Every week the folks at WordPress set a weekly challenge. I’ve not taken up the challenge before, but this one inspired me. It is to write about a time I learned something new.
In January 2015, aged 58 and a half, I learned to swim.
Now teaching and learning is something close to my heart. I was a primary school teacher for 36 years and I met all sorts of reluctant or struggling pupils. It’s easy to teach someone who’s ready to learn, who’s receptive to what you’re showing them. However, it’s not so easy to coax someone’s who’s afraid to even give it a try, who has decided in advance they’re not capable of learning. But I thrived on such challenges and persisted and tried everything I could think of to persuade reluctant pupils to just give it a go.
Then, nearly eighteen months ago, the tables were turned. I was now the reluctant learner, the one of was afraid, who didn’t believe myself capable. I had never learned to swim. But I’d set myself some personal challenges when I retired from teaching and top of the list was ‘get in the water and swim, woman!” An additional motivation, on top of the personal challenge, was that I wanted to be able to swim with my grandchildren on a family holiday to Cyprus later in the year.
So I booked a one to one hour long session with the swimming teacher at my local pool.
Now, I should say I’m not afraid of water. I’ve always liked bobbing about in the (warm) sea and when my children were wee, I’d always go in the pool with them when we were away on our annual holiday. I made sure they learned to swim – by delegating the task to my husband.
So, no, not afraid of water. It was just I believed I was the only human being in the history of our species who couldn’t float.
But I was wrong. With the confidence building teaching of my wonderful teacher, Yvonne, during that one hour in the pool I eventually took my feet off the bottom of the pool and with a few feeble and styleless strokes I swam. I swam a couple of widths. I went out of my depth and I treaded water. Me! the least buoyant human ever – could both float and swim.
I walked home through the January snow, oblivious to the cold, wrapped in a coat of smugness and pride. An Olympic medallist couldn’t have felt more proud.
I’ll never be a water baby, but yes, I swam with my grandchildren last summer.
I did it. I took the plunge and learned something new. And boy, did it feel good.
We’ve been home now for four days. Our stint as booksellers-in-residence at the Open Book second hand bookshop is now over for the husband and me. It was a great adventure. We hope we’ve left the Open Book slightly tidier and the stock a bit better organised – having built on the hard work of our predecessors in the project. Now it’s over to our successors-in-residence to continue the process.
You’ll have seen from my earlier posts on our time in Wigtown that we met all sorts of interesting and lovely people – both local and visitors to the town. We did a bit of exploring of this corner of Scotland and liked what we saw. It was good to visit the other bookshops in Wigtown as well. How wonderful to have them all, and to have people who are so committed to selling real books in real independent shops and who are prepared to work so hard to do so. It was an eye-opener as to how much goes into running a successful bookshop and it’s definitely a labour of love. More power to all independent bookshops!
During the fortnight, although there wasn’t a lot of spare time to write, I did get to do a bit of thinking and planning in connection with my writing. And I met several local authors and we shared experiences, thoughts and ideas – this in itself was such a valuable opportunity.
So thanks to the Wigtown Book Festival Company and all those behind this unique project, especially to project manager, Anne for the chance to be part of the Open Book. Thanks, too, to Joyce from the Old Bookshop, to the owners of the Glaisnock Cafe, (yummy), to Jayne and to Sarah from the writers’ group, and to everyone else who made us so welcome.
And most of all thanks to the Open Book shop. It was fun getting to know the best wee bookshop in the world.
END OF CHAPTER
It’s a long drive from Scotland’s National Book Town to our home in the Hebrides, so we broke our journey north on Saturday with an overnight stay in Glasgow. We stayed at a hotel in the city’s vibrant west end and so were able to enjoy a walk in the Botanical gardens and along the River Kelvin walkway, as well as a lovely dinner out at a nearby Italian restaurant.
Then on Sunday we drove the rest of the way home. And what a drive home it was. It was a beautiful day and the west of Scotland was looking stunning. Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Kintail, to name just a few of the places, were all showing off their full glory – Scotland was at its most jaw-dropping and glorious best.
It’s nice to be home. The weather has continued to be good and I’ve already had the chance to enjoy one of my favourite local walks.
Since getting back, I’ve also been catching up on all my own writing jobs and looking to further the plans I finalised while I was away.
There are two deadlines tomorrow.
One is for my contribution to Words with Jam, the online writers magazine that I’ve been on the staff of since its inception around four years ago. The theme of April’s issue is History and I got two pieces off to the editor yesterday.
The other deadline is for an application to be included in an opportunity being offered to writers by XPONorth. Below is an edited extract from the organisation’s publicity for the opportunity.
XPONorth (Writing & Publishing) is delighted to offer seven independent, self-publishing authors living in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the chance to sell and promote their work at the Indie Author Fair 2015. The Fair takes place at Foyles Bookshop, London, on Saturday 17th April 2015.
The Fair is part of the London Book Fair Indie Author Fringe Festival, run by The Alliance of Independent Authors/Indie ReCon, and Triskele Books are hosting the 2nd Indie Author Fair at Foyles Bookshop.
Authors selected for the showcase will be offered support and mentoring in developing their marketing and promotional materials and platforms in readiness for the Fair.
Indie authors living the Highlands and Islands can apply to participate in this showcase either to be present in person with their books at the Fair (books, plus promotional materials), or to have their books available on the XPONorth display forsale and with promotional materials.
Whether for readers, writers, publishers or observers of the publishing scene, this will be an unmissable event – an opportunity to say hello to the best indie authors in the business, meet suppliers, talk to experts, buy/sell some books. The event will be FREE to the general public.
( XPONorth Wrtiting and Publishing is delivered by Emergents Creatives CIC Ltd, and the programme is funded by European Regional Development Fund and HIE.)
My application is away. I’m not planning to attend in person, but it would be good to have my books promoted and on offer there, so fingers are crossed.
A week from today I’ll be off back down to Glasgow. I’m attending the annual, weekend conference of the Scottish Association of Writers. So I’ve got travel arrangements to finalise and promotional materials to gather. This is a great opportunity to meet other writers, to catch up with my fellow members from the Edinburgh Writers’ Club, to network, attend workshops and to see if I’ve had any success in the Association’s conference competitions. I’ve entries in a few categories so maybe, just maybe…
Then, after I get home, it will be all systems go for the April publication of my first children’s novel. More of that in a later post.
As I said in the post previous to this one, the Open Book was quiet yesterday and the weather was good so we closed the shop early yesterday and went for a walk.
We headed for the pretty town of Gatehouse of Fleet and walked in the Cally forest there.
On our way to Gatehouse we stopped off at Mossyard beach. It is one of the smallest but prettiest beaches I’ve ever been on. And it had the most amazing assortment of rocks. Geologists look away now as I’m about to describe said rocks and I know nothing of geology. There were what I think was large piles of basalt, chunks of marbly granite and pieces of sandstone. There were rocks with layers, with marbling, with folds; some were smooth, some were jagged; there were grey ones, black ones, pink ones and creamy ones.
In the Cally forest the ground was carpeted in snowdrops, the river was running high and the trees were just beginning to bud.
Yesterday was a lovely sunny day. It was very quiet in the shop so we closed a bit earlier than normal and went for a walk in the Cally forest at gatehouse of Fleet. There were buds on the trees, swathes of snowdrops and the birds were in good voice. Maybe, just maybe spring is on its way. Again we were impressed by how lovely this part of Scotland is and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the fresh air. We rounded off our time out with a glass of ale at the Masonic Arms hotel and returned to the flat feeling much better for our time outdoors.
Today it was back to work and it was a longer day in the shop to make up for yesterday’s early close. Iain began by giving the place a good hoover. It’s amazing how grubby the shop floor gets in a couple days! Then he set about moving the fiction paperback books around so that they’re all in the same section of the shop. In order to do that, he first of all had to move crime fiction and in order to do that sci-fi had to come down couple of shelves. However, despite it being a big task he has made good progress today.
Meanwhile, I have done another window display. Different window this time and I decided on a Wigtown and Scottish theme. I’m quietly proud of how it looks. I plan to do the third and final window on Friday, when Iain should be out of the way with his paperback reorganisation.
I also did a new table display and chose the theme of Birds. The shop has a large assortment of bird books, so I thought it would be a good idea to showcase a few of them.
I finished up by going round all the shelves, just straightening and pulling books to the front and generally tidying up.
In amongst all this there were customers to serve – the bit we like best. There was a fairly steady flow of people today. Again several of them took the time to chat and were interested to hear about the project. And Jayne from the writers group also came in to interview me about my writing for a piece on her blog.
So all in all another busy but productive day at the Open Book.
And in a PS to the sanctuary story of two days ago, ‘our’ gentleman came in to say thank you and to confirm that his operation had gone well. So that was nice.
I’m just hoping the elderly gentleman who we gave shelter to in the shop this morning is okay. He appeared in the shop doorway around ten o’clock and was obviously distressed.
He was waiting to be picked up by patient transport to go to hospital in Glasgow for surgery. The original time for his pick up was 8.00 a.m. but the driver had been delayed. So a new rendezvous was arranged. To make things quicker and easier the man had offered to make his way into town and wait for his lift at the cafe across from the Open Book . Unfortunately the cafe was closed, the weather was atrocious and there was still an hour to wait.
We took him in and gave him tea and biscuits and chatted with him while he waited. What an interesting man he was. He shared some of his life story with us, including his birth and early life in Africa, his working life which took him all over the world, learning several languages along the way and his more recent past as a shop owner in Wigtown. It also turned out he’d done his national service on our home island of Skye and it was fascinating to hear tales of how island life was back then, before mains electricity amongst other things. We also discussed Scottish cuisine, the sourcing of good local ingredients and the pros and cons of living an eco-friendly life.
He told us his wife had recently passed away and that he’s having work done on his house which means he has no water in his kitchen. But there was no self-pity, just a stoical acceptance and a great sense of humour.
Eventually at 11.15 his transport arrived and following his early rise at 6.00 a.m for an operation originally scheduled for 11.00, he was off on the two hour journey to hospital.
It was humbling and a privilege to meet this man and hear some of his story. I do hope it all went well.
Yesterday the Open Book was closed. So me and the husband set off to do a bit of exploring. And the sun came out which was a welcome bonus. We’d had a lovely meal at the Bayview bistro here in Wigtown on Saturday evening, so we were really needing a good walk.
In the morning we went to the Wigtown Nature Reserve. Wigtown bay includes the estuaries of the rivers Cree and Bladnoch and as such is home to all sorts of wildlife. We walked along past the marshes where we saw lots of waders, ducks and geese. We spent some time in the bird-watching hide. Unfortunately our binoculars are at home in Skye so this made identification of the birds spotted rather difficult. However we were fascinated to see an ever growing flock of some sort of bird swooping and gathering and flying on, in the way starlings do (we’re fairly sure these weren’t starlings) before finally settling far out on the marsh.
In the afternoon, it was memory lane time. We drove the thirty or so miles to the town of Dalbeattie, to the place we had a happy family holiday nearly thirty years ago when our children were very small. This led to much reflection for both of us on where all the years have gone. Our grandchildren are now nearly the same age as our children were on that holiday. As we were city dwellers at the time, and the holiday cottage was on a farm, it was the first time the children had seen cows close up. They loved that if you stood at the kitchen window and made mooing noises, then the cows gathered at the fence and mooed back.
From Dalbeattie we moved on to Rockcliffe, a very pretty coastal village with a small rocky beach. The tide was out so we could explore rock pools as we scrambled over rocks and made our way along the bay.
All in all it was a most enjoyable day, topped off by a lovely curry made by the husband when we returned to the flat.
Wigtown Writers, Conviviality and Making New Friends
Iain and I had the pleasure of hosting the fortnightly meeting of Wigtown’s newest writers’ group on Wednesday evening in our flat above the shop.
This was a small but diverse group of writers – both genders and all ages – and included writers of poetry, short stories, non-fiction, fiction and children’s books. The meeting was convivial and was a really good chance to meet other writers and to share our experiences of the art and craft of writing and of publishing – and in the case of one brave member to share a work-in-progress and receive feedback.
One of the group, Sarah, and I discovered a common interest in the Middle East. My second novel, Displacement is partly set in Israel and it’s a country both Sarah and I have links with and have visited many times. Sarah and I went out to lunch on Thursday and spent over an hour sharing our thoughts on and experiences of this beautiful but conflicted country.
Then yesterday evening Iain and I were invited to Sarah’s for dinner. And over a delicious chicken casserole the three of us shared a lot of our life experiences and anecdotes and cemented the foundations to what we all hope will become an ongoing friendship.
And that’s one of the best things about taking part in the Open Book Project – meeting people – both the locals who have stopped by to say hallo, and the shopkeepers and cafe owners who have made us so welcome, along with visitors to Wigtown who’ve come into the shop to browse and buy. We’ve shared the nature of our role in the shop and how the project works with many of our customers and all of them have said what a great idea it is.
Today’s been our busiest so far. We’ve sold six books and a postcard and enjoyed a good blether with all twenty (so far) visitors to the shop.
Tomorrow is a day off for us and we’ll go and explore more of this beautiful area. See you on Monday!
A ‘JR Hartley’ moment, a ‘it had to happen’ moment and a mission accomplished…
It was World Book Day today so I had the brilliant idea of running a 20% off all books day in the shop. However, I don’t think there’s a career in marketing beckoning to me as we weren’t exactly swamped with customers – but we did sell eight books.
I had a bit of a serious browse myself today and have picked out some possible purchases. Yes, it had to happen! I knew I’d succumb eventually. I’m working in a bookshop, for goodness sake – a wonderful, jam-packed space full of real, actual books.
Below are the four frontrunners from this wee treasure house of a bookshop.
A volume of The Penguin New Writing series from 1941, original price 9d (4.5p for those of you who don’t remember the ‘old’ money in the UK). It has an ad for Grey’s cigarettes on the back cover. On the last page, there’s a list of books to be published later that same year. The list includes E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End and Robert Graves I Claudius. The book contains essays and extracts by Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice and C. Day Lewis to name only a few.
The Rambler’s Countryside Companion by E. Mansell is a 2009 reissue of a 1952 original walkers’ guide. I love the pipesmoker guy on the cover.
A Wild Adventure by Tom Pow is a speculative verse biography of Dumfries man Thomas Watling who was transported to Botany Bay in 1789 where he became the penal colony’s first professional artist. I attended a talk given by Pow at last year’s Edinburgh Book Festival and was very impressed by him, so this book just sits there beckoning to me.
The Longest War by Jacobo Timerman was picked out by Iain for me. This is the Israeli journalist’s personal memoir of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. I have only skimmed the book briefly, but it seems Timerman is a man of tolerance , peace and justice and he seems to have foreseen the situation that now prevails in today’s Israel, something I guess he finds lamentable, as do I.
The theme of this last book forms part of one of my own novels and pervaded today’s lunch date. I was taken out to lunch by Sarah, one of the members from one of the local writers’ group whose meeting we hosted yesterday evening in ‘our’ flat above the shop. I’ll be doing a separate post about the meeting and the lunch very soon.
The JR Hartley moment in the shop this morning was charming. (For those readers who are too young, or who aren’t from the UK, so won’t know of this reference to an old but classic TV ad there’s a Wikipedia explanation below). A couple came in and the guy was looking for a years’ old copy of the Sparky annual. It turned out he’d designed/drawn the cover but didn’t have the book and was now very keen to get it. Sadly it isn’t in the Open book’s stock.
And finally, I completed the tidy up of the children’s fiction section toady. It’s now all sorted by age and the shelves labelled accordingly. Hurrah!
Another good day in our bookshop-keeping life.
From Wikipedia: J. R. Hartley is the name of a fictional character in a popular British advertisement promoting the Yellow Pages which was first shown in 1983.
The advertisement shows an elderly man (actor Norman Lumsden) asking in several second-handbookshops for “Fly Fishing by J. R. Hartley”. Every attempt fails, and the next scene shows him at home looking dejected. His daughter, sympathising, hands him the Yellow Pages (the UK’s telephone directory for local businesses); in the next scene he looks delighted as his end of a telephone conversation reveals that a shop has a copy of the book. He asks them to keep it for him. He responds at dictation speed to a question: ‘My name? Oh, yes, it’s J. R. Hartley.’ The advertisement ends by promoting the Yellow Pages.
We had quite an assortment of people in the shop yesterday, some customers, a man from the local council and someone wanting to sell books to the shop.
The man from the council had lots of questions to ask about the shop and flat and rather flummoxed by the notion that we aren’t the owners of either. When he got his head round this fact, having been even more flummoxed by my explanation of who we were and why we were in the shop and flat, he left to pursue his enquiries elsewhere.
We caused further consternation when we had to tell the prospective seller of books that we didn’t have the authority to buy his books from him, but he seemed happy enough to go and ask the people with the authority after we pointed him in their direction.
We had one very serious book collector in – serious in the sense of his passion for collecting old books, not in his demeanour, he was actually very nice and friendly. He made a serious purchase including four beautifully illustrated volumes on wildflowers.
Another very charming gentleman came in looking for books on the history of the local railway, but alas there are no such volumes in the shop. However, we did have a pleasant chat about trains and railways in general. He even declared himself a fan of the new but somewhat controversial Edinburgh trams. He said he just loves anything that runs on rails. I do hope he will find the books he was looking for.
It was another very cold day but we gave each other time off to go out and explore the town a bit. We both headed for the harbour and wildfowl reserve, but it wasn’t a day to linger outside. After closing the shop we went to one of the local pubs for a pre-dinner drink. I did enjoy my whisky sitting by a lovely, warming log fire.
Today I continued with the sorting out of the children’s fiction section. I would never have thought that sorting books could be so tiring but it’s hard work. However, it’s also satisfying and more day should do it. I’ve almost finished sorting the books into age-appropriate sections and one lady who came in was very complimentary on the new layout. This gave me a warm and happy feeling 🙂
I have also done a children’s book window display. It’s for very young children – well more their parents actually – with suggestions for bedtime stories. It looks okay to my unartistic eye.
This evening we are hosting the monthly meeting of a local writers’ group at the flat and I’m looking forward to meeting them and joining in with their meeting. I’ll report on how it goes in my next post.
And I can’t leave without telling you the story of the spooky kettle. The kettle in the flat is the weirdest piece of kitchen equipment I’ve ever come across. Sometimes it will allow you to switch it on, other times it won’t. But if you get cross and decide to put a pan of water on the hob to heat instead, it immediately works. In fact now all we have to do when it’s playing up is put the ring on, on the hob, no pan of water necessary, and then press its button and voila, it works.
It’s day one for the husband and me in our fortnight as booksellers-in-residence at the Open Book in Wigtown. I blogged about the background to our involvement in this project here. The shop is well-stocked and has an eclectic selection of second-hand books. Outside, it’s been a bitterly cold day with snow flurries, but the shop is cosy. We had four visitors to the shop this morning and then while I nipped up to the flat for a bit of lunch, the husband had six more people come in and he made a sale.
As I write this just after 4p.m. we’ve had a total of thirteen people in for a browse. One lady – an artist – was looking for hardbacks with no pictures or photos and with page edges in good condition. The subject matter wasn’t important. This was an intriguing brief! It turned out she does paper-folding using old books. She didn’t have much time to browse, so I said I’d pick some out for her and to come back when she has more time. There’s now a small bundle awaiting her inspection.
Husband has done a tidy up of the science-fiction section and I’ve made a start on the children’s section, but it’s going to take a few days I reckon to get it a bit more child-friendly.