Last night as part of Book Week Scotland, I produced ‘Bath Books’, an evening of aquatic literary delights at Glasgow’s iconic Western Baths. I’m a member of the Baths, a glorious Victorian swimming pool featuring Turkish Baths, saunas and a steam room, and the evening was a great way for me to bring some of my literary work to an unusual venue.
The sauna suite was transformed for the evening into an events space, with audience members welcomed to bring up drinks from the bar below (passing on the way the Baths’ floor mosaic created by Alasdair Gray).
The evening featured a series of readings from works by Scottish writers, across poetry, fiction and non-fiction, including some by authors who are members of the Baths. We were also lucky to have contributions from actors, some of whom were also members of the Baths. The audience was promised murder, competition, and intrigue, as well as imaginative dives into the depths, encounters with magical aquatic beasts, and meditations on the restorative powers of water.
We kicked off the evening with a reading by David Anderson from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. In the section, Davie swims for shore after a wave knocks him off the boat. Next, we stayed outdoors but moved into the 21st century, with an extract read by Louise Ludgate of Amy Liptrot’s memoir The Outrun, in which the author swims in the ‘gaspingly cold’ seas off Orkney. ‘One morning,’ writes Liptrot, ‘the sky is reflected in the flat water and I’m swimming in the clouds.’ Continue reading →
This week I’ll be chairing a Book Week Scotland event at Stirling Central Library. It’s a ‘ThankBooks’ panel, featuring several writers (Alan Bissett, Lisa Ballantyne, Billy Letford and Shari Low) who will be talking about a book, author, character or library that made them what they are today.
Preparing for the panel has made me think about my own early reading and writerly inspirations. I was a bookish child: here’s me with my nose in a big book of fairy tales, one of my favourites when I was little. Perhaps no surprise that when I came across Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories as an adult I loved its exhilarating, weird, erotic feminist retellings. Who can forget the moment in the title story when the mother gallops, gun blazing, to snatch her daughter from the hands of the murderous Marquis? Or the ‘wily, perspicacious and resourceful’ Puss-in-Boots, who ‘can perform a back somersault whilst holding aloft a glass of vino in his right paw and never spill a drop’? (After reading this stuff, real life is always going to seem a little grey.)
My favourite book of all as a little girl was J M Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy, which I read innumerable times. I had an edition with the Mabel Lucie Attwell illustrations, and my parents copied me out a flying Peter Pan on a big piece of paper, which I had stuck to the lampshade in the middle of my bedroom. In my head, though, the story was much wilder than the charming illustrations suggested: the interloper boy who steals the children away from the security of their home to fly across the skies to Neverland couldn’t be tamed. Many years later, I delighted in Geraldine McCaughrean’s official sequel, Peter Pan in Scarlet (commissioned to continue the flow of royalties to Great Ormond Street Hospital) which perfectly captured Peter Pan’s wildness and prickliness. Continue reading →