Category Archives: Uncategorized

Exploring old Edinburgh

I like history – but I’m every bit as intrigued by the way the past connects with the present as I am by historical events themselves. That’s probably why Sackcloth on Skin isn’t the straightforward historical novel which might have more chance of finding a publisher! But they say write about what interests you, and this absolutely fascinates me. How does the past influence and intersect with the present – in ideas, in stories, in objects, in buildings? Does it matter? What if we’re completely oblivious to the history of a place or an idea – does our lack of awareness make the past irrelevant, or does it still have significance? How many layers are there anyway?

Tempting to apply that politically, but that’s not the point of this post.

One of the great things about walking about Edinburgh is that those layers of the past are everywhere around you. A new project by St Andrews University is stripping back the layers and has created a reconstruction of Edinburgh in 1544. If you like this kind of thing it’s fantastic. You can walk up the Royal Mile and through closes which are still there today, or down the steep slope of the now-disappeared West Bow to the Grassmarket.  This trailer is just a taster for the app to be released in May.

Fast forward 150 years, and Dilys Rose’s newly published novel Unspeakable conjurs up just as vivid an experience of Edinburgh’s closes, taverns and lands, this time not eerily empty but full of clamour and stink, humour, struggle and tragedy. It’s the story of Thomas Aikenhead, the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy. I read it with some trepidation, because when you’ve just finished your first novel you really don’t want to discover that such a superb writer is about to publish something of similar period and theme! But I really enjoyed the book, and with a deep breath can say that Sackcloth on Skin occupies its own territory. Whether that territory ever finds its way into the wider world remains to be seen…

IMG_8964

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.

 

Advertisements

#100womenwiki : Christina Keith

 

SKMBT_C28413080512270

#100womenwiki is a 12 hour ‘edit-a-thon’ taking place today (8 December) with the aim of adding more women to wikipedia. At present only around 17% of notable profiles on wikipedia are of women, and  today is about  encouraging people across the globe to consider whether there are women who should be included and are currently missing. I read about the initiative on the BBC website  and decided to try submitting an article on Christina Keith, whose First World War memoir I edited and published as War Classics: the remarkable memoir of Scottish scholar Christina Keith on the Western Front. It was less complicated than I expected, and you can now read Christina’s wikipedia page here!

 

Glen o’ Dee Hospital

How sad this morning to learn that Glen o’ Dee Hospital, which I wrote about last year, was completely destroyed by fire overnight. Here’s the relevant part of my original post from July 2015. I’m glad we saw it in all its neglected, fascinating glory.

Glen o’ Dee Hospital

IMG_5579

A complete contrast, this one, but another unexpected discovery. I had come across the name of this former tuberculosis sanatorium during the course of some research, and when we saw the signpost we decided to take a quick look. I’m not sure what we expected to find, but my photos definitely don’t do this unusual building justice.

IMG_5583

IMG_5581IMG_5577

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see an image of how it looked originally here, and some photos of the abandoned interior here. Resting among the pine trees on the edge of Banchory, the sanatorium was built in 1899-1900, and modelled on the pioneering sanatorium built in Nordrach in Germany. It was originally known as Nordrach-on-Dee, and was intended to provide fresh air, treatment and research in the battle against the scourge of tuberculosis. As treatments changed and the disease became less common, the sanatorium was no longer needed. Since then the building has had a spell as a luxury hotel, and then was used once more as a sanatorium during the Second World War, before becoming a convalescent hospital. It finally closed in 1998. This stunning building is Grade A listed so can’t be demolished, but instead is crumbling slowly into total decay. Apparently it featured unsuccessfully in the 2003 TV series Restoration, but it’s a tragic loss of an unusual and fascinating building.

 

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.

Without Machine Gun To Cambrai

I just came across this review online:

The great war bookshop

Book Review: A Fool In France, by Christina Keith. Part One: The Daintiest of Tan Suede Shoes.

A publisher told me once: books come in two categories; those for men and those for women. Men buy books about Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill and war; women buy novels. Apart from books about cookery and cats, that’s the English market. Writers of men’s books saw the 2014 centenary of the Great War approaching well in time but, so far, few of their books have captured the public imagination, perhaps because too many of them hit the market in one go and too many of them look the same. Most publishers are not mavericks in the herd. Instead of giving us interesting new stories they prefer re-garnishing the old ones. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend every time. Lions led by donkeys; mud, blood and self-sacrifice; in Flanders fields the poppies…

View original post 2,049 more words

War Classics: Canadian service records and Daniel Gordon Campbell

IMG_7368

Canadian National Memorial at Vimy

Over 100,000 Canadian First World War service records have just been made available online. It was a thrill to discover that the Attestation Paper for Daniel Gordon Campbell is among them.

I discovered something of Gordon’s story as I carried out research for War Classics. When Christina visited Vimy Ridge in March 1919, she wrote:

My eyes had turned to the horizon again, to the heights that once were St Eloi. Someone I knew lay there, who had been a Canadian, and it was too far for me to go. I could only see the Ridge where he had been killed, and not the place where he lay. 

Putting together clues from Christina’s narrative with information preserved elsewhere in the family, I was able to confirm that the ‘Canadian’ of whom she was thinking was Daniel Gordon Campbell. He had grown up near the Keith family in Caithness, attending the Miller Institute and Edinburgh University, and by the time war broke out was a lawyer living in Canada, and was engaged to be married to Louise, Christina’s sister. Louise never recovered from his death, and kept scrapbooks filled with newspaper cuttings about the Canadian action at Vimy, letters of sympathy from friends, and information about his final resting place.

Gordon’s attestation paper, which you can see here, includes a physical description. He had dark brown hair, dark complexion and brown eyes. Most strikingly he was 6 ft 6 inches tall, which sheds new light on the fact that he represented Scotland at the high jump!

SKMBT_C28413080512320

From Louise’s scrapbook, photo of memorial to Canadian soldiers who fell at Vimy

Every fresh little detail makes these men real people. Gordon left no children to remember him, and I haven’t yet explored to see if there are any other family members who might have kept his memory alive. But thanks to Louise’s scrapbooks and Christina’s time in France, he hasn’t been forgotten.

 

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.

 

.

 

 

The First Post

Welcome to my new website.

The idea is to create a place where I can post updates and information about my work, particularly my writing. I have two new books in the pipeline, so it will be good to have somewhere to share information about these when the time comes.

I might blog about writing … but then again I might not.

I’ve tried to keep it simple, so hopefully you’ll get an idea of some of the other work I enjoy doing. If I can do any research, writing or editing work for you, please get in touch!

Flora x

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.