in the Disco, through Dive Buki in Slovakia, is due ‘sometime’. Currently, he is writing a screenplay and more poems.

When not more gainfully employed, Nick is a full-time stalker with a pronounced limp. (Be still our beating…)

Our evening begins at 7 p.m. for 7:30. Non-members, £5. Memberships are always available.  Be sure to check out our book table for interesting reads at bargain prices. Copies of our Anthology 2, A Stillness of Mind, may be purchased for £8.50.

Refreshments will be served. Everyone is welcome. For more information, contact us at skyereadingroom@yahoo.co.uk or message us on Facebook.