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 […]
Winter – A Writing Wonderland
November is always a bleak month with grey rain heralding All Saints Day, a sombre reminder of our own mortality. But then there is Guy Fawkes and Diwali and a surprise invitation to Awaz FM radio for an interview with Manjulika Singh on my children’s book, ‘Vikings and Skylarks on Cumbrae’. This gave me the […]
Celtic Connections in the Cote D’Azur￼
It was a seething 34 degrees when we arrived in Marseilles at the beginning of September complete with kilt, sporran, sgian dhubh (plastic but still raised eyebrows at airport security), tartan sash and accessories. We had been asked to perform a traditionl Scottish country dance at a local theatre in the south of France as […]
Belladrum! Inverness! Boogie!
Yes Sir, Belladrum Can Boogie Summer in Scotland couldn’t have been better this year with the outstanding Largs Viking Festival where I did some readings and fun activities for my children’s book ‘Vikings and Skylarks on Cumbrae’. The launch at the Garrison in Millport was so special with a flurry of friends and family dropping […]
Millport a place of Gentle Pleasures
Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae recently featured in The Guardian as a place of gentle pleasures. Written by Peter Ross In the Guardian he described it as a place that “draws me back time and time again.” For me, Millport has much the same effect – it has drawn me back time and time […]
Flowers and Fauna of Provence
Welcome to my first Blog, the aim of which is to entertain, brighten, and perhaps pause for thought. I am writing from Provence in France where I have spent the past month. Nature here is in its glory; flowers and fauna are breaking out everywhere: marguerites (daisies) coquelicots (wild poppies) and iris maritimes (seaside irises). […]
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.
To order a copy of ‘People I Met on the Way’, please contact me by clicking this link for my contact page.
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.
Winter – A Writing Wonderland
November is always a bleak month with grey rain heralding All Saints Day, a sombre reminder of our own mortality. But then there is Guy Fawkes and Diwali and a surprise invitation to Awaz FM radio for an interview with Manjulika Singh on my children’s book, ‘Vikings and Skylarks on Cumbrae’. This gave me the chance to go down memory lane…..teaching English as a Second Language to Asian children who spoke little English in the early 1980s. We had fun using stories of Rama and Sita to make a huge frieze that was illustrated with mendhi patterns and displayed around educational establishments nationally.
It was lovely to be asked about writer’s tips. I hope I gave good advice: that writing is a discipline; if you have the urge - scratch it; ten minutes each day, on notes in smartphone on whatever subject you have the urge to write about; don’t worry about punctuation or grammar, just get it down; look over it at end of each week and spend 2 hours refining it; then you will be surprised how quickly you will build up a body of work; join a writing group; let others read your work; get feedback; submit to publishers or the Scottish Association of Writers; think about genre, styles and self-publishing on kindle. New York Times best sellers are full of authors who began by self-publishing through Kindle or Wattpad.
Visiting schools for Book Week Scotland was a highlight. Reading, writing and drama workshops from P4 – P7 reminded me of how enthusiastic and receptive children are to the written word. They engaged with the characters Moranna and Sten, they considered the issues they faced with the impending Battle of Largs and they predicted a satisfactory ending. As well as this, they reflected on the rich Viking/Scots legacy that is on our doorstep.
At Bearsden Hub, I attended a talk by Andrew Nicholson, the archaeologist on the Galloway Hoard, a £1.5 million trove found by a metal detectorist in a farmer’s field. It showed the cultural fusion between Anglo Saxons/ Celts/ Vikings in the years 900AD. There was even a beautifully decorated vessel with a lid thought to be from Persia – “a vessel of kings” as Andrew said. There was something very special about this hoard, all buried in a hurry, wrapped in textiles, possibly linen, and placed at the entrance gate of a settlement. Someone thought they could go back and retrieve it, but they never did. There must be plenty more hoards like this still to be found in the Ayrshire coast. I must get a metal detector for Christmas! Further info on the Galloway Hoard can be found at: National Museum of Scotland (includes education pack) or at National Geographic So thank you to the schools, teachers, staff, pupils and radio presenters who helped make this dreich time of year so memorable, and of course Book Week Scotland for creating the focus on reading and writing and the appreciation of a good story - or as the Vikings would say, a good saga. If you are interested in a school visit for reading, drama or writing workshops click this link: Drop Me A Line
Celtic Connections in the Cote D’Azur￼
It was a seething 34 degrees when we arrived in Marseilles at the beginning of September complete with kilt, sporran, sgian dhubh (plastic but still raised eyebrows at airport security), tartan sash and accessories. We had been asked to perform a traditionl Scottish country dance at a local theatre in the south of France as part of the Jour de la Paix celebrations, and as we slipped our costumes into their cases, we were relieved to be back in our light summer clothes. We made our way along the coast on the familiar train journey from Marseille to Toulon. A month in this heat, how will we survive? And are we mad to bring our Scottish culture to this Mediterranean paradise? “It’s been far too hot!” “This heat is exhausting.” “What we’d give for some fresh air and rain.” That’s what we heard from our neighbours and friends. La chaleur had been incessant this summer, almost 40 degrees at times.
A sweltering day was spent in Toulon shopping and eating out in Les Halles in the heart of the city: a refurbished original building that was beautifully air conditioned. We came out into the sweat-inducing heat, and after two more shops, we sat down for a welcome coffee in the water fountain square before heading home by train. It’s a scenic 20-minute journey from Toulon to Bandol; the little pink rooftops, swathes of beaches and bays, glimpses of yachts and marinas, all swiftly pass by and before you know it, it’s time to get off. And each night we practised our dance. The easiest of all Scottish Country dances: the Gay Gordons – and apart from this routine, our days were filled with early morning tennis; late afternoon swims and dinner on the terrace. Days slipped by. There was a concert in the baking heat. A Spanish themed concert in the local church. The College pupils had been invited and there was an excited throng as we waited for it to begin. Teachers circulated. One, a handsome young Michelangelo lookalike with long brown curls and a goatee beard, quietly keeping the teenagers in order. The head teacher, in a cream linen suit, stylish haircut shaved at the sides like a footballer, spoke eloquently to the pupils before introducing the musicians from France’s National Orchestra. “It is so wonderful to be given the opportunity to respect and be shown the example of professional musicians who have come here to play for us,” he said. We listened to Bizet’s Carmen, a Cuban piece that exemplified the Latin influence on Spanish music, and an Argentinian Tango, so popular in the UK, we were told. The College pupils, at first fidgety and full of giggles, soon calmed down as the magic of the music and the heat, transported us to Seville.
And then the rain and lightning and thunder came. Everyone was so grateful as the days became cooler but still pleasant for our daily routine of tennis; swim; dinner. Our dance-display was coming ever closer, and we continued to practise with a full-dress rehearsal. I attached the tartan sash to the shoulder of my dress and the White Heather Club came to mind. We packed some whisky with little paper cups and some Scottish fudge. And so it happened. We danced and the demonstration number we had planned seemed to last a lot longer than our 2-minute rehearsal. We seemed to be repeating the same steps and sequence for double the time than we had practised. And then it ended, we stopped, we bowed, we smiled, we paused, and then the roof was raised in rapturous applause. Cheers and encores and bravos. We laughed and proudly said that we’d do it again but needed some people on the floor. And of course, we got a few volunteers and off we went. Then we shared the little paper cups of whisky and pieces of fudge. More reticent members of the audience made their way to the front to savour the whisky and we were surrounded by good cheer and chatter. Two young women arrived. They had heard there was a Scottish Dance demonstration. They had been searching for an association in the Cote D’Azur area but couldn’t find one. Could we do the dance again for them to join in? And so off we went again to more laughter and cheers….
It was soon time for the airport and our return to Scotland, but as we went through security we learned all flights to the UK had been cancelled due to an air traffic strike. We had no alternative but to return to our Cote D’Azur paradise until the next available flight in five day’s time. We texted our friends. “Great stuff, you’ll be here for my apero evening” said our Irish tennis friend. “Come to us on Saturday for a light supper,” said our Jour De La Paix friends – “and we can finish off the Scotch!” “Meet us for a coffee at the port, after the Brocante on Sunday,” said our two dancing friends looking to learn Scottish Country dancing. And as we chatted, we realised that one of them was an aficionado of Celtic music. Originally from Lorient in Britanny, she has her own Celtic musical group: Celtic Souleu and they celebrate St Andrew’s night in a local restaurant with bagpipe players each year. She attends the Celtic Festival de Lorient which only a few years ago featured the Millport Pipe Band. “Oh you know the Millport Pipe Band and the little Scottish island of Cumbrae?” she asked. “Of course we do. In fact, I have just published a children’s book: ‘Vikings and Skylarks on Cumbrae’. It’s inspired by true events on the island when the Vikings lived side by side with the Scots in the Middle Ages.” “Oh how can we buy a copy, and when can we visit your little Scottish island?” they asked. And finally, before we headed home, we attended the inauguration Mass for the new priest, a George Clooney lookalike, sophisticated and suave in his brogues and jeans. With a glass of rosé in hand, he welcomed us all to a wonderful buffet and said we’d get to know him as Pere Café Du Café as he did little without a coffee in hand. As we mixed with the parishioners, our Celtic Connections were fully embedded as the head of Étoile Bandolaise spoke to me about the itinerary for their intended visit to Scotland in 2023. Bien Venue en Écosse! Celtic Connections in the Cote D'Azur Rock.
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