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Prodigals and Parting Glass: The Nairn Bookshop, 9th March 2016

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The Plan: 1. Be well enough to attend. 2. Arrive 15-20 minutes early. 3. Help set up. 4. In true Bridget Jones’ fashion ‘circulate, oozing intelligence’. 5. Gracefully take a seat, somewhere mid-row, 2-3 rows back, listen attentively and ask intelligent questions. 6. Mingle afterwards with aforementioned oozing.

The Reality: 1. Health compliant- check. 2. Arrive exactly on time, and, as introduction, loudly ask for the bathroom. 3. Fumble way up and down the stairs. 4. Shuffle past friends and strangers, clutching tea and nibbling shortbread. 5. Avoid eye contact in desperate attempt to stop disturbing everyone as I make my way to a proffered empty seat. 6. Sit front row middle, effectively knee-to-knee with the readers, and try not to eyeball them. 7. Listen attentively and ask a question of sorts. 8. Mingle afterwards by apologising profusely, eyeing up the shortbread and mixing up the readers’ names.

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Thankfully, the occasion itself went off without a hitch.  Organised by Eileen Carney Hulme and hosted by the extremely accommodating Mavis, the launch proved a worthy inaugural event of the recently relocated and renovated Nairn Bookshop.  Its new corner location makes it feel less like a shop and more like an open secret, arms of light ready to embrace friend and passer-by alike, and shows the refreshing dignity an independent bookshop may possess in the face of purposeful, yet predictable, chains.

With the available space comfortably filled- a single chair remaining for any lucky happenstancer- the evening began mostly on time, the delay being provided by yours truly.  Neil Young,  poet and editor of The Poets’ Republic, began the evening by reading from his new pamphlet ‘The Parting Glass‘, a collection of fourteen sonnets that capture and consider family life through the delicate prism of those seemingly inconsequential moments that nonetheless shape both childhood and parenthood.

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Martin Malone, poet and editor of The Interpreter’s House,  read a mixture from his collection ‘Cur‘ and recently published pamphlet ‘Prodigals‘, covering childish pranks, weekend wrestling, and hirsute hairdressing as par for the course.

To play jazz with the evening, as Martin put it, they took a break from reading their work and introduced a Q&A interlude.  Having encouraged questions based on their roles as editors, they got more than they bargained for with a variety of enquiries about the selection process, the merit of guest editors, and the benefits and pitfalls of social media and online publishing.  That said, every query was given a considered and honest reply, with no hint of the weariness or superiority that can sometimes come from disconnected speakers- just the recognition that they wanted questions and we wanted answers.  And the message that came back time and time again?  Editors are human, and timing is everything; so keep practising your craft, plying your trade, and don’t let rejection get you down.

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The reading recommenced with Neil choosing a further selection from ‘The Parting Glass’ as Martin took the opportunity to indulge in a glass of white wine (which clearly had some poetic resonance with Neil’s collection, and had nothing to do with the fact that Neil was the designated driver…)  Martin then rounded off the evening with a ‘dirty weekend’ sequence from ‘Prodigals’, ending with that insatiable longing to stay in the moment, and turn your back on the humdrum facets of existence, much as we, the gathered crowd, were feeling when the final page was turned and the final cover closed.

Yet, hope remains.  For those Inverness-based or -inclined, Martin will be appearing this Tuesday as a welcome guest of the Highland Literary Salon.  I thoroughly recommend you adjust your evening plans accordingly.

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