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17 October 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - For Rent

     This vampire has found his home sweet home! CLICK HERE for more Halloween-themed coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

16 October 2017

Scottish Weddings

As Stan and I wandered to lunch this weekend, we caught sight of a wedding limo.
And not just one limo, but three!
It's so fun when we stumble across Scottish wedding parties. All the men wear matching tartans, sometimes with some peculiarity added in for fun. Like the group in the purple kilts we saw in Portobello. All the men had shaved their hair into mohawks. I wonder how the bride felt about that!
     And then there are the traditional ones, in the hunters green or navy-based tartans, done up in formal Scottish dress. Truly, I don't think there's any attire more dashing.
     I'll work harder to get photos of these for you in the future, as it's often-times a bit awkward to snap photos like these. I suppose you'll just have to take my word for it!
     After this particular spotting, we popped across the street to Chez Jules Bistro for lunch (that yellow and red sign). It's authentic French fare and one of our mainstays. It's quite reasonable - salad, flank steak, and frites for £9. Can't beat it!

15 October 2017

VIDEO: Read the Book, Lemmings!

Author Ame Dyckman and illustrator Zachariah OHora read/perform their book READ THE BOOK, LEMMINGS! And it's adorable. Have a watch at Kidlit TV:

14 October 2017

Old Friends and New

Saturday, I met up with two friends from Edinburgh Uni to say good-bye.
They don't prepare you for this part when you're in school. Friends scatter to the wind. Here I am with Silvia and Harriet at the Waterstones on Princes Street. We nabbed the best table in the cafe with the best view of the castle in the whole city as far as I'm concerned. A fitting place to send Harriet off - back to New Orleans in the states on Tuesday. She finished her MA and is returning home to her partner and doggies and a shiny new job. She's excited and I'm excited for her. Meanwhile, Silvia is commuting for a new job in Glasgow.
     It's bittersweet. I'm so happy for my friends, but I'll miss them. Despite all its evils, thank goodness for Facebook.
     At the same time, I'm making new friends at the University of Glasgow. I attended the:
It was wonderfully interesting and I got to hear my supervisors talk for the first time. Maureen Farrell and Bob Davis shared the talks they gave at IRCL in Toronto that I missed out on, and they were great!
     But even better, I got to meet several of my fellow PhD in Children's Lit compadres. It's a good, smart group and I'm going to enjoy getting to know them. As usual in a university environment, my new friends hail from all over the world - Libya, Pakistan, China, the US, the UK, Russia, etc. We all get along and could teach a thing or two to our governments.

12 October 2017

Mollie Hunter

This week I've been studying author Mollie Hunter (30 June 1922 – 31 July 2012) in the academic text A Stranger Shore: A Critical Introduction to the Work of Mollie Hunter by Betty Greenway. It's a lovely tribute to this wonderful Scottish storyteller and lends serious insight into Ms. Hunter's work, along with insightful commentary on her writing, symbolism, and influences.
     Of course, I couldn't read about Mollie Hunter and not read some of her actual books! I began with The Kelpie's Pearls. The protagonist is an old woman of magic living in a world that increasingly doesn't understand the old ways. Devious and dangerous Kelpies have a rich history here in Scotland, so this was a good story to serve as introduction.
     Next, and even more relevant to what I've been writing about of late, is The 13th Member. Ironically, this is a fictionalized version of the very thing I've been talking about - the witches of Prestonpans! I'm only about half-way through so far, but I'm already recognizing the real people portrayed in the book through a fictional lens - very fun!
     Reading all of this has given me some great ideas to chew on for my PhD - thoughts of liminal characters, magic, and Scottish folklore. Also, this idea of animism and the attraction of young readers to fantasy, when they are going through the transition from childhood to young adult, holding tight to wonder, while embracing the more mature/rational adult existence. All very interesting!
     At any rate, if you're not familiar with Mollie Hunter, and you'd like to enjoy some good mid-grade steeped in Scottish lore, I highly recommend you read some of her books!

11 October 2017

Black History Month

October is Black History Month in the UK. The University of Glasgow has some great lectures and events going on to celebrate and educate. CLICK HERE to see.

10 October 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Cornelius Mousle

     May I introduce you to my friend, Cornelius Mousle, the brave little mouse. Yes, he has a story! CLICK HERE for more Halloween-themed coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

09 October 2017

Dusherra

Stan and I were relaxing on the couch last night when we suddenly heard explosions and saw flashes of light. It turned out to be a truly beautiful and unique fireworks show on Calton Hill and we had a lovely view from our dining room windows. I looked up what the occasion was... It was the Scottish Indian Arts Forum celebration of Dusherra. Per the website (click the image):
Dusherra, one of the largest festivals in India, commemorates a 10 day war between the gods and demons thousands of years ago. It is celebrated with gusto by communities with music, dance, food and a symbolic burning of the Effigies of the demons to celebrate the victory of good over evil.
I love that idea! The fireworks were all red, green or white and some were designs I'd never seen before - very special. It was a romantic reminder of what a magical city we live in - Edinburgh!

08 October 2017

VIDEO: Art Tips at Muddy Colors

I've been enjoying Jeff Miracola's Art Tips at Muddy Colors, like this one about how to safe paint-stiffened brushes. Click the image to watch at Muddy Colors.

07 October 2017

The Battle of Prestonpans

I have one more story for you before we leave Prestonpans. It is about the famous battle that took place in 1745 - at the tower right across the street from where Annemarie Allan lives.

The base of the tower was built in the 1400s. But real-estate being what it is, in 1626, a home was built on top. Cows and sheep lived on the ground floor, servants on the first floor, and the well-to-do family at the top. I wonder if they ever came down?
     It burned three times during its history. It was first set on fire by the Earl of Hertford during the Rough Wooing (a war between England and Scotland) in 1544, Cromwell set fire to it in 1650, and then it burned again, by accident this time, in 1663. The owners had had it at that point and moved into what is now Annemarie's house. The tower was left as a ruin from that day forth.
     Then came the battle of 1745. This was also a war with England, but this time the French and the Scottish teamed up. It was called the 2nd rising of the Jacobites. Here's what the battlefield looked like. Annemarie would have had a great view from her windows.

Image Credit: By Hoodinski (Own work, [1]) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

     Like many battles of that time, onlookers arrived with picnics as they set to the sides to enjoy the show. It was a very short, very gruesome show at that. At 6:00am, 1,400 Highlanders charged the English with "wild Highland war cries and with the bloodcurdling skirl of the pipes....".* The battle lasted ten minutes. Hundreds were hacked to bits, injured, or taken prisoner. The battle turned the morale of the winning Scots for a time.
     Songs and poems were written about Cope's defeat and his soldier's who fled the scene. Annemarie shared a story of one soldier who was there with his ten-year-old son and was smuggled away from the battle by sympathetic locals.
     Nowadays, actors reenact the Battle of Prestonpans each year. It was even featured in the TV show "Outlander" (season 2, episode 10). Apparently, it was one of Jamie's favorite scenes from the show.
     The grounds around the tower itself are lovely now. There is an herb garden and a laburnum arch which drips with yellow blooms in the spring. Annemarie says I have to come back to see it. I will, I will, because I have a feeling there are many more stories hiding in Prestonpans!

*Battle of Prestonpans at Wikipedia

05 October 2017

Prestonpans - The Witches

It's now October, the month of Halloween and witches! How appropriate to kick it off with a haunting story...
     Prestonpans was famous for mining, yes, but before that, it was known as the site of one of the most notorious witch hunts in all of history. It predated the Salem Witch Trias, and was the inspiration for the 3 witches in Shakespeare's "Macbeth." It is the story of the 81 Witches of Prestonpans. Annemarie Allan wrote a book on the topic if you'd like to learn more (click the image), but here's the summary.
     The town of Prestonpans goes back to the 1100s, named for the salt pans monks used to cook salt from the sea water for trade. Salt in those days was as valuable as gold and many people grew very rich from it. In the 1500s, the Bailie of Tranent, David Seton coveted the riches of his kinswoman, Euphemia MacAlzean. How to get her money, how?
     He had his servant, Gelie Duncan accuse MacAlzean of witchcraft.
     Duncan also accused Agnes Sampson and John Cunningham, the local schoolmaster. Sampson was tortured into naming others, and hence, the witch hunt began. It reached its peak when King James IV (a.k.a. King James I of England) hit violent waters on the Firth of Forth. He said witches had cursed his passage, and more people (85% women) were accused, tortured and murdered.
     Gossip spread quickly. It was said that hundreds of witches gathered at the Fiery Hills of Acheson's Haven, where the devil spoke with them directly. This is what that coven was illustrated to look like - notice the devil on the left. (img: Wikipedia)
The fiery hills could be attributed to the local coal that once lit, smoked and burned as it reached the veins that ran throughout the region. Annemarie and I found the very spot the coven took place. This is what it looks like today. So deceptively peaceful.
The conspiracy of accusations ran up and down the coast as paranoia took hold of the region, pitting neighbor against neighbor and inspiring barbaric acts of cruelty. Through the 16th and 17th century, at least 81 'witches' were killed before the frenzy finally subsided (many records were lost or destroyed, so there may have been more). It was soon followed by the hysteria in Winston, Salem in the United States, where 20 people were executed for witchcraft.
     Although the killings stopped, the accusations didn't. The last person convicted under the Witchcraft Act of 1563 was Helen Duncan in 1944. The Witchcraft Act was finally repealed in 1951 under Sir Winston Churchill. Here is a brief local article about the region's history with witches.
     We like to think we've changed. In 2004 all of the witches of Prestonpans were officially pardoned at a grand ceremony.
Now, each year on October 31st the witches are remembered and honored in Prestonpans. While its become an entertaining event, it is indeed a sobering reminder of the evil people are capable of when attempting to call it out in others.

04 October 2017

Prestonpans - The Beach

Continuing my recent adventure to Prestonpans on the coast of Scotland...As a result of the extensive mining in the region, much of Prestonpans can't be seen - tunnels run underground throughout the area. Some even run from the mine, all the way to the Firth of Forth. My guide, Annemarie Allan said that one miner walked three miles through the underground maze to get to his shift each day. For proof, this building operated as a ventilation shaft. It was a good walk above ground, I can't imagine getting there from below.
Of course, it's all locked up now and has become a favorite roost for pigeons. From there, Annemarie, her husband Jim, and I went down to explore the beach.
When the houses and ceramics works were torn down, much of the debris was tossed to the beach, where it's been left to weather for decades. It makes for a surprisingly beautiful beach covered in broken bits that make lovely worn worry-stones. I found a piece of ceramic that fits my thumb just perfectly and now resides next to my laptop as I write.
Truly, time can mend so much of our human damage. It's a beautiful place now. Here's Jim searching for treasures.
Back up from the beach is the former location of Morrison's Haven.
This was a port of lucrative trade, shipping the products of Prestonpans to the world. But when they closed the businesses, the decision was made to also fill in the port. Trade was dead and maintaining the port would have cost the town too much money. It's a shame really. This is what it looked like through the lens of history. (Click the image to view it larger in a new window.)
This is all that's left of it now. This transparent photograph shows an image of where the water and port braces stood.
Perhaps one of the reasons they filled it in is because that field where Annemarie and I stood has a notorious history. The story of the witches of Prestonpans is next...

03 October 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Reading Panda

     Panda has curled up with a good book - how cozy!CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

02 October 2017

New Desk, New Friends, Old Ones Too...

Today is the official start date of my studies as a PhD student, studying Children's Literature under the School of Education at the University of Glasgow! As a PhD student, I get a designated desk - in a room with a lock on it - on a floor where undergrads seldom wander. I even get my own computer! It feels quite serious.
Behind me are two windows with lovely views. Here is to the left.
And here is the sports pitch to the right where I get to hear the joyful noise of kids playing on pretty days. I'm going to love that come spring.
I'm not sure how often I'll be at this lovely desk, since I'll be commuting from Edinburgh and the train is expensive. But it's nice to have.
     Meanwhile, I've already been attending several compulsory workshops, where I've made friends with fellow PGR students (that would be "Post-graduate Research" students). We've already formed a pack. This is our second lunch, this time at the Hanoi Bike Shop (more Vietnamese grub - yum!).
My new friends are Yun from China (Philosophy), Dana from the states (Creative Writing), Saskia from Germany (Law), and Yours Truly (Children's Lit).
     But don't worry - I haven't left my old friends behind! I recently stopped by the new MFA space in the old Firehouse Museum (groovy space, but totally different vibe from when I was there) and had lunch with several of my MFA classmates. It was so fun to reconnect and we're hoping to form a regular salon to keep inspiring each other. Hopefully, I'll have more to share about that before too long! Here's Pilar, Harriet, and me on a sunny day in Edinburgh. (Photo by Katie Chappell.)

01 October 2017

VIDEO: Karim Abouelnaga at SLJ

Karim Abouelnaga's keynote at the School Library Journal's 2016 Leadership Summit is an inspiring talk about his project Practice Makes Perfect. Click the image to watch on YouTube.

30 September 2017

Prestonpans: The Mine

Coal was mined in Prestonpans. Annemarie Allan and her husband, Jim, gave me a tour of the local mine, now long closed and turned into a museum.
My life folded over on itself as I was reminded so vividly of the Ducktown Basin Museum in Tennessee and the copper mine there that inspired my book, A BIRD ON WATER STREET.
We hooked up with a tour (Annemarie knew the employees there from her extensive research for her novel, CHARLIE'S PROMISE), and were able to go into the pump house that drove the enormous industrial-era machinery.
It was filled with Victorian iron-work and ghosts from the past.

Annemarie commented how nothing was meant to be black and dreary in Victorian times. The enormous machines were painted in bright colors. It was only later, after years of soot that the machines became the beasts that scared children who lived at the mine. Can you imagine its grooooowl?
     Next to the Pump House, was the Power House. I swear it was an exact duplicate of the one in Ducktown.
     Like in Ducktown, housing was built for the miners who worked there, and they didn't just work the mines. They manned the kilns for the brick works, they kept the fires burning to get salt from the sea water, they even had Italians come in to make Venetian glass.
     None of the houses are there anymore. They were torn down and trees planted in their place. The old WWII shelter remains, and the old train and trolley tracks. (Yes, Edinburgh - there was a trolley long before this new one! It ran from downtown Edinburgh, through Leith and all the way out to Prestonpans!)
     But what was perhaps most haunting was the coal mine itself. Imagine the buildings still standing near the lift.
This wheel and others like it pumped in fresh air and hauled the lift up and down into the mine. But it was also surrounded by stairs. The men did the breaking up of the rock, as they had the backs for it. But it was the women and children who carried the coal up in baskets on their backs. Turned out that making the grueling journey gave the men hernias. It was the women, so used to carrying babies, who were better built for the labor of carrying the coal on their backs up the stairs. And the children, of course. Good lord.
Needless to say, the air around the mine is full of whispers of what was. It's a haunting place to visit. And we haven't even made it to the story of the witches yet...

28 September 2017

Annemarie Allan's CHARLIE'S PROMISE

‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is a question that writers often find difficult to answer, but that isn’t true for my latest novel, Charlie’s Promise, because it is closely linked to my own family history.
      My father was born in Poland and brought up in Paris. He considered himself to be French, but his official designation was ‘Displaced Person’. At the end of the Second World War he was assigned to the Polish Resettlement Corps and ended up in Scotland, where he met and married my mother. In a sense, she too was a displaced person, having arrived at her aunt’s house in Morison’s Haven as an eight-year-old orphan.
      I knew all this as a child, but what I didn’t know was that my parents had a secret they did not share with anyone else, not even their children. I was only five years old when my parents announced we had a new name. It’s not something that’s easy to forget, but at that age, I easily accepted my mother’s explanation that our name had changed from Grynszpan to Grayson only because it was easier to spell. Nor did I question the fact that I had no clear idea of my father’s life before he married my mother, though I did know about the cousins I once had, who died during the war.
      I suspect they did mean to tell my brother and I the truth when we were older. We knew Dad’s family, after all, even though visits were infrequent and we didn’t share a common language. But they never did tell us, because my father died a few days before my twelfth birthday.
      My mother must have known she couldn’t keep her secret forever, or she would never have allowed me, aged 15, to visit my father’s family, armed with my new - and slightly wobbly - ability to speak to them in their own language. It took a while for what they were saying to sink in. My father was a Jew, something he and my mother had kept hidden from her family and friends. That was, of course, the real reason for the change of name - and for the vagueness of his family history during the war. Only gradually did I come to learn that that my cousins and many other family members had not been bombed, or starved or accidentally killed. They were murdered. The last contact my father’s brother had with his wife and children was a letter smuggled out of the train that was taking them to Auschwitz. It was written by Hennette, age 12:
‘Dear Madame Gillet
      I am writing these few lines in the train. We do not know where it is taking us, or where we are being deported to. We only know we have passed Metz. Please tell papa that he should not worry – we are in good spirits and hope the journey will soon be over. Papa must not worry about us. We are bearing up as I hope he is. I hope you are in good health as well as papa. We are all well. I finish this brief note with kisses for you. Please give papa a hug from us.’
Hennette and the others are not forgotten: http://www.memorialdelashoah.org/
     I can understand that Dad’s family were angry with him for turning his back on the Holocaust, but somehow, I can’t blame my father - or my mother either, for their determination to protect themselves and their children by hiding from the past.
      All the same, I couldn’t forget the dead – especially the children. I didn’t want them to die. I wanted to save them, even though I knew it was far too late. And that’s what leads me back to Charlie’s Promise. As a writer, I could create a different ending for one child, at least, and I am very grateful to Cranachan Publishing for giving me the opportunity.
      My father’s history was the catalyst for the story I wanted to tell. My mother’s childhood in Morrison’s Haven and my own in Edinburgh provided the backdrop. And in telling how Charlie and Jean help Jozef find his way to a place of safety, I discovered I was writing a story that celebrated the people who faced their fears and found the courage to do good, not evil.

From e: Learn more about Annemarie Allan on her website. This is Annemarie's favorite place to write, at the Prestonpans Library, because "[it] is the one place I am guaranteed peace and quiet - and the staff are lovely!"
In the US, Charlie's Promise is available on Kindle:
By the way - I'm reading Annemarie's USHIG right now and love this book too!

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