In the beginning there was the word…
Tim Bell (self-portrait) sends out a call to writers and would be writers to send in contributions for the second volume of Leith’s very own compendium of new writing: The Darting Salamander. Read on…
Way, way back in the year 99 PA (Post Amalgamation) in Leith-on-Shore, it was all perfectly obvious. Someone was going to assemble a collection of writings to mark the centenary of the amalgamation of municipal Leith into municipal Edinburgh.
It’s not as though there wasn’t plenty to write about. In 1920 AD Europe was emerging from a catastrophic war in which Leith had suffered disproportionately heavy losses. After seven centuries of its distinctive place in Scottish history – twice occupied by foreign troops and always at odds with Edinburgh – Leith was looking forward to the centenary of glorious municipal independence and self-empowerment.
Then this. Edinburgh was going to devour Leith. AGAIN! The Leith Observer depicted Edinburgh as a Moloch – a Canaanite child-eating god. On 2 November 1920 AD the monster was fed.
So who was going to assemble this anthology? I mentioned it to a couple of people, the upshot of which is that no-one was more surprised than moi to find myself at the centre of putting it together.
Then Covid happened. 2020 AD was cancelled.
We had 15 damn good pieces of writing, all reflecting in some way on 100 years of life in Leith since the amalgamation. Some of it’s not pretty: you wouldn’t expect heroin to be missing, for example. From an 84-word poem to a 2,500-word story, we had a good range of Leith’s many moods and perspectives: whimsy, loss and fond memory, celebration, sober non-fiction, humour, and more.
But we had missed the centenary. Then, in a stroke of pure genius that you would expect only from a man in Leith after a glass of something cockle-warming, we decided to launch on 2 November 2021 AD and number it edition #101. So that’s it: we’re going again on 2 November this year and every year in Leith’s second century of amalgamation with Edinburgh. Moloch City.
So, writers of Leith, sharpen your quills, dust down your keyboards, go to www.leithwritings.co.uk and see how to get your deathless prose or poetry onto the printed page (nice alliteration - Ed). And put 2 November 2022 AD in your diary. The launch is sure to be the best party in Leith that evening.
Back in the year 101 PA, we needed to give our braw collection a title. One of our number looked through the content for a hook. And there it was: Annie McCrae’s poem Leith Sands likens Leith to a salamander, an amphibian lizard that can be toxic to the touch and can regenerate its tail and lost limbs. Plenty to work with there.
Our very own Salamander Street is the only street of this name in the UK. It is probably so named because of the many toxic and fiery glass and chemical works that were there in the 18th century. The association is that, by repute, salamanders can withstand the heat of flame.
The truth is more prosaic. Salamanders have a habit of nesting in dead wood, from which, when it is thrown on a fire, they dart. Because they can’t withstand the heat of flame. Never let a prosaic fact get in the way of a good story.
And here was our title. Out of The Blueprint got Norman Oyoo, aged 16, from Drummond High School, to do a linocut for the front cover. Annie agreed to let us squeeze her poem into the shape, and we put the last line on the back cover: ‘A new tail grows’. Sorted.
We were hoping for sponsorship from local businesses, but they were having a tricky time, what with lockdowns. Crowd-funding produced enough for us to go for a print run of 300, but demand far exceeded supply. There was an idea after the launch that if we came by more money, we would go for another run.
But wiser advice prevailed: trade on the rarity value. So hard copies have a currency value. Overheard in a bar recently: “I’ll have a pint of your best, landlord.” “Certainly sir, that will be two Salamanders, please.”
But – and you would expect nothing less – we’re online. They are poring over it in California, Papua New Guinea, that sort of place.
For what is certain to be a bumper edition #102 with plenty of hard copies, we are hoping that local businesses will support us by taking advertising space. Named contributors on the crowdfunding page will be listed. And we need tech support – any offers?
This is how Leith works. ■
Info: Contact Tim at
Moloch, one of the child-eating Canaanite gods