St Andrews, its place in time

Iconic view from Kinkell Braes

St Andrews is a small place that for any of its ex students holds a hoard of memories, all of them inextricably linked to the time as well as the place. I remember going back a few years after my graduation and feeling mostly a sense of loss. People I knew had left, their places taken by new cohorts, all intent on making the town their own, just as we did back in the day. Visiting since then (Sea Life Centre with kids,  golfing holiday, last year’s Photofest ) I’ve felt a bit on the defensive, reminding myself it isn’t the same,  and every time I am caught out by some of the changes. I don’t suppose there were equivalents of FatFace, Prezzo or Molton Brown in the 70s, but if there had been, they wouldn’t have been in St Andrews! But despite these superficial developments, I have come to the conclusion that in most respects it hasn’t really changed and never will.

Solitude in Freshers’ Week

Arriving late in the evening a few weeks ago, I took a stroll, only from Murray Place to the Scores for a quick sniff of the West Sands, then along as far as Butt’s Wynd, up past the Quad and back to my B&B. The streets were deserted. Pace the makes of cars on the pavements, I could have been in almost any decade in the last 50 years.  It was Freshers Week apparently but there was no raucousness on the streets.  Any partying going on was behind closed doors. Yes, it was always like this.

Expect to pay top dollar for the view I had from here

That walk seemed to set the tone for the rest of my stay.  My old halls have been converted to luxury flats, but the exterior is the same. If I’d gone inside the views would have been too.  I’d forgotten how each of the main streets has its particular atmosphere, so Market Street the main shopping street, has changed most, North Street the least. South Street, always bridging commerce, church and academia is still a mixture that hasn’t been tampered with too much.

On my second day I walked from the war memorial to Kinkell Braes and back again and saw more similarities than differences to how I remembered everything. In the Quad, looking towards LCH where I stood for a graduation photo, I wondered how many people had been photographed there and how little the background would have changed.

DSC00752But there’s always something new to discover too, like the  University Museum (once curated by John Adamson) with its uninterrupted view of the West Sands and fascinating Disruption memorabilia, or Holy Trinity Church where I chatted to local photographers. I must have passed this countless times without ever going in and seeing the fabulous stained glass.


Library treasures (with thanks to St Andrews Photography Festival)

The feeling of a place persisting in time was enhanced by looking at the early photographic treasures held by the University Library.  I was walking in the footsteps of Victorian photographers as well as students and townspeople of every era.  I was particularly taken by a calotype image of St Andrews harbour .  I could swear I had a reproduction of this print, or a similar one, on my bedroom wall as a student, bought in a local art shop. It had been printed in blue and I just liked it, oblivious to its history or the story of its maker.

So to round off this short nostalgia trip here are two photos to make you think about time and photography. pier_74

This is from 1974, taken, I think, with a conventional 35mm camera or maybe a Kodak Instamatic.

The next from 2017, a Victorian wet colodion tintype by Richard Cynan Jones in which I’m holding the new digital camera used for the other photos on this page.


Finally, let’s not forget Rob Douglas whose  21st century calotypes constantly play with time. He had his  own exhibition this year. 


Next I’m off to my home town of Dunfermline where there are many more changes to contemplate including the amazing new library where I’ll be giving a talk about some of the real historical characters who feature in In the Blink of an Eye . I’m very privileged to have been asked along by the Dunfermline Community Heritage Projects to the Undiscovered Dunfermline conference on October 14th which promises to be a fascinating experience.

Dunfermline Library and Galleries

But just to round off my St Andrews trip here are a few more photos from the festival.


Local Litfest: it can be done!

Debbie Young with Katie Fforde
Debbie Young with Katie Fforde

Having detached myself from the writing process and even the writing world for a month or two, I had no hesitation in dipping my toe back in the waters by helping at Hawkesbury Upton Litfest, organised by the Indefatigable (that’s a Homeric epithet by the way) Debbie Young in the Fox Inn.  And I wasn’t in the least suprised that the whole event went swimmingly. So here’s my report from the sidelines.

Because Debbie wanted to let as many writers as possible take the stage, the evening was mainly in in two ‘strands’ with discussion panels (fiction and non-fiction) in the main auditorium (aka skittle alley!) and additional readings in a side r00m. We also had the use of a big tent, oops, small marquee for the earlier part of the evening, which in view of the gorgeous weather (more IDY magic) was a real bonus. Arriving at 4pm to lend a hand, I had time to sun myself in a few moments of happy seclusion as well as helping put out the chairs and shuffle things around on the increasingly crowded bookstall. Then there was the added pleasure of a lovely Italian meal with friends old and new before things really got going.

Lots of people, nicely arranged chairs
Lots of people, nicely arranged chairs

I kicked off the pre-festival readings but once things were under way I was happier hovering in the wings, unless you count a bit of compering (with help from  John and Caro – thanks again) which was a great way to learn more about authors who had come from as far as Oxford, London and (on the day) Madrid!

murphybookUnfortunately in all the coming and going I didn’t give as much attention to as many readings or discussions as I woud have liked, but I particularly enjoyed the non-fiction session and a highlight was  Paul Murphy’s  ‘As I Walked Out Through Spain …‘  beautiful writing as well as a labour of love.  If you want a reminder of all of those who contributed, check the festival website.

Of course there were some practical problems, mainly because of the huge turn-out (I hope someone was counting) which made speakers difficult to hear for anyone who couldn’t get a seat. (Microphones next year?)   Similarly the bookstall was difficult to access and we probably should have thought about how to accommodate an audience (!) as well as the line-up of readers in the smaller reading areas.  But needing more time and more space is a symptom of success!

So how did she do it? I mean not just sign up such big names as Katie Ffforde and Orna Ross, but also offer a showcase to a  gamut of lesser-known writers and persuade most of the local population to come along? Never mind how, the point is that  it can be done, and I have no doubt this event will go from strength to strength. An anthology is already promised as pre-publicity for next year.

Here’s to Hawkesbury and local festivals everywhere. Here’s to the indefatigable Debbies of this world!


I’ll be busy in February – National Libraries Day and more!

NLD14 logoIf you’re thinking that in view of the weather and general gloom you might never leave the house again unless you really have to, take heart, because soon it will be National Libraries Day  and there’s probably something interesting going on right on your doorstep.


Library eventFor instance (yes, you knew that was coming!) on NLD itself, which is Saturday February 8th, I’ll be in Winterbourne Library with Pauline Masurel with a session called Storytelling for Grown-Ups. It starts at 10.30 and I guess will last as long as we have an audience. (Yes, it could be you!) Pauline is a longstanding member of the Bristol writing community who just happens to live in good old South Glos and I’m looking forward to sharing her session.  She’ll also be performing her work at this month’s Story Friday in Bath for anyone who prefers their storytelling with a night-time vibe.

Meanwhile things are hotting up with the Bristol 400 celebrations at Bristol Central Library and I’m determined to see the amazing Book Hive before too long.   I hope it will still be in situ  at the end of February when Bristol Women Writers are running another Unchained event on Feb 27th at 5.30 pm. Here’s the advance publicity for our event. Do contact me for booking details.

‘Where can books take us, and how? Based around talks and readings from their recently-published anthology Unchained, written to mark 400 years of Bristol libraries, members of Bristol Women Writers will explore different ways of interacting with books … and invite you to begin journeys of your own.’

And just to tempt you here’s the Book Hive in action