Marking Holocaust Memorial Day with Edinburgh Libraries

Join us this month to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Lighting up the Darkness
Edinburgh Libraries have adapted the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s photography project to allow us to grow our Edinburgh Collected online community archive. We hope to gather some extraordinary memories and photographs which will be able to share for many years to come.
Find out how you can contribute to the Light up the Darkness photography project on Edinburgh Collected.

Wednesday 27 January at 11am – Bosnia and beyond
HMD 2021 – Bosnia and beyond: in conversation with Denis Rutovitz and Jeanne Bell, co-founders of Edinburgh Direct Aid

Carol Marr, Library Development Leader will host a pre-recorded event on Stockbridge Library’s Facebook page discussing EDA’s work as a grass roots charity based in Edinburgh. This includes work in Bosnia, Denis and Jeanne’s own personal involvement, the role and commitment of volunteers and about EDA’s work today in Lebanon working with Syrian Refugees.

Wednesday 27 January at 7pm – Reading Ceremony
Join Edinburgh Libraries’ staff and readers for an evening of reading and remembering.

We will be reading short passages from a number of fiction and non-fiction books about the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution and the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

At the end of the ceremony, there will be an opportunity for everyone to light a candle and take part in a minute’s silence.
Book your free place for this Reading Ceremony via Eventbrite.

Wednesday 27 January at 7pm, Holocaust Memorial Day UK Commemorative Event
The UK Commemorative Event acts as a spotlight for all of the Holocaust Memorial Day activities in the UK. The ceremony is be open to everyone and it is hoped that as many people as possible will watch and engage with the event to honour survivors of the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution, and the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur and to resolve to learn lessons from the past to create a safer, better future.
You can register to watch the ceremony on 27 January.

Reading together whilst apart – using picture books in your online calls

In today’s blog, Catherine from Muirhouse Library, (currently attached to Kirkliston Library) and an illustrator, gives some handy tips and advice for reading together whilst apart.

We’re all getting so used to Zoom calls with friends and family, but it can be difficult to find a way to keep little people in the room when they’re so busy bobbing around doing their own thing. There are fantastic online storytelling sessions available and lots of families have been enjoying these together. But if you’re on a video call with your own family, and especially if you want to keep a connection alive with a wee one who’s far away this winter, you have the perfect opportunity to tailor a reading experience to your child’s exact preferences. Make it funny, make it chatty, make it musical, make it silly – give it a shot and see what books can bring to your Zoom call!

Illustration by Catherine Lindow

Choosing a book
Little ones won’t cut you any slack if their attention starts to wander while you’re reading, so the safest choice is a book that is bold and attention-grabbing. Interactivity is brilliant onscreen. It gives both readers a role and keeps your listener hooked into the plot while they wait for ‘their bit’.

Some books are written so that it’s clear when each person speaks – try ‘There’s a Dragon in your Book’ by Tom Fletcher/Greg Abbott – or ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus’ by Mo Willems. In other books, you just can’t resist joining in. ‘All Join In!’ by Quentin Blake is great for this. Animal noises are also good – ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ by Julia Donaldson/Lydia Monks will work well. You probably have others in your household – don’t rule out the option of reading a book that is already familiar to the child. Having it read by a different person is really satisfying!

Humour is a winner when you have a small wriggly person to entertain. ‘Danny McGee Drinks the Sea’ by Andy Stanton/Neal Layton is a fantastic read-aloud, with a punchy rhyming text that little ones love. Theresa Heapy & Sue Heap’s ‘Very Little Red Riding Hood’ has a really funny toddler main character that brings out the silly voice in any reader; older siblings especially will laugh their socks off. And the ‘Oi Frog’ series (Kes Gray/Jim Field) is always popular– you’ll have a job getting through without snorting with laughter yourself.

Big bold illustrations are much easier to see than soft detailed ones when you are holding a book up to a camera, so opt for something punchy and visible. Read any by Morag Hood, or Jon Klassen’s pictures read really well onscreen – try I want my hat back or ones written by Mac Barnett.

Rhyming texts are also fab – pick any Julia Donaldson title, or how about Mike Nicholson’s ‘Thistle Street’ series (illustrated by Clare Keay), for rhyming text in Scots. Don’t be shy about getting a saucepan and a spoon out and using them to beat out a simple rhythm while you read – and your little reading partner at the other end of the call can do the same! An all-time winner for rhyme is ‘The Giant Jam Sandwich’ by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway, but watch out for the fantastically detailed illustrations. Hold them right up to the camera for best effect.

Before your storytime
Look at the book by yourself beforehand. It can really help to be familiar with the story, so you can read confidently while holding the book up to the camera.

Which are the important bits of the illustrations? If some of the story is told in the pictures, make sure you hold that bit of the page up to the camera so that it can be seen at the right moment.

Are you going to put on a different voice for any of the characters? If you enjoy doing that, it’s easier if you know beforehand when you’re going to do it. If you want to be really organized you can put little sticky page markers against the bits you need the voices for. This makes it easier to spot if you are reading upside down or from the side of the page!

Check how the whole set-up looks onscreen and make sure your listener can see the illustrations properly. If there’s a reflection on the page, if it’s lit from behind or if the book is too far away, it won’t be visible to the child. Be prepared to ‘zoom in’ on important or entertaining details within the pictures and decide beforehand what those are. This is a great way to change the pace – like showing a close-up in a film.

During the storytime
Use any way you can think of to make it easy for the child to listen. It’s very different from the close-in, physical experience of reading a book together on a sofa, so you have to work a wee bit harder to replace that. It’s nice for them to know they’re under no pressure. If you tell them up front it’s just something to try out, you haven’t lost anything. If you’re feeling flexible you could offer them a choice of a couple of titles, and tell them what’s good about each one.

You can give the child clues for things to look out for: ‘We’re going to see a cow in this book. What does a cow say?’ and that sort of thing. If they know they’ll get a chance to add sound effects it’s already a winner.

While you’re reading, your face can be part of the story too. You can pop round the side of the book and show by your expression that you think the dog licking the ice-cream is being naughty, or that you’re sleepy and yawning just like the main character. Switching between showing whole double spreads of the book, showing close-ups of the illustration details and showing your own face in shot are your three main options for changing the pace and keeping the visual interest. Of course it’s also brilliant if you’re reading to a little family member and you want to show them your friendly face as part of the package!

The most important thing of all!
Don’t aim to read for very long. Short. Is. Sweet. Lots of books invite conversation afterwards if they still have energy, or do you know any songs that tie in with what you’ve just read? ‘Old Macdonald Had a Farm’ could pair up with ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ – with pictures of animals held up to the camera at just the right moment!

When you have a book in your hand, you have a huge resource-pool for your onscreen chats, however you choose to use it. You don’t even need to read the whole story if there’s a single picture that you think your reading partner will love. It’s a great tool and a lovely way to link in with the real-life experiences you can have when you and the wee one are able to snuggle up together on that sofa once again.

Edinburgh Libraries are marking Holocaust Memorial Day with Edinburgh Collected

Edinburgh Libraries have taken inspiration from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust photography competition (now closed) on the theme of Be the Light in the Darkness to enable us to record pictures and memories on our online community archive, Edinburgh Collected.

We are looking for original images focussing on the people, groups, images and objects which light up the darkness. Photos are immediate and capture the contemporary situation faster than any other creative medium. They also give us extraordinary insight into past events.

Think about what the ‘darkness’ and the ‘light’ have been for you, or for others in the past. How would you capture this in a photo? Who or what has been a source of hope, inspiration or support through dark times?

Photojournalism has been used to document the horrific conditions of concentration camps and the atrocities of genocide and war and has served as a powerful testimony for combatting Holocaust denial.

However, there have also been recent discussions on the inappropriate use of distressing images. Do not try to recreate any images from past conflicts, do not photograph people in distressing situations, instead, focus your image on what has been the light rather than the darkness.

1. Get to know the 2021 Holocaust Memorial Day Be The Light In The Darkness theme and read the life story of a survivor of the Holocaust or one of the more recent genocides on the Holocaust Memorial Day website. You might like to read about the experiences of Mussa, a survivor of the Genocide in Rwanda, who sees his passion for photography as a tool for change.

2. Think about how this theme is relevant to you. What is the ‘darkness’ and what is the ‘light’?

3. Research how other photographers have used themes of light and dark visually in their work for inspiration.

4. Be creative! Make your photo as unique to you or your group as possible. We are looking for original, relevant and diverse images.

5. You can use phone filters if you want to but remember not to use any editing software like Photoshop or Illustrator.

6. Create an account on and share your photos on the Be the Light in the Darkness theme.

You can upload in time for Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, however Edinburgh Collected is there for you all year round.

If you want more information or any help getting started with Edinburgh Collected, please contact

Making it this winter with the help of emagazines from Edinburgh Libraries

With many of us confined more to our homes again in the winter months, it’s a good time to get crafting and we’ve a wealth of magazines on our newspaper and magazine platform PressReader to get you started and inspired. Search under ‘Crafts & Hobbies’ to find crafting magazines.

One tip for crafting – don’t throw bits and bobs away. That little bit of wool can be stitched up to a blanket square and odd bits of wrapping paper are great for decoupage. Start simple with a project you can achieve, it’ll build your confidence.

Let’s get started with crochet!

One thing that’s perfect for snuggling up on a cold winter’s day is a crocheted blanket. There are lots of crochet magazines on Press Reader, but we found a lovely pattern for a blanket in this one – Mollie Makes Ultimate Crochet Blanket Collection. It brings together lots of blanket patterns from the pages of Simply Crochet magazine – which is also available on Press Reader.

Mollie Makes is a fantastic magazine covering a wide range of craft ideas so if you’re looking to start something new, this is your first stop for inspiration and is available on PressReader.

Knitting has become a hugely popular activity in recent years with a huge range of new patterns and ideas available. PressReader has a fabulous collection of knitting magazines to choose from. Top of the range is probably The Knitter – good for exploring new techniques and for people who want to knit patterns from some of the best designers. If you are more of a  novice try looking at magazines Simply Knitting or Love Knitting.

Have you been hooked to watching The Great British Sewing Bee? Perhaps you’ve been inspired to take up sewing. Get some help with Simply Sewing available on PressReader a fabulously practical sewing magazine aimed at people who sew or would like to start sewing. It’s a mag with lots of practical tips on techniques and a range of project ideas from garments and home furnishings to toys and ways to customise existing clothes and brighten up your environment, like covering your home office pin board with fabric. You don’t need a sewing machine to get started with small projects. There’s also inspiring profiles of celebrity stitchers and bloggers to get you inspired.

If you enjoy sewing and end up with scraps of material you don’t want to throw away, have you thought about starting patchwork and quilting? Quilting is a great craft for using up scraps. Start with a small, project that is easy and realistic to achieve and work up to that heirloom quilt. Love Quilting is a great magazine for quick and easy patterns to get you going. For more experienced quilters there are tips on developing new techniques. Another favourite quilting magazine is Quilter’s World with tips on techniques and patterns but beautifully inspiring examples of fabulous quilts.

If you like making cards or want to try your hand at a new craft have a go at papercraft. Most of us have bits of paper and card lying about or rummage in your recycling and you’re sure to find materials you can rework. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at pop-up or concertina cards get some inspiration from Papercrafts inspirations magazine and you’ll never buy a birthday card again!

We hope you might be inspired to take up a new craft this winter and we’d love to hear about what you’re making – tweet Central Library at @edcentlib with pictures of your creations!

Discover the history of Portobello on Our Town Stories

Portobello is Edinburgh’s bustling seaside town, well known for its beach and views over to Fife.

A new story on Our Town Stories uncovers some facts about the area you might be less familiar with.

Did you know that it was once home to many industries, including a chocolate factory?

Where were the Marine Gardens, home to the Empress Ballroom, speedway racing, a zoo, ornamental gardens and maze?

Can you name which of Scotland’s most famous entertainers was born in Portobello, or which resident was the first Scot to swim the Channel?

Why not delve into Our Town Stories and dip your toes into some fascinating facts about Portobello’s history and landmarks?

David T. Rose’s pictures of Edinburgh

Our latest Capital Collections exhibition showcases the beautiful watercolour paintings by Scottish artist David Thomas Rose held by Central Library.

Cockburn Street, c1942

David T. Rose was born, grew up and studied in Scotland but his working life as a civil engineer took him further afield including to Malta, Yorkshire, Wales and London. However, he regularly returned for family holidays visiting his sister in Edinburgh and other relatives in Fife. It’s believed the watercolours of Edinburgh and environs in this collection were painted on these trips. The exhibition features scenes of city life encompassing diverse areas including the Old Town and Craigmillar, Joppa and Leith.

Calton Hill, looking west, c1942

To view the complete set of 70 artworks, visit the wonderful David T. Rose’s pictures of Edinburgh exhibition on Capital Collections.

Craigmillar Castle, c1942

Some of our favourite books of 2020

In a year when we’ve turned to reading more than ever for escape and solace, we asked our library colleagues which was their book of the year.

Chris from Fountainbridge Library says her favourite book of the year is Those who are loved by Victoria Hislop.
“It is another wonderful weaving of stories from today back to a difficult and treacherous past. I liked it particuarly because it shines a light on a part of Greece’s history that is just at the edge of human memory and so reveals the youth of today’s great grandparents. It runs very true to some Greek friends own family memories. Victoria’s prose is very readable and the research never restricts a good story. A great book for a wet weekend.”
Available to borrow as an audiobook

Claire from the Information and Learning Resources Team recommends The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge.
“It’s a hazard of my job that I read mostly Young Adult Fiction, and this is no exception, but I’d urge adults to read it too. Set in Victorian times, it is about a young girl called Faith Sunderly who moves to a remote island with her father, a scientist who has been mysteriously disgraced. There, she discovers a tree that when fed a lie, uncovers a truth. When her father is murdered, her lies told to the tree become more and more dangerous and destructive in an effort to find out what happened to him. All the while she’s fighting with the constraints of being an intelligent girl interested in science in a time when she wasn’t allowed to have a career. The whole book is dripping with sinister tension and I loved the magical realism tied in with real science.” 
Available to borrow as an ebook

Susannah from Moredun Library says the book that has stuck most with her this year is The Choice by Clare Wade.
“I read this book in March, just as things started getting intense and the enormity of the pandemic was starting to sink in. A few elements of the book had striking similarities to what was playing out in the real world. This book follows the main character Olivia, previously a baker who is living in an almost dystopian future where the government, led by “Mother Mason”, controls its citizens choices and decisions around diet and exercise all in the name of health and happiness. Sweet treats are outlawed and government mandated exercise regimes are in place for all citizens. A small group of rebels is working under the surface against the injustices of the regime which violently punished anyone considered to be wrong-doing, under the guise of re-education schemes.
The book made me think a lot about a government’s place in setting regulations and restrictions which felt very relevant at the time. The character development of this woman who wished to cause no trouble, not break the rules and endanger her family was battling with desire to do what she loved, baking. Her change into a leader of a rebellion showed that anyone if given the right motivations will find a way to fight for what is right.”

Douglas from the Music Library picks Night Theatre by Vikram Paralkar
“I knew nothing about this book and, as with a lot of books I read, I have no idea why I choose it but I am very glad I did. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you strike out.
Night Theatre is a strange different ghost story of a put-upon doctor, fleeing a scandal and practising in a remote village, where his work is overseen by a corrupt lesser official, the doctor finds himself trying to save the lives of a family who have been attacked and murdered in another place.
Described as otherworldly and a haunting contemplation of life death and the liminal space between. A hot dirty dusty tale which is ultimately about hope and redemption. This is another title for my short, but growing, list of books which have completely surprised me, by how much I have enjoyed them.”
Available to borrow as an ebook

Bronwen from the Art and Design and Music Libraries recommends two very different books, firstly, English pastoral: an inheritance by James Rebanks:
“You might follow the Lakeland farmer and author James Rebanks on Twitter and Instagram – I love his photographs of Herdwick sheep – or you might have read his earlier books The Shepherd’s Life and The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd. 
I picked up a copy of Reebanks’ latest book English Pastoral whilst on a very welcome break to the Lake District in September and want to shout out to everyone please read this book. A moving memoir of farming history tracing back from Reebanks’s grandfather to the present day, this book explains why we have lost so many species of birds from our hedgerows and why so many farmers have been forced to adopt unsustainable farming methods just to survive. But this is ultimately a book of hope and wonder beautifully written. Guided by what Reebanks learns from both his grandfather and his father’s later disillusionment with factory farming, Reebanks salvages from this a new, sustainable approach to farming that shows us all a path for the future. Working with environmental groups Reebanks describes how he has increased the biodiversity of his farm, reclaimed some of the farming methods of his grandfather, but also created a way forward for farming to work in tandem with nature.” 
The Shepherd’s Life is available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook.

Bronwen’s second choice is Ghosts by Dolly Alderton
“My daughters, both in their 20s, recommended Dolly Alderton’s Ghosts to me. As a fan of Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes’s podcast The High Low (sadly now finished) about both popular and contemporary news and culture I was very keen to read Dolly Alderton’s first novel Ghosts. 
The novel centres around a year in the life of Nina Dean who has just hit her thirties. Set in London Nina has just bought her own very small flat and is a successful food writer but Nina’s thirties are not cracked up to be what she expected with friends drifting away to the suburbs with husbands and children, the challenges of dating and dating apps, and her own parents succumbing to issues presented by ageing. The men in the book including the married ones are largely, but not all thankfully, commitment-phobic and irresponsible. The title of the book Ghosts refers to the phenomenon of ‘ghosting’ whereby you are just dropped with no explanation, not even a text, no contact with someone you previously thought was really into you.
I’m trying not to give too much away but this book is a great read with really acute and witty observations of human behaviour and helps me understand something about the challenges of the world in which millennials find themselves. Sad in places but also very funny this book is a great eye opener and a testament in the end to friendship and family.” 
Available to borrow as a audiobook 

Ailsa from Central Lending and Central Children’s tells us about Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
“I’ve always read a lot of books written by women, but this year I tried to read more books from Black authors too. One of my favourites this year was Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. With a background rooted in the racist history of the American South, Legendborn tells the story of a young black girl, Bree, who attends a prestigious college on a scholarship program and soon finds that she can see things that her friends can’t – magical things.
Soon she ends up involved in secret societies, fighting monsters, myths and legends. What makes this different from the average fantasy novel is that Deonn doesn’t ignore the legacy of slavery and the impact this has on a magical world, and the perspective this offers is both challenging and rewarding.
Oh, and did I mention it’s based on the King Arthur legend? It may be aimed at teenagers and young adults but there’s a lot in there for us not-so-young adults to enjoy too.” 

Zoe from Central Library’s book, or series, of the year is Ali Smith’s ‘Seasons’ quartet, comprising Autumn, Winter, Spring and finishing with Summer.
“This is one of those series which you can dip in and out of, not having to read all the books, and not having to stick to the sequence, but if you do, you will have something much greater than the sum of its parts. You might feel as I did, that you’d been given an intricate, thought-provoking present. 
‘Seasons’ is an epic story broken into four pieces. It’s not easy to pigeonhole, but I feel it tells the story of the UK over the last 50-odd years through a cast of characters at various stages of their lives, from childhood to hovering at Death’s door. Some of these characters are revisited in the other books, or just fleetingly alluded to, and this helps to mesh the stories together and create the sense of a many-layered ‘whole’, full of connections and coincidences – just as in real life.
Alongside the personal stories of her fiction characters there are the real social and political events going on around them, and everything, everybody is portrayed with honesty – warts and all. There is a lot to be aggrieved about in the picture of ourselves and our world that she presents us, but she has such a light and humane touch, so I think it’s an ultimately hopeful picture. 
It’s such a pleasure to read these books because she is clearly a writer who has found her voice, and the confidence with which she takes the narratives across time and space, in and out of dream states, or just anywhere she pleases, shines through.
Her writing is very often playful, but definitely not whimsical or meandering – she is in full control of her material and she masterfully weaves all the experiences of her characters, their particular contexts and perspectives into an amazingly subtle portrait of Britain. And I think there is enough depth and breadth in this portrait that most readers would find something to relate to, and something that moves them. 
If you’re like me, you’ll tear through these books and wish there were more. Smith is such a mesmerising storyteller. She is a safe pair of hands, to put it mildly, and I’d go willingly wherever she wants to lead, which is not something I could say for more than 5 other authors, ever. Bravo!”
Autumn is available to borrow as an ebook
Winter is available to borrow as an ebook
Spring is available to borrow as an ebook
Summer is available to borrow as an audiobook

Heather from South Queensferry and Kirkliston Libraries chooses The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. 
“This is a book that was always on my periphery as it sat on the shelf in the children’s department at Blackhall Library.  For some reason it always caught my eye, but I never wanted to read it.  I was almost annoyed at it sitting there, staring at me as I worked.  However, it is when you can’t have something that you most want it, so this wee book was still haunting me as Covid-19 hit and I finally borrowed the ebook.  I feel so sad that I neglected this story for so long as it’s an absolute pleasure to read and one I will be sharing with family and friends for a long time to come.
Despite a horrific start in life, orphaned Nobody Owens (Bod) is a normal boy who happens to live in a graveyard where he is raised and protected by the resident ghosts. Bod is given the Freedom of the Graveyard where he is safe to play and explore and thanks to Neil Gaiman’s wonderful storytelling, the graveyard becomes as familiar a place to the reader as it is to Bod.  A cast of quirky, spectral characters contribute their knowledge and ghostly powers to Bod’s unconventional upbringing, but danger is never far away, and the man Jack has some unfinished business.  How will Bod cope when he leaves the graveyard and the protection of its walls?
A special mention to Chris Riddell’s fabulously macabre illustrations which are a real delight, and I was surprised they worked so well in the ebook version. 
Don’t be like me, give The Graveyard Book a go, it won’t take you long to read and you won’t be disappointed!” 
Available to borrow as an ebook

One of Susan from the Digital Team’s favourite books was My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay.
“I hadn’t ever read any of Lemn’s poetry and decided to read this autobiography after seeing Lemn on a TV interview. The story of his early life is both riveting and heart-breaking. You feel that you are side by side with this beautiful, happy child whilst the most unbelievably cruelty is inflicted upon him by the people that are suppose to protect him. Focussing not just on his own story, but also the wider issues of the care system, this memoir is written with searing honesty. Stripped progressively of his origins, family and even his name we see Lemn fight to make sense of what has happened to him and to find out who he really is. Ultimately it’s a story of hope and survival, but without sanitising the long lasting effects that the past have inflicted.”
Available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

Mel from Corstorphine Library particularly enjoyed Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
“This quirky book is translated from Icelandic and is a really easy and engaging read.
Hotel Silence tells the story of Jonas, a middle aged man whose life is falling apart. He decides to buy a one-way ticket to a war ravaged country and commit suicide. Although the story may sound a little grim, the author handles the subject well and instead of a depressing read, Jonas meets a cast of weird, wonderful and brave characters who help him to find meaning and purpose in his life again. I found the characters to be really likeable and the style of writing is so beautifully done. I also read the author’s newest book ‘Miss Iceland’ this year and loved it as well. She seems to have endings that really make a statement!”
Available to borrow as an ebook

Alison from the Digital Team recommends The garden jungle, or, Gardening to save the planet by Dave Goulson
“This book will appeal to anyone interested in gardens, flowers or the nature that is on our doorstep. The author does not shy away from discussing controversial subjects like the use of pesticides and their potentially devastating impact on nature, but the book focuses on the role everyone can have to make a difference for nature. There is lots of advice and ideas for transforming your green space whatever the size to attract wildlife whether it is choosing plants to attract bees and other insects or creating places for nature to thrive. I have been inspired to try out some new gardening ideas in 2021, and look forward to welcoming new wildlife residents or visitors to my allotment plot.”

Doris from Central Lending really enjoyed Dear reader: the comfort and joy of books by Cathy Rentzenbrink.
“In this book, the author intersperses her life story with intriguing details of the main characters and/or plot, of her favourite books. What shines through in Dear reader is her love of books and how reading brings so much comfort and joy to her life. 
For me, Dear reader acted as a gateway to other authors and novels and following Cathy Rentzenbrink’s recommendation, I read Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively. This is a wonderful novel and also one of my favourite books of 2020.” 
Moon Tiger is available to borrow as an ebook

Nicola from South Queensferry and Kirkliston Libraries has two favourite books from this very peculiar year. Her first is The cat and the city by Nick Bradley:
“This collection of short stories linked by the same little calico cat both amazed and astonished me. For those like me who are not usually fans of the short stories format do not be put off. This reads more like a coherent work of fiction and flows so easily. The constantly evolving city of Tokyo holds your attention and the same set of central characters are cleverly interwoven between chapters. The universal themes of belonging and loneliness are explored in a sensitive and darkly comic way.”
Available to borrow as an ebook 

Nicola’s second recommendation is Normal people by Sally Rooney.
“I was one of the many people during lockdown to binge my way through all of the episodes of Normal People. I had read that the TV version whilst visually stunning and addictive viewing was not entirely true to the book. Usually being someone who must read the book first I approached the book  with huge expectation. It did not disappoint and the main difference I found was that the inner voices of Marianne and Connor were far more evident. There are also a more dynamic and broader range of relationships conveyed. There are many issues and themes, in particular around mental health which are dealt with in a profound and sensitive way. I urge you to give the book a try even if you think you know the story from TV.”
Available to borrow as an ebook 

Nikki from Corstorphine’s stand out read for 2020 is Beloved by Toni Morrison.
“This amazing novel was a mix of some of my favourite genres – magic realism, historical fiction, and with just a touch of horror and suspense. Set in Ohio in 1873, the story centres around Sethe. Born into slavery, despite the odds Sethe manages to escape and create a new life for herself. However, she still struggles with the memories of the Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky, and is haunted by the thought of those she left behind or couldn’t save. One day a mysterious girl arrives at the door and brings some of Sethe’s darkest memories and secrets with her.
I really couldn’t put this book down once I’d started reading. I loved the journey of getting to know Sethe’s character and background slowly, and never knowing what I’d feel next turning each page! The story can be devastatingly sad at times, but uplifting and philosophical at others. Sadly Toni Morrison passed away in 2019, but left many other incredible stories, including the Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon. I’m looking forward to reading these and anything else I can find by her.” 
Beloved is available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

Clare from the Digital Team most enjoyed The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.
“The Dutch House was an engrossing family saga that transported me across the Atlantic and back in time. It’s a poignant story of family love and loss and a reminder that dwelling on a past, especially one seen through the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia, is futile: appreciate what you have here and now.”
Available to borrow as an ebook

Bageshri from Central Lending chose When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi.
“It is a memoir of a 36-year-old neurosurgeon who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book takes the reader on a journey of the author’s life from being a student, to a doctor, to a patient and a father. The journey becomes emotional and painful. The book makes the reader think about what the most important things in life are. In today’s world we are so behind the materialistic things. But for someone who is facing a death, all those things become worthless. And it becomes even worse when the person doesn’t know how many years, months, or even days are left. As the author says, “The truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day?”
We take so many things for granted in life. But when the ugly side of the life shows its face unexpectedly, our whole perspective towards life changes. A very touching and eye-opening book, which taught me to appreciate whatever I have got in my life!”
Available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

Catherine from Muirhouse, and more recently Kirkliston, also sneaks in two recommendations. Her first book of the year is The Emperor Waltz by Philip Hensher.
“I spent a while wracking my brains for two books which stayed with me this year. One followed the fortunes of the founder members of a gay bookshop in 1980s London. The other visited Weimar Germany and the students of the Bauhaus school – rather green, rather muddled, very skint and trying their best. It was only when I looked back through this year’s library loans that I remembered that these were two of the various storylines in this one book – which could fairly be described as a ‘sprawling read’ but is also by turns chatty, wise and very funny. I picked it up in Stockbridge Library on the last day before closure and it turned out to be a perfect lockdown read.

Catherine’s second choice is Bearmouth by Liz Hyder.
“This haunting YA novel is set deep underground in a coal mine, but doesn’t tie itself to any real time or place. It’s written entirely in an invented, mis-spelled dialect which is charmingly childlike but also pulls you right into the central character’s bodily experiences as Newt Coombes becomes more aware of what another life might offer and how it might be reached. The horrible world of the mine is brilliantly drawn and there is a decent assortment of goodies and baddies and in-betweenies, but it’s Newt’s voice which is the wow-factor here.”  

Ania from Central Lending recommends My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
“I have only just recently discovered Elena Ferrante’s novels.  I was mesmerized by the Neapolitan series – four novels that make up a single book. My Brilliant Friend is a gripping first volume in the widely acclaimed series.
The novel creates an unsentimental portrait of female experience, rivalry and friendship. It also happens to be a history of Italy in the late 20th century, as the story begins in the 1950s, in a chaotic, impoverished and violent but vibrant neighbourhood in Naples. Taken together, the novels span some 50 years, chronicling the life-long friendship between Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco. 
I love the story, it is rich on so many levels, it touches many different subjects: friendships, education, family life, but also difficult choices we all need to make. It is sometimes incredibly sad, thought-provoking and disturbing, other times calm and cheerful. It is a series I certainly recommend, and a 5-star read for me.” 
My Brilliant Friend is available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

We hope we’ve given you a little reading inspiration for 2021.

And remember, whilst our libraries remain closed, you can borrow and download many of these titles and hundreds more from our Library2go service from home.

Green Pencil Award-winner 2020

We’re delighted to announce the winning entry for this year’s Green Pencil creative writing competition, is Summertime in lockdown by Rosanna Jerdin from Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce.

Now sit back, listen and enjoy a specially recorded reading of Rosanna’s winning poem by poet, Michael Pederson.

Summertime in lockdown by Rosanna Jerdin, read by Michael Pedersen

And in case you missed it, here’s a link to yesterday’s Green Pencil blog post where all four of our finalists’ brilliant nature writing are available to listen online.

Green Pencil Award 2020

A huge thank you to everyone who submitted their entry to this year’s Green Pencil creative writing competition.

We couldn’t avoid the topic of year, so this 2020’s Green Pencil writing theme was Scotland’s nature in lockdown.

The competition was open to all P4-P7 aged children in Edinburgh and, once again, to young people in S1-3. Entries could be poetry, prose or story.

In normal times, we would host an awards ceremony for the finalists at Central Library but of course, current restrictions meant that couldn’t go ahead. Instead, here you can listen to our finalists read their highly commended entries against specially made Green Pencil nature videos.

First though, a message from last year’s Green Pencil winner, Charlotte Schegel to this year’s finalists:

A message to this year’s finalists from Green Pencil 2019 winner, Charlotte Schlegel

Now we invite you to enjoy the nature writing from our super talented finalists:

COVID-19 Lockdown by Amelia Goodacre from Bonaly Primary School
Summertime in lockdown by Rosanna Jerdin from Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce
Jailed in our houses by Nicky Sim, Boroughmuir High School
Notice nature by Callie Walker from The Royal High School

Come back tomorrow when the winning entry will be revealed!

Edinburgh’s water supply

A new story on Our Town Stories describes how a clean and safe water supply was brought to the city.

Edinburgh grew up around the Castle Rock with little provision for sanitation. For hundreds of years, residents were dependent on unreliable private and public pump wells, most having to collect water from the communal well.

Waiting at the wells, engraving, 1890

In the 1670s, the first sources of water which came into the city from springs in the Pentland Hills were piped into a reservoir on Castle Hill which in turn, supplied the street pumps. However, by 1817, faced with growing discontent from the populace about the insufficient supply, the Town Council needed to find another solution.

In 1819, approval for the construction of a reservoir at Glencorse was granted.

Glencorse Reservoir, c1879

Read further on Our Town Stories to find out how Edinburgh’s water supply has expanded over the subsequent two centuries and to see amazing photographs of feats of engineering.

Christmas and New Year library opening hours

The Christmas and New Year opening hours for our reopened libraries will be:

Friday 25 December – all libraries closed
Saturday 26 December – all libraries closed
Monday 28 December  – all libraries closed
Tuesday 29 December – open with revised hours (due to Covid-19)
Wednesday 30 December – open with revised hours (due to Covid-9)
Thursday 31 December – Fountainbridge, Gilmerton, Kirkliston and Stockbridge Libraries will be closed. The other reopened libraries will be open with revised hours (due to Covid-19)
Friday 1 January – all libraries closed
Saturday 2 January   – all libraries closed
Monday 4 January –  all libraries closed
Tuesday 5 January onwards – open with revised hours (due to Covid-19)

Don’t forget to book your time slot before you visit.

There are currently ten reopened libraries: Central Library (Children’s and Lending Libraries), Craigmillar, Drumbrae, Fountainbridge, Gilmerton, Kirkliston, McDonald Road, Newington, Stockbridge and Wester Hailes. .

Full information about visiting one of our reopened libraries can be found in our Library reopening information and FAQs.

Remember you can download ebooks, audiobooks, magazines and newspapers throughout the holidays from Your Library online.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Tower Mains Farm, Liberton

According to The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845), Liberton was one of the most important agricultural parishes in Scotland. The cultivated land was divided into thirty-four farms varying in size from 40 to 268 acres. One of these farms was Tower Mains Farm.

A new exhibition on Capital Collections brings together a selection of images of farming life at Tower Mains Farm dating mostly from 1917.

Tower Mains Farm – Liberton

During World War One, when most of these photographs were taken, Liberton was part of Midlothian and the farm belonged to a Brigadier General Robert Gordon but had been farmed by the Monteith Family for at least two generations. In 1917, the farmer was Bryden Monteith who together with his wife Margaret lived at Tower Mains. Bryden Monteith was born in 1861 at Tower Mains when his father, also named Bryden, was the occupier.

Harvesting, Tower Mains Farm

According to Valuation Rolls from 1915, the land that Bryden Jr rented was quite substantial. Apart from Tower Mains Farm itself, which had an additional six farmhouses, Bryden was tenant of Liberton Farmhouse where there were also six farmhouses which were rented out to various people including farm workers, a teacher, and a printer.

Haystacks, Tower Mains Farm

Farming must have provided a rather comfortable life for Bryden as, according to passenger lists found on Findmypast, in 1909, he embarked from Liverpool on the S.S. Medic heading for Sydney, Australia. In 1925 he boarded the S.S. Aguila and made a round trip to Lisbon, Maderia and the Canary Islands. Finally, he is recorded in 1929 on the S.S. Patuea heading for Kingston, Jamaica. On all these trips Bryden travelled First Class.

Horse and Cart, Tower Mains Farm

We know that Margaret Monteith died in 1928 and Bryden died on 11 September 1930 at Tower Mains aged 69. What we are not sure of, is whether the farm continued under the Monteith family. A search of Valuation Rolls of 1935 and 1940 has Bryden Jr’s son, also named Bryden Monteith, at Spottiswoode Road in Marchmont.

Tower Mains is now a mixture of residential and commercial premises.

Browse the full Tower Mains Farm exhibition for a glimpse into Edinburgh’s agricultural past.

The Edinburgh Roperie and Sailcloth Company

A new scrapbook of images on Edinburgh Collected ( shows the history of the Edinburgh Roperie and Sailcloth Company which was founded in 1750 and used continuously for 210 years.

Edinburgh Roperie and Sailcoth Company booklet published for the New Zealand International Exhibition of 1906-1907

The company in Bath Street, adjacent to Leith Links was founded by a small group of local ropemakers and other tradesmen and by 1914, it employed over 1,000 people.

The factories produced many different materials initially for outfitting sailing ships. By 1922 they were producing ropes for steamers and trawlers, ropes for railways, fishing lines and twine for agricultural use in Canada. Then sailcloth production also developed and after steamers replaced a lot of sailing vessels, they produced canvas and other work fabrics.

Bleaching department, drying green of Leith Roperie, c1906

The Edinburgh Roperie and Sailcloth was bought over by British Ropes Ltd in 1925 and continued manufacturing opening a new weaving mill for synthetic cloth in 1950.

Feeding sisal for rope-making into machine, 1960s

The factories closed in 1960, as British Ropes moved all their manufacturing to London.

The former Leith site is currently under development for housing called The Ropeworks.

View more images from this past industry in the Leith Roperie scrapbook on Edinburgh Collected. The pictures were all added to the site by The Living Memory Association, who have shared over 3500 images from their picture archive on Edinburgh Collected so far.

Do you have a story to share on our community archive? Anyone can add their pictures and memories to Edinburgh Collected and at the same time, contribute to the City’s growing digital heritage collection for all to enjoy.

Black Lives Matter protest placards – a new exhibition on Capital Collections

In early June of this year, Edinburgh, along with other towns, villages and cities across the world, held large protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Museums & Galleries Edinburgh acquired a large donation of placards, banners and signs from the protest, to add to our permanent museum collection and many of these are now available to see in a new exhibition on Capital Collections.

“I don’t want to get political, your ignorance kills real people” – one of the placards collected from the Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June 2020.

The protests held were in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a US police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 25 May 2020. His death was not the only example of police brutality witnessed by the public, but was the catalyst for a collective reckoning in our understanding of systemic racism.

‘You’re beautiful for a black girl’ – one of the placards collected at the Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June 2020.

The protest in Edinburgh was organised as a static demonstration, held in Holyrood Park on Sunday 7th June. Thousands of people attended, and many more who could not attend in person watched along from home via social media. All attendees were encouraged to wear a mask and ensure a safe physical distance between themselves and other attendees. High-profile speakers were invited to address the crowd on the day, to rally support for the movement and generate greater understanding for the wider societal issues.

“I understand that I will never understand. However, I stand!” – one of the placards collected at the Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June 2020.

Museums & Galleries Edinburgh have an extensive collection of protest material relating to social and political causes covering hundreds of years. These Black Lives Matter placards will proudly exist alongside them as part of a permanent record of the city’s history. The Black Lives Matter exhibition on Capital Collections shows some of the placards and signs made for this protest and the stories they represent. They demonstrate the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement to the people of Edinburgh and the wide-ranging impact the movement is having in the city. 

The images in the Black Lives Matter exhibition have all been taken whilst working from home, so image quality will be improved as and when staff are able. 

Please note that the exhibition contains language that some people may find offensive.

For any queries please contact curator Anna MacQuarrie:

Beethoven’s (and others’) Fifth Symphony(s)

Douglas from the Music Library concludes his series of articles about Ludwig van Beethoven marking the composer’s 250th anniversary year:

“I possibly have a thing for fifth symphonies.

If I were to choose my Desert Island Discs from just symphonies, I think it is possible that the list would have four fifth symphonies, in no order at all, Shostakovich, Mahler, Sibelius and Beethoven. 

Thinking about this, I decided to do a trawl of the internet to see what it said about fifth symphonies. Two things jumped out from the results of typing in “famous fifth symphonies” – first that there are a lot of lists of famous fifth symphonies and top ten symphonies and in all of these, Beethoven’s Fifth comes out on top. The second thing is there are a lot of articles about Beethoven’s Fifth.

I write this neither to defend or deride Beethoven’s Fifth. It is a great work and great fun to play. I want to bring attention, if indeed they need my help which I doubt they do, to all the other fifths.

Beethoven’s Fifth starts with probably one of the most well known openings:
Da Da Da Dah—- Da Da Da Dah—-.
Famous, portentous, wartime jingle, V for victory, which despite most of us not being around at that time we remember it for.

There is another symphony which has a very similar opening of short, short, short, long (Da Da Da Dah): Mahler’s Fifth. It has a similar portentous opening on a solo trumpet leading to the full orchestral tutti. This symphony’s other claim to fame is its 4th movement, the famous Adagietto, which is well known and is played on its own as a concert piece. It was used by Visconti in his film ‘Death in Venice’ and above all, is supremely beautiful.

Two fifth symphonies which served as responses to criticisms are those by Shostakovich and Sibelius. Shostakovich called his Fifth, an artist reply to just criticism. This simple phrase and the symphony may have saved his life, Shostakovich lived in Russia during the time of Stalin when people fell in and out of favour regularly and for little reason. Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, a single movement work which for many pushed the boundaries just too far, so Dmitri responded with the Fifth which was, luckily for him, well received.

It was a similar, although probably less perilous case for the composer Sibelius and his Fifth symphony, of which the 1919 and 3rd attempt is the version best known today. Sibelius was commissioned by the Finnish Government to write this work to celebrate his 50th birthday on the 8 December 1915. Sibelius wrote in his diaries at that time about the composing of the Fifth symphony:
“It is as if God Almighty had thrown down pieces of a mosaic for heaven’s floor and asked me to find out what was the original pattern”.

The work was given its first performance on his 50th birthday. Sibelius worked on a second version which was performed a year later and of which little survives. Sibelius then reworked the symphony, remodelling and simplifying it, reducing the impact of its modernity which in this symphony and his Fourth, had been poorly received. Sibelius said of his modifications: “I wished to give my symphony another – more human – form. More down-to-earth, more vivid.”

When looking through the ages of music history and looking at the composers who were symphonists, during the classical period and earlier to the first exponents of this form, composers polished off symphonies with great regularity many achieving double figures: Mozart 41, Joseph Haydn 104, Michael Haydn 43, etc.

With Beethoven’s Symphonic cycle and his expansion of the form, symphonies moved away from works produced to fulfil the needs of a greedy patron but became thoughtful long produced, reworked, rethought works, which fully demonstrated who a composer was rather than who the patron thought the composer was. The romantic and later composers rarely exceeded double figures and there are notable examples of composers who didn’t get beyond a third or fourth, such was the importance of the symphony and its response to their definition as a composer.

Brahms and Schumann, both only managed four symphonies but it is true to say that in these four symphonies, Brahms and Schumann say as much about themselves and their artistic development and maturity as composers as Beethoven did in his nine.

There are theories that the fifth is where a composer finds his or her feet and their fifth truly reflects who they are, and in some cases this may be true but as mentioned earlier, for Shostakovich and Sibelius, their fifths were expedient. There are composers for whom their fifth is truly their first – the first time they have spoken fully with their own artistic voice. Others for whom their fifth serves as the ultimate or penultimate expression of their symphonic output. To go back to where I started with the fifths of Shostakovich, Mahler, Sibelius and Beethoven, now add the fifths of Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams and Arnold and –

I think I have a thing for fifth symphonies.

Here is a list of composers who wrote a fifth symphony. This list is not in any way comprehensive or in any order. I don’t know them all, so couldn’t recommend them all.

Villa Lobos
Haydn, M
Haydn, J

Your library card gives you free access to Naxos Music Library, the world´s largest online classical music streaming library where you can explore, stream and download any of over a million tracks and enjoy these symphonic masterpieces at your leisure”.

Read the other articles in this series marking the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth:
Was Beethoven Black? A continuing discussion
Beethoven’s influence
Beethoven and his Immortal Beloved
Beethoven and the Heiligenstadt Testament

Dreams we dreamt

Last week for Book Week Scotland, we asked you to submit your poetic verses inspired by Edinburgh born poet Michael Pedersen’s verse on this year’s theme, Future.

We wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who shared their poems and dreams with us and to highlight just a small selection of the fantastic contributions with you.

Michael’s starting prompt was:
is the distinction between dreams & the dreams we dream of dreaming;
is the memory of a song in toes frisking soil for its stories;
is like rice, best served sticky and shovelled back;
is a restless poem, caught in night’s nib.

The Future poem design by Jon Gray

Louise responded:
The Future:
is sitting next to a stranger at a gig, without being armed with sanitiser;
is doing the weekly shop, without worrying about a mask;
is taking the kids to the playground, without being mindful of distance;
is waking up on a day where lockdown is HISTORY.

For Scott –
The Future:
Is trilling silver moths under street lamps;
Is the moon and its pockmarked peep hole in the night;
Is a congregation and a glad eye;
Is our scudding wind, drunk, with only a collar.

Claudia wrote:
The Future:
is dancing;
is laughing;
is wine;
is friends.

We were honoured to receive poems from well-known writers and artists:
This one from E. A. Hanks –

The Future
Is shuffled in my small, hot hands.
Major Arcana. Minor. Black keys to black doors. 

And shows no difference from warlock
to gambler, sword to spade, decked out in dreaming. 

So what can the Hierophant tell me
of how much I miss strangers’ lips? 

Pressing mine to your coffeecup?
But still, I toss a coin for peonies and milkshakes,

remember that a shimmy makes a spell, a fox in the night
something planted in the ready earth. 

Such witchy hope!

Poem by E.A.Hanks. Art by @madeveart.

And one from Ian Rankin –

At ten, I was a captain on a boat
At fifteen, a pop star (sort of)
At twenty, thirty and forty
I dreamed of writing, and I wrote (and wrote) and wrote…

Dreams of writing from Ian Rankin

Rachel Sermanni even read her fiery verse –

As did Val McDermid –

Thank you everyone!

A new library for Ratho

Today we have a message from the staff at Ratho Library about the library, old and new:

“We opened our doors to the public on 22 March 1999 and we closed our doors to Coronavirus just 3 days short of our 21st birthday. Sadly we won’t be reopening in our current building. We will be opening in the future in our new building and we will keep you up to date with the news as soon as we have it. In the meantime, we want to thank each and everyone of you who have used Ratho Library over the years for allowing us to be part of your village, we have watched it thrive and grow, and we have been delighted to welcome new readers alongside those of you who have been with us from the very start.

We pride ourselves on Ratho Library and how we are involved in your community, in your school and in your lives. At the moment there is a lot of work being done to identify the safest way to continue to provide a library service in Ratho whilst our new library is being built and we will update the community with any news once we have it. From staff past and present, from the very bottom of our hearts, Ratho, it continues to be an absolute pleasure.”

You can view planning documents for the proposed Ratho Library building on the City of Edinburgh Council planning portal, searching with the reference number: 20/00224/FUL

Who was William Creech?

William Creech was well known in his time, something of a mover and shaker, you might say, but today his name is hardly known. A new story on Our Town Stories describes the man and his legacy.

The story includes images depicting the Edinburgh he knew, when he sold his books from one of the luckenbooths beside St Giles Cathedral and then when his fortunes grew and he moved to the New Town to reflect his new found status.

A view of the Old Town, by A. Kay, engraved by I. Clark, 1812

The story also includes little-seen and very special material from our collections – excerpts from Creech’s personal letter copybooks and accounts giving a true insight into his character and life.

Best remembered for being the first person to publish Robert Burns’ poems, he was highly influential in Edinburgh society and served as Lord Provost.

Read more about William Creech and his publishing legacy on Our Town Stories.

Beethoven and the Heiligenstadt Testament

The fourth in a series of articles about composer Ludwig van Beethoven by Douglas from the Music Library.

“Beethoven’s physician Dr Johann Adam Schmidt recommended that he spend some convalescence time in Heiligenstadt, a quiet village an hour or so outside of Vienna, now a suburb of the city.

Dr Schmidt had thought that time away from the busy noisy city might give Beethoven’s hearing time to recover. This became more and more evidently not to be the case and Beethoven’s already despairing mood changed to resignation as the full realisation of the fate of his hearing became apparent. Beethoven had been aware of his problem hearing for six years. It is also known that Beethoven had other ailments known and subjected upon, which increased his downward spiral culminating in the letter.

Written on the 6th and 10th October 1802 and intended for his brothers, the letter which has become known as the Heiligenstadt Testament is a difficult letter to read. We can only imagine the how difficult it was to write but we can hope, given that Beethoven never sent this letter, the writing of it gave him a some space and peace to be able to carry on, and as he writes in the letter, that his virtue and his Art was worth living for. It is clear that his deafness had progressed enough to be a serious and irrevocable hurdle to his working life as a composer and a musician. The main part of Beethoven’s income up until that point in his life had been as a performing musician. He would have seen it as impossible to carry on in that function. He had no permanent or regular patrons; he wasn’t a court composer. It must have seemed to him as if his world was closing in on him.

To add to these feelings, his increasing deafness causing him to feel isolated and what is indicated in the letters is his feeling as to how he is perceived by others. Beethoven describes how he is seen by others as malevolent, stubborn and misanthropic. He also talks of his loss of position, so all that he has been working towards in the years up to 1802, his renown as a pianist and conductor disappears when he is “exposed” as being deaf. The six months spent in Heiligenstadt seem to have served to allow Beethoven to reflect on the full realisation of the impact of his irreparable deafness.

In some accounts of his life, first signs of his possible deafness are mentioned as early as 1796 and he says in the letter “but reflect now that for six years I have been a hopeless case, aggravated by senseless physicians, cheated year after year in the hope of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady.

In a letter to Franz Wegeler in 1801, Beethoven writes, “I must confess that I lead a miserable life. For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. If I had any other profession, I might be able to cope with my infirmity; but in my profession it is a terrible handicap.”

It seems to be that October 1802 was the lowest of points for Beethoven after years of living with the fear of being “found out” and removing himself further and further from society, when as a performing musician, he was reliant on the oxygen of that society to survive. It is only his art that stops him from contemplating ending his life. He says, “I would have put an end to my life — only Art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence”.

Thankfully for his family and the music loving generations that followed, Beethoven decided to put the letter away and found some way to make peace with what was to come.

He lived with his condition for the rest of his life and found ways to deal with his deafness in the years 1812 – 1816/17. He pursued the use of mechanical devices like ear trumpets to aid his hearing and from 1818 to his death in 1827 he carried and recorded dealings with people he met in conversation books. At the time of his death there were said to be some 400 of these conversation books. Now only 136 survive. Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s unreliable biographer, edited and deleted much of the material he deemed of little interest, he also sold, destroyed or gave away a number of these books.

Some things that have come to light from careful study of what remains of these conversation books include a theory put forward by Professor Theodore Albreacht. He proports that as late as 1824 and the first performance of his Ninth Symphony, Beethoven may have had some hearing left. In one of the conversations around 1823, Beethoven is asked by a stranger for advice on his own hearing loss. Beethoven scribbled down this advice: “Baths [and] country air could improve many things. Just do not use mechanical devices [ear trumpets] too early; by abstaining from using them, I have fairly preserved my left ear in this way.”

Whatever 1802 was for Beethoven, it was not an unproductive year. What follows are some of the works dated within this year:

Romance of Violin and Orchestra Op 40
6 Songs Op 48
“Lustig- Traurig” for Piano WoO54
Song “Man strebt die Flamme zu verhehlen” WoO120
“Graf, graf LiebsterGraf” for unnacc Vocal Ensamble WoO101
Symphony No. 2 in D Op 36  ( 1st Per 5th Apr 1803)
3 Sonatas for Violin  Op 30
Sonata in A for Violin “Kreutzer” Op47 (1st Per 24th May 1803)
Trio in Eb for Piano Violin & Cello Op 38
Arr of Septet Op 20 for Trio Op 38
6 Variations for Piano in F op 34
15 Variation and Fugue in Eb for Piano “Eroica” Op35
Canon in G for Piano
7 Bagatelles for Pino Op 33
6 LandlerischTanze for String Trio WoO15
“Tremate empi tremate” Vocal Trio & Orchestra Op 116( Rev 1814)

From the books known as the Wielhorsky sketchbook, after its first owner Count Micheal Wielhorsky (1787-1856), it is known that Beethoven started work on a major work for Soloist, Choir and Orchestra, amongst outlines and sketches for other major works. Although this sketch book is not dated, it has been placed in a period around the time of the Heiligenstadt Testament 1802/03. This Sketchbook has been deciphered and a commentary written by Nathan Fishman. This work became the oratorio Christus am Ölberge, (Christ on the Mount of Olives), Op. 85. The oratorio portrays the emotional turmoil of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, prior to his crucifixion. A big subject to take on for a man facing his own upheavals. The work was first performed in 1803 and was regularly performed after that, receiving its USA premiere and Beethoven’s USA premiere in New York, 1809.

Sources and further reading:

The Guardian – ‘Deaf’ genius Beethoven was able to hear his final symphony after all – Ludwig van Beethoven at Heiligenstadt – Ludwig van Beethoven biography

It is known the deaf community can struggle with poorer health not because of their deafness but because of barriers they face. Many services expect patients to call to make an appointment, get test results, to ask questions or discuss a health and well-being issue. Although there is greater awareness of the issue, it is still difficult to find health information in an accessible format.”

Here are some online sources of help and information for anyone with hearing loss:
Action on Hearing Loss Scotland
Health in Mind – Lothian Deaf Counselling Service (Edinburgh)

Read the other articles in this series marking the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth:
Was Beethoven Black? A continuing discussion
Beethoven’s influence
Beethoven and his Immortal Beloved
Beethoven’s (and others’) Fifth Symphony(s)

Edinburgh’s City Read

51zWsBxwofLThis week is Book Week Scotland and we’d like you to join in by downloading our Edinburgh’s City Read ebook title! Specially picked with our readers in mind, A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone is a tense, shocking and darkly funny thriller set in Edinburgh. Download it through the Libby app or OverDrive website and read for free.

Meet the Skelfs: well-known Edinburgh family, proprietors of a funeral-home business…and private investigators. When patriarch Jim dies, it’s left to his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah to take charge of both businesses, kicking off an unexpected series of events.

Dorothy discovers mysterious payments to another woman, suggesting that Jim wasn’t the husband she thought he was. Hannah’s best friend Mel has vanished from university, and the simple adultery case that Jenny takes on leads to something stranger and far darker than any of them could have imagined. As the women struggle to come to terms with their grief, and the demands of the business threaten to overwhelm them, secrets from the past emerge, which change everything…

Unlimited downloads are available from 16 – 29 November, all you need is library membership so you can login with your library card and PIN. Full instructions for using OverDrive can be found on our Your Library website.