I was thrilled to be asked back to lovely Gladstone’s Library to read from my latest poetry collection, The Five Petals of Elderflower (Red Squirrel Press 2016). My residency was in 2013, and though I have been back for workshops during that time, I hadn’t stayed over. I hadn’t been to Gladfest before because it clashes with Callander Poetry Weekend, and I had wished every year I could be in two places at once. Being asked to be a speaker was a great privilege. The library is a special place for me.
I attended the drinks reception on the Friday evening, and met some of my fellow speakers and chatted to staff, Gladvocates and guests, in the cosy Gladstone Room, where I had enjoyed quiet evenings during my October 2013 residency. Peter Francis announced the 2018 writers in residence and I was thrilled about the chosen poet, but I can’t say a word yet.
The following morning, I left home bright and early to attend my first chosen talk. This was Mike Scott, on Demythologising Shakespeare. Mike made some excellent points which chimed with my own views, such as: there is no need to worry about the meaning of every line or look up every reference. The story arc and the emotions and themes are the important thing. He dismissed arguments that Shakespeare could not have written those plays, which I too put down to snobbery, because Shakespeare was not a toff nor a university man. He gave examples of how canny Shakespeare was at not offending the government of the time. But what most impressed me was his reading of examples of speeches to illustrate his point. He read these so tenderly, so quietly and so authentically, that the words were allowed to communicate with the audience without show, just as if the character was there before us. He also spoke about memorable performances and how we must not be reverential, but instead experiment with the plays and keep them fresh. Always something new can be found in great literature. He emphasised their PLAYness, as theatre. Not all teachers might agree but he nailed it for me. I subsequently had some wonderful conversations with Mike about Shakespeare on the Sunday, which was a more relaxed day.
There was time for fresh air and a comfort break before the next speaker took the stand, in the Theology room of the library – and what a great setting that was for these talks! Diarmid MacCullock was speaking about the reformation, and his knowledge of the topic was both broad and deep. He was able to give an overview of what started off this massive religious reform, which left me in a position of more deeply understanding the whole period. Essentially one idea from the writings of Paul of Tarsus and Augustin of Hippo, removed hope from doctrine by saying that because God is perfect and humans are fallible, we are all doomed. No good works we do can make a difference. It is only reliant on God’s mercy. So to give some hope, the idea of Purgatory came in. Purgatory gave some hope but also allowed for vested interests, as indulgences and masses can be bought for the souls of the dead, to redeem them from the hell-like place. As a Catholic child, I had prayed fervently for the souls trapped in Purgatory who had no families left to pray for them. It was only when it dawned on me that the merciful God I had been taught about would surely not have approved such a barter. There was far more to this talk than that, and I made copious notes. Diarmid ended with a passionate plea for Historians, which will stay with me. Historians are there to give a balanced view where possible and to bust ghosts and purvey sanity.
Speakers who are both passionate and knowledgeable are a hallmark of Gladfest, and I was excited by everything I attended. But the schedule was so carefully planned, there were breaks between each event, time to get a drink, browse the craft marquee, wander outside for fresh air.
I checked into my room, a single ensuite, small but perfectly formed, made cosy by a gorgeous Welsh wool blanket on top of crisp white cotton sheets and duvet. Had I been staying longer, I would have had chance to use the generous desk all rooms are fitted with, but I spent little time up there as there were far too many interesting people to talk to.
It was then time for my own event. I was met by Louisa, miked up and taken to the chapel (a gorgeous venue) ahead of the ticket holders. Amy, the marketing manager, had my powerpoint already loaded up and ready to go, and I am grateful to her for encouraging me to make one, after I realised some of the poems would benefit from a visual image, such as my close up photos of elderflower, and some pieces of art which had inspired specific poems. I had a wonderful audience, with a few people I knew, and many I did not, some of whom listened with closed eyes and smiles on their faces. I was in heaven sharing my poems and had some interesting questions afterwards. During my book signing, I felt very appreciated and by Sunday morning, the shop ha sold out of The Five Petals of Elderflower and all but one of Letting Go (my 2013 selection from Mother’s Milk Books).
I would have liked to hear Kathryn Hughes (Victorians Undone) speak, but as I had already heard her at Words by the Water, back in March – and very good it was too – I decided to go and support the other poet at Gladfest, Rebecca Farmer. I was very glad I did! She spoke beautifully about Louis MacNeice, a poet I admire hugely, before going on to read some of her poems from her prizewinning Smith/Doorstop pamphlet.
It had been a day of bumping into friends, making new ones, hearing inspiring talks and eating hearty and well-prepared food over conversations, but I finished it off with an evening talk by Sally Magnusson, speaking about Dementia and how to live with a person who has it by using music, poetry and touch to keep the disease in check. She gave great advice too – compile your own soundtrack of your life, because it helps to keep memory alive and can even bring back speech. It was very life-affirming and Sally’s mother was so lucky to have such wonderful care in her dementia years.
Sunday was a much quieter day, with a greater concentration of workshops than talks, which is excellent planning. I spent the day relaxing, chatting, working on poems in the Gladstone room, at the large table, sharing thoughts with another poet who was a guest at the festival, and going back to the marquee to look at the craft stalls, second hand bookstall and making a few sketches in my art journal. I made time to have a scone and a pot of tea in Food for Thought, because I loved their scones when I was in residence. I had meant to go to an afternoon talk but I lingered too long over my cheeseboard dessert at lunchtime so I went to Gladbooks for a browse and treated myself a little.
It was so wonderful to be welcomed back into the Gladstone family, and to reconnect with several of the staff who were there during my residency. I could not have been better cared for or made to feel more welcome. Thank you so much for inviting me back!