Writers Gathered Round The Fire For A Feast Of Christmas Tales

Hey everyone Last Thursday afternoon as it was the last before Christmas I had the privilege of attending the Federation of Writers Scotland annual Christmas gathering or to give the event its official title Seasonal Tales Round A Victorian Fireside. This five hour cultural feast is as it happens one of my favourite spoken word events coming as it does at my favourite time of year

Traditionally the last gathering in the festive poetry calender Christmas Tales always attracts a big crowd & this year’s was no different with poets & storytellers coming from as far a field from Ayrshire & Edinburgh to attend the festive gathering.

As always is the case at all day event the day started slowly & gathered pace as it went on. As Marc opened the event there were more empty seats than there were people to fill them not that this bothered the first reader on the list Elizabeth Faitarone. Elizabeth is a recent addition to the west of Scotland writers scene. Originally from Argentina Elizabeth had previously lived in London before finding her way to Glasgow. On arriving at the venue she told me she walked for 40 minutes from the west end of the city to get to GoMA. Now that’s what I call dedication or madness& my money’s on the later. Anyway on taking the stage she spread her wings like a butterfly giving the event a slightly surreal start. Though when you come to think of it Christmas does tend to make social butterflies of us all

Elizabeth was followed by Susan Milligan who has become a regular at performance events such as Words & Music & Last Monday at Rio. In the two years I’ve known Susan I have to say her both her writing & her performance have improved greatly. Gone forever is wee shy Susan who mumbled & avoided eye contact with the audience. She has been replaced a confident reader who if you give her a stage to read will gladly take it at every opportunity.

The same could also be said of our next performer Linda Grant. When I first got to know Linda its fair to say she would have run a mile from events like this. However this is certainly not the case now, Linda doesn’t run away from anything these days, & she demonstrated this by reading a piece of dialogue she had performed in the word factory on Wednesday. In the panto Linda played a gangsters sidekick I say because at the end of her piece she told those gathered that she was available for stabbings shootings & slashings. Yes the panto was set in Glasgow.

After Linda it was the turn of Marc Sherland who also read a piece of dialogue from the panto, I have to say though it was nowhere near as scary as Linda’s piece. I think Marc is just too polite to be gangster, this is especially true when his waistcoat positively screamed Christmas.

Next to the stage was our current Federation of Scotland Writers convenor Etta Dunn who delivered a short set as she was scheduled to appear later on in the day. After Etta it was our pleasure to welcome that well kent Scots-Italian well I know he’s proud of both his birthplace & his heritage which is why he bills himself as the tartan tally. Anyway in an entertaining set Tony performed another of his now legendary tales of Ben McGee. I however preferred the first of his two poems Christmas in the New Town about a long ago Christmas in Cumbernauld. This was more serious & sober than most of Tony’s work & in my opinion it was all the better for it. I have to say it was an excellent set to lead us neatly to the break.

During the break I noticed I had a wee problem with my blouse or to be more specific one of the buttons on my blouse. This I have to say was not a great look for a woman who would be on comparing duties later in the day. I pondered how I could fix this issue for a more professional look. Lucky for me I had brought a change of outfit in with me as I knew as I was going out later on. I didn’t know where I was going to I had the choice of two events but I knew I was going out so I decided to replace my expensive designer skirt I bought it years ago when I had money & yes it Does still fit, & slipped into a gold mini dress which I wore over my blouse to hide any embarrassing buttons situations. We girls are so much more resourceful than men, anyway I thought it went well with fishnets It was a kind of pinafore look but far more modern missy than miss Jean Brodie. I must admit the change definitely worked as I received several compliments on my outfit from other women.

After a short interval it was Rona Fitzgerald who kicked off the second half. Rona’s poetry is always thoughtful & considered & Christmas or not this was the case on Thursday. I have to say Rona has one of those voices which I could quite easily listen to all day I think she could probably make the telephone directory sound interesting. I wonder why I never seem to get someone like that when I’m stressed or annoyed waiting for someone in a call centre to answer my urgent question.

After more material from both Linda or Marc who read his piece on the end of the world It was my turn to take the stage & shatter the peace & tranquillity the afternoon had enjoyed until that point. Having selected a set which completely focused on comedy I think Its safe to say I achieved my mission. The poems I chose were Mary Christmas Mistletoe & Crackpots & Christmas at Carols. Well there are times when things can get a wee bit serious & we can’t be having now can we? No we can’t & its my job to make sure we don’t.

I was followed to the stage a former Federation Maker & a great supporter of spoken word events especially Words & Music at Sammy Dow’s I refer of course to my friend. A C Clarke. Anne set was in her words as festive as she could make it but it was as always total quality from a poet respected by all who know her work.

Kay Ritchie had the difficult job of following but with a short set which as was as always high on quality she left us wanting more. She even included a bit of Portuguese in one of her poems. This is me thinks most impressive but Kay is another poet of whom I would like to see a lot more than I do.

Next to the stage was a quiet spoken woman who is as she always has been content to let her work do the talking. Whether it poetry or prose I am always more than happy to listen to the talents of Ingrid Lees. A German by birth a Scot by adoption & a writer by talent Ingrid has a natural gift for storytelling both in her prose & also the lyrical quality of her poetry.

Ingrid was followed by another former Federation Makar Sheila Templeton. Not only is Sheila an excellent poet but she is also a wonderful reader & performer of her work & is always willing to give both advice & support to other poets & it was the talents of this superb poet which lead us to the break.

During this break I decided to write as many Christmas Cards as possible before we reconvened. Well with the price of postage being what it is I tend to wait to see who is in attendance before writing out the cards though I do have a pre prepared list. Anyway having done this I returned to the event to take over the comparing duties from Marc.

My first act is compare was to introduce our executive convener Etta Dunn who performed her set which included a quite magical poem about a new year’s day disaster in the Western Isles in 1919. After her own set Etta introduced Martin Stepek who read from his book which was written in both English & Polish & tells the story of how his family came to settle in Scotland from Eastern Europe. This is an incredible story & a real emotional journey which I believe those of in attendance were privileged to share. At the end I believed that Martin even more than the minute’s applause given in tribute to his late father Jan at the recent Hamilton Accies game. Not bad when you consider his dad was a former chairman of the club.

As Martin returned to his seat it was time out for our outgoing Makar Maggie Rabatski to deliver her final set as Makar & introduce her successor to the gathering. Needless to say that Maggie finished her tenure as she started it with a set of stunning quality delivering poems in English & Gaelic. I have to say my personal highlight was her excellent I shall consider the Federation of Writers Scotland. Though as someone with proud island blood it is always good to hear a poem in the tongue of my ancestors.

On completing her set Maggie then introduced the new Makar Federation of Writers of Scotland for 2013 Rab Wilson. Having voted for Rab in the election for Makar I believed he would be an inspired choice. On the evidence of his first set I think I’m about to be proven right

Rab’s appointment as Makar marks I believe a departure in tradition for the Federation. Rab is our most satirical Makar since Robin Cairns. His set had an edge to it in the way that topical poetry does when performed well & trust me Rab’s was performed brilliantly with politicians & bankers
amongst those targeted. Something tells me I’m going to enjoy Rab being Makar. Well I enjoy quality poetry & all our Makars have been brilliant but I do enjoy someone who may create just a little bit of mischief.

After a set which could only be described as breathtaking it was Lesley McKay who had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Rab. A recent recruit to Glasgow writers Lesley has impressed me with the quality of her work but tends to concentrate on prose in fact she only wrote her first poem a few weeks ago. Making her GoMA debut was a big ask & following Rab Wilson an even bigger one but Lesley read with confidence & style, starting with a piece of prose then the aforementioned poem The Church Of Johannas which can only be described as absolutely stunning. What I liked about it was the fact that it really gave the listener a sense of serenity & someone of the imagery made you feel you were actually in the moment with her. I particularly liked the idea of the young girl swirling her skirt as it did remind me of Sunday mornings at my local parish. I also loved the reference about god speaking in tongues, so he would understand the writers thoughts & feelings. It was an excellent set of a writer whose star is on the rise.

If Lesley’s set restored sanity to the proceedings Finola Scott got up & smashed it into a million bits with her magnificent monologue Mona’s Moan.
In this witty wonderland Finola’s dialogue is so sharp you’d think it was written with a razor sharp kitchen knife rather than a pen or a keyboard as she writes from the perspective of an oppressed housewife with a lazy good for nothing husband. Honestly I was giggling from beginning to end it really was that good.

Next up was Nalini Paul who read a set of nature based poems the highlights of which were Raven in Winter & Cat Yarr. Nalini has recently completed a year as the George McKay-Brown writing fellow & if you’ve ever read any of her work or had the pleasure of hearing her read you’ll know why she was appointed to such a prestigious post.

We followed Nalini with Monica Pitman whose set was shorter than I would have liked but was delivered with the usual passion & charisma those of us who know her have come to expect over the years. On starting her set Monica made a short speech about children in poverty saying it was a disgrace that in a city such as Glasgow 1in 6 children live below the poverty line. Noble sentiments well expressed by a quality poet with a big heart.

Next up was Maryanne Hartness whose reading was as always top quality. I particularly the ballet themed poem. Well like every girl I dreamed of being a ballerina but with two left feet I was given a different talent to call mine. Its probably just as well I don’t think I’d have been good enough for Strictly Come Dancing even if I was famous enough to go on it. However Maryanne has a grace with words which makes a poetic dancer & her recent performances have shown a far greater level of confidence in her work. I think she’s finally realised what the realised what the rest of us already know, namely how good her poetry actually is.

After an enthralling & enchanting set Maryanne took her seat & Derek Read took the stage. A man I have always respected Derek proved just how good he can be with a set of three poems my favourite of which was the last one Let them eat leftovers. In which he contrasts the lifestyles of the rich & poor & how society can be cruel to those who don’t fit the picture of conformity. A brilliant poem with a strong message for this time of year when those of us lucky enough to be surrounded by those we love all too often forget those less fortunate than ourselves.

Derek was followed to the stage by Donna Campbell whose poetry again featured those for whom Christmas is not quite the wholesome family gathering that some of us myself included would probably like to believe. However her set ended on a moment of hope with a short poem on a mother’s love for her child. The child concerned Donna’s daughter is now a young woman of 22. It really brought home how quickly time passes as when I first knew Donna that daughter was a 5 year old who had just started school.

As Anne Connolly followed Donna to the stage she revealed that she had a 22 year old grandson. However it was a poem about her youngest grandson The boy who breaks my sticks which was the highlight of a brilliant set from a respected poet who has been a great encouragement to me

Barbara Sellers was next up to perform a short set & just like Maryanne her set featured a poem on ballet in which she talked about dancing about dancing the female lead in the nutcracker. With evocative imagery & powerful sentiments this poem really was worth listening to.

At this stage in the event we had almost gone through the list of readers when I noticed right at the very end the name of Susan Milligan. As Susan had already performed I held back to see if we had anyone else who hadn’t read but wanted to. It turned out we did not so I invited Susan back to the stage to perform to Christmas themed poems she didn’t have the chance to read earlier. Much to the surprise of many but not I hasten to add me these were of a far higher quality than her earlier work. This shows Susan’s development as a performer as well as a writer as she has realised the power of saving her best till last. Well I’ve always said if your going to leave people with a memory make sure its a good one & that is exactly what she did.

At the end of Susan’s set I brought the event to a close performing two poems Christmas Lies or (Just What I’ve Always Wanted) which deals with that difficult of tasks buying Christmas Presents for the family & the Best Christmas Present which celebrates what Christmas should be about rather than what its actually become

So another Christmas performance had come & gone on a day when writers gathered around the fire to enjoy a feast of words & the poetry calender had ended the day before the end of world. That of course was an event which never happened. Meanwhile on this Christmas day I predict I’ll be sharing goodwill with lots of poets writers & musicians in 2013 & for many years to come.

Merry Christmas Everyone.

Love & Best Wishes
Gayle X

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