That’s what I find myself
saying as I enter the various church halls, community halls and meeting venues
throughout the area. Recently, I’ve really been around, as they say. I’ve
arrived to apparently deserted halls in the middle of nowhere only to find
large gatherings of lively ladies all chatting away and ready to listen to
their bemused speaker. Larger gatherings in prestigious locations seem peopled
by the same sorts of ladies.
The world of ladies’
clubs and associations seems huge; infinitely varied and yet with so much good
will, friendliness and old fashioned charm. Hospitality seems a common
denominator and refreshments are always on offer. The catering can linger in
the memory for a long time. Who could forget the lemon cream sponge at
Westfield SWI or the delicious lunch at the Royal Scots Club?
I don’t know whether I
prefer larger gatherings with people sitting in serried rows or smaller groups
sitting in a semi-circle around me. It’s perhaps easier for audience members to
speak out at the smaller events but, even with audiences of 100+, there are
people brave enough to ask interesting questions or share fascinating
reminiscences. I’ve learned so much in this way.
These talks are genuinely
a two way thing for me. I can only hope that people enjoy the talks as much as
I enjoy going around carrying them out.
As I continue my talks to various groups around the Lothians I continue to hear fascinating stories from previous staff members and customers of the old department stores. The illustration above is of Maule’s en gala for the coronation of George V and Queen Mary (I think!) This was the original company which build the shop at the West End of Princes Street. It became Binns in 1943 then was taken over by House of Fraser in 1953 and renamed Fraser’s in 1976. Sadly, its rebuilt version was closed this week. Last night I heard from an ex staff member that staff had their pay compulsorily docked to contribute to a wedding gift for Hugh Fraser.
Over to Jenners. Also with a large question mark over its future. I gathered from one proud parent that her son, then a student, was a delivery driver for Jenners. Allegedly this young man was instructed to drive via only the ‘nicest’ areas of town even if this meant long unnecessary detours. Possibly an early form of mobile advertising?
The famous Sir Will Y Darling the politician and owner of Darling’s in Princes St informed the mother of one lady present last night that one must always change the buttons of a new coat. Despite not quite understanding why this was somehow important, the lady always did this! He must have known something that we don’t!
Almost my favourite story, heard from an audience member, relates to RW Forsyths. I gather that the commissionaire always knew the customers, always looked after their umbrellas on arrival and, without fail, always returned exactly the right umbrella to the right lady. Customer service indeed. Those were the days.
Back to reality after the Summer off recuperating from knee replacement number two. I’ve not been idle though. The People’s Friend have bought several more stories including ones about Murrays Department store of distinction. A new story was out last week. It was about a bus. Bit of a change for me. In a forthcoming edition my current favourite character Mickey Bligh, the very honest 10 year old boy, goes to a wedding. Other guests and especially the bride probably wish he hadn’t! I did enjoy writing a child’s eye view of such an occasion. Out of the mouths etc!
I’m all ready for my various engagements over the coming Autumn and Spring. Few groups of ladies will be spared the sight of me and my presentations over the months to come. I’m really looking forward to meeting you all.
‘All Change!’ is the title of my latest story published in the People’s Friend yesterday. Its about a whole lot of changes going on at Murrays Department Store of distinction set in Edinburgh in the 1990s.
Its also applicable to my own situation right now in the second decade of the 2000s : I’m having another total knee replacement next week so am expecting a rather immobile Summer. However, judging by my appointments diary I’m in for a very busy time in the Autumn of this year and the Spring of next. Its most gratifying to find how interested people seem to be in our old department stores. Its certainly given me a lot to look forward to on recovery.
Meanwhile there are so many books to be read -or stories to write…?
Well that’s what I have been doing. I’ve been talking at a whole host of events and visits to all sorts of groups and at lots of different locations from libraries to bookshop to housing complexes. Anywhere that people want to hear about the ‘Disappeared Department Stores of Edinburgh’ and my inadvertent wandering into this area of social history I’ll be rabbiting on. Its been a two way street too: I’ve heard fascinating reminiscences of people’s experiences on both sides of the counter in these wonderful old stores. I’d never have guessed that my novels would lead to this interesting new facet to life.
A few more events coming up. Hello Leith Rotary tonight and Morningside Library next week. Already lots of bookings for the autumn and next spring too. Just have to get this next knee replacement out of the way. Oh well. I’ll have lots to think about during my enforced convalescence.
(The rabbit featured is a carnelian netsuke that I’m very fond of.)
Its the characters innit? Sometimes a person or group of people come to life from the keyboard and demand more. Sometimes a set of characters can demand another book as in ‘Assured Attention’ the follow up to best selling ‘Our Best Attention’. Murrays, department store of distinction, simply couldn’t be shut down. Luckily, the books’ format of linked short stories meant that they could be read in any order. Basically, they consist of what amounts to 33 short stories some longer than others. Some characters run throughout the series of stories some don’t.
Writing short stories is an art. Its a discipline. They have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. There has to be internal coherence. Additionally, there has to be something else. Something intangible called satisfaction. The reader has to think ‘ah yes’ at the end.
Short stories are often a useful lead in to writing longer books but are valuable in themselves. Feedback from readers of my books so far often includes how much people like the format: they can read a chapter on the bus, or at night and don’t have to worry about ‘losing the thread’ of a longer narrative. They can be addictive too. One reader told me that she stayed awake all night just reading one more then another and by 6 am the book was finished- and so was she!
Magazines like the People’s Friend know the value of short stories and publish many of them every week as well as three weekly ‘specials’ and pocket novels. 200,000+ weekly readers around the world can’t be wrong! Luckily, I enjoy writing short stories for them and mine have included topics as disparate as call centres, grumpy policemen and gallus grans among many others. As ever, its the characters innit!
There was a busy Autumn session including a presentation on ‘Disappeared Department Stores’ at ‘Previously- Scotland’s History festival’, Loanhead’s wonderful new library, Stockbridge’s wonderful old library, Barnton and Cramond Community club and a double page feature in the Sunday Post. I’m just about ready to face 2018!
There’s a new Murrays story in the People’s Friend January Special out on 24th January and two more submitted. Fingers crossed.
Changing direction slightly, I’m now working on a detective story featuring a recently demoted female detective constable. Its set in the West Highlands and I’m hoping it’ll be as much fun to read as it is to write!
Well the Autumn session of talks and events has kicked off in style. A cheerful evening at Juniper Green WI set the scene. Lots of nice ladies with happy memories of the old stores.
To Morningside next week for another talk then a session at the Portobello Book Festival in their historic fiction slot the following weekend. Its all go.
Meanwhile People’s Friend have published another of my stories. U3A keeps me busy in various groups and, in my other life, I still run my groups for late diagnosed men and women with Asperger Syndrome.
In the hiatus before the publication date of ‘Assured Attention’ I’ve been researching some of the old department stores of Edinburgh. What a lost world! I’ve looked at the long lists of departments that used to be considered necessary. Looking at the image above of the disappeared J& R Allan store on South Bridge, for example, its clear that mourning was a major consideration for businesses back then. The appropriate dresses , hats and gloves vital purchases for the serious mourner in those days.
When was the last time you bought a ‘mantle’? I don’t think I ever have! Moving on into the 20th century I was surprised to see ‘Smoking paraphernalia’ included as a specific department in one large store. O tempora. O mores!
I’ll be presenting my findings at The University of the Third Age meeting on 19th July and once again, perhaps in an extended form (as I keep discovering more!), at ‘Previously- Scottish History Festival’ in November.
The attentive reader will have noted that the first book in this series: ‘Our Best Attention’ featured a variety of animals: an embarrassing dog, a quiet cat, some cheeky monkeys (always the best!), chinchillas, quail and a Mynah bird. The little monkey draped over the title was a clue to the inclusion of animals.
In Book 2 ‘Assured Attention’, there are cats again, one, Bluebell, is Miss Murray’s own pet but a new visitor to Murrays ‘Department Store of Distinction’ has a chapter of her own. This time it is she who adorns the title of the new book. Look out for the little Birman. Not all the staff at Murrays will have only two legs by the end of the book.
A dog features too. This time a rather depressed collie. Sad you might think, however, he has a starring and unexpected role in a staff selection dilemma. Warning- its not what you might expect!
‘Assured Attention’ is available for pre order on Amazon Kindle and will be released to coincide with the official launch on 31st July.