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“Write by the Sea” – a weekend Book Festival at Cockenzie House, East Lothian

Write by the Sea Book Fesival

Write by the Sea
A new Book Festival in East Lothian

“Books illuminate the world, open up horizons and whisk you away on astonishing journeys. We bring all of this together … in an enchanted green garden. Welcome to our garden of delights.”
Catherine Lockerbie, EIBF director – 2003

Like a colourful, fragrant garden itself, the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square has flourished beautifully since it was founded in 1983.   According to the literary festivals website, there are around 350 book festivals in the UK from Aberdeen to York. The largest are Oxford, Hay, Cheltenham and Edinburgh.

Cockenzie House and Gardens

Cockenzie House and Gardens

Perhaps inspired by Fringe by the Sea which brings music, culture and entertainment to North Berwick in August, a new Book Festival is being launched in East Lothian, the wittily named Write by the Shore, taking place in Cockenzie.

The 17th century Cockenzie House is a newly renovated arts, leisure and community venue, with a Tea room, artists’ studios, holiday accommodation, and the House is available for weddings, corporate and private events.

Over the weekend, 1 – 2 November, 2014, the first Write by the Shore Book Festival features a delightfully diverse programme of authors discussing crime fiction, children’s stories, history, poetry, drama and sport.  Books and storytelling for all ages and literary taste.

A few of the highlights to entice you along to Cockenzie House…..

Rosemary Goring studied social and economic history at St Andrews and has since worked in publishing and as Literary Editor for The Herald and Sunday Herald.  Her recent novel After Flodden is described as “a compelling story that weaves deftly between historical fact and fiction” …. “A swashbuckling tale in the best tradition of adventure fiction.”

Rosemary Goring

Rosemary Goring

There’s nothing better than curling up with a good thriller on a cold winter’s night!.  From Poirot to Rebus, we all seem to love a juicy murder story …

Ed James writes the Scott Cullen series of popular Edinburgh detective novels.  Ghost in the Machine has been downloaded over 300,000 times, hitting the Amazon UK top five. His latest novel, Snared about the crime investigations of DS Vicky Dodds, will be published in 2015.


Mountaineer, traveller, poet and novelist, Andrew Greig

Andrew Greig

Novelist, Poet, Himalayan mountaineer and avid traveller, David Grieg wrote one of the most heart-breaking, poignant and passionate novels I have ever had the privilege of reading. In Another Light (2004), set in Penang and Orkney, won the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year.

Found at Sea - a poetic odyssey by Andrew Greig

Whether fiction, poetry or narrative,  Greig shares his own personal life experiences, emotions and interests.  His latest book Found at Sea (Birlinn),  is a lyrical travelogue based on an adventurous sailing trip from Stromness in Orkney to the deserted island of Cava. The text was dramatised for both radio and the stage blending poetry, stories and music.

Debi Gliori has been a children’s writer and illustrator since 1990. Her books include The Trouble With Dragons, Stormy Weather and What’s the Time, Mr Wolf? .   Tobermory 1, 2, 3, will be published by Birlinn in October, a sequel to The Tobermory Cat, a legendary ginger cat that isn’t afraid to be himself.


Very timely, just a month after the European victory at the Ryder Cup, Ed Hodge will be talking about his book  ‘Jewel in the Glen: Gleneagles, Golf and the Ryder Cup.” (Birlinn).   He is a former Gleneagles caddy and now works for the Scottish Golf Union so he should know a fair bit about the sport.!


As well as these and other meet the author events, there’s music, book readings and a Festival party.

See the full programme on the Cockenzie House and Gardens website.

A two day weekend Festival ticket, £35;  one day ticket, £20;  session ticket is £10.

Tickets can be purchased from Cockenzie House – t. 01875 819456.  Cockenzie House, 22 Edinburgh Road, Cockenzie, EH32 0HY.







Soor Plooms and Sair Knees – Bob Dewar

“Soor Plooms and Sair Knees” – written and illustrated by Bob Dewar  (Birlinn)

Soor Plooms and Sair Knees – an exhibition of Bob Dewar’s original illustrations at Doubtfire Gallery, Edinburgh, 5 – 26 April, 2014

soor plooms cover 

 “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley (1953).

Subtitled “Growing up in Scotland after the War”,  Bob Dewar’s witty and affectionate  account of his childhood, “Soor Plooms and Sair Knees”, is a perceptive and personal vision of family life, schooldays, the working class community, work and culture through the 1950s.

As he comments in the Introduction, “ Looking back on my childhood, it seems less like another world and more like another planet. Yet at the same time it feels like it all happened days rather than decades ago.”

The term “The Generation gap”  was coined in the late 1960s, to explain a lack of communication between one generation and another brought about by differences of tastes and values.

Teenagers today brought up in the era of the World Wide Web,  mobile phones, texting, internet, 24 hour TV, X box games, would certainly view the experience of a post-war childhood as “another planet”.

For those of a certain age, heading towards milestone 50, 60, 70th  birthdays,  will perhaps remember with quiet nostalgia through rose tinted glasses, the classroom capers and endless hot summer school holidays, an innocent time of outdoor fun and freedom.

soor plooms fun

Bob Dewar captures the period of Austerity after the War with great humour through colourful caricatures and sketches, complemented by an explanatory narrative to describe the sense of time and place.

Here are the stories and experiences of playing Cowboys and Indians, picking apples from other people’s gardens,  Eagle comics, household chores and Housewives Choice on the wireless, coal fires,  the joy of penny chews and soor plooms at the sweet shop,  the local grocer’s shop selling broken biscuits and Camp coffee.

soor plooms grocer

As Bob Dewar recalls, “ Almost everything you might need food-wise along with paraffin, mouse traps could be found… Butter was left out overnight but nobody seemed to die of butter poisoning. This was in the distant past before hygiene was discovered. “

(Long before the current nanny state health and safety laws, sell by dates and food wastage!…)

There’s an hilarious illustration of a school gym, with the large class of boys and girls climbing, jumping, somersaulting and horse vaulting with red faced exertion.

And summer holidays by the seaside are beautifully captured with charming vintage manner and style – the steam train, station porters, caravan park, hand knitted swimming trunks –

soor plooms swim

As Bob Dewar recalls, “The water retention of a woollen costume was phenomenal, it felt like around a hogshead (12 barrels) of clammy North Sea. … the ability to walk comfortably when wet was severely impaired.”

It’s certainly the time for nostalgic memories.  This month (April, 2014), in a new TV series,  “Ian Hislop’s Olden Days”, the 50-something editor of Private Eye explores the British love of tradition, and how people use the past to help shape the present:  the fact that parents start telling their children about their childhood as if it were some sort of olden, golden period.

In similar vein, Bob Dewar has written a wry, dry, sardonic and amusing homage to reflect on the experience of his early life and times.  This is not simply a personal memoir, but a valuable social history of post war Scotland –  a time travelling journey back sixty odd years to a place and period very much akin to a foreign country.

Soor Plooms and Sair Knees -by Bob Dewar  published by Birlinn, Edinburgh.   

A wonderful selection of the original drawings from the book is currently on show and for sale at the Doubtfire Gallery, 3 South East Circus Place, Edinburgh.  t. 0131 225 6540



“A Change in Fashion” by Susan Gale: a stunning debut novel set in Yorkshire and Paris

A Change in Fashion - the front cover captures it all

A Change in Fashion –
the front cover captures it all

“A Change of Fashion” is Susan Gale’s first novel and it’s a stunning debut.  This is a heartfelt dramatic story spanning a decade, shifting from winter in England to the sun-drenched Cote d’Azur with well defined characters and evocative settings.

Susan Gale was born in Yorkshire and spent her teenage years in a small market-town at the foot of the Moors. She studied French at University and during the 1960s, experienced a year living and working in France, teaching English.

Those youthful memories of a new, carefree life in Paris must have lingered in the mind.  “A Change of Fashion” is not exactly autobiographical, but her travel adventures matched with an interest in design from Biba to Chanel, her passion for fashion is now all perfect material for this fictional tale.

Susan Gale in LBD - a lover of fashion

Susan Gale in LBD
– a lover of fashion

As she explains, “I store up pictures in my head which I draw on whenever I need to describe a place or create an atmosphere.”

They say do not judge a book by its cover. But the simple yet effective black and white image of the iconic Eiffel Tower with the silhouette of a young girl in mini skirt, heels and bobbed hair, represents the novel’s place and period perfectly.

Within a few pages, I was drawn into Holly Barton’s life and times. It’s Paris, 1967.  The atmosphere is captured in precise detail, clothes, food, people,  the apartment, as are the feelings of this rather naïve young girl – sheer excitement as well as nervous trepidation at the challenges ahead of her,  both professional and personal.

The mousse of asparagus soufflé was delicious, the sole in tarragon and lemon sauce exquisite and the Chateaubriand rich and succulent. White wines from the Loire gave way to deep red Bordeaux…. Throughout the meal she was constantly aware of the eyes opposite her, disconcerting, dancing with amusement at her obvious unease. ..”

The narrative is brilliantly cinematic, in fact expressed through all the senses, as the reader is taken on an emotional, time travel trip. Neatly placed flashbacks take us to rural Yorkshire in the early sixties to Holly’s family home.

December is one of the darkest periods of her life. During the short hours of daylight the skies periodically blacken to release yet another blinding snowstorm upon the moors. Vast sweeps of white level the landscape …deep drifts block the lane from Black Ridge Farm into the town”.

Then as soon as we are comfortably settled around the Yorkshire moors, we fast forward six years to a front row seat at a Saint-Laurent fashion show:   

Holly could see Diana Vreeland chief editor of Vogue, scribbling furiously in her notebook.  Jewel-coloured evening gowns in richly embroidered silks and satins, velvets and brocades followed, each one would make the fortunate wearer feel like royalty.”

Susan Gale must have done extraordinary amount of research to be able to convey the competitive work of the designers, models, fashion shows.  I love the authentic “real life” ambience, mentioning Chanel, Dior, Gucci, St. Laurent, et al. The graceful gowns, the cut of a coat, shimmering silk, all come clearly into vision through the words only without a single photograph required.

As well as the backdrop of Parisian’s elite society, another essential part of the plot covers feminism, women’s emancipation for equality and the fight for change in moral attitudes.

For those who love “The Devil Wears Prada”, are fascinated by fashion, past and present, and enjoy a page-turning dramatic love story, this novel is a must read.

Reminiscent of the classic tale of “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier, this has a similar plot where a young, innocent girl has her life turned upside down following a brief encounter, within a rich plot of dark memories and a secret family mystery.

Gale wisely steers clear of “Fifty Shades of Grey” erotic encounters – instead, sexual feelings and quiet moments of intimacy are illustrated with gentle simplicity – to entice your own imagination.    

The time seemed too precious to lie by the pool or on the beach at Cannes. Often they set off to explore the surrounding countryside, driving up tortuous Alpine roads past orchards of peach trees, vineyards and olive groves. .. they ate outdoors in little restaurants where the midday sun shining through the vine leaves overhead dappled their clasped hands on the table-cloth. …..”

Following Holly’s painful, passionate journey from wild windswept Bronte country to the glamorous hot spots of Paris and Monte Carlo, the contrasting locations and enchanting romantic tale would surely make a magical film. 

And if you want another opinion, I agree so much with this reader’s verdict.

“ I read this book in only three days – finding it difficult to put it down once I had started.  It is written so well you just fall into the world (of fashion), the backgrounds of Yorkshire and Paris, and the lifestyle of the decade.  And of course the love story.  I can definitely recommend it.”

Publisher – Susan Gale Publishing in conjunction with WRITERSWORLD 

ISBN 978-0-9576584-0-0.

Available from all good bookshops and on Amazon. 

Susan Gale

Susan Gale

Hanna Cherrie’s Tearoom

The name Hanna Cherrie is such a happy, summery name for a Tea shop.   This friendly, welcoming and very cultural little cafe in Stockbridge, Edinburgh has been devised and designed by Sheila Skelly.

The story behind the name is simply delightful.

Hanna Cherrie was the grandmother of a friend of hers, and when Hanna died three years ago, aged 98, Sheila was given a collection of granny’s tea cups which she had bought over the years from browsing second hand shops in Stockbridge.

These beautiful old vintage tea-sets began the inspiration for a traditional Tea Room.  With half a dozen tables and comfortable, upholstered arm chairs, the decor is all about Cath Kidston-style, (but authentic) table cloths on which sit vases of  fresh flowers;  the walls are lined with book shelves as well as local art work for sale.

There’s a real literary mood in the air.  Visitors are invited to take part in a paperback book swap, and a Book Club session takes place over coffee and cake on Tuesday mornings, 10 – 12 noon.   Other novel ideas include English and Language classes with a private room available downstairs for a variety of meetings and events to bring people together.

The menu is extremely enticing, whether you call in for morning coffee, lunch or classic Afternoon tea.  A giant cake stand holds various plates of home made cakes, (gluten and dairy free available) as well as fresh scones and jam.  A great choice of herbal and speciality teas, such as a fragrant and refreshing Lemon balm, peppermint and fennel,  Japanese Cherry tea, and Lady Jane Grey (earl grey with citrus).   Tea of course is served in a pretty flowery cup and saucer from a mismatched teapot.  Not a teabag  in sight thank goodness.

I called in for lunch and sampled a very tasty Chickpea and Artichoke Salad: Sheila prepared the chunky, slightly spicy, hummus to order, (talk about fresh!), which was served with watercress, fat olives, cherry & sun dried tomatoes, a generous portion of  artichoke and a thick slice of home made rye bread.  This was a feast rather than a light lunch.  Delicious!.

My salad was served on a lovely bright yellow plate, patterned with birds and blossom, sourced from the smart and sassy home design boutique, Anthropologie.

Other foody options being enjoyed at the next table were Roast Beef and blue cheese sandwich with red onion chutney, and a Turkey, avocado and Jarlsberg toasted panini – an ingenious combination.  The menu also offers soup of the day, and platters of cheese and cured meats.

The ambience is all about relaxation –  music on the sound track ranges from ethnic pan pipes to classic romantic American ballads.

Sheila is not only the innovative chef in the kitchen, she is also a professional Holistic Homeopath and Shamanic practitioner, working at Gorgeous Therapies next door.

The ethos of Hanna Cherrie’s reflects this joint venture of health and wellbeing, the therapies complemented by wholesome, natural organic food, home made cakes and herbal teas.   What could be more relaxing than visiting Gorgeous Therapies for a haircut, a facial or relaxing massage, and then visit the tea room to chill out over a cup of tea and slice of cake or lunch while you read a good book from the tea room library.

On a shelf is a fine antique wooden clock which chimes the hour.  It’s a charming sound which reminds one of traditional British Afternoon Tea.

“Stands the Church clock at ten to three,  And is there honey still for tea”.  Rupert Brooke:  The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.

35 Hamilton Place, Edinburgh EH4 2DN tel. 0131 343 1152

Scones and jam at Hanna Cherrie's

Scones and jam at Hanna Cherrie’s

Hanna Cherrie's cultural tea shop with books.

Hanna Cherrie’s cultural tea shop with books.

Edinburgh Book Festival

In just one month’s time the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2013 begins once again as part of the fabulous feast of  International Arts Festivals which take place across the city.  It was in August 1983 when the gates to Charlotte Square Gardens opened to visitors for the inaugural Edinburgh Book Festival, featuring 120 authors including John Updike and P.D. James.  Until 1997 it was held biennially, and since then has colourfully blossomed into the largest festival of literature in the world.

The 2013 EIBF  programme has 750 events at which an impressive 800 authors will be discussing every subject and literary genre from crime and science fiction, music and theatre, travel and world affairs.

To celebrate 30 years of the Festival, it’s timely to look back at the careers of our nation’s successful writers.  In 1983, Granta magazine announced the first Best Young British Novelists, with a new list published every decade.   Several of these writers will be here, including Salman Rushdie (1983), Candia McWilliam (1993), A.L Kennedy (2003) as well as newcomer Evie Wyld (2013).

As Scotland is famed for creating legendary comics, such as Dandy and the Beano, it is fitting that a series of events called Stripped will focus on the popularity of graphic novels.   Global adventures, past and present is the topic of many events: Julie Davidson has researched the intrepid travel experiences of Mary Livingstone, wife of David Livingstone the African explorer, while Gavin Francis will describe surviving isolation and freezing temperatures in Antarctica.

Best selling novelists, Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith, Val McDermid, Kate Atkinson, will be there, as well as politicians, journalists, religious leaders, artists, musicians and actors.  From 9pm each evening, The Spiegeltent will be the place to gather for a medley of stories, music and comedy under the title, Jura Unbound, presented by Skinny Magazine.

A vital part of the EIBF is the Children’s and Young Adults programme with workshops, storytelling, performances and educational schools’ events. Favourite writers include Julia Donaldson, Debi Gliori, Vivian French, Lari Don, and dozens more, who will entertain and inspire young readers to pick up a book and experience the World in Words.

The overall concept for the Edinburgh Book Festival for adults and children is all about listening to writers and thinkers, to consider and debate for understanding and enrichment.

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” Pooh Bear – A. A. Milne

Chill out in Charlotte Square Gardens during the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Chill out in Charlotte Square Gardens during the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Love with the Chance of Drowning

With my love of cruises, boats and sailing the ocean blue, I was delighted to see this new book with the intriguing title  “Love with a Chance of Drowning” by Torre DeRoche.

This is a memoir, not fiction, the true life account of a young girl’s romantic adventure on her boyfriend’s yacht to experience an epic voyage across the Pacific.  The only problem is that she is terrified of the sea, recalling images of Jaws the killer shark, suffers from sea-sickness and does not know how to steer a tiller, unfurl a sail or tie a reef knot.

But Torre has fallen in love with Ivan, a blond, super fit, super hero from Argentina, whom she met by chance drinking a martini in a late night bar in San Francisco.  Fortunately, he becomes besotted by this sassy, sexy, creative Australian girl who escaped life and work at home for a year to live the Californian dream.

This post is just a taster to draw you into the story. I have just started reading Torre’s tantalising tale which from page one, draws you into her dilemma as she follows her heart, not her head,  giving up her job and packing a bag to step on board Ivan’s yacht, Amazing Grace.  Heading west into the rough, rolling waves of the Pacific, the first landfall will be Hiva Oa,  one of the remote Marquesas islands.  It will take a month to get there. All going well.

“Love with a Chance of Drowning” is a cracking rollercoaster of a story.  Relating every emotion, sight and sound, the delights and drama of life at sea,  it’s all so real, so touchingly tangible,  that I feel that I am sharing the journey with these crazy guys.  Where are we going next?

Published by Summersdale Publishers. 1st July 2013.

Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre deRoche. A memoir.

Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre deRoche. A memoir.