It’s 10am on Saturday and the Aberdeen May Festival tent is already packed, a sell-out, abuzz with excitement for the first event of the day. A popular duo, in the shape of Helen Lynch, author of the short story collection The Elephant and the Polish Question, also lecturer at Aberdeen University, and Shane Strachan, local writer who gained a PhD in creative writing from Aberdeen, is an Honorary Fellow of the University’s WORD Centre for Creative Writing and whose work includes poems and short stories, as well as several successful theatrical productions.
Strachan begins with a piece written for Granite: The Story of Aberdeen, based on Grassick Gibbon’s 1934 essay on the city, focusing on nightlife “as they parade along Union Street”. Strachan’s modern, humorous take on the essay transports the audience to the evening pubs and bars of Belmont Street. An excellent start, which leaves us wanting more.
And Strachan is happy to oblige with a piece he created for the Unreal Estate Exhibition, as part of the Look Again project. He explains how inspiration came from a news article about a lift operator named Charlie Gordon, who worked in Aberdeen’s Esslemont and Macintosh department store for over 40 years, and who passed away only months after the store closed its doors in 2007, after 134 years in business. Strachan captivates the audience with his highly original reading of The Lift Mannie.
Next, Lynch takes the stage, reading from her current work-in-progress, her second collection of short stories, Tea For the Rent Boy. Lynch is an assured performer who reads in the voice of a young child, encouraging empathy from the audience.
It’s Strachan’s turn once again, sharing a moving short story, Weir of Hermiston. His wonderful use of Northeast Scots (Doric) in his prose, ensuring his characters sound authentic, his work still easily understood.
Finally, Strachan reads from his work-in-progress, a novel called Quines at Sea. A funny, heart-warming tale of the antics of an all female crew who dare to enter the male-dominated fishing industry. Or, as Strachan describes it, ‘Trawlermen with a twist.’
It’s Lynch who wraps up what has been an entertaining start to the day, by singing a haunting Yiddish lullaby.
However, after Strachan and Lynch’s fun, lively performances, this audience is nowhere near asleep!