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Far Off Blog

Always keep your readers close

Once upon a time in the Far Off city of Edinburgh, there was a gathering of Far Off people - minstrels, poets and storytellers - who came together to share words, wit and wisdom, and whose fame travelled Far and Wide.

Ahem. Okay, I’ll talk normally now. At least, I’ll try to.

We had angsted and anticipated, planned and pontificated - and last Thursday was the day. Shortly after 7.30 in theLia and Nicola on the bar L-shaped function room of the Meadows Bar, the Far Off Places shindig kicked off. We were somewhat astonished to have almost 50 people attending - Annie spent much of the first half running downstairs to steal (ahem, borrow) more chairs from the bar. It was, therefore, a very cosy atmosphere.

Note to self: next time, find a venue with more chairs.

We had always been clear about the structure we wanted: an organised reading, showcasing some of the authors from our first couple of issues, followed by a more informal open stage, where anything might happen. Even ukuleles.

The first half kicked off with an introduction from Trevor, in a scarlet waistcoat, and a slightly overwhelmed Annie, in a hat. (But was it green or teal? We still don’t know.) There were thank yous and exclamations of delight (mainly from Annie) and more exclamations of delight (also from Annie). Trevor then became the ringmaster in a circus of exceptional readers, starting off, appropriately enough, with Jessica Johannesson Gaitan, who reminded us in the first lines of her unexpected short story The Readers to always keep our readers close. The evening then proceeded with fairy tales, fantasy and flights of delight. All the while, a black top hat was circulating with slips of paper for anyone who wanted to perform in the second half to put their name on.

The interval was too short. That is, it actually ran over - but even so there was not time to talk as much as we would have wished to all of the wonderful people who were there. Everyone was delightful and delighted: we were now even more overwhelmed, but this time by compliments, rather than by chairs (and their lack).

Chelsea Cargill on the autoharpThe black sorting hat came into its own in the second half, which proved to be a music-words sandwich. We started and finished with musical whimsy from Nicole Strachan on the ukulele and Chelsea Cargill on the autoharp - who both, coincidentally, not only write for Far Off Places but are also Very Important People at our sister magazine Antizine. In between their songs of journeys to the moon and men who don’t recycle, we heard the opening of a novel for teenagers, some hilarious “found” poetry and a tale of cider and stardust. Annie finished off the evening with a story about stories and their worth.

Moral of the story: be nice to your writers, or they’ll turn you into a stag.

Finally, after more compliments and more exclamations of delight, we drifted slowly, reluctantly into the lamplit streets of Edinburgh. It had been a good night.

There is a rather touching postscript. On leaving, one lovely lady had mentioned that she might write a poem about the hats sported by various of the young (female) writers. The next evening, the following poem (or prosem) winged its way to us, reflecting on, in Gillean’s own words, how things change, albeit sometimes just on the surface. As an editor, I tend to end up with a lot of poems in my inbox. These range from the playful to the poignant, the wonderful to the wondering. Few have moved me quite as much as this.

Hats in a First Floor Bar

More than a century ago
My gran wore a hat like Emmeline Pankhurst’s
And my grandfather loved her.

In the 1950s when I was very young
Everyone wore hats
And Gentlemen tipped them to Ladies.
Black bowler-hatted lawyers
Strode up Edinburgh’s Mound, matchstick thin,
Pinstripe trousered, umbrellas furled like weapons;
Schoolmasters wore trilbies,
Soft-centred men who knew their grammar
And could spell the word;
Working men, dextrous of hand,
Wore flat floppy caps like Paw and Granpaw Broon.
Lesbians wore alpine hats of Loden green,
Suggestively spiked with cocktailed plumes;
Smart women wore smart hats to all events,
And to afternoon tea at Fuller’s;
For casual they wore headsquares,
Knotted under chins like the young Queen in mufti,
Or sculpted into turbans for dusting out the living-room
Or pegging out the washing.

In the 1960s we who thought we were so cutting edge
Wore no hats
But high above our miniskirts, seriously short,
We bore great lacquered bouffant beehives,
Enclosing pale pink lipsticked mouths
And eyes mascara-ringed
Like marmosets, or mourning missives.

Now The Hats are back,
But these Andro-babes sport their titfers with a difference:
Jaunty bowlers Chaplinesque,
Teal Alpinettes, cherry cloches,
Or crinkled purple shapes that wander
Like a new concept in Architecture or Physics;
Perky, quirky, risque.

So, girls, here’s a kiss
Blown from a white-haired watcher in the shadows
Down the long years
You have yet to reconnoitre.

Gillean Arjat
Meadows Bar upstairs,
42-44 Buccleuch Street
Edinburgh
12 September 2013

Our thanks go to The Meadows Bar for hosting us, to the many writers who so generously shared their work with us, and equally generously dragged their friends along, to Nicholas Davidson for some fantastic photography and to Beth and Ceris, who were with us in spirit. And of course to Gillean, for such beautiful end to a beautiful evening.

Thank you.

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