A Breath of FreshAyr

FreshAyr opened with a rollicking start last week aided and abetted by various members of Ayr Writers Club, Scottish Screenwriters and many friends and associates.coffee

There were readings and sketches, music and coffee and it all went down a treat. Even the sun shone to help it on its way.

Robert Singer, the powerhouse behind it all, is hoping to develop the area into a creative arts centre showcasing the work of local artists, musicians and writers.general view

Herborg Hansen, the project coordinator, commented that,

the event showed a lot of support from creatives and set an example of what can be achieved by collaborating in reviving Ayr’s culture and town centre.

actors

Some of the actors in a sketch

FreshAyr is still in its very early stages and is run as a voluntary organisation. But we are expanding and recruiting and before long we hope be a charity organisation that turns café profits into creative action. But we depend on the collaboration from the community and urge people to get in touch regarding future exhibitions, performances or even if people want to get involved in supporting the project going forward.

janiceThere was a lot of enthusiasm and interest shown by the Saturday shoppers in the town who ventured in to see what was afoot.

I did a couple of sessions for kids, one a deliberately noisy session with Miss Hullaballoo  who insisted that everyone, including parents, join in a singalong of Rock-a-Bye-Baby and Sing  Song of Sixpence as loudly as they could.me FreshAyr

For the grown-ups, among others, Jennifer read her award winning story, Magda, Carolyn read a monologue and I met Robert Burns in heaven in my piece. Martin Bone, Douglas Skelton and Gail McPartland read extracts from their recently published novels while other members read short stories and poems.

And we even sold quite a few books!20170805_123554

my booksFreshAyr’s Facebook page is here for further information on upcoming events.

 

Volunteering at the Boswell Book Festival

The Boswell Book Festival, held at Dumfries House in Ayrshire, is the only festival of biography and memoir in the world and I’ve been to it many times and enjoyed every visit, but being a volunteer exposed me to all sorts of different experiences from what I expected.screenshot

I met loads of lovely people, even a blast from the past as a former colleague put it when she approached me, stroked an 8ft Burmese python called Richard, was the first customer in the new Hayloft cafe and stood beside Nigel Havers as he waited to go on stage on the opening night.

I took tickets at the venue doors, directed guests along the necessary one-way system as Dumfries House wasn’t designed for masses of people trooping along its corridors, and sold tickets for the children’s festival. It was such a delight to see so many kids keen to listen to their favourite authors and buy their books. There were plenty of events to keep them occupied too.

pythonKirsty’s Kritturs had brought along a variety of intriguing creatures that had the children slightly cautious at first but then enthusiastically holding giant cockroaches, patting the Egyptian Uromastyx (or lizard to you and me) and peering in at the tarantula and the scorpion. And of course, stroking Richard the python. He was soft and quite cold so wasn’t really enjoying what passes for early summer here.

The speakers were, as usual, excellent. We were able to attend the events we were working at so I heard Alan Johnson MP deliver his usual insightful, funny and totally self-deprecating interview about his life, from a child in a London slum to being Home Secretary in Gordon Brown’s government.

Richard Ingrams, formerly of Private Eye and now of the Oldie discussed with New Zealander Paul Tankard, the role of James Boswell in journalism and the state of it today with fake news and loss of freedom of speech.alan johnson

And Robert Crawford spoke most interestingly of the poet TS Eliot and his biography of his early life. There were many other speakers that I didn’t manage to see (there are over 60 events crammed into a weekend) but whose books I will probably buy.

Nigel Havers and a play on the life of Joan Eardley the painter, bookended the festival and both were fascinating in different ways and provided a satisfying beginning and end to the 2017 festival.

Would I do it again? For sure! It was quite hard work at times but so well organised that we did manage to have breaks in between events. It is quite a logistical nightmare to ensure that everything runs smoothly, that speakers are ferried to and from airports and train stations, that the audience gets to the right venue (there are six different ones) and that the speakers’ books are on sale.  Kudos to the Waterstone’s staff who rose to the occasion! And of course the organisers themselves, who are, like us, volunteers and do it for the love of it.

Roll on next year!

Lest We Forget

Last week I was at the book launch of my friend Gail McPartland’s first novel, Code 998. Set in Nazi Germany, it tells the story of a young, gay doctor whose Nazi fiance sends her for rehabilitation to cure her of her homosexuality. It is not an easy read, in fact the crime writer Douglas Skelton has described it as ‘moving but terrifying stuff.’gail

Although Jewish persecution by the Nazis has been given much deserved attention, what happened to gays, Romas and political prisoners also demands recognition for the suffering they went through at the hands of Hitler’s regime.

Gail spent much time researching her topic and spoke to many survivors of the Holocaust. Howard Singerman, of the Gathering the Voices project, spoke of his family’s experiences and read a poem he’d written for his mother. Libby, the daughter of another dear friend, the late Dorrith Sim, was also there and has done much to carry on her mother’s work in telling her story to those unaware of the atrocities carried out at that time.

Dorrith was only seven years old when her mother put her on a train out of Germany, the Kindertransport, to carry her to safety in Scotland. She never saw her parents again. They perished in a concentration camp.

dorrithDorrith’s book, In my Pocket, is a picture book for children telling her story in terms that young children can understand and appreciate. During her lifetime Dorrith visited many schools to tell her story to the pupils.

Nowadays, many younger people are quite unaware of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and those who have first hand experience of it all are concerned that, as they grow older, there are fewer and fewer survivors to tell their stories. Gathering the Voices, along with these books, are sources to ensure that it is never forgotten.

Lest we forget.