St Andrews Photography Festival – being part of it

“Celebrating 175 Years of Photography in the home of Scottish Photography”.

invitation

By invitation!

When I found out about the first St Andrews Photography Festival taking place this summer, I had a pang of regret that I wouldn’t be there to see it. However, in an unexpected  turn of events, I will actually  be part of it as I’ve been invited to read my historical fiction in a festival event on September 9th. I can’t think of anything more special than to take my work to the place where the story began, and present it to people who share my enthusiasm for early photography and its exponents.

I realise most of you will know about this via my outpourings on social media, but with the festival kicking off on August 1st (my event is Sept 9th) I thought it would be good to post about it here, especially for those who aren’t on Facebook where the festival has its main site.

Here’s a link to the full programme of exhibitions and events put together by the University Library Special Collections Department and running from August 1st to September 11th.

StAndrewsPhotographyFestivalProgramme2016

Please share it with anyone you know who has an interest in early or contemporary photography, especially if they happen to be in or near Fife.

And here’s a description of my event.

hillbell_st andrews

In Sunshine and In Shadow
Stories surrounding the photographs of Robert Adamson and David Octavus Hill, 1843-48

Fiction writer and St Andrews graduate Ali Bacon brings her own words to the calotypes of Hill and Adamson and lends a voice to those who sat for them.
In this series of readings you will meet Elizabeth Johnston Hall of Newhaven, Jane Adamson (sister to John and Robert) and literary critic Elizabeth Rigby, and hear how an encounter with early photography changed all of their lives.
Presented with illustrations from the University Special Collections.

It’s on Friday September 9th, 5.30 – 6.30 pm,
Martyrs Kirk Research Library
80 North Street, KY16 9 Saint Andrews

Again, I know very few of you can be there, but do spread the word. If you can be there, please register for a free ticket.

This post will be top of my blog page for a few weeks to come!

 

We all love Andy now

Last year in Dunblane. Andy's bench.

Last year on Andy’s bench in Dunblane  (he probably needed a haircut too).

Some of my friends think I’m ridiculously attached to Andy Murray. This post from 2013 explains why.

Growing up in Scotland and loving tennis is a difficult path to follow and I should know.  In my home town not a million miles from Dunblane, the weather  was always rubbish. A lot of my school tennis  memories involve looking out of the window hoping the  puddles on the court would  evaporate by the afternoon gym period.  I watched my first ever grass court match at Craiglockart under a brollie.

To get to Wimbledon even as a spectator (8 hours on two trains at least and where would you get a ticket?)  was unheard of  – as for playing…! But for some reason there was never any lack of passion. My Mum and dad were glued to Wimbledon for the entire fortnight and didn’t begrudge me junior membership at the local tennis club when every other penny was spoken for.

Maybe it has got a bit easier since the sixties – I suppose there are some  indoor courts  now, and clever ways of teaching kids to hit a ball, but any way you look at it it’s not an obvious sporting choice for a Scot.  What I’m trying to say is that I think Andy Murray’s achievements so far are even more remarkable when you think of where he came from.

Talking of which, it’s so great that Dunblane – a place of horror to the new generation-  has so much to celebrate now. And yes that’s one of the reasons that Dunblane plays a small part in  A Kettle of Fish – as a tribute to those who suffered.  The fact that Andy also gets a mention too is clearly nothing less than  providential😉

But seriously. This is why I support Andy and why I hope the entire nation will get behind a supreme sportsman and national hero.

andy 2013After that match in 2013 (which I could hardly bear to watch) I bought the video and occasionally bring it out for comfort viewing  in the way other people hark back to favourite films or box sets. I don’t think yesterdays’ match had quite the elemental intensity (or long rallies) but Andy clearly finds the win even sweeter and you can see why.

Best of all, the nation has seen beyond his sometimes gruff exterior and he is more comfortable in front of a camera and in his  own skin of husband, dad and champion.

So we all love Andy now.  Of course some of us always did.

 

Another Flash in the Pen or, ‘Is that a ukulele I can hear?’

Suddenly it’s summer – on the calendar if not in the air right now, and here’s something to celebrate. Authors Electric, where I blog on the 22nd of each month (latest is here) have published a new anthology to accompany last year’s Flash in the Pen with something in it by me –  light-hearted, seasonal, and no ukuleles (or ukulele players) were harmed in the making thereof!

But apart from me, there are some great authors in there, all well worth a look.

Heads-up! The price of the e-book is only 0.99 during June.
(Paperback £8.50 – still a lot less than a round of drinks!)

Here’s everything else  you need to know.

fitp2

St Andrews in a New Light: the Adamson family

DSC00905Every now and then we go back to St Andrews and always find things have changed. I already knew  my old hall of residence had become luxury apartments (!) but it was somehow even more of a culture shock to find Fatface , Costa  and Waterstones rubbing shoulders with more – um, traditional establishments. But  each time we go we have a new purpose and see the place in a new light. This time I was on a bit of a research mission.

standrews_flickrRight from the start, my interest in Hill and Adamson was piqued by knowing the places where they lived and worked, especially St Andrews where many early calotypes were made, some of them without the help of D. O. Hill.

 

Because if Robert Adamson was the unsung hero of their partnership, his brother John was also a strong influence. It was John who took on the development of the calotype process from Sir David Brewster, and roped in his brother who was unsuited to outdoor work. Together they perfected the technique and set up the business in Edinburgh where Robert was to fall in with Hill. Although John remained in St Andrews and never worked as a professional photographer, he continued to make calotypes and other forms of early photographs long after his brother’s death and had a longer association with the medium than either his brother or D. O. Hill.

I also had a desire to see Robert Adamson’s grave, which I knew to be in the cathedral churchyard but had never been able to find a picture of. And so last week, as part of a holiday in Scotland, I decided to see if I could find anything relating to John or Robert in the town. I haven’t been actively researching this for quite a while and stupidly didn’t think to bring any of my old notes along with me (doh!) but I’d recently turned up a description of the family grave  in Robert Crawford’s fascinating The Beginning and End of the World . So all I had to do was find it!

St Andrews cathedral

St Andrews cathedral today

Arriving in the early evening the omens were not good. The cathedral grounds were closing for the night, so no chance to go searching,  and a close examination of a good stretch of South Street gave me no clue as to where John might have lived. In the morning we’d already had a fruitless visit to Perth Art Gallery where none (none, what’s that about!) of Hill’s work is on public display and I was suddenly less than optimistic about finding the grave or anything else.

the Adamson restaurant

the Adamson restaurant

But back in our B&B  I did some Googling and discovered John’s house had been pretty well staring me in the face, in the shape of The Adamson – Scottish restaurant of the year, no less! –  occupying 127 South Street, just past where I’d given up looking earlier on! So no problems of knowing where to look next day.

 

 

Returning to the cathedral was equally problem free, as after a five minute wander I stumbled on just what I’d been looking for.

DSC00906

Adamson family grave

 

DSC00908

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, mission accomplished in more ways than one.

 

 

North Street, St Andrews

North Street, St Andrews

Along the way I also noticed these houses at the east end of North Street which bear a resemblance to Hill and Adamson’s Fishergate pictures and answered a question in my mind as to why fishermen and women would have lived and worked in North Street which to me was closer to the golf courses and rugged cliffs than the harbour.

But of course this far end of the street  is much closer to where boats would have put out, so suddenly these pictures make more sense.

DSC00914I’ve always had a soft spot for John Adamson, of whom D. O. Hill wrote,

‘his brother the doctor … has watched him as a child during his long illness. I have seldom seen such a true and manly sorrow’

and so I’m glad he’s been acknowledged by his home town – not to mention the fine dining community! But it does seem odd that Robert, in many ways the more famous brother, isn’t recognised here at all, unless of course there’s something else I missed …

St-Andrews-exhibition-e1465483542589This is John’s later picture of the house.  And as I write this blog I discover her’s going to be a St Andrews photography festival later this year. Fantastic!

 

 

 

adamsonsglaThe Adamson family  in an earlier calotype by D. O. Hill. John is top left, Robert seated. There’s a better version on the National Portrait Gallery site. 

 

 

 

festivallogo

 

St Andrews Photography Festival on Facebook

 

Ali Bacon, feeling blessed

In an age when even best-selling  authors are rarely given any tangible reward for turning out to big festivals, however distant or inconvenient,  needless to say lesser mortals only ever do these things only for fun and for the love of what they do (which in itself gives smaller events the special atmosphere remarked on here by Joanna Penn).

Which is why amongst all the other delights of  the Hawkesbury Upton Litfest it was a lovely surprise to discover my author’s badge didn’t just bring interesting talks, discussions, readings and yes, some modest book sales, but also the right to free food and drink in the festival tea-room (soup! coffee! scones!)

Not a huge perk you might think, and I don’t begrudge the odd expense on a nice day out, but how refreshing to have our own efforts acknowledged in this way.

food

Free food in the Alice Tea-Room (photo by Joanna Penn)

 

 

hulfbadge

So thanks, Debbie Young, for that thoughtfulness as well as all the other planning (no stone was left unturned) that went into the occasion. Deeper reflections on what took place may take a little longer. But my mushroom soup was awesome.

As for the rest, here are a few photos of  the sessions

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

stroud16And then there was Stroud, where I’ve read before and knew there would be a warm welcome and plenty of time to settle in with personal photos and sound-checks all done before the show began.

These small but important things  make you feel like you are the star of the show instead of a mere scribbler with some crazy desire to be heard. And as a result of this thoughtfulness and immaculate organisation (well Mr SSS was a librarian, you know!)  everyone gave of their best.

And my reward was not just a great round of applause and some lovely comments but also a nice photo now tucked in my ‘author’ folder.  Blessed indeed.

reading at Stroud Short Stories, photo by Tim Byford

reading at Stroud Short Stories, photo by Tim Byford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m sure all of this will give rise to further ruminations and reflections down the line but for now it’s just thanks to those who took the trouble to make us needy authors feel like we had made it – just for a little while, anyway!

Here’s a great review of the whole evening by Leah Grant of Good on Paper which really captures the atmosphere – and reveals some enticing news for Stroud Short Stories fans.

Stroud anthology

‘Funky as hell?’

 

P.S.  I heard another writer describe Stroud as ‘funky as hell’.  If you want to test this theory, you could do worse than read  this anthology.

I’m in it too.

 

It’s here – that big weekend!

What possible excuse can there be for not   stopping here to  flag up possibly the busiest weekend ever to have graced my calendar?  I’ll leave out the Friday golf and light opera event and cut to the chase of things I feel you need to know about.

So here we go, here we go … 

HULF poster

Bright and early on Saturday I’ll be off to the increasingly famous village of Hawkesbury Upton where the Indefatigable Debbie Young (whose name you may remember!) is staging the second HU Litfest. If you’d like to catch me there here’s my personal programme:

10.15 – discussion panel ‘Writing What You Know – or Not?’

11.15 – reading two short pieces with a  group of  short story and flash fiction writers (heads-up – some of them scarily eminent)

2.15 – chairing another group of writers reading contemporary fiction – most of whom I know and can definitely recommend.

hulfbadgeNeedless to say there’s lots more to see and hear but in between you’ll probably find me in the festival cafe and bookshop (in the Methodist chapel) wearing my lovely author badge, or just breathing in some country air

before heading off to my evening appointment . ..

When our own community choir took a temporary break, we were delighted to be invited to a ‘sister’ choir which is preforming Haydn’s Creation, yes, you guessed, on Saturday night in Warmley.

Creation230416_small

Nomine performs solely in aid of Children’s Hospice South West, so as well as a learning a challenging piece of music it’s been a privilege to be supporting this great cause. I’ll be making a huge effort to sing the right notes in  as close to the right order as I possibly can.  Luckily there are lots more altos to make up for any deficiencies on my part.

And finally (I think!)

On Sunday – after a good gargle? –  I’m off to Stroud where I’m especially proud to be one of #theaprilten in a short story event that’s getting more noticed all the time.

stroud16

I’m afraid Stroud Short Stories is already  sold out (you have to be quick!) but a hint of what I’m reading will be available on Friday on Authors Electric (I’ll try to update this link tomorrow) where I’m blogging on the crossover between art and fiction.

So that’s it.

Will  I make it from Hawkesbury to Warmley in time? Will I have have a voice left by Monday? Only time will tell. The thing is, there is no way I would want to miss any of it.

Hoping to see you along the way. Hoping to survive.

 

 

Libraries Matter

Laura Rawlings interview

In Emersons Green Library with Radio Bristol

This blog seems to have become the repository for matters close to my heart and as is the way of these things sometimes you don’t realize how much something matters until it’s under threat. Not that cuts to libraries are anything unusual, but suddenly it’s our libraries and yes, they matter a great deal.

For anyone not in the know, here’s a summary of the present situation re South Glos libraries as provided by a representative of the council (my emphasis):

Initially a budget saving of £500k was required of the library service and proposals started to be drawn up before the last election to come into effect for 2017.  These have now been revisited by the Council and following the Chancellor’s Budget Statement and the amount of money that the Council will get from central government the library saving is now a potential £650k.
Thus the Library Service Review report which was passed by the Communities Committee on January 20th, considered three options and three savings targets.

  1. To save £500k by closing high/cost/low use libraries namely Chipping Sodbury and the Mobile and reducing opening hours of the 12 remaining libraries by 19%.
  2. To save £650k by closing Chipping Sodbury Library and the mobile, concentrating library services in the busiest or potentially busiest libraries based on future population growth, that is Bradley Stoke, Kingswood, Thornbury, Yate and Patchway. With the remaining 7 libraries acting as satellites open for 18 hours.
  3. To save £1 million by keeping just the five main libraries only.

The Council’s preferred option is £650k to meet the savings target, which was confirmed by the Council’s budget meeting on 17th February.

Consultation

The council has now launched a consultation exercise to which people can respond online or in hard copy from now until May 13th. The resulting publicity has brought a flurry of protest registered at everything from World Book Day events to Facebook groups and many voices can now  be heard defending their local library service and asking for the proposed cuts not to go ahead.

But is this reaction too little too late? The budget decision has been made (with, we hear, minimal discussion) and the consultation is only on how best to implement it. This was reflected at an open meeting of my local library user group where the audience was asked  ‘if push came to shove’ whether they would prefer fewer opening hours with staff on duty, or longer opening hours without paid staff on site. Not much of a choice, IMO.  Reading the consultation document, Option 2 (which reduces 7 libraries, including all three in Downend Staple Hill and Emersons Green)  to ‘satellite’ status comes over very much as a done deal.

eglibrary

Emersons Green Library, small but perfectly formed

In fact what annoys me most about this  proposal is what looks like the arbitrary designation of hub and satellite  libraries based on the size of existing premises rather than the needs of local people. It immediately discriminates against everyone in our area (3 fairly small libraries, all built or refurbished recently) and expects us to travel between four and six miles for whatever a ‘hub’ will have to offer.  Staggering the opening hours of ‘satellite’ libraries sounds to me more of an inconvenience than a help and unless a way can be found of keeping these libraries open for longer (step up all those volunteers we keep hearing about, and please organize yourselves!)  those with restricted opening hours will fall below the critical mass required for a meaningful service and simply spiral into decline.

I’m not offering any answers but a couple of things have occurred to me. According to our local library staff it’s thought likely to be more productive to campaign for an individual library rather than mount a campaign on behalf of South Glos as a whole. I suppose that’s true looked at from the individual library perspective, but I feel bad about signing a petition for one and not another. Who am I to say that Downend (where I used to live) is less necessary than Emersons Green? Who can judge if my love for my library is less or more than the love of the people of Winterbourne for theirs? (I’ve been there and it’s great.) This also seems to put one library in open competition with another which hardly makes sense.

Save 50p per month on your green bin, or save a library?

There are suggestions extra money could be found by the council.   I’ve signed a(nother) petition to divert proposed savings on the green bin charge (£230k) to libraries. Bins or books? No contest.

On Thursday I also attended a meeting of Emersons Green Town Council who do appear to have some money to dispense, although they were reluctant to commit themselves before knowing ‘all the facts.’ (A bit worrying since these are not hard to find!) The town council are  required to respond to the consultation as a body, so hopefully some fact-finding is about to commence.

While I want to put my heart on my sleeve and fight to the death for all our local libraries I sense that something’s got to give.  Should we be looking at which library services are most important in a particular area ( not just books remember but children’s sessions, IT facilities and other socially cohesive activities) . Or do we concede that three professionally staffed libraries in a radius of around four miles is no longer a sustainable model? If so let’s acknowledge that and build on it in an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competition. Let’s take a view which is closer to the grassroots than the council seem able to get but without scrapping amongst ourselves.

One positive aspect is that nothing will happen in staffing terms until next year’s budget (autumn 2017?) so there is some time to put a plan in place. Let’s hope it’s one that works for the people round here. (Like, find some money and give us a hub!)