Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Place for Scottish Writers

Throughout the 1950's and 1960's, an Edinburgh bar located on the corner of Hanover Street and Rose Street, became famous for its association with local writers who would gather there to discuss ideas over a drink. It was the place to be for anyone who was anyone in the Scottish literary world.

That bar was Milne's Bar and although the bards of old are gone, the pub still thrives as a city centre venue for drinkers. All that remains of the historic literary connection between the pub and its writing associates, are the plaques and framed poems and pictures scattered around all the walls of the below ground establishment.

Milne's was the first choice pub for the cream of Scottish writers and poets who would gather to talk about literature and its place in the world. Literary characters such as Norman McCaig and Hugh MacDiarmid were well known faces in the bar.

Now, almost half a century on, a similar venue is emerging for the next generation of Scottish writers. It has a different outlook but the essence is the same; giving writers a chance to get together over a pint of a dram to talk about whatever the wind is carrying.

The Traverse Bar is the new venue for Scottish writers, and since its launch in September this year, it has already seen such luminaries as Ian Rankin, Valerie Gillies and Edinburgh International Book Festival director Catherine Lockerbie pass through the doors and order a bevvy.

The project has been organised by the same people behind Edinburgh's Unesco World City of Literature status campaign. The literary events are held on the last Tuesday of every month and the venue has been billed as a "rallying point" for anyone in the city's literary field.

The idea is to recreate the role played by Milne's Bar back in the old days. Sophy Dale, project manager for Edinburgh City of Literature, said the events were aimed at writers, poets, publishers, booksellers and literary agents.

The first two "salons" evenings proved very popular, she said, with almost 150 people turning up. She said: "We decided to promote the idea of a literary salon and we would like it to grow organically. It's not an attempt to recreate Milne's Bar, but it's a similar sort of thing. There's very little formal aspect to it and we are just giving people the 'push' to get involved.

It's a great way for people to find out about things that they are interested in and a chance to catch up and have a chat informally. The Traverse Bar seemed like the obvious choice."

The organisers have their fingers crossed they wil be able to attract world famous writers such as JK Rowling and Alexander McCall Smith to future events. Having attended the second salon evening held on October 25, Rankin and Gillies said they would "definitely" be going back.

Rankin said "I don't think emulating Milne's Bar is possible or even relevant in the 21st century. You can't imitate Milne's because being a writer these days is a very different job from what it was back then. You don't get the free time when you can just sit in bars and schmooze with everyone who turns up.


At 1:50 PM, Blogger Devon Ellington said...

I'll have to schedule my next trip to Edinburgh at a time when we can visit the pub!

At 5:28 AM, Blogger No Filter: The Book said...

I love the idea of a literary pub ....

Have some books, have some plugs, have free Wireless access and make a go of it...

And some nice Scottish Ale or Guinness can help a writer's spirits...

edmund davis-quinn


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