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    Scottish Books for Christmas: in the name of trees and bears!



    Ye Olde Christmas 145 Canongate The Royal Mile Edinburgh © 2012 Scotiana

    Ye Olde Christmas 145 Canongate The Royal Mile Edinburgh © 2012 Scotiana


    Dear readers,

    No more sweeties… the little candles which had given life to the eyes of our plump red-cheeked pumpkin have gone out and the witches and weird creatures have vanished in the cold spooky night of Halloween. But now,  the end of the year is fast approaching, bringing with it the hectic times of Christmas shopping.

    Books, books, books! It could be our motto on Scotiana 😉 Nobody around me would find strange that I propose a selection of Scottish books to offer for Christmas. Here, many of them are piling on the ground, crowding on the shelves and on my desk, each of them praying (sometimes desperately) to be open soon!  Janice has many of them in her own house too. I know how she likes to read a good old book by the fireplace,  especially when it is cold outside. Indeed, snow has begun to fall in Scotland, in Quebec  and in France too. The heron, a recurrent visitor of the little ‘Lac Meilleur’, in front of Janice’s house, will find harder to get its lot of fish in its frozen waters.

    By the way, regarding the number of books which fill our houses ‘de la cave au grenier’,  I’m sure we’re largely beaten by Iain and Margaret 😉

    This article is the first of a series dedicated to books we’d like to offer for Christmas, books related to Scotland I mean. Be they new or old, it doesn’t matter provided they  bring a magic touch to Christmas time.

    Today I will begin with my last ‘coup de coeur’.

    Into the Forest is  an anthology of tree poems collected and introduced by Mandy Haggith and I had pre-ordered it to be sure not to miss it. It has just been published. I am a great admirer of Mandy Haggith and three of her books (two novels and a book of poetry) are already in my library: Bear Witness, The Last Bear and Castings.

    Into the Forest Mandy Haggith Saraband november 2013

    Into the Forest Mandy Haggith Saraband november 2013


    By leaves we live.

    (Patrick Geddes*)



     Into the Forest  is Mandy Haggith’s last initiative to raise funds for the re-forestation in Scotland and more especially in Assynt where she lives. As  indicated at the beginning of the book and in Mandy’s newsletter,  this anthology is published in aid of Trees for Life with Mandy’s royalties being donated to the charity to support the regeneration of native woodlands. As she writes page 200 of her book,  in her introduction of the chapter entitled ‘Pine’: ‘The caledonian Forest is a shadow of its former glory: after the last Ice Age, pinewoods covered up to 1.7 million hectares of Scotland, but by 2000, only 18,000 hectares remained, the rest having been destroyed for sheep pasture and timber.

    Trees For Life logo - Restoring the Caledonian Forest in Scotland -


    Trees for Life is an award-winning charity working to restore Scotland’s Caledonian Forest. Our long term vision is to restore natural forests and rare wildlife to a 1,000 square mile area west of Inverness, including our 10,000 acre Dundreggan Estate. Almost all of our conservation work is carried out by conservation volunteers, and funded by our members and people who dedicate a tree or grove. We offer an annual conservation volunteering programme in beautiful locations in the Scottish Highlands. Environmental volunteering opportunities include Conservation Weeks, also known as working holidays, and Conservation Days. Conservation volunteering is a rewarding and enjoyable way to make a positive difference. No previous skills or experience are required. Our conservation volunteers have already planted more than a million trees. Join us on a conservation week and help us plant a million more.



    Mandy Haggith outside with a book - Suilven close - Photo from Mandy's website

    I’ve been gathering tree poems for years, and my dream of creating a tree poetry anthology

    is finally reaching fruition.

    (Mandy Haggith)

    Mandy Haggith is a writer and environmental activist who lives on a woodland croft in Assynt, in the northwest Highlands of Scotland. She has a passion for trees and bears.  Her work is varied in style and format, including poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Her writing is mostly concerned with nature and the arts. She is currently running a project called A-B-Tree, celebrating the link between trees and writing. She blogs under the name of Cybercrofter.
    She has had two collections of poetry published (Letting light in and Castings), two  novels The Last Bear (2008) which won the Robin Jenkins Literary Award in 2009 and Bear Witness (2013),  a non-fiction book (Paper Trails) about where all the paper we use comes from, and she writes regularly in newspapers and magazines.


    Backcover of 'Into the Forest' by Mandy Haggith Saraband november 2013

    Backcover of ‘Into the Forest’ by Mandy Haggith Saraband november 2013


    Into the Forest is a pure jewel  and a feast for the mind! This book is of a rare quality with its colourful and very inspiring hardcover, with its large choice of  poems and black and white illustrations, and last but not least with Mandy’s very interesting introductory texts.

    The cover of Into the Forest  evokes Gustav Klimt’s painting ‘Birch Forest’ (1902) and it’s not by chance that birches have been chosen to illustrate the cover of this very special tree anthology. The birch, ‘beithe‘ in Gaelic, corresponds to the first letter of an ancient Gaelic Tree Alphabet and Mandy’s aim was to compose an anthology of poems about the eighteen species of trees corresponding to the eighteen letters of this alphabet. Mandy also draws our attention to the ogham alphabet with its letters looking like twigs and to the mythical dimension of trees for  she is an expert not only in matter of trees but also in the field of Celtic legends and folklore. Her writing is very poetical.


    Thurso-Ullapool road rainbows & rowan tree © 2012 Scotiana

    Two rainbows and a rowan on Thurso-Ullapoll scenic road © 2012 Scotiana

    Below are the eighteen chapters of Into the Forest.

    • Birch (Beithe  in Gaelic – Bouleau in French) (20 poems)
    • Rowan (LuisCaorann – sorbier) (11)
    • Alder (Fearn – Feàrna – aulne) (5)
    • Willow  (SeallachSaileach – saule) (15)
    • Ash (Nuin – Uinnseann – frêne ) (11)
    • Hawthorn (Huath, Sgitbeach – aubépine) (17)
    • Oak (Duir – Darach – chêne) (27)
    • Holly (Tinne – Cuileann – houx) (10)
    • Hazel (Coll – Caltainn -noisetiers) (6)
    • Bramble (Muin – Dreas -ronce) (10)
    • Ivy (Gort – Eidheann-mu-chrann – lierre) (10)
    • Blackthorn (Straiph – Droigheann – épine noire) (7)
    • Elder (Ruis – Droman – sureau) (5)
    • Pine (Ailm – Giuthas – pin) (25)
    • Gorse (Onn – Conasg – ajonc) (13)
    • Heather (Ur – Fraoch – bruyère) (8)
    • Aspen (Eadhar – Crithean – tremble) (9)
    • Yew (Iogh – Lubhar – if) (13)

    Famous and less-known poets, from Scotland and elsewhere, appear in this Anthology: Norman MacCaig, Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley Maclean, Derick Thomson, Violet Jacobs, Seamus Heaney, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Ted Hugh, Sylvia Plath…  to mention only a few of them.  Personally, I was very happy to find an English translation for the poems written in Gaelic 😉

    Into the Forest is dedicated to a man who seems to have left a strong mark in the Scottish cultural spheres of Scotland and of ‘Creative Scotland’ more especially :  ‘For Gavin Wallace who saw both woods and trees’, can we read at the beginning of the book which opens with a very moving  poem written by James Robertson in his memory entitled  ‘These Tall Trees,  For Gavin’.

    Here is what Mandy writes about Gavin Wallace:

    Into the Forest is dedicated to Gavin Wallace, whose tragic death earlier this year saddened everyone who knew him. I guess there must be hundreds of others just as grateful as I was for the  recognition he gave to our efforts and for the practical help he gave with Arts Council grants to individuals and to organisations. He was so modest about it all – a delightful man. I met him in the flesh first at the Ullapool Book Festival, after I’d received a Scottish Arts Council writer’s bursary, and when I thanked him he gave a little smile and said something brief and nice and then turned the subject to the blossoms dressing the trees all the way up Market Street in the way they always do in Ullapool in May. I am sure he would have loved this book.

    And two extract of very moving in memoriam articles :  the first one appeared on 7 February 2013 in The Herald Scotland/Sunday Herald and the second one on 11 February 2013  in Canongate.TV

    For many writers, Gavin Wallace, who has died aged 53, was the acceptable face of arts administration. Though neither a novelist nor a poet himself, he was a genuine and gifted creator. His never-failing wisdom, kindness, generosity and passion for literature did much to give life and hope to contemporary Scottish writing. He brought a personal commitment to his role as head of literature at the Scottish Arts Council and subsequently as portfolio manager for literature, publishing and language at Creative Scotland. Whenever some of us writers got together in a Rose Street bar, he knew he was always welcome to join us. He’d laugh, joke, gossip and get serious by turns. He was a good friend first and a government official second. Among the good guys in the arts, Gavin was one of the best.


    Here’s is the extract of   ‘Gavin Wallace – In Memoriam’  written by Jamie Byng’s in Canongate. TV

    I felt the need to collect and share some memories of this lovely man because he was a real inspiration to me and a huge supporter of writing and writers.  He was also one of the most brilliant readers I have ever met.

    Two of our mutual friends with whom I mourned his death were the writers James Robertson and Kirsty Gunn and when we spoke last week I mentioned that I planned to write something in memory of Gavin for posting on our website.  And that if they wanted to write something to accompany what I wrote then I would gladly combine them.  This is what James Robertson sent me:
    “Gavin Wallace was a good friend over many years, as well as being a dogged and wise advocate for, and enabler of, literature in Scotland and Scottish literature in the world. I’ve lost count of the number of committees, working groups and suchlike we sat on together. Some yielded positive outcomes, others were mired in bureaucratic mud, but Gavin never stopped trying to do his best for the wellbeing of books, writers, readers, publishers, book festivals and the whole apparatus of the literary world. Without his sage advice and passionate commitment, many good things on the Scottish literary scene – including the Scots language imprint Itchy Coo which we established in 2002 with Scottish Arts Council backing – simply would not have happened. It’s a shameful tragedy that his constant struggle against the forces of cultural illiteracy eventually wore him down.  I will miss him enormously.’” – James Robertson



    Bear Witness Mandy Haggith Saraband 2013


    I will tell you more about Mandy’s two novels as soon as I have finished them. The beginning of Bear Witness has moved me to tears…

    The brutal shooting of a bear cub galvanises ecologist Callis MacArthur into becoming an activist. Dreaming of bears roaming free – even in Scotland, a thousand years after their disappearance – she finds herself exploring Europe’s remotest forests and meeting colourful characters who are as passionate about nature as she is. But as she begins to embrace her wild side, she faces escalating challenges: she must risk her career and endure agonising personal losses to avoid being swept up in events and emotions beyond her control. Combining lyrical prose, mythical themes, romance and a cracking plot, Bear Witness is a page-turner with a heart and mind.

    (From the backcover of Bear Witness)

    Read more:

    The Last Bear Mandy Haggith Two Ravens Press 2008

    A haunting and compelling novel set one thousand years ago in the remote northwest Highlands of Scotland, The Last Bear recounts a tale of ecological and spiritual crisis from the viewpoint of one extraordinary woman. Taking the story of the extinction of the brown bear as its focal point, a story of love, jealousy, family and faith unfolds as Brigid, the last in a long line of medicine women, tries to live out her life in a time of upheaval without losing her cultural roots. Her personal struggle is set against a transforming world, as powerful Viking families clash with Celts and old pagan beliefs are challenged by Christian faith, changes that reach even into the timeless depths of the forest. Haggith weaves evocative descriptions of the natural world into a narrative that binds the characters ever more tightly into intrigue. Who killed the last bear in Scotland, and with what consequences?

    The Last Bear is as much poem as prose, a lament for the last bear in Scotland, and the human ways of life that died with her. With the imposition of an alien religion the old harmonies are disrupted; the last bear is the final sacrifice of the old order. The Last Bear focuses on a pivotal historical moment, yet the results echo on down the centuries: the pain and loss of the last bear is, in fact, our own.’ ( Margaret Elphinstone)

    (From the backcover of The Last Bear )

    Beautifully written, this is a wonderful mix of legend and historical romance: a moving and exciting first novel from a fine writer.’ (Historical Novels Review)


    Castings Mandy Haggith Two Ravens Press 2006



    A new collection of poems by Mandy Haggith, whose writing reflects her love for the land and her concern for the environment – not just in the North-West Highlands where she now lives on a woodland croft, but also in her travels around the world.

    ‘The poetry here shows real clarity of eye marking the dialogues of nature in a place, be that place the lonely Scottish crofting area that is home, or the course of the River Kelvin through the Lowlands, or a Russian forest.’
    Tom Leonard

    ‘Outstanding originality and quality. Impressive for its sharpness, sympathy and decisiveness…’ Alan Riach

    ‘There is so much to admire and enjoy in this collection: finely disciplined movement of cadence, formal and technical virtuosity, elegant economy of expression… the poetic language has a vivid and rich physicality… Vivid, witty and unusual, these poems juxtapose their carefully chosen words against the white expanses and spaces of the page.’ Andrew Radford

    (From the backcover of Castings)

    Mandy lives in Assynt,  one of the wildest and most beautiful areas of Scotland. Norman McCaig, one of the greatest Scottish poets who indeed appears in Mandy’s anthology of tree poems was deeply attached to the place too and his poem ‘A Man in Assynt’ can be fully understood to the light of the  two extrordinary videos Icemanprofly published on You Tube. Many thanks to this talented cameraman who allows us to view Scotland as we’ll never see it.

    Not a single tree in this vast, wild and rugged area! This lunar landscape (except for the presence of water) is of great beauty and must appeal to people with a great love of silence and solitude…


     Glaciers, grinding West, gouged out these valleys, rasping the brown sandstone,
    and left, on the hard rock below – the ruffled foreland –
    this frieze of mountains, filed on the blue air –
    Stac Polly, Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven, Canisp –
    a frieze and a litany.


    (Norman McCaig – A Man in Assynt)



    …this landscape is masterless
    and intractable in any terms that are human.
    It is docile only to the weather and its indefatigable lieutenants-
    wind, water and frost.
    The wind whets the high ridges
    and stunts silver birches and alders.
    Rain falling down meets springs gushing up –
    they gather and carry down to the Minch
    tons of sour soil, making bald the bony scalp of Cul Mor. And frost
    thrusts his hand in cracks and, clenching his fist,
    bursts open the sandstone plates,
    the armour of Suilven;
    he bleeds stories down chutes and screes,
    smelling of gun powder.

    Norman McCaig (written 1967-68)

    I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual journey in Assynt.

    Bonne lecture. Keep in touch to discover the other titles on our Christmas list 😉

    A bientôt.


    *Sir Patrick Geddes FRSE (2 October 1854 – 17 April 1932) was a Scottish biologist, sociologist, geographer, philanthropist and pioneering town planner. He is known for his innovative thinking in the fields of urban planning and sociology.
    He introduced the concept of “region” to architecture and planning and coined the term “conurbation”.
    An energetic Francophile, Geddes was the founder of the Collège des Écossais (Scots College) an international teaching establishment in Montpellier, France.

    (FRSE:Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburg)

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