Tannery Hoose Windae #1: Holy Family

The first residents of the Tannery Hoose Windae – none better in many ways. This was Christmas 2020, a weird one by any stretch. This family knew all about being temporary residents in unfavoured places.

This was the first thing to appear in the Windae, not long after Joan suggested it needed something beautiful in it. The Holy Family sat on top of my wardrobe for all my childhood – now it’s on top of a bookshelf, still checkin me oot.

Paisley Book Festival 2021: Charlie Gracie, Mairi Murphy & Donal McLaughlin

What a fantastic line up at the Paisley Book Festival 2021. I’m delighted to have been part of such a well-put-together festival. In particular, my event with Donal McLaughlin and Mairi Murphy – (What it Means) to Overcome – was a real pleasure for me. The feedback we’ve had from people who came along is heartening. Here’s a link to the event that you can check out till the end of March 2021. Please have a look and enjoy hearing me, Donal & Mairi. You can also read Mira Waligora’s blog here. I’ll let our words say the rest.

As well as taking part, I’ve a number of highlights at this year’s festival: Victoria McNulty’s superb Exiles, a powerful event; Scottish Masculinities with Douglas Stuart, Andrew O’Hagan and Graeme Armstrong, in conversation with Kirstin Innes; Kirstin Innes in Songs for a Scabby Queen, her own event with Outi Smith; Scottish PEN’s Poetic Offensive; and New Patterns for Paisley Poetry & Publishing, with Tracy Patrick, Linda Jackson, Jim  Ferguson, John Scally and Ryan Goodwin, hosted by William Burns.

There’s a few things I didn’t get to that I plan to catch up on before the end of March: Working Class Lives in Fiction with Julie Rea & Ely Percy; Sex Robots & Vegan Meat (for the title at least, though I’ve heard great things about it) with Jenny Kleeman; The Fountain’s Evening of Quarantine Dreaming with Adam Stafford, Janette Ayachi, Heath Common & Salena Godden. There’ll be more for sure.

If you were lucky enough to see everything I’m sure you’ll have been mightily impressed with the range of writers and readers and musicians and other creative folks. There is an excellent Festival YouTube channel. You can catch up on the whole range of excellent events here until the end March.

Big thanks must go to Keira Brown, Jess Orr and Wendy Niblock for all their support. I’m grateful to Brian Whittingham for his brilliant work as Tannahill Makar. And finally, thanks to the great people at Renfrewshire Council. Everyone made Paisley Book Festival 2021 a cracker!

Launch events for Tales from the Dartry Mountains

It’s been a good few weeks with launch events for my new poetry collection. In November, I was asked to read at the Allingham Festival in Ballyshannon, County Donegal with noted Irish poets Annemarie NÁ ChurreÁin and Denise Blake and English poet Chris Sparks.

Gerry Cambridge's cover design has caught people's eye

The next event was at the Scottish Writers’ Centre in Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts with Donal McLaughlin and Finola Scott. Donal is an award-winning Derry-born short story writer and translator; Finola, launching her first pamphlet with Red Squirrel Press, is a widely-regarded poet who share an Irish heritage.

Following this, I read with the wonderful writer, publisher and singer Linda Jackson in my publisher, Sally Evans’s bookshop in Callander. Never was poetry read on a more dreadful night, with the wind and the rain nearly battering the door down to get in. Linda was reading from her beautifully written memoir The Siren Awakes.

And so now, in 2020, I’m heading to HighlandLIT in January and plan other launch events, again with Finola Scott, in Baillieston Library, Stirling Central Library and Edinburgh over the next few weeks.

It’s a tough thing to get a poetry book out and about, but a pleasure to share the words with fellow writers and the people who come to hear you and buy your books. I’m looking forward to it.

New poetry collection: Tales from the Dartry Mountains

It’s being printed as I write, my new poetry collection, published by Sally Evans from the excellent diehard Press. Gerry Cambridge provided the cover design and because he’s the best in the business, people are already raving about. It really adds to the overall feel, look and quality of the book.

Gerry Cambridge's cover design has caught people's eye

A masterly, honest and melancholy collection.” Des Dillon

The Dartry Mountains run from Benbulben in County Sligo north to Arroo that overlooks Lough Melvin. My mother was born among these mountains in the town land of Magheramore, Glenade. This is border country: Lough Melvin is run through with a dotted line that marks the join between Fermanagh and Leitrim, the UK and Eire, Ulster and Connacht. 

Launch events

I’ll be introducing the collection to the world at the Allingham Arts Festival in Ballyshannon, County Donegal on 10th November. An apt place, as the Dartry Mountains reach almost up to there from Sligo. The festival is a broad arts festival with a reputation for being a friendly and open space for artists.

On 19/11 I’ll be at the CCA in Glasgow for a Scottish Writers’ Centre event with renowned Irish short story writer Donal McLaughlin and prize-winning Finola Scott, who will launch her new poetry collection with Red Squirrel Press. What fine company to be in!

From there, look out for events in Callander (05/12), Baillieston Library (again with Finola Scott, 10/12) and Highland Lit (21/01/20). Other events are in the pipeline for Stirling and Edinburgh.

Charlie Gracie’s new poetry collection coming soon!

Tales from the Dartry Mountains is on its way. Charlie Gracie’s new poetry collection will be published by Diehard in January 2020, with launch events this November.

Des Dillon on Tales from the Dartry Mountains

Charlie Gracie’s poetry set in Ireland takes you directly into the history of his family and the history of their land. The intimacy with this land now lost in those who had to leave. It’s never directly said but those who had to leave are now out of sorts and out of place in a land that just doesn’t quite fit them. The poem where his mother rides a chopper bike to work describes this out of placeness perfectly. There is a constant drone of grief for what an immigrant loses; never again to be Irish and never quite 
Scottish. And too far removed in time now anyway to ever go back and find what is lost. The political oblique-ness and visceral descriptions are what makes these poems work, no lectures, no diatribes and more philosophical insight than anger.

The second part of the collection deals mostly with Scotland (with a few trips elsewhere) and there are some crackers in here too. It seems to me that the melancholy of the emigrant from the Darty Mountains must bleed 
into whatever Gracie writes about in the here and now. The trace of melancholy and the longing for something we shall never receive resonates through the whole work. Take For betterfor instance; a tremendously truthful look at old age and tucked away, like a genius in Easterhouse, is a breathtakingly exact line that could be a whole poem itself (read it and see it). Or the T shirt for those whose loved ones have disappeared into dementia.

A masterly, honest and melancholy collection.

Des Dillon is an internationally acclaimed award winning writer, born in Coatbridge: poet, short story writer, novelist, dramatist, scriptwriter for radio and screen. 

Big Lit 2019: beauty, humour & silence

What a few days Big Lit 2019 was! 1st to 5th of May.

Everything I went to was interesting: some things enlightened me, others blew me away. Henry Bell’s autobiography of John McLean is set to lift this hero of Scotland further into folks’ hearts and minds. Karin Fernald‘s depiction of the life of Florence Nightingale was immense. Bernard MacLaverty graced Saturday with a wonderful talk and readings from Midwinter Break. Rosemary Goring spoke with such ease, Alan Taylor was funny and smooth. And (of course) Chrys Salt wove her magic words and positive presence in among the whole thing.

And all the time at Big Lit, volunteers rush to make the readers and other contributors welcome and to guide the listeners and foot-tappers easily from one event to the next. The hospitality of Chrys Salt and her husband Richard McFarlane is open-hearted; the support of key Big Lit people like Hilary Hawker and Ken Smyth is genuine and consistent. Soup, salmon, vegan, gluten-free everythings for the performers – all we needed – all thought-through with ease.

A few highlights then. Of course, the chance to share bits of my novel and some poems with a very good-sized crowd at the Crafty Crow. And not only that: to do so with my new friend David Mark Williams (Odd Sock Exchange & Papaya Fantasia), an excellent poet and short fiction writer and a top man. We will now, he and I, travel the country as The Skinny Guys (maybe The Skinny Bartirts for Glesga; maybe The Slender Fellaes for Dumfries).

Another highlight. Sasha Mitchell and Pete Moser made Friday night explode with songs and poems of Sasha’s father, Adrian Mitchell – joy and punchiness and then more joy.

Another. Reading with fellow Dove Tales writers and Angela Shapiro, sharing moving poems and accounts of the Nazi holocaust. Added to by the presence of Heather Valencia who brought insights and poetry from her bi-lingual translation of Avrom Sutzkever’s work.

And more. Discovering poets Annie Wright and Nicola Jackson and listening to Alan McLure‘s lyrics and voice. Shooting the breeze with John Cavanagh and Brian Johnstone after their poetry and music gig. Bill and Caro Barlow’s wonderful puppetry. Chik J Duncan always. Being part of the launch of Southlight 25.

One thing more. Peter Marinker read ‘Birth Was The Death Of Him’: words spoken and stage directions spoken. This was done with all the poise Beckett intended. He held us all for half an hour, pauses announced, words delivered beautifully, until the final stage direction: 30 seconds silence. What a 30 seconds that was. In the middle of creative activity and energy, a Beckettian silence.

Charlie Gracie at Baillieston Library

Charlie Gracie at Baillieston Library (photo montage by Isabel Addie)

Baillieston Library welcomed Charlie Gracie with the excellent poet Finola Scott on 7th March for a launch event for Charlie’s novel, To Live With What You Are.

A crowd of thirty people – writers, library users, members of the local book group, friends and family – helped to make it a very interesting night. After readings from Finola and Charlie, the question and answer session became a broader discussion on the literary process.

Baillieston Library staff, especially Susi Hunter, pulled out all the stops to support Charlie and Finola and all those who attended, to have an enjoyable night.

Isabel Addie took excellent photographs on the night and captured the atmosphere.

It was great reading with Finola Scott. She is a powerful poetic voice, a funny, energising writer who can turn ordinary things into unforgettable lines of poetry. Check out some of her poetry here in The Blue Nib and look out for her pamphlet coming out later this year with Red Squirrel Press.https://www.redsquirrelpress.net

Finola Scott

Thanks to everyone who came along and contributed by listening and talking.

Book review: The Scottish Book of the Dead by Gavin Broom

The Scottish Book of the Dead

The Scottish Book of the Dead by Gavin Broom

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book takes you into the guts of a fractured family in the aftermath of a death. Old enmities, old pains flow in the novel’s veins. Told from the perspective of four characters, the narrative weaves around the family’s tense life. It never feels overloaded, and resolution is always just out of reach, implied creatively in Gavin Broom’s direct, often surreal narrative. The story swings wonderfully across continents, time and realities. Dialect and language are well-handled, giving the characters authenticity.
It’s a funny book too, despite the underlying miseries in the characters’ lives. That mix is managed well, the humour as punchy as the rest of the drama. Mythological references are there (implied clearly in the title), but again, these are never overplayed.
The Scottish Book of the Dead succeeds in drawing disparate, pained lives together into a very enjoyable read.

View all my reviews

Poverty Safari with Loki, Rana Marathon & Victoria McNulty

Loki, Rana Marathon & Victoria McNulty – what a line up at Saint Luke’s on the 23rd! The Scottish poetic voice is alive and well.

I’d never heard Rana Marathon before. She’s a kick-boxer of a poet, a wordsmith with a sharp smile. She’s rhythmic and funny and straight to the point. Everything she spoke and rapped was worth listening too, and was delivered in a way that tells you she works hard to get the words right.

Victoria McNulty is an important voice in Scottish culture. She makes the links that need making: history, social policy, real lives. Lesley Traynor says Victoria McNulty is fearless – she was certainly fearless in Saint Luke’s and everybody loved it. Her work references politics and poetry and the lives of people in a catchy, energetic way.

Loki hits the stage like a train. There’s really very little to say. Genuine, he is. I always feel challenged and inspired by what he says, even if I’m not sure I agree completely. This is artistic integrity. At one point Darren McGarvey, author of the powerful Poverty Safari, turned away from the audience and revealed the depth of both his pain and his poetry – beautiful that a man has the courage to be so honest.

And when someone uses cunt and metatextual in the same sentence you know you’re in the presence of greatness.

Charlie shortlisted for Bridport and Cambridge short story prizes & appreciation to Donal McLaughlin

I’ve gone back to writing short stories this year and put a couple forward for prizes. I was fortunate enough to be shortlisted for both the Cambridge Prize and the Bridport Prize. For the former, the publisher TSS will include the story in their first anthology, due out in early 2019.

One of the things that really helped me was getting a hold of Fires by Raymond Carver. I’d read a few of his pieces over the years, but this collection of is writings, often about writing itself, is really focused. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to do more, to get better. Big thanks to Donal McLaughlin, the Derry-born writer and translator who gave me the book as a gift.

You should look Donal McLaughlin up. His short story collections, An Allergic Reaction to National Anthems and Beheading the Virgin Mary, contain most excellent examples of the short story form. His translations from German have made him an award-winning writer in two languages: German and Derry English.