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text 2017-10-29 19:34
The Sunday Post: Halloween Fun

With Halloween happening on a weekday night this year, my friends and I had a bit of seasonal fun this weekend at this lovely place: Glamis Castle.



Glamis is my favourite castle hands down (and I have visited ... many). It's not just the Macbeth connection, or the connection with Queen Mother, or anything like that, it is because they (still privately owned by the Strathmores) really care about the place and about making visitors feel welcome. There is always something special about what they put on. And it is a community thing - the castle is staffed by locals who have been there for a long time, the guides have been there forever, the old castle kitchens (now the restaurant) uses local produce from the estate, etc. I seriously love visiting this place and try to do so at least once every year. 

This year, the castle put on a Halloween event - A Halloween themed tour of the castle and they also made up a Macbeth inspired walk around the grounds that was fitted with sculptures and a light and sound installation.
One of my friends has problems with her eyesight at the moment and can't really manage well in the dark. So, we decided to get there in the afternoon and walk around the castle gardens and woods first, while there was still daylight.
It was so much fun. The other friend who came was a bit sceptical at first because, well, how much fun can trees with lights really be, right? However, we spent nearly the whole walk laughing and being shocked by the sounds. At one point my sceptical friend found a big, bright red button in from of the witches sculpture - of course she pressed it! The thunder, lightning, and smoke that ensued set us jumping. One of us even lost her shoe! Seriously, we had so much fun.
After the woods, we joined the castle tour that we had booked. It was fab! They had dimmed the lights so the parts of the castle were completely dark, others just lit by candles. They decorated everything with gargoyles, skeletons, cob webs ... and live actors dressed as ghosts, zombies, knights, witches...all turning up at random times to make you feel really, erm, uneasy. 
(This photo was one I found on the Glamis Castle Facebook page.)
The tour told only of the castle's ghosts and gory stories, and a little history. Not much history, tho, because this was a Halloween tour and there were kids present (who might have been bored). And still, we all learned something new. 
At the end of the tour, I ended up as a tribute to the resident witches but managed to escape just in time to follow my friends to the old castle kitchens for homemade roast pumpkin soup and a well deserved and absolutely huge pot of tea. 
So much fun.
On top of that, I picked up from the tour that there seems to be a connection between Glamis and Bonnie Dundee (Graham Claverhouse or Bloody Dundee) - who was the subject of Josephine Tey's only (as far as I know) work of non-fiction (which is on my TBR). And because of how rabbit holes work, I now need to know what the connection is. (There is a portrait of Claverhouse in the portrait gallery at Glamis...) 
Happy Sunday!
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text 2016-08-25 20:47
Today's Topical Read
The Skeleton Road - Val McDermid

Since I am back in Edinburgh, I just had to pick a book set here for the train journey. 

Not sure I will be able to sleep.

There's been a murder.

That's right.

Now say that with a Scottish accent:


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text 2016-08-13 21:34
Ed Book Fest - Ali Smith

So, this happened today at the Edinburgh Book Fest.....



Ali Smith read from her new - not-even-published-yet - book. She only finished "Autumn" recently and handed it to her publisher on Monday. Monday, people! This was the first EVER reading of it.


I mean, I would have loved anything she would have picked, but this was special. Not only was this the first time she shared her new work with an audience, but the parts we heard were excellent. She's trying something new with this novel - which will be the first of a cycle of four, all tied to a season. She said she wants them all to be standalone books (so it's not a series - thank goodness! - I'm not good with series) but they follow a common thread or theme.

But of course, this is Ali Smith. I would have been surprised if her new book was not experimental!


The other aspect that drew me and most of the audience in, was that she picked  discussions of a decidedly current nature to feature in the new book: storytelling as the act of welcoming people, Brexit, self-doubt and self-creation or the creation of other selves, the recurring story of plight, refuge, and, well, welcoming. All bound by the discussion of time and people being present in time.


I'm rambling.


Of course, without having read the new book this is just what I got from today's reading, but I am super excited. Ali Smith is one of the smartest, kindest, most sensitive and most intelligible writers I have read. She's also one of the funniest. The fun side, of course came out at today's reading, too, as the reading and interview was guided by her bestie Jackie Kay. For those not familiar with Jackie Kay, she is the current Makar (Scottish National Poet), and is an awesome writer in her own right. Check her out! 


I am also super excited still that there was a book signing after the reading. I must admit I had a bit of a lump in my throat when I got meet Ali, but the weirdest thing happened:


I had taken two books - my hardback first edition of Artful and a copy of Hotel World which I wanted to send to my friend. However, by coincidence - or fate? - my friend's name is the same as Ali's new novel, so when I asked if she could make this one out to someone called Autumn, she not only wrote a brilliant dedication but also gave me the cover page of the manuscript she read from earlier, so I can send it off together with my friend's copy of the book.


No need to add that I have been beside myself since.





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review 2016-03-01 17:00
Macbeth: Man and Mystery
Macbeth: Man & Myth - Nick Aitchison

This was a very thorough book on the historical background of Macbeth, the historical figure, not the Shakespeare character.


I got this on recommendation from a historian and I can see how this would be a great read for someone who has an interest in medieval Scotland.

For me, much of the detail was too complex. That is not a criticism of the book, but a reflection of my own knowledge and interest in this particular era in history.


However, the book did answer the questions I had about Macbeth's background, the differences between the play and historical facts, and the background to the issues of succession in this particular era.

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review 2015-10-22 00:56
Like: A Novel - Ali Smith


"Monday the 6th April 1987. Dear Diary. Actually this is not going to be a diary, diary is the wrong word for it. I have been suspicious of diaries anyway, since I stole Amy’s and read them on the roof. Amy, mon âme, my aim, my friend Amy. It was very shocking to read her version of things. No, diaries are stupid. Diaries are all lies. Diaries, they’re so self-indulgent.

But we live in self-indulgent times, after all, and for once I want my own twist of it. And if you write something down, it goes away. I’ve been carrying it around with me now for so long it’s taken on a kind of life of its own, I can feel it breathing against me inside my rib-cage, feeding off me, taking all the goodness out of what I eat, all the calcium out of my teeth. I want rid of it. And what a story it could be. What a beautiful, what a romantic, what a passionate story.

Not a story for here, not for small town Scotland, not then, not ever, never here in the decent, upright, capital of the Highlands, where when I was still at school there was an unholy row in the newspapers and in the council chambers because someone thought that something like the teaching of drama on the school syllabus would be nothing less than the work of the devil. Land of my soul and my formation, the Highlands. Where the Brahan Seer, ancient highland magician of the greatest of powers, once foretold that if there were too many bridges over the River Ness, or if there were too many women in power in the nation, then terrible dire chaos would follow."


Like that. Just like that is how Ali Smith hooks me. Every time.


The only reason why I give this book 3.5* instead of 4* or 4.5* is that this is her first novel and I have been spoiled by having already read some of her later work, which is much more structured. 


Oh, but what a nice feeling it is to be spoiled by Smith's writing...


Anyway, enough fangirling.


Like is the story of young love, of obsession, of rejection and resentment, and of healing.

The structure of the book - like many of Smith's - is anything but linear, so reading it is like just going with the flow and trusting the stories to be revealed. It's a slow start, granted, where we are introduced to Kate and her mother, Amy. Both are elusive characters. But then they have to be, because they are out of place and it is only in the second part of the book, when Ash is introduced that we get to learn more about the mystery.


Apart from the characters - all of which I loved - what Smith really succeeds at is being a recorder of the time and place that the characters act in. I have no doubt that some of the scenes are autobiographical or witnesses rather than invented, because I certainly felt right there with the characters in the late 1980s/1990s. And yet, I did not feel that the story was dated. Like is a story in its own time but not exclusively of its time.


"I smell of the fire still. On my clothes, on my skin, must be in my hair. Sweet, acrid, I love it. Someone could make a fortune patenting the smell of fire as a perfume or aftershave, potent and nostalgic and sexual for people to spray themselves with in the spring and the autumn, at the hinges of the year. Lancome’s Heat of the Moment. Meltdown by Givenchy. Hell by Chanel."

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