Meet the Makar – in Hawick

Border writers’ group The Eildon Tree is celebrating its second big literary coup in a year, as it hosts The Scots Makar, Liz Lochhead, at the Heart of Hawick on Friday November 16.

The talk at Tower Mill by Scotland’s national poet follows a reading last year by Britain’s first female (and first Scottish) Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who the group say gave “a tremendous boost to the Borders writing scene”.

“She went down a storm, and inspired many more local writers to send in their work,” recalls Julian Colton, co-editor of The Eildon Tree’s biannual creative writing magazine. “And we thought: how can we follow that?”

On Carol Ann’s recommendation, the group booked Liz Lochhead: “A brilliant performer, who has been a profound influence on Scottish writing over the last four decades,” Mr Colton writes. “She is just the right person to inspire locals to pick up their pens and send their writing in.”

The Eildon Tree free magazine, which is funded by Scottish Borders Council’s arts service, aims to showcase poetry, short stories, reviews, articles and interviews from the Scottish Borders and beyond, “to bring Borders writing to the world, and vice versa”.

Describing Lochhead’s work, Mr Colton said: “Her writing reflects the robust, earthy speech idioms of Scotland. Beneath the simple language, it’s very subtle. There’s a lot going on.”

He adds: “She is especially renowned for her brilliant performing skills, and of particular interest to local teachers is the fact that she is studied extensively in schools.”

Ms Lochhead, a poet, author, translator, playwright, stage performer and broadcaster, was born in North Lanarkshire, and lectured in fine art before becoming a professional writer. Her plays include Blood and Ice, Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off (1987), Perfect Days (2000) and a highly acclaimed adaptation into Scots of Molière’s Tartuffe (1985).

Euripides’ Medea won the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award in 2001, and her poetry collections Memo For Spring (1972), Dreaming Frankenstein (1984), True Confessions and New Clichés (1985), Bagpipe Muzak (1991) and The Colour of Black and White: Poems 1984-2003 (2003) all won Scottish Arts Council Book Awards.

A recipient of a Cholmondeley Award for Poetry, Lochhead is a Fellow of Glasgow School of Art and an Honorary Doctor of Letters of Glasgow University. She has also been honoured by numerous other universities and is a Fellow of RSAMD and of Glasgow Institute of Art.

Appointed to the role of national poet in 2011, Ms Lochhead is widely considered to be a worthy successor of the likes of Rabbie Burns, Robert Ferguson, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edwin Morgan. Although the Scots word makar, a term for a royal court poet or bard, has existed for many centuries, the modern post entitled The Scots Makar was created by the Scottish Parliament in 2004, and given to Edwin Morgan, whom Lochhead succeeded in 2011 after his death in 2010.

Speaking at her investiture at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, First Minister Alex Salmond paid tribute to the 64-year-old artist, saying: “As an author, translator, playwright, stage performer, broadcaster and grande dame of Scottish theatre, Ms Lochhead embodies everything a nation would want from its national poet.

“With a natural ability to reach all ages and touch both sexes through her writing, Ms Lochhead has also been immensely successful at championing the Scots language. She continues to reach out to school pupils through her work which is widely read in Scotland’s schools and she is also a much valued role model, advocate and inspiration for women who are given a strong voice in her writing.”

Speaking about his hopes for the talk and The Eildon Tree’s future, Mr Colton said: “We want people to be inspired to send in their work, because we’re a publically-funded magazine, and we need submissions to keep going. We’ve been the first step for many writers around here. We’re always there for them. The next deadline for poems, short stories and articles is December 31 – send them by post to St Mary’s Mill, Selkirk, TD7 5EW.

“If you live in the Borders one of the main conclusions you’ll reach as you delve into the magazine is how much is happening creatively on your very own doorstep. The Scottish Borders is alive with the very best writing and creative thought.”

Next Friday’s event begins at 7.30pm, and there will be a short question and answer session following the reading at the author’s own request.

To avoid disappointment, early booking is strongly advised. For further information, call 01450 360688 or visit Tickets are priced at £10.