Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Tenth Annual NEICN conference

Listen.
 There's an address, a postcard in the tone,
the foreign rhythm
and that emphasis, that accent on the off-beat
which echoes longing clearly; the picked-up place-music speaks
where you ache to be, with whom.
- from 'Accent', Carolyn Jess-Cooke

It has recently become apparent that when somebody meets me for the first time, it is believed that I am Irish. As lovely as it is to be temporarily honorarily Irish (despite the fact I did once get into an argument with somebody when they were adamant that I was from Cork...), I do love my Scottish roots. I am an Aberdonian by birth and, many will argue, by nature. The above extract is taken from the third  and final stanza of Carolyn Jess-Cooke's 'Accent', as published in Inroads. Its final line latches onto the tartan threads of my soul, and weaves them back to their original, unbroken form.

To admit that I've recently faced an increasing longing to be encompassed within the luscious tones of the teuchter tongue would be a mere pinch of the truth. However, when one brings all of my favourite elements into three wonderful days, it would appear that the Celtic harp within my heart begins to chime.

Yes, I'm talking about the tenth annual NEICN conference (Ireland and Scotland: Conflicts and Crosscurrents). The large part of me that supports the Ath-Bheòthachadh na Gaidhlig, or Scottish Gaelic Renaissance, is also a fan of the merging of Ireland and Scotland. From the 9-11th of this month, this was handed to me on a very fine silver platter.

So enlightening were the panel sessions, which saw the delivery of papers on a variety of appropriate topics, that, from day one, I found myself scribbling down an array of notes and ideas. What I would like to exclaim is that, whether or not one was familiar with the topics discussed, the weekend was impossibly inspiring. I've been on a 'writing high' for the last few days, unable to stop my fingers from spilling out (perhaps momentarily incomprehensible!) creative ideas synonymous with my passions.

The Boy Who Could See Demons,
Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Resisting the temptation to dissect for you the entire weekend stage by stage, I would like to, instead, draw upon my three personal highlights. Let's begin with Carolyn Jess-Cooke. Having fallen crazily in love with her writing (a fact that was embarrassingly relayed to the author herself!), it was only natural that I was looking forward to her slot. There's nothing more enthralling than hearing the creator of such a divine piece of writing orally share with an audience some of its wonders. The Boy Who Could See Demons remains an untainted symbol of perfection (und kannst sein auf Deutsch gekauft: Die Psychologin von Carolyn Jess-Cooke!).

Deirdre O'Byrne
The second of the third experiences I'd like to mention is that provided by the wonderful Deirdre O'Byrne. Have you ever before witnessed a dramatic reading of several  monologues from Joyce's Ulysses, with the performer donning sensational Molly Bloom attire? It was absolutely marvellous! O'Byrne's mesmeric qualities are extraordinary...

(...and I shall now never stop saying 'pussens'.)

Professor Cairns Craig
The dazzling star that guides us into the final of my three highlights is keynote speaker Professor Cairns Craig. Not only is he Glucksman Professor of Irish and Scottish Studies, Professor Craig is also the Director of the University of Aberdeen's Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies. Yes, that's right: Aberdeen! As if bringing home to me wasn't good enough, Professor Craig proceeded to mention all Byron, Yeats, and Aberdeen in the same sentence! I know, I couldn't believe it either. Plus, as with the aforementioned two highlights, Professor Craig has one of those voices that could be listened to until the end of time. Sensational!

To be fed with great insight and inspiration is, in itself, a delight. When this is combined with the presence of those that are fascinating and exalted, the icing on the Celtic cake is at its sweetest. My first, and the tenth, NEICN conference has been nothing short of wondrous, an enchanting experience, and now it is time to begin counting down the days to the eleventh...

Go raibh mile maith agat!

Amy x

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Three-volume Works of Lord Byron, 1819, 1st edition thus?! (Keel Row Bookshop)

Some of my best decisions have been made spontaneously. Plans arranged on the spur of the moment can create the most wonderful stories, and it is with great excitement that I am able to share with you today's impulsive adventure.

We must travel to North Shields for this tale, where can be found the most beautifully quaint antiquarian book shop. I'd heard great things about The Keel Row Bookshop, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I proceeded through its front door. Rows and rows of books to my left, piles of volumes and editions to my right. This was just the entrance though. Located in an eight-room townhouse, each wall is  brimming with books. You can barely make out the delicious wooden floorboards beneath the piles of book that line the stairs and bookshelves. It's overwhelmingly mesmerising.

After I'd recovered from the initial shock from the grandeur, I was given a tour of the building (yes, it really is that big!), landing me right in the 'Penguin room', in which could be located Byron books a-plenty. Is was there that I was drawn to something delightfully jaw-dropping.

Could it be? Was I really holding in my hands a three-volume Works of Lord Byron, 1819, 1st edition thus? Goodness, I was. I absolutely was!

Of course, I am now the owner of said three-volume Works of Lord Byron, 1819, 1st edition thus! It was, as one might expect, published by John Murray, and printed by Thomas Davison, Whitefriars, five years before Byron's death. To be able to hold, nay, hug Byron's words as they were during his time on the Earth plane is something that causes the tears to cascade. I am in disbelief.

It's when I realised that they cost just £65 - yes, that's less than £25 per volume! - that I was left with nothing but love in my heart. The first volume contains Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and the notes to its cantos; in the second volume can be found The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair, Lara, The Seige of Corinth, Parisina, The Prisoner of Chillon, Beppo, and their relating notes; the third and final volume contains Manfred, and the assortment of poems from Hebrew Melodies (which includes my personal favourite 'She Walks in Beauty').

Setting this particular set apart from the others printed at the same time are the labels on the inner left pages of the volumes. This shows the origins of the set before it made its way to Keel Row bookshop, travelling from the Provincial Grand Lodge of Durham, to North Shields. Upon purchasing the volumes. I was actually given a brief anecdote of the books' past, which is a wonderful insight.

I didn't feel too bad for not buying all of the Byron books, as I knew I'd be visiting the shop again at some point in the near future, but I couldn't help but purchase an additional two books: Byron by Frederic Raphael (1982, Cornwall, Volatic Limited), £3.50, and The Chandos Classics: The Poetical Works of Lord Byron (1???, London, Frederic Warne and Co. Ltd) £8, the latter of which containing over 700 pages of Byronic goodness.

I'm absolutely over the  moon. To think that I am the owner of three volumes of Byron poems that were in existence during his lifetime. I can't quite get my head around it! A huge thank you goes out to the fabulous gentlemen at The Keel Row Bookshop for their assistance. Of course, I ended up flashing ankle to the shop (no, this is not me practising the art of nineteenth-century seduction, but rather flaunting my Byron tattoo!), in the spirit of all that is the Romantics. I will most certainly be visiting the shop again very soon, but for now, I have some delicious books to dance around...

Amy x