Leaving Scotland at the end of August was bitter-sweet. The autumn was on its way. There was no denying that distinctive tinge in the air, the bite in the wind, and the internal clock signifying that the height of summer was over, and everything now was in decline. So as I departed for sunnier climes, I began to reflect on the Scottish summer I’d had with five grandchildren under eight and a mini book promotion tour to undertake for Vikings and Skylarks on Cumbrae.
During the first week I arranged a sewing course at I Sew 2 in Kirkintilloch. I was worried that my six-year-old Sophie and eight-year-old Jessica would be attacked by the sewing machines, but on the contrary, it was quite the opposite as they launched an unstoppable attack on the foot pedals, producing several amazing pieces: tote bags, pencil cases and hair bands
The second week I was scheduled to do Author Workshops at the Irvine Maritime Museum. The night before Jessica and Sophie selected the dresses we would be wearing but what they didn’t predict was that it would be one of the coldest and windiest days of the summer and that the picnic we’d packed to eat on Irvine Beach, was hastily consumed in the car. But the workshops went so well with parents and children participating and the predictions of what might happen to the characters Moranna and Sten before and after the Battle of Largs were excellent. The added bonus was that Jessica and Sophie were there to help tidy up!
Week three was a quiet week in Millport. The girls enjoyed rock climbing, walks to the crocodile rock and ice creams. I had a Book Signing at the Isle of Cumbrae Soaps and Candle shop. I was so amazed by the number of people I met in one afternoon and how far afield they’d come: Italy, Poland, Inverness, Carlisle, London. What conversations! What a window on the world! And so many teachers on holiday but already mentally preparing for the classes and topics for the term ahead.
But if week three had been quiet, week four was full on as we made our way up to Inverness and Belladrum Tartan Hearts Family Friendly Festival. We stayed in the Pine Chalets, Lentran 7 miles west of Inverness overlooking the Beauly Firth, and we were immediately treated to the most magnificent sunsets starting with fiery flashes of amber before paling into calm rosy glows. At the festival, the traditional music mixed with mainstream pop was a hit as the audience, including Jessica and Sophie and all the kids, spontaneously danced and reeled. The festival food was delicious and the crepes with chocolate-spread became a staple, if not the healthiest, for three days. We glided on ferris wheels, “It’s just like flying,” said Jessica completely composed, and we got bumped on the dodgem cars and experienced the delights of festival toilets, (not too bad, incidentally). The girls assisted in my Author Workshop at the Verb Tent: Jessica on microphone taking Q and A’s and Sophie on sales! What a team.
Back at the Pine Chalets they fed hand reared lambs, collected eggs from hens, rolled and wrestled with other kids in the fields and had the full Highland childhood experience.
And then we had one week’s grace - time to ourselves before the grand finale - all five grandchildren spread over the week. It was agreed that they’d come to our holiday home on Cumbrae. This time we’d include Jessica and Sophie’s baby sister, Abby who we hated dropping off at nursery each week. We couldn’t leave her out so we had the three girls for three days and then our grandson Adam and granddaughter Romy for four days. And we did every sea-side activity ever known: crabbing in rock pools, building sand castles, rock-climbing, swing park trips, crazy golf, ice creams, bouncy castles and finally face-painting. On the last Friday of the school holidays, North Ayrshire Council funded a Fun Day for children in the Garrison and this was so appreciated by exhausted grandparents, families and carers alike.
Soon it was over. Adam, didn’t want to leave, “But it was raining yesterday. We should get an extra day!” he pleaded. But before he knew it, he was whisked back home, later to be seen in his new school uniform. Romy returned to her last year of nursery unperturbed. She was going to be welcoming in the new three-year-olds now that she was a big four. As I drew breath, I began to pack for my own holiday. But I still had one school pick up of the girls to do. As they tucked into their after-school snack, I began to explain: “Now girls, this will be your last visit here for a while because we’re going on holiday.” “What?” cried Sophie. “So where are you taking us now Nana? We’ve just gone back to school.”
If you would like a copy of Vikings and Skylarks on Cumbrae – press here.
If you would like to contact Maura for a School Visit, or to purchase a Novel Study Guide or Activity Workbook, please contact her via 'Drop Me A Line'
Maura is pleased to announce that after her September holiday, she will be presenting Viking Workshops in Cumbrae Primary in October and at Baljaffray and Bearsden Primaries in November to celebrate Book Week Scotland.
Memoir, Biographies and Boswell’s Book Festival
Memoir and biography have always been my favourite genre, with historical fiction a close second. I like to read about interesting lives, interesting incidents in history especially if they relate to things I care about. That’s why when I recently attended Boswell Book Festival at Dumfries House in Ayrshire, I was surprised that Michael Morpurgo was one of the main speakers. Had he written a memoir I wondered?
Well, he hadn’t, as he freely admitted in his opening lines – in case anyone felt he was attending Boswell’s Memoir and Biography Festival under false pretences. He had indeed written a children’s story that was a semi-biographical memoir of King Charles III, and if that wasn’t enough, he explained that much of his writing indeed touched on memoir and biography, in that he liked to write about things that have happened in his lifetime and that he had some recollection of living through. He was also keen to stress that he wrote about themes he cared about. Thus, ‘The Boy Who Would Be King’ semi-biographical memoir. He remembered watching Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on a tiny television screen as a schoolboy. The sight of the diminutive queen perched on an enormous throne overshadowed by the huge mitres and robes of the bishops, left a lasting impression on the young Morpurgo. Seventy years later, this time as a guest at Westminster Abbey, not much had changed, he said. From his position, he saw only a little monarch, perched on a large throne, dwarfed by huge mitres and robes of the clergy. His book however is a warm appreciation of the young prince Charles, missing his parents while at boarding school and finding a way to face his fears.
I had come however to see Michael because I was a great fan of his children’s books. He has a real following among school children in the UK and I often spot his books while on holiday in France, and these do wonders for my written and oral French. The book he suggested that was most like a memoir to him was: ‘Mouth of the Wolf’ – a true account of his uncle who had been a conscientious objector in the second world war and had been sent to do agricultural work in rural England. However, when a friend, who had joined up, died in action, this compelled his uncle to abandon farm work and go do whatever it took to defend his country. He ended up as a spy – working in the French Resistance and ‘Mouth of the Wolf’ tells his story. There was so much Michael had to talk about and I felt an hour and half with him was all too short. He finished his talk with a beautiful poem about trees, and trees were what I had noticed when first entering Dumfries House Estate. Firstly, it was the uplifting birdsong, then it was the sweet, perfume of the peachy-yellow azaleas that were growing everywhere. And then there was the feeling of stepping into a secret, undiscovered world of nature, growing under my very footsteps.
Dumfries House, situated in the deepest part of Ayrshire, saved for the nation by the then Prince Charles in 2007, still feels a little like a work in progress as you walk through the wooded glades and walkways to reach the House. It is not yet a well-trodden path as other stately homes have become. Visitors are not quite sure where to go. There are signposts, but so discreetly placed, you almost miss them, and this perhaps is its charm. It's the perfect setting for a Book Festival and it truly connects the shared passions of Charles and Camilla; his - ecology and conservation; hers - literature and conversation. There was a mixed crowd of enthusiastic readers: attractive Sloan-Ranger type ladies of a certain age; Suzanna Constantine asking for directions in preparation for her slot; family groups with children and buggies and the occasional super-slim fake-tanned influencer, on the arm of a bulked-up boyfriend. It was book promotion and enjoyment at its best with the local Ayrshire Waterstones hosting a marquee with piles of pre-signed ‘collectable’ hardbacks. The author’s programme promoting their work was wide, from Sally Magnusson to Ricky Ross; from Esme Young of Sewing Bee fame to Andrew Cotter with his beloved labradors. There was plenty of staff on hand who were wonderfully articulate local guides. When I asked about the original chapel that had been created by one of the earlier Marquis’s, I was immediately taken to see the beautiful stained glass-window, albeit now in a linen store off the conference centre. It was a later Marquis who had changed the use of the chapel, but at least he had kept the stain-glassed window.
There were plaques and engraved stones all-round the grounds, dedicated to the donors for the avenue of trees; the opulent fountain; the restored stone bridge and the walled arboretum. But by far the most amusing part of the visit to Boswell Book Festival was overhearing the snatches of conversation, (as many readers and writers tend to do), as I walked through the gardens: “So, it was William and Harry’s da’ that done all this up then?” asked a young fake-tanned, social influencer to her mum and dad. On the magnificent, giant bluebell-like plants that grew abundantly, one passer-by said, “I think they’re agapanthus. I’ve grown these at home.” “No’ lik’ these yins ye huvnae’!” came the reply from a local group. And as I passed over a lovely little stone bridge, spanning a tributary over the Lugar waters, a little boy charmingly asked his mum: “Is this the London Tower Bridge then? “Naw!” came the abrupt reply. She wasn’t even going to venture an explanation. That would be a story too far.
Maura McRobbie will be presenting Children’s Workshops, based on her novel: Vikings and Skylarks on Cumbrae at Irvine Maritime Museum on Thursday 13th July 2023 and at Belladrum Festival in Inverness on Friday 28th July 2023
Maura has also recently edited and published a memoir based on a missionary priest who has spent 50 years in Brazil. ‘People I Met on the Way’ is currently available through Amazon
The semi-biographical memoir of Maura’s grandmother ‘Howth’ was published in 2019 and is also available on Amazon
This time last year I wrote my first Blog with the desire to entertain, brighten and perhaps to allow my readers to pause for thought. I began by describing the beauty of the South of France that was just awakening from a sleepy lockdown, where everyone felt joy at being alive, and to be finally witnessing the spring sunshine with renewed hope.
I was also in the process of editing a memoir ‘People I Met on the Way’ that explores the life of Joseph Dillon, who became a Divine Word Missionary priest in 1972 and headed to Brazil. As a Liberation Theologist, he helped to empower communities in the remotest areas of the Amazon River to have access to better health and educational opportunities. In the favelas of Sao Paulo, he witnessed senseless murders and merciless crimes, and yet he set up health projects in parishes, bringing floral and herbal remedies to the thousands of people who lived in these lawless communities who longed for a more peaceful life.
Now, a year later, Father Joe’s memoir is ready for publication and my year as an editor is almost complete. I say ‘almost’ in that the final artwork and tweaks are being done by the illustrator, including the front and back cover, the spine and of course incorporating the pre-publication reviews. This has been the most fascinating and perhaps the most nail-biting aspect of being an editor.
Once I had the final 30 chapters assembled into a chronological sequence, with clearly identified themes and ensuring some human-interest stories that readers could relate to, I wanted to make sure that in my final cuts, I hadn’t lost the gentle, warm, compassionate tone of Fr Joe’s narrative voice in my effort to be succinct. A bit like an over-zealous gardener, I didn’t want to be found guilty of trimming back so much lush greenery, that I was left with only the bare landscape. And having worked so closely for a year on the original 200,000 plus word manuscript, it was time to step back, and let the reviews speak for themselves.
The first critique came back within a couple of days: “A wonderful insight into a lifelong ministry. A very readable and enjoyable memoir.” It was concise and encouraging. The reviewer also mentioned that he would possibly be incorporating some of Fr Joe’s methods of Friendship Groups within his own parish.
The second arrived after a week: “This book takes us into the deepest recesses of the Amazon and the overcrowded lives of the indigenous urban population in Sao Paulo. Father Joseph's life of creative, courageous, and compassionate engagement with the people of Brazil is a story of liberative faith and hope against all the odds. An eye-opening, inspiring call to action and change!” I was delighted with these words, and again felt encouraged.
The third came within three weeks with apologies for taking so long, said: “Father Joseph’s readiness to be involved in community life in various parishes encouraged many people to become involved in local programmes and learning. This is an account of a life well lived and should be shared with young people in our secondary schools and youth groups. Father Joe is a wonderful role model.” This was from a former educational adviser.
The final and most heartening of all critiques for me as a first-time editor came in at the last minute from a young eco scientist, who dispelled all my misgivings of perhaps throwing the baby out with the bath water. He said:
“It’s a brilliant read! My favourite chapter is Chapter 5: ‘Banana’s, Tea and Man’s Inhumanity to Man’. Fr Joe is entirely without ego and his warm, compassionate voice is strong throughout. The last line is amazing. When can I go to Brazil?”
And so, as a gardener who has lovingly tended his patch over the year, protecting it from the autumn frosts, and tweaking it throughout the bleak winter days, and now in the midst of a joyous spring, as a first-time editor, I am now ready to let go of ‘People I Met on the Way’ by Father Joseph Dillon, SVD and wish it a long and fruitful summer.
Meet the Author
Father Joseph Dillon, SVD, will be visiting Scotland from the 20th – 29th May 2023. He will be presenting at Gavin’s Mill in Milngavie on Wednesday 24th May at 7pm-9pm. He will also be celebrating the publication of his book after 5pm evening Mass at St Andrew’s RC church Bearsden in the Lower Church Hall on Saturday 27th May at 6pm and doing Book Signings at the Coffee Morning in the Upper Hall after 10am and 12 noon Mass.