The Scribbler

31 August 2015

Festival inspiration

Filed under: words — The Scribbler @ 16:00
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I spent a couple of days in Edinburgh recently, enjoying the Book and Fringe Festival. It’s become a regular part of my summer to spend a couple of days there, and I always wish I could stay longer and see more.

I picked some wonderful events at the Book Festival this year. There was an event I was interested in just about every day, but I cherry-picked those that would allow me to travel there and back in a day and made the most of the days I was there.

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

Phillipa Gregory, who writes historical fiction, and is most well known for The Other Boleyn Girl was an interesting and intelligent speaker. She immerses herself in history, taking around a year to research each novel.

Listening to her made me reflect how much of my own knowledge of history comes from reading fiction, rather than academic works. I reckon Jane Austen taught me as much about Regency England and its manners as Charles Dickens educated me about social inequalities in Victorian London.

These places and time periods become very real to me through the fictions of the time. And that continues into the modern day, with writers like Ian Rankin showing contemporary Scotland through the eyes of Rebus and Malcom Fox.

Philippa Gregory admitted that she didn’t read historical fiction, saying “I read history, so you don’t have to.” Her work has certainly helped me understand the Wars of the Roses better than any text book ever did. She also revealed how inspiration for her book The Other Boleyn Girl came from reading about Tudor shipbuilding and finding a reference to a ship called the Mary Boleyn. Proving that no research is ever wasted, she finally got to write about those Tudor ships in her latest book.

But my trip wasn’t all history and fiction. I spent a very educational hour in the tent with David Crystal. David is a linguist and well known for his many books on the English language. His text books formed the core of my English Language studies at University.

We would be a much poorer culture had those wayfarers not persisted in going beyond the next horizon.

Poster in Charlotte Square

He was talking about accent and dialect and some of the wonderful lost dialect words in the English language. As with most people who are enthusiastic and really know their subject well, he was amusing, entertaining and taught his audience something new. He was assisted by his son, Ben, an actor, and together, discussing accents, they made a great comic double act.

I left feeling just as excited about their non fiction work as I did about the piles of fictional books I longed to take home from the bookshop. Since I came back, I’ve always had a book on the go, and find myself seeking out time to return to their pages.

As always, I was inspired by my visit to Edinburgh. I think that’s important, to have people and places that encourage me to look beyond my every day experience and to fire up an interest in learning more. Reading provides fuel for the brain and in Edinburgh at the book festival I am surrounded by fellow readers and inspired by writers. It feels like I am with my tribe.

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16 August 2015

Running and writing

Filed under: run,writing — The Scribbler @ 20:27
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My 2011 trainers

A selection of my running shoes

I was very honoured when my writing mentor John Simmons asked me to guest post on his blog 26 Fruits. I frequently refer to his books on writing, including 26 Ways of looking at a Blackberry in my job as a copywriter, and always look forward to his weekly posts.

So this week, having made a return to writing about running, it feels very appropriate to redirect you to John’s blog, where you’ll find my guest post on the connections between running and writing.

Returning to the Great North Run

Filed under: running — The Scribbler @ 12:38
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Sorry I haven’t bogged much about running and training recently. In fact there are at least two races and one big cycle ride that I never got round to writing about. I’m still very much in training though and enjoying the opportunities that bright summer days give me to get out and run or cycle.

My last triathlon was the QE2 sprint triathlon at Woodhorn Colliery on 17 July. It’s a really good, well organised event. I enjoyed it, even though I knew, coming out of the swim that I wasn’t going to be breaking any records that day. A windy bike course and stopping to pass another girl my spare inner tube slowed me down, but actually helped me get the right mindset, which was about having fun and completing the lovely course.

Collywell Bay

Collywell Bay – half way point on my 10 mile run

Since then I’ve been ramping up my run training as I’m doing the Great North Run, half marathon again this year. I normally give myself about 12 weeks training to pick up from running 10k to running 13.1 miles, but this year, I’ve only allowed myself seven weeks.

So I’ve been running three times a week and doing some strength or body weight training on two days and trying to get a rest day in too. I’m enjoying running early in the mornings again, getting the best of the day as I head out from the coast.

Today I managed 10 miles along the North East coast, with beautiful views over the sea.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to combine my professional and running interests as I’ve been writing lots of content for my company blog, as there’s a large team of us taking part.

My race number arrived this week, so suddenly it all seems very real. But my approach is very much to just get round and enjoy it. It’s not my target race this year and I din’t have a target time. I’d rather not put the pressure on myself and just enjoy the atmosphere of the day.

I hadn’t really intended to run for charity this year, as I feel I’ve been so well supported in previous charity fundraising efforts. But the team is supporting Cancer Research UK and I’ve got got good reasons for supporting their work.

When I was a teenager, my mum’s best friend had cancer. It was very scary at the time to think that someone like my mum could die from the disease and leave a young family behind.

In the past year or so I’ve known three lovely and very active people who have died of cancer. A couple I knew through the online running community Fetch Everyone.

Sue lived in Devon and loved surfing, skiing and ice cream as well as running.

Jane is someone I’ve raced a triathlon with, so I was very sad to hear that her partner Alistair, another triathlete, had cancer.

And then there was Zoe, the wife of Stephen, who I got to know online as we were both fundraising and running for Sands. She was an enthusiastic parkrunner, an Olympic torch bearer and Gamesmaker.

They all leave family and friends who will remember and miss them always.

In the past 40 years, survival rates for cancer have improved enormously, thanks to the work that Cancer Research and other organisations do. But It’s still very hard to accept that it can take such fit, active and outwardly healthy people, so young.

I know that being fit, healthy and active and not smoking is about the best insurance I can give myself against cancer. And really it’s a privilege to be able to run and bike and swim and enjoy spending time outdoors as I do.

So I’m running for Auntie Alison, Sue, Alistair and Zoe and all the others who would have loved to have run just one more race.

If you’d like to support me, you can here: Link (roll over me to see where I go)

6 August 2015

Memories of a visit to Hiroshima

Filed under: words — The Scribbler @ 18:31
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Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Hiroshima. A place name that can stop you dead. As dead as the watch whose hands forever point to 8:15 – the precise moment when the atomic bomb shattered thousands of lives and changed history.

A-bomb dome, Hiroshima

The A-bomb dome, Hiroshima

I first visited Japan in the spring of 2007. On the train to Hiroshima, a young man smiled and approached with his hand held out. Nestled in his palm was an origami crane and over the course of our journey, he showed us how to make one.

Taking a pad of patterned paper from his back pack, he began to fold it into shape, slowly, deliberately, taking great care of the creases. He introduced himself as Tsetsuo and thanked us for allowing him to practice his English.

When we got off the train, he walked us over to a tram stop and made sure we reached our destination.

The A-Bomb dome, the building that marks the epicentre of the bomb blast remains a ruined shell. Damaged, but still standing. A marker that held its ground as everything else around it was atomised into dust. Its distinctive shape casts a shadow on the skyline.

It stands at the entrance to the Peace Park, gardens, memorial and the Peace Museum. The museum tells the history of the city and its people, describing the worldwide events that lead to the bomb through a series of panels depicting letters, documents and photographs from world leaders at the time.

The initial blast killed 700,000 people, but in the following weeks and years many more would die from the effects of radiation, from being crushed in damaged buildings, trapped by fire, or simply desperately, desperately thirsty, with only black irradiated water to drink.

A model shows the city before and after the blast. Figures show the desperate human suffering. Eyewitness statements speak of a blinding white flash and then searing pain like hot needles as the shock wave ripped through buildings and bodies.

Memorial in the Peace Park, Hiroshima

Memorial in the Peace Park, Hiroshima

There were only five photographs taken in Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. They were taken by newspaper photographer Yoshito Matsushige, who was a couple of miles away from the centre of the blast. He later wrote: “I fought with myself for 30 minutes before I could take the first picture. After taking the first, I grew strangely calm and wanted to get closer. I took about ten steps forwards and tried to snap another, but the scenes I saw were so gruesome, my viewfinder clouded with tears.”

That phrase, “My viewfinder clouded with tears” has stuck with me. More powerful than any photograph.

The final section of the museum displays objects recovered from the debris. Beside them sit museum cards with details of who they belonged to, where they were at the time of the blast and what they were doing on that day.

A twisted metal lunch box, a tattered uniform, a child’s tricycle. I found these objects and their stories almost unbearably moving. They brought the unimaginable destruction of a thriving city back to a human scale.

There’s a special space for the story of Sadako Sasaki, a girl who died from leukaemia, caused by the radiation 10 years after the bomb. She folded thousands of paper cranes in the hope she would get well. The tradition continues with a monument in the park where children hang colourful paper cranes in a message of peace.

It’s not unusual for westerners in Japan to encounter great kindness. I have heard many travellers tell of being given directions, or even taken to where they wanted to go by local people. As a visitor, you are a most honoured guest, in a country which sets great cultural value on respect.

Japanese garden

Japanese garden in Hiroshima

But I think that Tsetsuo, who showed us how to make the paper cranes, was acknowledging more than the usual Japanese hospitality. When we told him we were visiting the Peace Museum, he said his grandfather was one of the many thousands killed in the atom bomb blast.

He knew his city was a hard place to visit. And that was why he took such care to welcome us. To honour our interest in his home town and help us see beyond its sad history.

As we learned in the museum, only a few days after the bomb obliterated the city, the trams began to run again. And despite all the fears that nothing would ever grow again in that irradiated earth, lilies bloomed between the tracks.

Hiroshima now offers a peaceful and friendly face, whilst paying respect to and remembering the past.

3 August 2015

Words are part of the landscape

Filed under: words — The Scribbler @ 11:00
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Walter Scott quote: "Love will subsist on wonderfully little ope, but not altogether without it"

Quotations from Walter Scott greet travellers at Waverley Station

I have travel on my mind at the moment. Unlike many, I’m not planning on jetting off on a summer holiday soon, but I am planning a few day trips, including time in Edinburgh.

In a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll be indulging myself at the Book Festival, and the Fringe. I have tickets for a few events and for the rest, will take the approach of turning up to see what I can get into.

I love spending time in Edinburgh. It’s far enough away to feel like an adventure, but not so far that I’m in danger of jet lag. There always feels like there’s lots to see, do and explore, no matter how many times I’ve visited. I generally walk my feet off getting from place to place.

I really enjoy the way the city wears its literature. It’s inescapable. From the Writer’s Museum to the Storytelling Centre; from the book festival to literary walking tours and pub crawls, you cannot avoid the fact that this is a Unesco City of Literature.

Many locations, street names and areas are familiar to me from reading. From Walter Scott to Alexander McCall Smith, Muriel Spark to JK Rowling, it’s been home and inspiration to many writers.

Decorative window poem in Edinburgh

Poetry brought to life in window art

When I step off the train at Waverley, I half imagine I’ll meet some of their characters as I explore. I swear one day, I’ll see Rebus somewhere about town.

Even if you were unaware of its literary connections, words pour out onto the streets. You’ll find them etched on buildings, woven into window frames and hidden among the street furniture. It’s like a secret code that speaks to readers like me. It makes me smile as I encounter a poem that others pass by and never notice.

My last visit there introduced me to a beautiful poem, November Night by Scottish writer Norman MacCaig, that I discovered on the side of a planter. In the height of a Scottish summer, it reminded me of the realities of its winter.

Here is the first verse, which I craned my neck to read on the street:

“The night tinkles like ice in glasses.
Leaves are glued to the pavement with frost.
The brown air fumes at the shop windows,
Tries the doors, and sidles past.”

I wish more cities did this kind of thing. Poetry as part of the landscape is far more appealing than when it’s stuffed into study books. It’s unlikely that I’d have found this verse and its companions if I hadn’t chanced upon it. And I feel richer for it.

As I visit again this summer, I’ll be on the look out for more words on the street.

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