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August 2003



Carol Shields - Canadian novelist, poet, playwright and essayist

The death occurred in Canada on 16th July 2003 of Carol Shields (née Warner).

Born 2nd June 1935 in Illinois, she emigrated with her husband Donald Shields to Canada in 1957 and had held dual US/Canadian citizenship since 1971. She completed her MA in Canada and also bore five children. The reponsibilities of motherhood limited her early writing to poetry and it was not until she was 40 that she produced her first novel, 'Small Ceremonies'.

Subsequent books won her critical acclaim and a worldwide readership and with her novel 'The Stone Diaries' she won the Pulitzer Prize of 1995. Her next, 'Larry's Party' won the Orange prize for 1998 and it was soon after this that she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

Despite this she remained 'joyous, creative and graceful' (Random House) and her output continued with a collection of short stories 'Dressing up for the Carnival' in 2000, a biography of Jane Austen in 2001 and her final novel 'Unless' in 2002 which was nominated for the Booker prize.


Click to visit the Festival siteEdinburgh International Book Festival

Described as the friendliest, funniest, brightest and best, an International Book Festival will be held in Charlotte Square Gardens, Edinburgh, from 9th to 25 August this year.

Visiting the Festival will be authors from over twenty different countries, including John Irving, Mario Vargas Llosa, Susan Sontag, Thomas Keneally, Ariel Dorfman, Edmund White, Robert Winston, Ben Okri, Candace Bushnell, Alan Ayckbourn, P D James, Ian Rankin, Doris Lessing, Paulo Coelho, Jane Smiley, Clive James, Iain Banks, Melvyn Bragg, Graham Swift, Jonathan Raban, Tariq Ali, Kate Adie, John Mortimer, Joanne Harris, David Starkey, Alfred Brendel, Douglas Coupland, Kate Atkinson, William Dalrymple and over 500 more.

Saddall Castle from Cuthbert Bede's 'Glencreggan'An Author Of Kintyre
from The Old Bookshelf

‘Gremlins in My Garden’ an unlikely book title yet part of a series of humorous and very readable biographical works by Angus MacVicar. Cleopatra’s people? No, not an Angus MacVicar, rather one of the prolific Naomi Mitchison’s historical titles focusing (as the title suggests) on the reign, or to be precise the end of the reign of the vaguely mythological Queen of Egypt. There again there are the Lucy Daniels (definitely a mythological person) Dolphin Diaries penned by science fiction author Lisa Tuttle. Of course I mustn’t forget ‘Tales from the Dawn Hunter’ one of a number of books by former journalist Freddy Gillies who now runs his own publishing house, and of course ’The Ring Net Fisherman’ by Angus Martin, a postman turned author whose scholarship is exemplary.

What is it that links all these authors? Each successful in their own field, each with a dramatically different style and content. Location is the answer, and a brief literary tour of Kintyre otherwise known as ‘The Garden of Argyll’ will make it clearer.

The Kintyre is a long peninsula on the West Coast of Scotland, stretching further south than Newcastle, boasting a balmy climate with each deep glen concealing a grand house of near stately home proportions. When driving down the east side the first village of any size one comes to is Carradale. A picturesque fishing village, made famous in picture by William Mactaggart and in the literary world by Naomi Mitchison. Naomi is considered by some to be one of Scotland's literary greats and lived with her husband Dick (The Local labour MP) on their estate in Carradale, Kintyre. 14 miles north of Campbeltown on the eastern side of the peninsula.

Naomi Mitchison on her 100th birthday in 1997Locally Naomi was regarded with affection and throughout her long life she played a major part in the activities of the community. She has written over 80 novels and whilst very few of these are still in print her experiences in Scotland and in Africa, her unconventional lifestyle, and her brand of socialism have all left their mark on her work.

She brought up five children creating and practising a philosophy of open sexual option within a committed marriage. She was at the centre of London's intellectual and political life during the 1920's and '30's and enjoyed (sometimes stormy) friendship relationships with Aldous and Julian Huxley, Lewis Gielgud, Wyndham Lewis, W. H. Auden and many others. After her death in 2001 many rare first editions from these and other authors were auctioned from her remarkable collection which included one of the first copies (from the first 200) of 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom' fetching over £20,000.

Leaving Carradale behind one continues towards Campbeltown, home of Scotch Whisky, where Angus Martin, poet and scholar, ekes a living as a postman whilst pursuing the research and scholarship that are his real passions. Born in 1952 Angus’s works on the history of the fishing industries and Kintyre are increasingly sought after, as his fine style and attention to detail attracts critical acclaim. Three of his titles are still in print whilst those out of print are difficult to find fetching £30 - £40.

The road winds through Campbeltown and past the Loch before heading towards Southend, so named because it is the Kintyre’s most southerly village and until 1999 the home of Angus MacVicar. Angus is known internationally as the author of a number of popular children’s Science Fiction titles published throughout the 1950’s. The ’Lost Planet Series’ commands the highest prices today with the scarcer books in the series currently fetching around £45 in very good condition with a like wrapper. The market for these is buoyant with copies being snapped up almost as soon as they are put up for sale.

His first novel 'The Purple rock' was published just before the war; however, he was struck down with a life threatening illness which temporarily halted his writing. On recovery he headed off to the war where he fought all over the world with the Royal Highland Fusiliers. The war did bring heartache however, with Angus travelling through Sicily to meet his brother Archie only to find that Archie had died of wounds the previous day.

Angus's career was badly affected by the war when his publishing house was bombed in the blitz so upon his return to civilian life Angus had to more or less start his writing career again. He became a freelance script-writer for the broadcasting companies and introduced an entire generation to science fiction, including the afore-mentioned ‘Lost Planet' series. He also scripted for radio 'The Glens of Glendale' which was one of the most popular series of its time, and he presented 'Songs of Praise'. Angus continued writing and published more than 70 books over the years. His biographical books with their wacky titles and humorous anecdotes are also consistently popular today reflecting the gentle pace of life, and interesting characters here on Kintyre.

Leaving Southend there is only one way to go - north, back through Campbeltown and up the West, or Glasgow, road. Around twelve miles from Campbeltown the small village of Tayinloan bids you welcome and it is from here that the ferry to Gigha (meaning God’s Isle) is found. It is on Gigha where Freddy Gillies resides and when he is not writing, or pursuing his publishing interests he can be found captaining the ferry or chatting to tourists. Gigha recently made the news when the inhabitants bought out the landlords, setting up an Island trust and firmly establishing this beautiful little island on the tourist map with improvements to local amenities and attractions. Freddy’s books largely turn around his love of Kintyre and island life with memoirs, histories, and amusingly readable anecdotal ramblings among his offerings. Largely unknown outside of Kintyre his books are worth picking up simply for the joy of catching a glimpse of a refreshingly different kind of world.

Leaving Gigha and continuing up the west road one approaches Tarbert and it is near here that Lisa Tuttle has made her home. American by birth, Lisa has lived on Kintyre for a number of years and is well known in Sci Fi circles both for her writing and as a regular judge for the Arthur C. Clarke Sci Fi prize. She has also written a number of children’s books including ’Panther in Argyll’ some well researched feminist pieces and countless articles both fiction and non fiction.

Sadly our tour ends here, and of course I haven’t mentioned such Victorian notables as Cuthbert Bede, or James MacNeill, both with country homes here. Or poets such as George Campbell Hay, who made Loch Fyne famous with his ’Wind on Loch Fyne’, and I could go on, but I won’t because I hope your appetite is whetted, your interest stirred, and perhaps it is time to try … an author of Kintyre.

Campbeltown Lock from Cuthbert Bede's 'Glencreggan'

Charity Book Sale - Turville

The annual charity book sale, this year in aid of the Thames Valley Adventure Playground as well as the Elizabeth Finn Trust, takes place over four days from Thursday 7th to Sunday 10th August, 2003. The event will be well signposted from exit 5 of the M40, is half a mile from Turville, between Oxford and High Wycombe and once again getting on for 20,000 books will be available from the barn and marquee.

Christie's, Playboy and an Ian Fleming manuscript

Playboy celebrates it's 50th anniversary this year and Christie's New York will offer some of their archives at their 'Playboy at 50' sale on 17 December. The collection includes paintings, cartoons, celebrity and fashion photographs, original manuscripts and memorablia.

Ian Fleming's 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' was first published in Playboy in May and June 1963 and included in the sale are advance proofs of parts 1-3 of the first English edition, marked with corrections and insertions by the author. There are also original corrected typescripts from other authors including Jack Kerouac, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and Alex Haley.

The sale catalogue is available through Christie's site, as is online bidding, and highlights from the collection will tour the major cities of USA in a travelling exhibition from August until December.

Thomas Hardy notes

When Thomas Hardy died in 1928, under the terms of his will his notebooks and other accumulated private papers were destroyed but twelve volumes were left out of the bonfire. One of these, known as the 'Facts Notebook' has been for many years in the Dorset County Museum at Dorchester and it was there that Dr. Brian Greenslade first came across it when an undergraduate in the 1970's.

In 1995 Dr Greenslade, an English lecturer at Bristol's University of the West of England, returned to the museum and was surprised to find that the notebook was still remained unedited. He decided to undertake the project himself and found that it containing much research by Hardy and references to events in the West Country in the 1820's, many from press reports. Dr Greenslade soon realised that here were the source notes for many of Hardy's ideas for scenes and plots of his later books and as such form an important reference source to his later works including, for example, the opening 'wife selling' scene from 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'.

The book is to be published in facsimile by Ashgate Publishing in November 2003 and the notebook and Dr. Greenslade's work will be the subject of a BBC documentary later this month (BBC2 13 August 7.30pm).

Next Month: The feature for September 2003 will be by Orangeberry Books

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