Tag Archives: Joan Lingard

Stirling Literary Society

The Resident IT Consultant had been a couple of times, but I needed something special to tempt me out on a wet and dark Monday night, so it was my first time. Stirling Literary Society meet at The Smith [local museum] once a month, and the thing that got me out of the house was Scottish Children’s Literature. Dr Maureen Farrell from the University of Glasgow drove through floods to tell us about it.

When she realised that her degree didn’t cover any Scottish books Maureen decided to do her PhD on Scottish children’s literature, but was dissuaded because it was thought there wasn’t enough material for a doctorate… (I was unsure in the end if she went ahead with it anyway, or not. But whichever way, Maureen knows a few things about those non-existent children’s books.)

In the ‘beginning’ there were books, and some children read them. And there were chapbooks, sold by travelling chapmen. In the 18th century James Janeway published A Token for Children. Often books were written by puritans who wanted to educate, and needed to use language accessible to children. As early as 1744 there were ‘magazine giveaways’ with balls for boys and hoops for girls.

Then we had Sir Walter Scott. Naturally. He wrote a book for his grandson, but as a ‘very wordy writer’ it probably wasn’t all that easy to read. But he enjoyed it so much he wanted to give up writing adult books. The first proper children’s book in Scotland seems to have been Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House, where children played and were naughty.

Maureen Farrell’s criteria for what counts as Scottish literature are books by someone Scottish, set in Scotland or about Scottish people. If not, we couldn’t lay claim to J K Rowling or Julia Donaldson.

There wasn’t really time enough to talk even quite briefly about most Scottish authors. Maureen galloped past Treasure Island, The Light Princess, Peter Pan, and on to Theresa Breslin and Eric Linklater, explaining what the Carnegie Medal is (very elderly audience, but maybe not necessary?), Molly Hunter, Joan Lingard, and she showed us covers of lots of books, including The Wee Free Men.

She described the beginning chapter of Nicola Morgan’s Fleshmarket, and I decided I could possibly avoid fainting if I was lucky. Jackie Kay cropped up with both fiction and poetry, local author Rennie McOwan got some attention, as did Mairi Hedderwick and Debi Gliori.

And then there were the books in Scots, of which she had many to show us. I particularly liked Roald Dahl’s The Twits, which became The Eejits.

I reckon you can deduce that there’s enough for a PhD there, somewhere. We could have gone on for hours and only skimmed the surface. There was a lot I knew about, obviously, but there was also quite a bit I didn’t, because I was never a small Scottish child, unlike others in the audience who had strong and fond memories of many of the books mentioned.

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

Secrets and Shadows

Neutral Ireland tends to be overlooked when we talk about WWII, or maybe even forgotten. I remember reading Joan Lingard’s The File on Fraulein Berg which, although set in Belfast, still brought home the enormous difference between north and south of the border. The fact that they had lights on in Dublin, and things to buy in the shops.

Joan’s book was about two girls who thought the German teacher at their school had to be a spy. Brian Gallagher’s Secrets and Shadows is almost the same, in a way. Set in Dublin, Liverpudlian refugee Barry and the local but nevertheless bombed-out Grace, suspect Barry’s Polish PE teacher of being a spy. The man asks too many questions, and is simply too pleasant.

Brian Gallagher, Secrets and Shadows

This is a good story, showing the effects of the war in Liverpool, explaining why Barry ends up going to live with his grandmother in Dublin, and also that being in Ireland wasn’t always totally safe, because bombings did happen. Grace and her mum have to live with her grandfather, which is how the two children meet and become friends.

Then there is the spy chase, where Grace and Barry take to observing and following Mr Pawlek, and finally breaking into his house (which is far too big for one man).

The question is whether they find anything to prove their suspicions, or if they have made a mistake. Very exciting, and as I said, just that little bit different for being an Irish story. Nice piece of time travel too, seeing how people lived then.

‘what should have happened’

Day 3 was short, but sweet. Being in the same room as Joan Lingard is quite a bonus. And the press pod was full of people wanting to interview Griff Rhys Jones. Daughter said ‘who?’, and I tried to explain, but could come up with nothing that worked. Even seeing Griff being interviewed did nothing for her. Hopeless.

The witch and her very useful photographer had gone to some trouble to beg tickets for Friday’s event, and we were delighted to meet up with the lovely Georgia from Random, who puts lots of great books our way. We were even introduced to her equally nice Random boss. (That’s Random, not random, btw.) A bit of networking may even make me think I’m doing something grown-up, rather than just play.

Theresa Breslin 3

Just one event made the day feel almost like a holiday. Theresa Breslin had  worried she’d have no audience, seeing as she was on at the same time as Michael Morpurgo. But she did have an audience, and between you and me, the smaller venue was preferable, and the feeling of not being a sardine was beneficial. Not standing in a Morpurgo-sized queue was another bonus.

Theresa is a former librarian, who even as an adult was so scared of the librarian from her childhood library, that she crossed the road to avoid meeting her. And writing historical fiction, she has been contacted by her former history teacher, too, so her past seems intent on catching up.

The Nostradamus tie

She picks up the oddest ideas and sentences wherever she comes across them, and writes a story around them. It can be simple things like selling your alligator at a car boot sale, or the more advanced notion of collecting amputated limbs in a bucket. And stuff in-between.

We should believe in horoscopes and it’s apparently ‘normal’ to be loopy around a full moon. I think that Theresa was trying to tell us that her scientist husband can prove that the planets rule our lives, or some similarly far fetched idea. Mr B wore his Nostradamus tie, and Theresa read from The Nostradamus Prophecy, and as a witch I sort of have to agree with all that stuff. Sort of.

Theresa Breslin 2

The next book from this Dickens-reading library-ticket-cheat is about the Spanish Inquisition, and we got to hear a little from the first draft. No doubt she will now go and change it all. And her editor will find more things still that hadn’t been invented at the time, thus having no business being in Theresa’s book.

(Photos by H Giles)