A part of me still thinks it was a bad case of bonkers that lead me to organise WRITE WITH YOU. Like so many of us, I was so caught by the news reports and photos of Syrian refugees attempting to escape oppression; many of them losing their lives as a consequence. The situation continues to worsen as people move en masse evacuating areas destroyed by persistent bombardment, to try and find a new place to settle and begin again, often with next to nothing, apart from memories and the trauma of their innocent lives being destroyed.
I found it almost impossible to imagine what that would mean, especially if, in addition to so much loss, I went on to live with the death of members of my family. People I thought I was saving from a horrific fate.
I wish, as a disabled writer, I could do more physically and practically to help, but I can’t. The best I could do was use the skills I do have, so the idea of organising the benefit for Syrian refugees was born.
I can’t begin to tell you what a terrific evening we had with Val McDermid, Lin Anderson, Moira Forsyth and some talented open mic’ poets. There were some wonderful high spots for me. Looking round the Cathedral and seeing people who wouldn’t normally come through the door, sitting down and enjoying the evening was great. Seeing so many kind friends, old and new who, on hearing what I was cooking up, rolled their sleeves up and offered to help. Then my fellow writers, Margaret Kirk and Helen Forbes – busy serving wine and getting people ready for book signing.
Our headliners were fantastic. Lin spoke in such a relaxed and engaging way that I could cheerfully hear her talk about her life experience for hours. Moira Forsyth read an extraordinary short story. I still find myself thinking about those little girls and I learnt the Doric for frog or toad – there was a minor discussion on this point!
Val talked about how she had become a writer and read to us from THE SKELETON ROAD. difficult to imagine a more appropriate book as it is set in the aftermath of the Balkans conflict. I interviewed her for the last part of the evening. It was fun taking the conversation beyond the usual ‘tramlines’ of literary interviews. We talked about our epitaphs; her writing discipline; life. It was gentle and engaging. There were some moments when I forgot we had an audience.
The evening ended with a collection. The combined efforts of the wonderful BLACK ISLE WRITERS GROUP selling poems at The Black Isle Gathering and WATERSTONES book stall at the Cathedral meant that we raised in the region of £1,100. Amazing.
It took me a few days to come down after such an enchanting event. Even longer to think about just how powerful and moving it was. The poems added a minor key of contemplation and insight into war, oppression and being a refugee. They challenged us to think. I felt the dignity of the poets standing and speaking left a powerful sense of how much resolve we all have to see change in the world.
It is only now that I can look back at the event and think what an extraordinary night we all had together. I was too high for ages to believe it had all gone so smoothly. I will remain indebted to the writers, poets, volunteers, hospitality people, Waterstones and Black Isle Writers’ Group for the exceptional commitment they made. The evening will live in a warm part of my memory for the rest of my life.