Last week I discovered that my job had become a victim of budget savings. In common with councils across the country, Moray finds itself in the position of having to save millions and so my job with its wonderful Libraries Service will end soon. I’m sad about this obviously. It really is the best Libraries Service I have ever worked for and my colleagues are enthusiastic, committed, knowledgeable and fun to be with. I hope that I’ll be able to stay in Moray and remain a user of the libraries here.
Inevitably I’ve already started writing lists: of my skills, my experience and my personal qualities. But I’ve also been considering my highlights here and I realise, to my surprise, that what stands out most for me has nothing to do with children or young people. (This is surprising because I am effectively the Young People’s Librarian.) Over the last few years I have been privileged to interview three BBC journalists about their books, something I never considered might come my way.
The first of the three was Kirsty Wark. In anticipation that was the most daunting. Like many people I knew her as the fearsome presenter of Newsnight where she deals resolutely with intractable politicians and business types; and I wondered how she would react to being on the other side. I had been slightly reassured by author Elizabeth Laird when I bumped into her at the Edinburgh Book Festival a few weeks before. Kirsty was lovely, she said, and I’d have a great time. Both of those statements turned out to be true.
She came to the Spirit of Moray Book Festival to talk about her debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle. It’s the story of two mothers and daughters and also the story of twentieth century Arran, an island dear to Kirsty’s heart. At its heart there is a secret which remains cleverly hidden as the story unfolds. It is very much a story of women’s lives across a century that saw new horizons opening up to them. I had loved the book and the opportunity to discuss it with Kirsty was an unexpected bonus. And Kirsty turned out to be warm and witty and eloquent. Altogether it was a memorable evening for me.
Next came Angus Roxburgh, the former BBC correspondent. I grew up in a home where BBC radio news was a feature of daily life, sometimes Radio 4 and sometimes Radio Scotland. The journalists and presenters were part of mealtimes and so Angus was one of the voices of my school years. When my boss asked me if I would interview him at an event this May I was, therefore, delighted. In the past few years I’ve visited not only St Petersburg but also Arkhangelsk and Murmansk and these two very different snapshots of Russia had given me much to ponder.
The reason for Angus visiting was to promote his memoir Moscow Calling and I had found it fascinating as I read it in preparation for the interview. I have pages of scrawled notes I made as I went along as well as innumerable questions, many of which there just wasn’t time to ask. As I read I was immediately captured by Angus’ lightness of touch and humour. I empathised with the pull of an unknown language, land and culture (although for me it was all things Norwegian, rather than Russian) and was immediately engaged by his compelling writing. Like Kirsty before him, Angus was down-to-earth, informative and approachable.
And so to last month and 2018’s Spirit of Moray Book Festival. We knew early on in the planning that Sally Magnusson had agree to come and discuss her debut novel and I was secretly delighted that Sheila, the Principal Librarian, had asked me to present the session. As a teenager I read The Flying Scotsman, her biography of Eric Liddell, and since then Sally has been an inspiration to me. I’d met her and introduced her at our book festival in previous years but the opportunity to be in conversation with her was a heady prospect.
The Sealwoman’s Gift is based on historical events in seventeenth century Iceland. A tiny island was raided and most of the population either massacred or carried away in captivity. The novel follows the fate of Asta, wife of the local pastor. In spite of the fact that I don’t care about history before about 1800 I thoroughly enjoyed the book. One of its outstanding elements is the description of landscape; whether of Iceland or Algiers it is immensely evocative. The cold, harsh, almost barren Iceland is lightened by the warmth of the strength of community while Algiers, in reality a prison to the captives, is enticing in its warmth and languor. I was beguiled by Sally’s writing into hoping for an outcome contrary to my moral and religious beliefs. Discussing the novel was exciting and Sally was knowledgeable, open and friendly.
All of these events were memorable and, of course, extremely successful. Our guests were highly experienced professionals and generous human beings. Having the chance to meet them and discuss their writing was an educational and inspirational opportunity. Here’s hoping that these opportunities come my way in the future.