Book Week Scotland Write-Up

Over the next few days, we’ll be publishing some of the work produced in our six Book Week Scotland Creative Writing and Reading workshops on ‘Secrets and Confessions’ – the Scottish Book Trust’s theme for 2016 Book Week Scotland.

This first lot of work looked at Renita Boyle’s memoir piece on her local library when she was growing up. We then asked participants at the Grassmarket Community Project to write on their own safe spaces, and this is what they came up with:

James C

A walk in the park or along the canal. A place to walk away from the stress of the world. A time to forget about troubles for an hour or two.

Even longer if I head for the hills, the only company my dogs and the sound of the birds. The longer I walk the more I block out the sounds of the city.

The only people I see, we greet each other. We know each is here to escape, we walk on our own separate ways. Each knowing we have passed a fellow soul on our journey to peace.


Somewhere you can think and think again. A place for a secret chat with someone. By a beach. Maybe there are no parents around to hear what you say or do. We can have a nice calming air and smell clean sea water. I think of my ex girlfriend.


Every summer we would take the ferry over to the island for a day of fun and exploration. We would have a picnic on the little beach and then have a game of hide and seek in the old abbey. The island was full of history, and for us kids, our imaginations could run wild. Who was the hermit who lived in the tiny stone shelter? Were they real people or some monster locked away? Who lives in the modern cottage on the island? How do they buy their food?


My retreat is as safe as always. There is an invisible sign that says “keep out”! I can always trust myself, I am comfortable alone. It is my natural state. Those I keep out have gone from my world forever. This is my haven; no one can alter the peaceful state I am in. But there will always be a place for a certain someone who currently has no name They can always enter and a new life can begin.

Janita – The Farm

We grew up in a house full of people. Always someone close by, brother and sisters, parents, yet far enough away from the rest of the world that we were our own civilisation. The nearest neighbour was miles away. Escape and solitude was always there for the taking. Enough freedom and time to myself that there was always somewhere to go. On foot. On bike. An old fallen tree to climb, a dry creek bed full of someone else’s rubbish and treasures for me. Somewhere to swim. And float. Sometimes by myself, sometimes an adventure with company. Surrounded by silence, by peace, by quiet.

Now we all return with our children and try to share the big quiet with them. We explore the dams, the paddocks, the broken cars and trucks. The adventure of our childhood.

Andrea – The Swimming Pool

The smell of chlorine and sunscreen sit heavy in the air, like clouds warding off bacteria and burns. Occasional wafts of chips walk past to make your stomach grumble.

I climb to the tope of the diving board and prepare to jump. Despite the height and distance from the edge, despite being alone and visible to all, I do not feel exposed. The lifeguards keep a bored eye over us like lionesses. The tall fence keeps us secure inside. My swimsuit leaves nothing to the imagination but we’re all equally laid bare.

I shout to my sister – watch this! Legs bending, arms propelling, I take flight. Squeezing my legs into my body, wrapping my arms around my knees, I smile as I squeeze my eyes shut.

The instant relief from the heat. The cold envelops me and I travel through it, knowing I’m still safely above the bottom. It’s a challenge to even try to touch your toes on the tiles. Then kicking to the surface. My sister isn’t even looking. No matter. I swim to the ladder to go again.

Malik – The Captain’s Bar

On that Sunday night, a relaxing mood could be felt in that place, away from the dreadful thought of having to go to work on the morrow. The woody decoration, the friendliness of the bartenders, the calm of the place and the musicians help to ease the sorrow one usually feels at the end of a busy weekend.

People come together without knowing each other and give their heart to each other, unknowingly creating a piece of connection with the people, and indirectly, the place itself.

The musicians were no strangers to that phenomenon as they sat with each other and then one would eventually start playing a song and the others would follow, without asking or being asked to, it was the most natural thing in the world.

It was impossible to feel lonely in that place as the connection made its way into your heart without asking for permission. And I welcomed it greatly.

James H

Why did we do such a silly thing, eh Hamish?

She tried to control the emotion in her cracking voice.

Aw ma, just look at him – he’s shakin’ wi fright.

Aye ma dinnae scold him so the per wee thing.

Aw ma, look he’s peed himsel’.

Och no wonder – ah almost peed masel when ah saw him stood on the windae ledge. Billy – go get him a clean pair of trousers and pants….. and be quick about it.

Mother ran her hand along her forehead to remove the perspiration.

oh an ye’’d better bring him a pair of socks too.

Now ma laddie sit oan ma knee an’ tell me why you thought ye had to climb out of your bedroom window and stand oan the ledge, eh?

The boy didn’t answer, could not answer. The sisters held his hands, lovingly tapped him on his knees and ran a hand over his hair in comfort.

Come on Hamish ye kin tell us, them we kin, have a cuppa and a biscuit. There’s some fig rolls, yer favourites.
Aye, come oan, spill the beans then we’ll go ben the water-hole.


When I went to school I thought it was a safe place to be – all the people around me. And I suppose its true where ever you go . Buses, there’s a lot of people. Trains and airports too. And most of all your house. Anywhere, there are people. I suppose the Grassmarket at well.

I always felt safe in a group. When I was growing up there were a lot of people around me, and there still are a lot of people.


Open Book At Edinburgh International Book Festival 2016

This year, Open Book readers used 130 tickets across 8 events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, including Alice Oswald,  Alexander McCall Smith, Jo Baker and Nina Stibbe. Our readers came from a number of different organisations, including Deaf Action, Glasgow Women’s Library, The Welcoming, St Joseph’s Care Home and the Grassmarket Community Project (as well as Open Book public groups at The Botanics, National Library of Scotland and the Scottish Poetry Library), many of whom were visiting the Book Festival for the first time. Over the course of the day, our readers enjoyed lunch or afternoon tea, and were given the opportunity to take in the atmosphere of the Book Festival in a relaxed environment. We are grateful to the many Open Book volunteers, many of whom buddied our readers, who made the day possible!

This year, for the first time, Open Book also had a daily reserved table in the Speigeltent, which meant our regular groups could choose to meet in the Book Festival (rather than their usual locations), and soak up the atmosphere of the festival!

Also, for the second year running, Claire and Marjorie were asked to plan and run Open Book reading workshops as a part of the Book Festival programme.  This year, the workshops focussed on the sonnet (ranging from Shakespeare to the sonnets of poets reading at the Book Festival), the short stories of James Kelman, and the poetry and prose of Scotland’s new Makar, Jackie Kay.


New Open Book group at Royal Botanic Gardens

Open Book are delighted to be launching a new shared reading group today. Taking place at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, every Thursday morning between 10.30 -12 noon the group will run as a drop-in session with no need to book in advance. Long term our home with be Botanic Cottage, the newly-opened Education Centre, but until the refit is complete we will meet at reception at the John Hope Gateway at 10.20am.

Sharing stories and poems with a good sprinkling of coffee and cake, everyone is welcome.


Journeys with Open Book for Book Week Scotland

Book Week Scotland (BWS) was a fun-filled and hectic time this year for Open Book as we ran shared reading and creative writing workshops with Venture Trust, Grassmarket Community Project, St Joseph’s Care Home and at the Royal Botanic Gardens as part of the programme of events. Looking at the theme of ‘Journeys” based on readings from the 2015 BWS publication, participants at the workshops produced a stunning portfolio of writing, which will be published on the new City of Literature website in April (link to follow).


Shared Reading at EIBF

Open Book founders Marjorie Gill and Claire Urquhart found themselves involved on the other side of Edinburgh International Book Festival events when they presented three shared reading workshops as part of the 2015 EIBF programme. Looking at each of Louis De Bernieres short stories, Julian Barnes Sense of an Ending and Simon Armitage poetry in three separate 90 minute sessions, the events ran in a very similar way to the weekly shared reading sessions that Open Book run throughout the year.

Over 50 people joined us over the three sessions, many of whom then went on to hear the authors we discussed at the Open Book workshops, speak about their latest works in other EIBF events. A new experience for Open Book but ne we very much hope to repeat in the future.


Open Book at EIBF

Open Book’s annual visit to the EIBF 2015 saw more than 50 participants representing a wide variety of organisations travel to Charlotte Square. Visitors from Glasgow Women’s Library, Deaf Action Scotland, Grassmarket Community Project, Venture Trust, St Joseph’s Care Home and Crisis coming together under the Open Book umbrella to enjoy a day of author events.

Colm Toibin started the day off with a discussion of his latest book Nora Webster. The group form St Joseph’s had already read the first chapter and had lots to say about it when we adjourned for lunch. The afternoon saw attendance at a discussion led by Ghada Karmi of her exile from Palestine and return many years later and our day concluded (after more sandwiches and cake!) with attendance at performance poet, Kate Tempest’s event – her rendition of her work saw the normally reserved Book Festival crowd on their feet. A great end to our day.


Open Book Creative Writing Workshops for Book Week Scotland

Open Book was commissioned by UNESCO City of Literature and Scottish Book Trust to run two shared reading and creative writing sessions around Scotland’s Stories of Home at the Grassmarket Community Project and St Joseph’s Care Home. In both sessions, we read short stories and poems, and responded first with discussion of similar memories of our own.  That discussion was followed by short creative writing exercises, with additional volunteers on hand to help some members scribe their memories.  Those pieces of writing have now been typed up and are due to appear on the UNESCO City of Literature website shortly!  Links to the writing to follow…..



Open Book in Conversation with Scotland’s Libraries

The Open Book group at the Grassmarket Community Project took part in a focus group commissioned by the Scottish Libraries Information Council to learn more about what people want to get from their local library service.  The discussion was lively and engaged, and full of opinions!  After the session, this word cloud was developed to encapsulate some of the ideas from our group about their perception of libraries:


Open Book at Marilynne Robinson

On 16 November, Open Book took a group of its readers from St Joseph’s Care Home to hear Marilynne Robinson read from her new book, Lila. Here’s what one of our readers, Eileen, wrote about the event:

“A capacity audience filled the Roxburgh Hall, the platform dressed in black stage curtains, with spotlights focussed on a table spread with appropriate texts and around it the places prepared for the protagonists, for her audiences had come to listen to the dialogue between Marilynne Robinson and the erudite and urbane critic discussing Lila, which judging by the enthusiastic response of the listeners to her presence, her body of writing was much favoured by them.

Lila is the story of the relationship between the enigmatic but instinctively clever and courteous “Doll” who raised the child she had stolen to contented maturity despite offering her much of the time a hand to routine existence, until eventually she was able to make her own way to a mature and stable emotional relationship with a cleric whose kindness and integrity she recognised and appreciated.

She raised their child for an uncertain future, in which Lila learned to accept the kindness of others, particularly that of the church workers who saw her need and did their best to satisfy them.

She managed without the help of Doll, reading and studying the Bible, drawing strength from it, satisfying her intellectual curiosity through her husband with some concern for their future.

It is an unusual story but judging by the queue of men and women waiting to have their copies of her book signed it is a book which as appealed to many.”


Open Book at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014

This year, Open Book took 28 readers (including some volunteers) from two groups to the Edinburgh International Book Festival to hear readings by Sebastian Barry and Max Egremont.  Both days were great fun, and brought to life the reading we’d been doing in the weeks before our outings.