The News

The Physic Garden: 'elegant' and 'compelling'


The Physic Garden, the new novel by Catherine Czerkawska, is published on 27 March and has already garnered great press reviews. The Sunday Times describes it as 'elegant' and 'poignant', whilst the The Scots Magazine has called it 'compelling… a satisfying blend of history, nature and romance'. The Scotsman also printed an extract from the book - the whole first chapter - in its Saturday magazine. 

With friendship and foraging, bees and betrayal, seduction and surgery, The Physic Garden is historical fiction at its most luxurious. It is, at heart, a moving love story examining the poisonous effect of betrayal. But, critically, it is also a tale set in a vividly evoked 19th century Britain – a place where our cultural traditions still prospered… and where the darker side of human nature was able to flourish.

The novel focuses on young William Lang, who begins courting Jenny, a fine needlewoman, and forms an unlikely friendship with botanist Dr Thomas Brown while working in a university physic garden.

Catherine Czerkawska says, ‘This story and setting allowed me to write about the traditional customs that are still dear to so many people today, nearly 200 years on. Beekeeping, embroidery, foraging and gardening are all pastimes that have been resurgent in recent years… though of course they were a matter of survival back then.

‘However, I was concerned not to write with rose-tinted spectacles about that time. It was also a period when poverty and pollution had a huge impact on people’s lives. And there were plenty of more sinister occurrences – the bodysnatchers procuring corpses for anatomists, for example – and I wanted to reflect that in the novel.’  

In the novel, William Lang relishes the opportunity to extend his knowledge of plants and their healing properties while foraging in the countryside in the service of Dr Brown. And his relationship with Jenny blossoms until seeds of trouble threaten to grow out of control. 

Bookspotting - new app mobilises Scottish books

A new, free app which links books and authors to dates, themes and distinct locations around Scotland is being launched on 18 March, exactly six months before Scots go to the polls. Bookspotting is a tool for discovering Scottish-interest books – from old favourites to the latest reads – making the most of the functions built in to the smartphone in your pocket. It features a host of titles with a strong connection to a place, a landscape, an island, or a city in Scotland, and using GPS technology geo-locates a wide range of books – fiction, children’s, history, humour, Gaelic, Scots, and travel – even when your phone or tablet isn’t online.

Bookspotting, a collaboration between Publishing Scotland in Edinburgh and Saraband Books and Spot Specific in Glasgow, was funded by NESTA’s Research and Development Fund over its six months of development in conjunction with Creative Scotland. Drawing on book data supplied by Bibliographical Data Services in Dumfries, the app features over 3500 books of Scottish interest and links them to character, place, setting, author, date and theme.

The principal aim of the app is to get people discovering and reading great Scottish books. The developers also hope to promote wider access to literature, find new audiences for Scottish writers, celebrate Scotland’s unique literary heritage, update the image of Scotland’s vibrant publishing industry and support cultural tourism around all regions. 

Marion Sinclair, Publishing Scotland’s Chief Executive, comments: “Publishers are increasingly coming up with new ideas to promote their titles digitally as the reading habit shifts more and more online and onto portable devices. This new app offers a guide to some of the more iconic places in Scotland and their literary connections. This is the place to discover the connection between Jules Verne and Oban, or between Mary Shelley and Dundee, and a guide to the independent bookshop that’s nearest to you.”

Sara Hunt of Saraband Books comments: “As an independent publisher we do our best to be innovative to help readers find our books, whether in bookshops or via digital means. It’s been exciting to get involved in such a large-scale challenge covering so many Scottish books and authors, and another fruitful collaboration with our tech partner, Spot Specific.”

Jenny Niven, Portfolio Manager of Literature, Publishing and Languages, at Creative Scotland said: “We’re delighted to have been able to support the development of Bookspotting. It’s a little treasure trove – a miniature storehouse of literally thousands of Scottish books, their authors and how to find them compressed into one tidy little app. It’s brilliant to see Scottish work presented digitally in such an accessible and comprehensive way, and the simplicity and cleanliness of the design make it really a pleasure to use.

“The collaboration of Publishing Scotland, Saraband and Spot Specific is also a brilliant example of organisations bringing their different areas of focus and expertise together to create something unique and innovative. It comes at a great time too - as publishers strive to find new ways of working in the digital age it’s great to have tangible Scottish examples of useful digital books projects.”

Lorna Edwards, Programme Manager in Scotland for Nesta said: “We are delighted that the fantastic work that Publishing Scotland have been doing on the Bookspotting App is paying off.  This project shows the kind of amazing results that can be generated through successful partnership between technology companies and the creative sector.”

“Over the past two years, Nesta’s Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland has funded a total of 10 projects such as Publishing Scotland’s Bookspotting App to help creative organisations use new technology to increase revenue and attract new audiences.  The ideas we have supported are developing the new ideas that will allow Scotland’s arts and culture sector to continue to thrive in the future.”

The app is free to download from the App Store and in the Android version from Google Play.

Mongol author scoops 2014 Scottish Asian Women's Award

Uuganaa Ramsay, author of Mongol, has beaten off tough competition to win the 2014 Scottish Asian Women's Award for 'Achievement Against All Odds'. The award, which was presented to Uuganaa by Deputy First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, recognises 'the achievements of a Scottish Asian woman in the face of adversity and challenging circumstances - a true modern day heroine'.

For Uuganaa - whose son Billy was diagnosed with Down's syndrome before he died at just three months old - the award has come at a fitting time: on the eve of Down's syndrome Awareness Week, which runs from March 17 to March 23.

Uuganaa said, 'It was emotional to win the award. I hope my late son Billy's story will help many people.'

Mongol is both a celebration of Mongol culture and the moving story of how the life and death of a baby boy with Down's syndrome inspired his Mongolian mother to campaign against prejudice.

As part of DS Awareness Week, Uuganaa Ramsay will be appearing at Looking Glass Books in Edinburgh at 6.30pm on Thursday 20 March, and at Waterstones Kensington at 7pm on Tuesday 25 March.

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