GYRE SC045058, Moffat
Tell us a little about what you do and why you love it?
I moved to D&G five years ago from South Lanarkshire, having spent much of my previous life grappling with Russia and the Russians. I learned Russian at school and then did a degree in Russian Language and Literature in the 1960’s. I worked as a trainee reporter in south Wales and then as Women’s Editor of a daily paper in the Home Counties before becoming a member of the features and news staff of the Sunday Times. After I married and had a family, I worked in cultural relations for a Foreign Office-funded organisation called the Great Britain-USSR Association, which gave me a front row seat because many great artists – musicians, painters, sculptors,writers – in both countries, as well as scientists, politicians, librarians and lawyers, wanted to meet each other to discuss their work and see something of each other’s country. I combined my interest in Russia and my professional writing experience to write a dozen or more non-fiction books about Russia and the Former Republics, I translated books from Russian into English for Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and co-wrote a play commissioned by Donald Smith of The Scottish Story-Telling Centre in Edinburgh that was performed in Moscow and toured Russia. I am currently the editor of Scotland Russia Forum’s ‘Review’ magazine.
What makes Dumfries and Galloway special to you?
Members of my family had moved to Moffat some time previously and my brother has farmed at Dunscore for 40 years. Before moving to Scotland, I had lived and worked in central London, only able to visit the countryside at weekends or for holidays. I love the peace and quiet, the landscapes and the people here.
Are you involved in other arts and cultural activities?
When I arrived in Moffat I started Moffat Book Events SC 042782 and established a link with The State Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow with which I had a very fruitful working relationship for many years. A conference with our Russian partners is now an annual event. I enjoy drawing and painting, I have created a garden based on the legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece (appropriate for Moffat) and Ulysses and the Argonauts. Centrepieces are a pirate ship that my grandsons enjoy playing on, and a pavement sculpture engraved by the stonemason who did much of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work at Little Sparta. In south Lanarkshire I made delicious spruce beer in the forest where I lived, which was magical but very remote – a mile from the nearest habitation.
What projects are you involved in right now?
Since handing over to a new organising committee of Moffat Book Events last year, two Moffat-based historian friends and I have started a new charity GYRE SC045058, to celebrate Moffat’s history and generally foster an interest in debate about who we are, where we came from and where we are heading. Our aim is to make Moffat into the Davos of the north.
Hopes, ambitions or plans for 2015?
GYRE is putting on three exciting events: The Killing Time – subtitled ‘Fanaticism, Liberty and the Birth of Britain’ an examination of the Covenanting movement and the fallout therefrom led by David Ross, Cate’s father (Mon April 20th); ‘Hugh Dowding and the Battle of Britain’ (Thurs Aug 27th) and our second annual celebration of road-builder John Macadam: ‘Moffat’s Old Roads’ with David Munro on Thursday Nov 26th. We have also been invited to contribute some ideas and support to Gretna and Eastriggs’ celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of H M Factory which we very much hope will come to fruition.
Have you always been in this role – or have you/do you do anything else?
I think of myself first and foremost as a writer, of poetry, plays and prose. But I really enjoy mixing people up together, stirring things up a bit, good craic; there’s a bit of the politician in me.
If we asked a friend to tell us something surprising about you, what would they say?
I welcomed Bulganin and Khruschev to Downing St in 1956. I developed two shopping malls and some light industrial starter units in Los Angeles in the 1980’s, and on one memorable occasion slept in a bed recently vacated by Mick Jagger at the Westwood Marquis hotel.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I am a regular supporter of the Episcopalian church (C of E south of the border) and play a mean hand of bridge. I can also make willow baskets.
21 Well Road