Black History Month runs through October and this year takes the theme ‘Time for Change: Action Not Words’. A display responding to this theme has been installed in the Central Library staircase exhibition cabinets. We’re also running a short programme of author events on Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 October.
The summer of 2020 saw protests, demonstrations and marches across the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and in response to police brutality being witnessed against Black people.
Protests were also held in Edinburgh, including a static demonstration on Sunday 7 June, from which colleagues from Museums and Galleries Edinburgh acquired a large donation of placards, banners and signs. These placards and signs demonstrate the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement to Edinburgh residents and the wide-ranging impact of the movement on the city.
Taking the theme of Time for Change: Action Not Words, Central Library are displaying selected reproductions of some of these placards and banners collected by Museums and Galleries Edinburgh alongside books held in the collections of Central Library promoting the contribution of people of colour to society and recounting their experiences. The collections reflect our wish to offer a broad range of material including works related to or created by those from under-represented groups. All images are reproduced with permission of City of Edinburgh Council Museums & Galleries.
View more of the placards, signs and banners collected at the demonstration in Edinburgh in an online exhibition on Capital Collections.
Kate will talk about the powerful political elite in Scotland in the 1700s, who had investments in all aspects of the slave trade. How the anti-slavery campaign was pursued on the streets of Edinburgh, the devastating blow dealt by Henry Dundas, their member of Parliament, Home Secretary and leader of the Tory Party, in the spring of 1792. He proposed that ending the trade should be ‘gradual’ allowing his party colleagues to talk out the anti-slavery bill and the continuing capture and shipping of hundreds of thousands of African men, women and children into a life of enslavement and the propaganda campaign against black people which was then launched by vested interests here in Scotland to protect their business interests and how that white supremacist version of history became ours.
Tuesday 25 October, 6.30 – 7.30pm at Central Library Join author, broadcaster and journalist Stuart Cosgrove as he tells the epic story of Black music and the White House from his new book Hey America!
Hey America! is the story of how Black music came from the margins of American life in the early twentieth century through to the mainstream under Barack Obama’s presidency and then was mobilised as a force for radical opposition to Donald Trump’s administration.
Join Anna Fleming, author, mountain leader and rock climber for a workshop on writing the mountains.
In this creative writing session for young people, Anna will introduce you to the world of the mountains. She will bring climbing equipment and stories from her own experiences in Scotland, Norway and Greece.
Taking inspiration from other remarkable women writers and climbers, including Gwen Moffat, Nan Shepherd and Helen Mort, Anna will lead exercises that will help you to harness their strength and write your own mountain.
No previous knowledge of climbing or mountains is necessary – come with an open mind!
This session is aimed at young people aged 14-18 and will take place at Stockbridge Library on Monday 10 October from 5.30 to 7pm.
Places are limited so please book your free place via Eventbrite.
We are delighted to announce, “Our Stories”, an exciting new series of free creative writing workshops in conjunction with Hannah Lavery, Makar of the City of Edinburgh.
2022 is also Scotland’s “Year of Stories”, celebrating the rich literary heritage of the country and looking ahead to future generations of budding writers and storytellers.
These informal sessions are a unique opportunity for those wanting to learn how to run their own creative writing sessions in their communities. They will focus on ways to support group members in sharing their stories and celebrate the themes and ideas that matter to them.
The programme will culminate in a showcase event attended by the Makar along with invited guest poets in April 2023. During this event all participants will have the opportunity to display their work.
The following three dates have been confirmed, however booking in advance is essential as attendance is limited to 15 people per workshop:
Group One – 14th September 22, 16th November 22, 15th February 23 at 11.30am to 12.30pm.
Group Two – 14th September 22, 16th November 22, 15th February 23 at 1.30pm to 2.30pm.
Makar Hannah Lavery said,“I am so pleased to be able to offer these workshops as part of my Makar-ship and I really hope to support groups across Edinburgh to explore creative writing as a way of telling their stories and the stories of the city, and I am especially looking forward to us all coming together next year to celebrate the writing”.
Councillor Val Walker, Culture and Communities Convener said, “In this Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022, I am delighted that this unique and exciting programme is taking place. ‘Our Stories’ reaffirms the capital’s status as a creative and literary centre. I am confident that these workshops will provide positive knock-on effects in communities around our city as more of our citizens experience the magic of creative writing and storytelling”.
From bombs to visiting elephants, Leith Library has seen its fair share of events.
This month marks the 90th anniversary of the library opening and we celebrate the anniversary with a new exhibition on Capital Collections of photographs going back to 1932.
The exhibition features among many fascinating images, one of the original architect’s plan, dated from 1927. The library was badly damaged in an air raid in April 1941, but was restored and reopened in 1955.
A big thank you to everybody that came to see Central Library’s beautiful Edinburgh Women’s Mural while it was on display in the foyer, and another big thank you to the people that attended our short series of Mural Talks.
Here, below, are the wonderful Iffat Shahnaz and Roshni Gallagher in conversation last week, talking at a sold-out event about their life experiences and insights as women of colour living in Edinburgh.
Central Library says goodbye to the Edinburgh Women’s Mural as it embarks on a short summer tour of community libraries, where local people will be able to visit the Mural on display and take part in related events.
Edinburgh Libraries are proud to partner with Edinburgh Zoo and City Fibre on the Giraffe about Town project.
Giraffe About Town is a free art trail featuring more than 40 magnificent giraffe sculptures that will take you on a journey across Scotland’s capital this summer from 1 July to 29 August.
In partnership with Wild in Art, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo is delighted to share this exciting trail with local people and visitors to help our city recover after lockdown and raise much needed funds for wildlife conservation.
Each incredible sculpture has been sponsored by amazing organisations and businesses. They have been decorated by artists, communities and school children to celebrate Edinburgh’s extraordinary heritage and cultural diversity, and to encourage everyone to explore our city’s hidden gems and iconic locations.
Edinburgh Libraries are hosting –
Edi-B in Balgreen Library
Richie in Craigmillar Library
Salam in Leith Library
Clovie in Oxgangs Library
Gemma in Piershill Library
Gertie-GiGi in Sighthill Library
Skittles in Westerhailes Library
Come along and visit our giraffe guests and keep an eye out on our Libraries’ Facebook pages for workshops and events to celebrate The Wee Herd during their stay in our libraries.
The Giraffe about Town website, has an interactive map and a host of information to help you discover where all the Giraffes are located in Edinburgh.
After the trail itself, there will be a fantastic ‘farewell’ weekend with the entire herd of tall and small giraffes together at the zoo. In October the giraffes will then be auctioned to raise money for wildlife conservation.
Edinburgh Libraries are proud to be part of the Living Knowledge Network with the British Library and are hosting various events and competitions across the city.
Inspired by the diverse wildlife, histories and geographies of the Union Canal, we’ll use art to imagine a more planet friendly future.
Free artist-led workshops for children and families across the city – and on the water – will take you on a journey filled with sensory fun and big environmental questions. Use your creativity to rethink local green spaces and waterways and dream up a better world. Get set for adventures – exploring sound, movement, sculpture and sustainable art-making. Book for these workshops viaedinburghartfestival.com.
Shapes in the city – invent, construct, climb! Make huge, recycled sculptures inspired by bridges, tunnels and waterways! Created for ages 5 – 12. Parents of under 8s must book a place.
Tuesday 2 August, 10.30am – 12.30pm Central Library, George IV Bridge, EH1 1EG (SOLD OUT)
Wonder on the water – investigate, make, fly your flag! Set sail on a boat along the canal as we create maps and flags inspired by the history of our waterways. You might even spot some wildlife! Created for ages 4 – 10 and their families.
Friday 5 August, 3 – 5pm, departs from Union Canal at Leamington Lift Bridge, Leamington Road, EH3 9PD, wheelchair friendly and toilet onboard
Art Buds Collective is a social enterprise dedicated to the delivery of sustainable arts education for children across Edinburgh. Creativity, the creative journey and protecting the planet are at the heart of their workshops. Follow Art Buds Collective on Instagram at @art_buds_collective
Join us next month for an exciting programme of events celebrating women activists, pioneers and gardeners.
Part of the Harpies, Fechters and Quines 2022 events programme, Women and the Environment: Activists, Pioneers, and Gardeners is a collaboration with the Bonnie Fechters, Glasgow Women’s Library and Edinburgh City Libraries.
Jane George, a tutor in Scottish women’s history and a member of the Bonnie Fechters, will give a talk on The Three I’s: Isobel Gunn, Isabella Bird and Isobel Wylie Hutchison, three unconventional, intrepid and inspirational women whose lives spanned three centuries and whose enthusiasm for exploring and travelling in relatively unknown environments challenged the social conventions of their time. Book your free ticket via Eventbrite.
Jackie Sangster is a Learning Manager with the Learning & Inclusion team at Historic Environment Scotland – working across Scotland to bring people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to discover, explore, understand, and be inspired by our historic environment. Mostly Jackie works with digital archive material from Scran – that’s ½ million records, not counting all the other HES archives such as Canmore. As a former teacher, she endeavours to make engagement with school and community groups as creative as possible. Allowing people to explore heritage in a meaningful and enjoyable way.
Her talk will explore archive material, meeting Scots women who‘ve made their mark in their respective fields whether in politics, law, medicine, the arts or the world of sport. Introducing some well know faces through archive photography and perhaps a few less familiar, but nonetheless inspiring individuals who chose to challenge their world. Book your free ticket via Eventbrite.
In these uncertain times, nature has become more important than ever to us as a source of calm, and healing. In this story cafe, we look to women’s writings and stories of action that celebrate our natural environment, from urban gardeners and wild walkers to women working together on issues of climate change and preserving and protecting our natural environment. We’ll be reading from poetry, prose and fiction about how ordinary and extraordinary women are getting to grips with the present and future of our precious landscapes. Grab a cup of tea and bit of cake, then sit back and enjoy! Book through Glasgow Women’s Library
Kirsten Leggatt is a Climate Change Consultant for Arup and a tutor on the online Carbon Management Masters at the University of Edinburgh. She is heavily involved as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Ambassador in schools teaching students and young people about the causes and consequences of climate change. In January 2020, she presented evidence to the UK Climate Assembly on the solutions to reaching the UK Government’s net-zero emissions target by 2050 and has since represented young people on the Stewarding Group for the Scottish Climate Assembly. Book your free ticket via Eventbrite.
The Japanese Garden, Cowden is a ‘wee’ gem, hidden amongst the hills of Clackmannanshire in Scotland. Created in 1908 by Japanese landscape architect Taki Handa, it was the dream of Ella Christie, independent traveller and explorer, who had journeyed to Japan herself the year before. In 2018 the garden opened to visitors after an extensive restoration project and today it’s unique beauty amongst the Ochil hills is available for everyone to see.
RBGE’s history has always been told from the vantage point of the Regius Keepers and Principal Gardens/Curators, because they leave the biggest historical record. Tucked away in manuscript accounts and notebooks are the names of the men who were paid to do the work and also as time progressed from the middle of the eighteenth century women’s names start to appear.
Using original source material from the collections, Graham will give an overview of some of the women who worked or were heavily involved with The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh from 1750 to the present. Their roles range from the anonymous women paid to weed to illustrators, tutors/teachers, gardeners, plant collectors, laboratory and herbarium staff, administrators, scientific researchers and research students.
Graham’s research, undertaken when not working in his professional capacity, has been much helped by research both national and international on the topic and also by input and enthusiasm from colleagues, volunteers and research associates. His research is ongoing. There may be much for Graham and others still to unearth, but we will receive an excellent insight to how much has already been discovered. Book your free ticket via Eventbrite.
All events, apart from the online Story Cafe, take place in the George Washington Room at Central Library. The George Washington Browne Room is accessible by stairs or the public lift.
It’s Bookbug Week! We’ll be celebrating all kinds of journeys, whether it’s the excitement of riding on the bus or a train, strolls through the park, an adventure to outer space or even just a wee trip out in a buggy!
There’s lots of excitement in store this Bookbug Week.
Craigmillar Library On Friday 20 May Bookbug is going on a big journey camping! Join Hannah for a walk around the Library garden with your favourite teddy bear, have a ‘camp-fire’ sing-along and then we will go to Bookbug’s campsite! Inside our special black-out sensory den you will be able to watch the Northern Lights, see the stars come out and enjoy a sleepy storytime.
This event is limited to small groups of five families, and is designed to be inclusive of children with autism or sensory processing issues, or who may find larger, noisier groups overwhelming. If the weather is too bad for an outdoor adventure we will still host the event indoors, and if all the tickets for this session get snapped up, we will add more sessions later in the day. Please check Craigmillar Library Facebook page for booking details.
Mobile Libraries Our Mobile Library team will be popping along to Fox Covert Early Years Centre on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate Bookbug Week (closed event).
Moredun and Gilmerton Libraries Bookbug is taking his Big Journey to the Union Canal on the Lochrin Belle, on Tuesday with his friends from Rainbow Kindergarten Nursery (closed event).
There will be two special Big Journey themed sessions at Gilmerton Library during the week, at 2.30pm on Tuesday 17 May and at 10.30am on Friday 20 May.
Oxgangs Library Join our friends from Oxgangs Library for a special outdoor session at the Oxgangs Spring event at Colinton Mains Park on Friday 20 May between 1 and 4pm.
Stockbridge Library On Monday 16 May, we will have a special storytelling and craft session around the Bookbug week theme Big Journeys. On Saturday we will have themed Bookbug and storytelling session with songs, rhymes and stories about buses, cars, rockets and boats.
Wester Hailes and Sighthill Libraries Staff at Wester Hailes and Sighthill Libraries are joining forces to take you on a special Bookbug buggy walk. Details will be released on their Facebook pages.
Edinburgh Libraries are celebrating International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month with a public mural project!
You’ll have noticed how few public monuments to women there are in Edinburgh, despite the tireless efforts of local groups such as the Elsie Inglis Campaign. Yet there are literally hundreds of notable women, past and present, whose contributions to our shared history and our city deserve greater recognition. At Central Library, we’ve decided to redress the balance by creating out own public monument to Edinburgh’s female pioneers and trailblazers. We put out a call to local women’s groups, charities, and organisations such as the National Library of Scotland, and asked for nominations for our mural. We asked local academics and campaigners to help us uncover the lives and stories of many of Edinburgh’s unsung heroines, and we did some digging into the Library’s own resources.
Particularly useful was a book by local author and activist Sara Sheridan, ‘Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland’ (2021) which describes an alternative cultural landscape, where streets, buildings, monuments and landmarks are all dedicated to women. Sara’s immense amount of research added many names to our list.
Sara kindly took the time to speak to us about a few of her favourite figures from Edinburgh’s history. Watch the video (subtitles available) here:
The mural project – what is it?
We have taken inspiration from a wonderful project which has been running in the USA since 2016. “Work in Progress” seeks to shine a spotlight on female pioneers across many fields and was devised by artists Jann Haworth and Liberty Blake. See a detail here, courtesy of Granary Arts, Utah:
Edinburgh Libraries have been granted permission to create our own version, and this is where you can help!
We are aiming to produce stencilled portraits of as many women as possible from our nomination list. Some of these are already being produced by students at participating Edinburgh high schools, and we invite Edinburgh residents to come to the Library and help us create more!
The workshops – what will we do?
Participants will come into Central Library on one of several dates for an afternoon’s guided stencilling session. No artistic experience is necessary, and the process will be fully explained. There will be over 100 head-and-shoulders images of nominated women ready printed, for people to select, cut, and stencil – resulting in beautiful, unique portraits. Library staff will then gather and collate all the portraits, using them to create a ‘crowd-scene’ mural. We aim to have this finished and ready to exhibit at Central Library and online by early May. Some linked activities, such as live talks, will also follow.
Who would you choose….?
If you would like to take part, please book a place at one of our Saturday afternoon workshops.
Please note, due to the use of sharp tools, this event is offered to over-18s only and due to Covid precautions, each event is limited to 15 participants.
Workshops will take place on Saturday 12, 19 and 26 March, with some potential for further sessions to be added.
World Book Day celebrates its 25th year on 3rd March this year with the theme – ‘you are a reader’. Libraries across Edinburgh and our school libraries are putting together a range of events. Don’t forget to check out your local library Facebook page for further details.
Some of our highlights are listed below: Community Libraries
Blackhall Library Blackhall have 10 class visits slots planned and a host of fun activities for the children to enjoy. At the end of their visit, the children will receive a note from the ‘Bank of Blackhall’ and will take home a book.
Central Library Central Library and Central Children’s will both have special World Book Day displays.
Currie Library Currie Library – will be running a Bookbug as usual in the morning, followed by two storytimes (one for 3-6’s and one for 7-10’s) and two drop-in crafts. They will also be asking children to find ‘Wally’ to win stickers.
Fountainbridge and Balgreen Libraries Fountainbridge and Balgreen Libraries are working together with classes and local community groups to create a very special video which will be revealed on World Book Day on their social media pages. Fountainbridge also has a storytelling session on World Book Day for 7 to 11 years old, from 3.45 to 4.15pm.
Moredun Library Moredun Library are having a World Book Day party on Thursday 3 March from 3.30 to 4.30pm. There will be a book treasure hunt, quizzes, a book cover competition, word games and activities. (Spaces are limited and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.)
Morningside Library Morningside will have an adult’s staff favourites, an adult’s book quiz and three books read in a foreign language, French, Greek and Africaans. Follow the fun on their Facebook page. They’ll also be running a picture book cover quiz for children on Facebook.
Muirhouse Library Muirhouse Library are pairing up with their local nursery for a range of stories and crafts.
Oxgangs Library Oxgangs – will be hosting library sessions in the local primary school.
Portobello Library Portobello Library will be having a World Book Day books treasure hunt, a picture book quiz for toddlers and their parents/carers, a colour in competition for 3-5 years and another for 6+ years.
Ratho Library Ratho – will be hosting library sessions in the local primary school.
Sighthill Library Sighthill – will be hosting library sessions in the local primary school.
Wester Hailes Library Wester Hailes are reaching out to local primary schools for class visits to the library around World Book Day. They’ll have some children’s resources (quiz & craft packs) available to pick up from the library too.
School Library Activities
Forrester’s High School Forrester’s High School have Blackwell’s Bookshop supplying the £1 books and will have various activities (bookmark making / word searches / origami) going on over the whole week. All S1-3 classes can take part and their feature competition this year is a staff masked reader.
Wester Hailes High School For World Book Day, Ms Prince is doing a presentation for S1 – 3 classes during their reading periods to highlight the fantastic ebook and audiobook resources available via Libby. She has vouchers and a handful of the WBD £1 books to give out as well.
James Gillespie’s High School James Gillespie’s High School will celebrate with book themed competitions and a display of reader recommendations.
Holy Rood High School Holy Rood High School will be running competitions across the school during the whole week, and we have a Book Sale courtesy of Blackwell’s Book Shop plus 300 of the £1 books to hand out to S1 and S2 pupils and enough £1 vouchers for everyone else!
Boroughmuir High School S1 will be celebrating their reading journey and joining in with a book themed bingo.
Gracemount High School Over the course of the day, Mrs Babbs will be hosting Book Pictionary – to highlight new stock, book tasting – S1 & P7’s, book displays – launch of displays by Nat 5 retail pupils and the £1 World Book Day Book Giveaway.
Liberton High School Mrs Browne has lots of events planned including Masked Reader, staff dress up – fiction character, Read Or Be Read To, along with the launch of a football themed reading challenge. Liberton and Gracemount will also both be running a silver themed book hunt to celebrate 25 years of World Book Day.
‘One of my big aims in dealing either with queerness, or immigration, or racial identity was not to stay within the trauma. It was ultimately about reaching joy [..] Saying I understand now this facet of myself, and this is what I know about it, and this is what I choose to share with you.’
To celebrate LGBT history month, Roshni from the Library Resource Management team sat down with the Edinburgh based, queer, Latinx poet Andrés N Ordorica, where he performed and discussed work from his collection ‘At least this I know’. His performance was tender and celebratory – rich with colour, characters, and sometimes flowing into Spanish. There is a sense of honouring those who have come before us. From Chihuahua to Bennachie – the collection journeys through childhood to adulthood. Exploring what it means to find belonging both as an immigrant and within queer communities. Here’s a glimpse into their conversation –
The theme of LGBT history month is ‘blurring borders’. How does your work blur borders?
I think for me what really fascinates me about this idea is it really does feel intrinsic to my understanding of the self. I was born in the US, I’m a second generation American so all four of my grandparents came to the US in the early 1960s from Mexico. So this idea of borders and being fixed in any one place – it just is not true of my own existence.
My identity has never been one that could clearly sort of sit with any one place. To have an American passport, to be American, but then not always be ‘allowed’ to be American. To be questioned you know where are you really from? Oh, your family is from Mexico so you’re Mexican. It’s like well, no, I don’t have a Mexican passport and my Spanish isn’t that great. So, you know the place that I am from doesn’t always allow me to lay claim to it.
How do the themes of vulnerability and celebration coexist in your work?
A lot of these poems are dealing with loss and loss of homeland, loss of youth, and then loss of people. There are a lot of poems that are written in a very eulogy-like way. My hope then is that it allows readers the opportunity to process their own loss and then actively kind of work towards joy and celebration.
In the section that deals with queerness there are some poems in there that are revisiting the difficulty that I had in coming out. Navigation this new world and what it means to be part of this community. Then that section is followed by a section that’s dedicated to my husband and they’re love poems. It’s mapping out someone’s journey of contending with these things – because it’s a great thing to be celebrating LGBT history month but I think it would be negligible to not also acknowledge that for lots of people the journey towards coming out can be very difficult. One of my big aims in dealing either with queerness, or immigration, or racial identity, or racism was not to stay within the trauma. It was ultimately about reaching joy and confidently taking a seat at the table. Saying I understand now this facet of myself, and this is what I know about it, and this is what I choose to share with you.
I love how Spanish bleeds into your work, often people speak to you in Spanish – when and why do you use Spanish in your collection?
I think in choosing to write about especially my grandparents I felt like the most authentic or honourable way to have them as a presence is in their mother tongue. You know my grandparents were not the most confident English speakers – they were able to kind of carve a life for themselves with other Mexican immigrants and therefore were able to sort of get by. I often talk about how my mother growing up often had to be the translator. So you know at age eight, she would be going to the bank with her parents and speaking to these sort of scary older men talking about big sums of money and trying to get a mortgage or this or that – and so for me to really have them there I wanted them there in Spanish because that’s how I grew up with my grandparents. I wanted that authenticity of my very specific experience of being part of the Latinx diaspora to exist in that way within the poems.
Which poets have inspired you and this collection? Can you recommend any queer or LGBT poets ?
This collection very specifically was inspired by the work of Edwin Morgan. Danez Smith is an amazing queer American poet – how they write about desire and race and racism is just profound. Natalie Diaz and her collection ‘Postcolonial Love Poem’ really was something that resonated with me. And then Nadine Aisha Jassat who’s ‘Let Me Tell You This’ (also published by 404 ink). I like to think that our collections are speaking to each other. Nina Mingya Powles is an amazing, amazing poet. How Nina writes of memory and family and growing up between cultures – how much more robust could our relationships with our grandparents be if we were fluent in our mother tongue?
Queer poets in general that I would recommend – Harry Josephine Giles, her collection Tonguit is beautiful. And Joelle Taylor‘s collection is beautiful and it’s very much about honouring her very specific community – you know a butch lesbian during the 80s and 90s and a history that you know has been done away with through gentrification. There are so many beautiful queer writers both in the UK and around the world who are just doing stunning things.
Enjoy Andrés poetry readings and his full conversation with Roshni on YouTube.
It’s evening in Edinburgh on 17 November 1860. As darkness falls, events are taking place all over the foggy, smoky, crowded city.
In the Royal Mile, former Police Inspector James McLevy, is walking his dog, Jenny, named for one of the city’s most notorious thieves. He’s wondering whether life will be dull in his retirement.
Up the hill at Waverley Station, a huge crowd has gathered. Eugenie, Empress of the French, is about to arrive – it’s the first time a French ruler has visited Scotland in centuries. Heavily veiled, the Empress alights from her carriage and acknowledges her admirers. But she barely escapes from a demonstration to seek refuge in her hotel in St Andrew Square.
The Empress is planning to visit a new girls’ school, the Scottish Institute for the Education of Daughters of Gentlefolk in Moray Place. Its scheming headmistress, Lady Superintendent Margaret Napier, is making entries in her Black Book. On the upper floors, student Christabel MacKenzie is writing a sonnet about the woman she loves – her teacher, Eleanor.
This is the opening sequence of Iona McGregor’s 1989 novel, Death Wore A Diadem. It was published by The Women’s Press and launched at West & Wilde, Edinburgh’s lesbian and gay community bookshop – in Dundas Street, not far from the locations where most of the novel takes place.
Death Wore A Diadem was described at the time as a lesbian mystery (Iona herself referred to it as a lesbian novel). And yes, there’s a theft and a mysterious death. The Empress lends the school her fabulous paste diadem – but it goes missing, a servant is found dead, scandal threatens and Christabel and Eleanor’s romance develops as they work to solve the mystery.
But there’s more to the story. It has a huge cast suggesting a light opera – from the Empress to the real-life detective and crime writer McLevy to a Rose Street landlady who lets rooms by the hour. Detailed Edinburgh history and lesbian history collide.
Death Wore A Diadem was also something else as well – the fulfilment of Iona’s longterm dream. Perhaps it was something she had hoped to do for most of her life.
Born in 1929 in Aldershot, Iona always said she would have been born in Scotland except for the fact that her birth was premature. She described her childhood in 1993 in Bob Cant’sFootsteps and Witnesses: Lesbian and Gay Lifestories from Scotland. The daughter of a teacher in a military school, she had a rough and physically active childhood with his male pupils for friends. A great reader, she had a difficult time at her convent school when she argued with the nuns about evolution, but won a scholarship to a school in Monmouth where she discovered the classics. She spent the summers with her grandmother in St Andrews, a place she loved.
When she began to write in the mid-60s, St Andrews figured in her first young adult historical novel, The Popinjay, the story of a teenage boy marooned in the city during the Wars of Religion. ‘A notable story…the living sense of the time is brought home with intense reality,’ said one reviewer.
The Popinjay was followed in 1968 by An Edinburgh Reel, a more complex work set in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden in 1745. Christine, the heroine, is 15 when the story opens. Her father, a veteran of Culloden who fought on the losing side and has spent years in exile, returns to Edinburgh a changed man – destitute and suffering from what would today be called post-traumatic stress.
Christine herself is still living with the effects of civil war and the early death of her mother. She and her father find lodgings in a Lawnmarket stair, called Davidson’s Land in the story. Despite more difficulties they are gradually healed – through Christine’s growing strength and the support of a collection of neighbours and strangers.
An Edinburgh Reel received a glowing review in the Times Literary Supplement – ‘a wholly delightful creation,’ their reviewer said. A friend of Iona’s who was worked in children’s publishing a few years later says Iona was well thought of and read at book fairs and children’s events. Later, in 1986, Canongate Books republished it in their Kelpies series.
Iona published another novel set in Fife ten years after An Edinburgh Reel, The Burning Hill. It was substantially based, not on secondary sources, but on memoirs of the time.
In 1972 she published The Tree of Liberty, a young adult novel about Edinburgh at the time of the French Revolution. Her hero, Sandy Lindsay, becomes drawn into radicalism through his friendship with Geordie, a politically active odd-job man who works for his father. He takes part in a riot and is imprisoned, but unrepentant.
Some of the story may reflect changes in Iona’s life as the 1970s progressed. She had begun to work as a volunteer at the Edinburgh Gay Centre in Broughton Street and in Glasgow, organising meeting places and offering support to other LGBT people. Though this sounds like ordinary voluntary work today, it was extremely risky at the time. LGBT people’s jobs and family relationships were at serious risk if they came out and many lived double lives divided by high barriers.
Iona told Bob Cant in her interview in Footsteps and Witnesses that she knew as early as age eight that she was ‘different’. She was strongly attracted to some of her fellow students at her girls’ school – and one of the best things about the classics, she added elsewhere, was ‘Sappho et cetera’, almost the only mention of queer people she could find.
When she started her working life in the 1950s she found that LGBT people were extremely isolated in Edinburgh, and so she went to London, found a teaching job, and met the woman she called her ‘true love’. They moved to Edinburgh together, but both were teachers and the stress of keeping their relationship absolutely secret became unbearable for Iona’s partner, who left her after 12 years.
Iona’s new career as a lesbian activist may have been the result of her breakup and the secret life she was forced to lead. But it was even more of a threat to her job than her relationship had been. At first she used an assumed name, but as time went on she welcomed visitors to the gay centre, using her own name, week after week. Another friend remembered her taking part in demonstrations.
Asked if there were any LGBT characters in her young adult novels, she said that the publisher had made it clear that even hints of LGBT feelings were out of the question. Did she ever break the rule? Perhaps, just perhaps, with Sandy and Geordie, she thought.
But she was already have been hoping to write openly and honestly about the lives she imagined for Edinburgh queer folk. And by the beginning of the 1980s, publishing had changed – and there were companies which would give her book a home, not grudgingly, but proudly.
Iona found a sympathetic editor at The Women’s Press, a feminist publisher which welcomed lesbian manuscripts. (The growth of LGBT and feminist presses also made it possible to open Edinburgh’s lesbian and gay bookshop, Lavender Menace, which later became West & Wilde.)
Rosy Mack, PhD student from the University of Texas, recently researched Iona’s correspondence with her Women’s Press editor, Jan Green. Ironically, Iona was more forthcoming about her lesbian identity than about her writing – it was a very private matter for her. Her letters offer some of the only insights we have into her approach to writing, research, and lesbian characters.
In her conversations with Jen Green, Iona meticulously mapped the movements of her characters in the fictional Scottish Institute. She also considered their lives as lesbians carefully – she argued that she did not want to write a novel about fear and inner angst – she felt that Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness had set an unfortunate tone for grim lesbian ‘problem’ fiction. Christabel and Eleanor, no matter what other problems they might have, belonged to an earlier, less dangerous era when even Queen Victoria believed that lesbians did not exist.
The novel may have been the first story of lesbian characters set in Edinburgh. It seems clearly aimed at a sequel, or a series. Christabel and Eleanor are young and their relationship is just beginning: a new theme comes up when Eleanor is accepted for training in the US as one of the first women doctors, while Christabel wants to entice her to Paris.
But the sequel was never written – possibly an opportunity for lovers of lesbian and Edinburgh stories of the future.
Iona continued to live her many lives as a writer, a traveller, a learner, a teacher (she taught for University of the Third Age), a cat lover and a friend. She lived to be 92 and died, sadly missed by her friends and readers, in March last year.
Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive want to celebrate her life for LGBT History Month and highlight her role in the history of Edinburgh. Come to our live illustrated talk and workshop at Currie Library at 7pm on 18 February. Book your free ticket via Eventbrite
As a teacher, an activist, and a writer who made the past lives of Scottish and LGBT people real, Iona surely ranks as one of Edinburgh’s notable women and I will be nominating her at the International Women’s Day Panel at Central Library on 8 March. (More details about this exciting event to come soon).
Many thanks to Sigrid Nielsen for contributing today’s article. Sigrid, together with Bob Orr, set up Lavender Menace, Scotland’s first lesbian and gay bookshop in Forth Street in 1982 and which would become the West & Wilde bookshop.
Scottish novelist, Jane Alexander reads from her recently published short story collection, The Flicker Against the Light, for our Book Week Scotland BookCafé session.
Ms Alexander is the author oftwo highly-acclaimed novels; she completed her PhD in 2018 and is currently a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. Her fascination for and study of the uncanny makes her the perfect guest for the current socio-political climate.
Zine-making session for young people on Wednesday 17 November at 5.30pm
Book Cafe on Thursday 18 November, from 10.30am to 12.30pm Drop in for a tea or coffee and chat about books with our friendly team! Get specially tailored reading recommendations; sign up for our ‘Personal Shopper’ service; get help with accessing online resources, including free access to online ebooks, audiobooks, newspapers and magazines.
South Queensferry Library
Poetry discussion group, Monday 15 November, at 7pm South Queensferry Library’s very first session of their Poetry discussion group will take place, kicking off with a discussion about the attendees’ favourite Scottish poet/poem.
Scottish Book Nook, Wednesday 17 November, at 7pm They’ve asking library users to come along and tell us about a favourite book they think is a Scottish hidden gem.
Join Edinburgh Libraries and Lavender Menace for an exceptional hour with inspiring writers, poets and panellists on Thursday 18 November at 6.30pm.
By film, especially for Book Week Scotland, Bob Cant, editor of the first published queer oral history in Scotland (1993 and 2008) talks about his background as a Scottish gay man, his life as a gay writer, trade unionist and activist, and his experience organising his book. He comments on directions queer oral history might take today. His film also includes clips of four interviewees on their views of the book.
The film will be followed by a panel discussion hosted by Sigrid and Bob of Lavender Menace with esteemed guests: Ann Marriott – General Manager, LGBT Youth Scotland; Jaime Valentine – oral historian, OurStory Scotland and Rowan Rush-Morgan – archivist, oral historian and PhD student.
In 1957, in the Meffan Institute Library in Forfar, 12-year-old Bob Cant learned a new word.
He enjoyed reading and learning, but he had probably never expected to read anything like this. There in the Dundee Courier was a story about the Wolfenden Report on homosexual law reform, as it was called in those days. He had never seen the word homosexual before.
In 1957, sex between men was a crime. Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were among thousands who had suffered severe penalties under the law. Many others escaped prison, but lost their jobs or were publicly disgraced.
The government was discussing changes which, years later, led to decriminalisation – for some. Bob Cant didn’t know any of this history, but he sensed the word had something to do with feelings of his own which he had not been able to name before.
He also knew that he could not mention what he had read to anyone.
Today, he says he’s glad he made his discovery in a library – a place where he could read uninterrupted and unobserved. ‘[The story] contains a message about the power of public libraries,’ he says – which ‘circulate ideas which might not otherwise have seen the light of day.’ And the chance discovery of the headline during his school lunch break helped lead him to a life as a gay writer and trade unionist, who fought to secure the right for LGBT people to live open lives at work.
Bob Cant became fascinated with other LGBT people’s stories. How had they survived? How did they ‘make sense’ of lives and feelings which were supposed to be kept dark? He began to collect stories – at first, from friends and co-workers. 35 years after he read the headline in the Forfar library, he published Footsteps and Witnesses: Lesbian and Gay Lifestories from Scotland, based on 22 interviews from all over the country.
‘Lesbians and gay men are, for the most part, invisible in Scotland,’ he wrote in the 1993 preface. ‘…This book is part of a process which began in the late 1960s, to end that invisibility. …This book, by bringing together diverse life stories, is a kind of coming out.’
The title came from a poem by Glasgow writer Edwin Morgan, who told his story in the book’s first interview. Iona McGregor, an Edinburgh young people’s writer and teacher, also told her story – closeted at her school, she spent evenings helping the Scottish Minorities Group organise Glasgow discos. ‘There are nurses, poets, youth workers and teachers,’ Bob Cant wrote of the other interviewees. ‘There is a bowling alley manager, a farmer and a taxi driver’. There were four unemployed people, Catholics and Protestants, incomers and native-born Scots, people from rural areas as well as Scotland’s cities. Several were unable to use their own names.
It was not always easy to find interviewees, and only one review of the book, by Sarah Nelson of The Scotsman, was ever published. But Polygon put the book into print and it was launched in Edinburgh by West & Wilde, successor to Scotland’s first lesbian and gay community bookshop, Lavender Menace. The launch took place at the Linden Hotel, a well-known gay venue in the New Town.
Bob Orr, co-owner of West & Wilde, still has a copy of Footsteps signed by Bob Cant and of some of the interviewees on the night. When Bob Orr and Sigrid Nielsen came together to collect and preserve LGBT books for Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive two years ago, they thought of Bob Cant’s anthology and decided to approach him for a film interview during Book Week Scotland – part of their Conversations with Writers series. Working with Edinburgh Libraries, they asked him to tell the story of the book’s creation, made short film clips of some of the interviewees today, and searched out illustrations of places, books and people in the story.
In the film interview, Bob Cant talks about Footsteps and Witnesses and the moments in his life which led up its creation. ‘This book hopes to let the world know that [our] communities have histories,’ he wrote in the 1993 introduction. ‘This book is only a beginning.’
And it was. 15 years later, the book took on a new life: by 2008 it had gone out of print, but customers at Word Power Bookshop in Edinburgh were still asking for it so often that the bookshop offered to publish a new version. There were 11 new interviews along with 11 of the original ones. At the end was a section called ‘Next Steps’ which included books and films about LGBT people and history – including new projects such as OurStory Scotland, which records LGBT people’s oral history, and LGBT History Month, dedicated to celebrating the past with a look toward the future.
Edinburgh Libraries and Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive will be presenting the film, followed by a panel discussion about the future of queer oral history in Scotland. At the end of his interview, Bob talks about his ideas of the future of telling our stories in a world where openness is more possible, but challenges and silencing are still with us. The panel, Jaime Valentine of OurStory Scotland, Ann Marriott of LGBT Youth Scotland, and Rowan Rush-Morgan, an archivist now conducting oral history interviews, will continue the conversation with each other, and the online audience.
Our colleagues from Macmillan Cancer Support are running workshops to support people affected by cancer to tell their stories in their own words. They’re working with Scottish Book Trust to create digital stories in the form of videos.
“It was really helpful to hear others’ stories. Initially they provided a guide but also the messages made me realise that everyone has a story worth listening to (including me!)” –
Mhairi, Digital storyteller
Telling your story can help you connect with people, help others feel less alone, and even help improve cancer services. It can also be therapeutic and help you to work through your experience.
“The whole experience was amazing. I loved every minute and it really made me think about what matters to me.”
Moira, Digital storyteller
Who can take part?
You can sign up if you have been diagnosed with cancer or if you know someone who has.
Who runs the workshops?
The workshops are co-hosted by Morag MacLean from Macmillan Cancer Support and Chris Leslie from Scottish Book Trust. Their next session is on Tuesday 16 November. At this event, they will watch and celebrate the stories created through the programme. There will also be a chance to hear from fantastic speakers and workshops for people interested in taking part.
Edinburgh Photographic Society are displaying their annual exhibition throughout November. A regular exhibitor, the Society was established in 1861, and has close to 200 members. Their exhibition features an array of different styles and photographic techniques, including intentional camera movement and polaroid transfer. The exhibition includes examples from the spectrum of photographic genres including portraiture, nature, landscape and street photography. The exhibition runs for four weeks from 1st to 27th November 2021.
We’re delighted to announce a special in-person event giving an insight into the lives of three exceptionally talented authors and poets, hosted by chair, Jeda Pearl.
Join us (limited audience x 32) in Reference Library for an inspirational panel discussion and hear the stories of our highly renowned guests listed below. Edinburgh Libraries are privileged and honoured to partake in Black History Month with such an exceptional panel.
Jeda Pearl is a disabled Scottish-Jamaican writer and Co-Director of the Scottish BAME Writers Network. Performances include StAnza, Inky Fingers, Push the Boat Out, Hidden Door and her work is published/commissioned by Black Lives Matter Mural Trail, New Writing Scotland, Not Going Back to Normal, Tapsalteerie, Shoreline of Infinity, Rhubaba, Collective, British Council, Peepal Tree Press.
Clementine E Burnley is a feminist migrant mother, writer and community organiser based in Edinburgh. Her work has appeared in Parabola Magazine, the National Flash Fiction Anthology and The Centifictionist. She’s an alumnus of Obsidian Foundation, Sky Arts Award Winner 2021, and a 2021 Edwin Morgan Second Life Grantee.
Lisa Williams is an author, poet and founder of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association. She curates a range of arts events across Scotland to promote Caribbean culture. She runs educational and anti-racist programmes and leads walking tours focusing on Edinburgh’s Black History. She has an MA in Arts, Festival and Cultural Management and is an Honorary Fellow in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh.
May Sumbwanyambe is a librettist, radio dramatist, academic and award-winning playwright from Edinburgh. His productions include; After Independence, The Parrot House and The Trial of Joseph Knight. He is currently a Lecturer in Creative Writing and English at Northumbria University and he’s worked with Scottish Opera, Royal Opera House, The Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Hampstead Theatre, The National Theatre of Scotland, and others.
The City Of Edinburgh Council adheres to all Scottish Government COVID restrictions and rulings. Track and Trace is in operation, face coverings must be worn whilst moving within the building, sanitizer stations will be in operation and 1m distance per person will be in place unless specified when booking your ticket, that you are a close contact/family group of 1 – 4.
You may now be familiar with ReDrawing Edinburgh, a community-led outreach project supported by Edinburgh City Archives, Libraries and Museums designed to mark the centennial commemoration of the 1920 Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act.
ReDrawing Edinburgh has been active for over 18 months now and produced a popular series of short films and digital exhibitions which explored what happened in 1920 and celebrated the identities and histories of these communities. These were produced in a partnership between local heritage and community groups and Edinburgh City Archives, Libraries and Museums services. After producing such popular online content, there is a real desire to deliver physical activities. Cinescapes: ReDrawing Edinburgh is the creative and physical culmination of this project.
Join us on the 3-18 September for Cinescapes: ReDrawing Edinburgh, a series of five pop up outdoor screenings of a new 15-minute film.
This film has been created from archive footage showing the 5 areas which were amalgamated with Edinburgh in 1920 through the Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act. ReDrawing Edinburgh celebrates the strong independent identities of the areas of Cramond, Colinton, Corstorphine, Liberton and Leith and how they have retained them throughout the past century. This isn’t just about nostalgia, it’s about identity. We’re celebrating the individual spirits that make up Edinburgh by screening the projections in the places that they are from.
Leith born scriptwriter Alistair Rutherford, has written the screenplay for the film, which includes footage from all five areas to inspire people to think about local history in a new way. The film is also accompanied by an original score produced by Edinburgh based musical duo Dowally.
The Art & Design Library has recently opened, and the timing couldn’t be better. This summer in Edinburgh sees a fabulous line up of art exhibitions to visit, plus the world class Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF) is about to kick off and looks as exciting as ever. Running from 29 July to 29 August, EAF brings together over 35 exhibitions and new commissions in visual art spaces across the city, complemented by an online programme of events and digital presentations.
Shows in Edinburgh this summer include some well known artists and some new talents exhibiting for the first time. It can be hard to know where to start when presented with such a wealth of choice so, just for fun, in no specific order, here are some of our top picks!
Islander: The Paintings of Donald Smith at the City Art Centre, 29 May – 26 September2021
Artist Donald John Smith attended Grays School of Art in Aberdeen where, in 1958 he was named outstanding student of the year by principle Ian Fleming. He later returned to his home of Lewis and painted from his studio there until his death in 2014. His subject matter was local, and a celebration of the island women and fishermen that lived and worked around him. This exhibition, a partnership project between the City Art Centre an An Lanntair Gallery in Stornoway, gives an insight into the man behind the paintings which celebrate the power of the human spirit. Read more about Donald Smith at the Art & Design library. Book a time to visit Islander, The Paintings of Donald Smith exhibition at City Art Centre
Elfyn Lewis- Mor a Mynydd at &Gallery, 3 July – 4 August2021
Welsh artist Elfyn Lewis is having his first solo exhibition. This presents a new collection of his paintings done over the last year. The title translates as Sea and Mountains, referencing Helen Frankenthaler’s painting, Mountains and Sea. His brightly coloured, multi-layered abstract paintings suggest vivid landscapes and he experiments with different processes to communicate his love of place. Plan your visit to the &Gallery
Castle Mills Contemporary at Edinburgh Printmakers, from 4 August 2021
Showcasing works by some of the UK’s finest contemporary artists, all of the work included in this exhibition was created at the Edinburgh printmakers studio during or just before the pandemic hit. The exhibition includes artists at the cutting edge of artistic practice and a number of recipients of the Edinburgh Printmakers Publishing Award. Read books published by Edinburgh Printmakers at the Art & Design library. Plan your visit to Edinburgh Printmakers.
Karla Black – Sculptures (2001 – 2021) – Details for a Retrospective at the Fruitmarket Gallery, 7 July – 24 October 2021
The newly refurbished and extended and Fruitmarket Gallery has reopened with an exhibition by Scottish Turner prize nominated artist Karla Black. Resolutely abstract, the sculptures reject figuration and are made using unconventional materials including her signature cosmetics, over-the counter medicines, cleaning products and packaging. The results have been described by gallery director, Fiona Bradley as a ‘moment of raw creativity’. Borrow books on artist Karla Black fromthe Art & Design library. Bookyour visit to the Karla Black exhibition at Fruitmarket Gallery.
Jock McFadyen – Lost Boat Party at Dovecot Studios, 11 June – 25 September 2021
Dovecot is celebrating the Paisley artist, Jock McFadyen’s 70th birthday with this major display of over 20 large paintings. Best known for his contemporary landscapes, the monumental painting Lost Boat Party depicts a funfair which appears to have detached itself from the land and is slowly drifting out to sea. Online events include the launch of EAF with Jock McFadyen, an interview with the artist and a curator talk on this exhibition. Read more about Jock McFadyen at the Art & Design library. Book your visit to the Jock McFadyen exhibition and online events at Dovecot Studios.
Ray Harryhausen – Titan of Cinema at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two), open now until 20 Feb 2022.
The largest and widest-ranging exhibition of film special effects superstar Ray Harryhausen’s work ever seen, with newly restored and previously unseen material from his incredible archive. His work included the films Jason and the Argonauts, the Sinbad films of the 1950s and 1970s, One Million Years B.C. and Mighty Joe Young. Included are truly memorable characters like Medusa, the Kraken, and Bubo the owl, as well as his iconic skeleton army from Jason and the Argonauts. Read about Ray Harryhausenat the Art & Design Library. Book your ticket for the Ray Harryhausen exhibition at Modern Two.
Joan Eardley Centenary exhibitions: A series of exhibitions and events across the UK to celebrate 100 years of one of Scotland’s best loved artists.
Joan Eardley & Catterline at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One), from 16 May – no closing date at present.
What is top of your must-see shows this summer? Whatever you choose, we hope you enjoy it, and should you want to read more about your favourite artists, then what better place to visit than the Art & Design Library? Remember to book a time to visit for browsing and borrowing, selecting Central Library on the online booking form.