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Tim Bell

Getting creative between three dots…


It’s out – Leith’s own anthology of local writing, launched on 2 November. That’s a new institution and date in the calendar, set to become fixtures in Leith cultural and community life.

The Leith Writings project was conceived in 2019, part of a city-wide marking of the centenary of the Edinburgh Boundaries and Tramways Extension Act, 1920. Elsewhere within the present city boundaries, it was not particularly controversial: Corstorphine, Cramond, Liberton, Colinton, had obviously become suburbs of the expanding city centre.

Leith was different. Leith’s long history reveals a flourishing international port – Scotland’s premier port for many centuries – and a growing town that was effectively a feudal asset of Edinburgh. Leith paid Edinburgh’s bills right down to 1828.

From 1832 Leith was a full-blown burgh in its own right. Justified resentment at centuries of being exploited gave way to a fierce civic pride and a very strong community spirit. Amalgamation with an enemy turned rival was a bitter pill in 1920.

So, in 2020, we had a century of amalgamation to look back on. Because of Covid, it came out in 2021, brilliantly numbered edition #101. The title “The Darting Salamander” comes from one of its poems that likens Leith to a salamander that can regenerate lost limbs and tail. “A new tail grows” became the strapline.

This year’s title and strapline also come from the content. “The Seagull at the Shore” is a short poem by a boy trying to eat his chips on the Shore watched carefully by a seagull. We all have plenty to identify with there!

The strapline ‘Leith you lead me’ is the title of a poem written by a newcomer who is drawn down to the docks, full of curiosity and wonder.

The theme this year is Leith links…, inviting contributors to get creative inside the three dots.

In a time warp on the Links, there’s a story of love torn apart by war, connecting the Napoleonic wars with WW1 a century later. And here, now, another century on, we have refugees from war here in our own town. Fiction has a way of pointing to larger truths.

In another time warp, there’s a cheeky look at the statue of the author of the rules of golf.

Seemingly set on the Links, there are intimations of mortality and endurance, enigmatically bringing together the personal and the collective.

But the stretch of grass we all love isn’t the only links in Leith. (Clue: to be found in a butcher’s shop in Junction Street.)

There’s love poetry coming down the Water of Leith, creating human warmth between the inert figures of Anthony Gormley.

There’s a wry comment on some of the shops seen from the top of a 22 bus on Leith Walk. There’s revolutionary talk when Pilrig clock strikes 13.

There’s a child’s eye and ear for the sights and sounds on Leith Walk when Hibs are playing at home.

There’s a case study on the value of kindness.

There are commiserations for newly-weds who had planned their honeymoon in New York, only to find themselves locked in wet Leith by Covid restrictions.

Illicit drugs aren’t absent. An honest 360 degree portrait of Leith in 2022 wouldn’t be complete without them.

And so much more. Pick up a free copy at Argonaut Books at the Foot of the Walk, and in the community centre. And food banks. People who can’t buy food have other needs they can’t afford. Leith and McDonald Road libraries have reference copies. And it’s online:

This year and last, we had a print run of 300 copies, depending entirely on generous personal and local business donations. We hope to become a constituted body next year, which will transform the situation when it comes to applying to funding bodies. But we will still be looking for smaller contributions: the funding bodies need to see community involvement.

It was a wet evening on 2 November, for the launch party at Out of the Blue. But almost 100 people persevered. It was good to see youngsters from Trinity Academy, mostly from last year’s S1, trying out their voices in public. I don’t mean only practising their vocal cords. It’s about putting something they have created into the public arena. That can be difficult enough in a classroom.

All the contributors who presented their piece were enthusiastically applauded.

In January the panel will come up with a theme for next year. Look on our web site and sharpen your pencils. (suggest “dust down your keyboard” – more topical, ken. Ed.)

Contributions to be in via the web site by the end of June. Selection is made on literary merit, the authenticity or distinctiveness of the voice, and all in pursuit of producing a pleasing, honest, and balanced collection. That’s a tricky set of priorities.

Then it will be sent to Out of the Blueprint for a launch on 2 November 2023, the anniversary of the Leith/Edinburgh amalgamation.

And onwards, for the next 98 years. What will they be saying about us
then? ■

The 2nd anthology from the Leith Writings team is out now


There’s love poetry coming down the Water of Leith, creating human warmth between the inert figures of Anthony Gormley


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