The News

Into the Forest celebrates Year of Natural Scotland

Into the Forest, a wonderful new anthology of tree poems compiled by poet Mandy Haggith, is to be published on Thursday 28 November, when it will receive a very special launch at a gala event taking place at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE).

The anthology features such giants of poetry as Seamus Heaney, Robert Frost, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Burns, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes – and Mandy Haggith and her 'Walking with Poets' colleagues – and it is in itself a celebration of nature. Each poem in the anthology relates to one of the eighteen species in the Tree Ogham (Gaelic) alphabet, which links a tree species to each letter. It has been produced as a beautiful gift edition for poetry enthusiasts and lovers of trees, woodlands and Scots-Irish natural lore.

The launch of Into the Forest at the special event being hosted by the Scottish Poetry Library at the RBGE will help mark the conclusion of ‘Walking with Poets’, which saw four of Scotland’s finest poets – including Mandy Haggith – take up residence at each of the RBGE’s four gardens across Scotland for a month at a time in order to celebrate the Year of Natural Scotland. 

On the night, all four of the poets – Jean Atkin, Sue Butler, Gerry Loose and Mandy Haggith – will share stories from their residencies, and read poems from Into the Forest.

Free tickets for the ‘Walking with Poets’ event, which takes place from 6.30pm on 28 November at the RBGE, are still available but running out fast. You can book your place here.

Unfashioned Creatures... coming soon

With this being the spooky time of the year, and with two Hollywood Frankenstein adaptations in the works, what better time could there be to publish a new gothic novel that features the real Mary Shelley, madness, sexual obsession and murderous impulses? Unfashioned Creatures is the new novel by Lesley McDowell, and will be out on November 7.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been thrilling audiences for nearly 200 years, and the author herself has also long been a subject of fascination – the teenage girl who wrote a classic horror story and scandalously ran away with her own stepsister and the notorious Percy Shelley. It is fitting, then, that Mary Shelley plays a key role in another complicated triangle of characters as part of Unfashioned Creatures, which explores madness and infatuation; themes pertinent to Mary’s own life and, of course, Frankenstein

The novel is set in 1823, just a year after Percy Shelley’s death, when Mary visited her real-life friend Isabella Baxter Booth. The meeting obviously perturbed Mary as she wrote afterwards: “I have now renewed my acquaintance with the friend of my girlish days – she has been ill a long time, even disturbed in her reason…

Inspired by this line of Mary’s, Lesley McDowell has created a dark, Gothic tale that encompasses lunatic asylums, sexual compulsion and destructive desires. In it, we find Isabella to be indeed "disturbed in her reason" – seeing ghosts and dependent on narcotics to escape her 
hellish life with an increasingly violent, deranged husband. Fearful of her own murderous impulses towards him, Isabella flees for her childhood home in Scotland, where she meets an ambitious young doctor, Alexander Balfour. He will stop at nothing to establish a reputation as a genius in the emerging science of psychiatry and he believes that Isabella could be the key to his greatness. But as his own torments threaten to overwhelm Alexander, is he really the best judge of which way madness lies?

Unfashioned Creatures was launched at an event as part of the Dundee Literary Festival last weekend, which saw Lesley discussing some of the book’s themes (such as the ménage à trois featuring Mary Shelley, and the birth of psychiatry in the 19thC) and the two actors who narrated the audiobook – the brilliant Nick Cheales and Helen Cuinn – treating the audience to recreations of scenes from the psycho-sexual thriller. 

More gothic goings-on will be taking place tonight at a special Halloween event in the Glasgow Sauchiehall Street branch of Waterstones. Lesley will be joined by author Louise Welsh and Dr Emily Alder of Edinburgh Napier University to discuss the gothic literature of the past and present. 

Lesley will also be appearing at Blackwells South Bridge in Edinburgh on Wednesday 6 November – the eve of the book’s publication. Tickets are still available: call 0131 622 8222.

'Startlingly accomplished': The Herald's review of A Capital Union

A Capital Union, the debut novel by Edinburgh writer Victoria Hendry, has won the fulsome praise of literary critic Julie Davidson in yesterday's Sunday Herald. Describing the novel as 'startlingly accomplished', the reviewer also says, 'Victoria Hendry's impressive debut novel wastes no words. The voice of her young narrator is brisk and assured, like youth itself, and the book's title is a neat signal that there's more to Agnes's story than affairs of the heart.'

She continues, 'Hendry demonstrates early skill with language, sketching 1940s Edinburgh with economy... But as the story gathers momentum so does Hendry's prose, raising itself to poetry as her heroine confronts that famous tension within Scots and Scotland which many of us recognise.'

The review concludes that A Capital Union is 'A topical novel, then, as we grapple with the multiform identities of Scotland in the approach to 2014, but one in which the political is very much the personal: the coming of age of a young woman whose sometimes acute, sometimes naive perception of world forces and local conflicts steering her life reaches a cautiously hopeful conclusion.'

Additional information