Meet Eat Drink Think

Robbie Bushe from University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Open Learning organised this great event at the end of February as part of the University’s Festival of Creative Learning. It was held in collaboration with one of Edinburgh’s newest and most innovative restaurants, The Food Studio, brainchild of Benedict Reade and Sashana Souza Zanella. The restaurant was started in November 2015 and has garnered praise and The List’s Newcomer of the Year award in 2016.

Meet Eat Drink Think was run on three consecutive evenings and the purpose was to highlight the contribution of Europe and Europeans to Scottish food and culture. Each evening four university tutors from the Centre for Open Learning gave short talks on various aspects of food and culture, and the menu served by Food Studio was inspired by the subjects of these presentations.

MEDT photo

Alongside me were Carina Dahlstrom-Mair, John Gordon and Pasquale Iannone.  Carina started the proceedings with a lovely talk titled “Light and Summer in a Bottle”, highlighting the importance of nature and outdoor eating to the Swedes. She also dwelled on the art of keeping everything simple, foraging and preserves, and what a splash of colour can do not only for your mood and your senses, but also for your health.

John Gordon gave a wonderfully informative talk on “Luxury, Taste and Politeness”, which explored the spread of coffee-houses and tea-houses in the early eighteenth century, but more excitingly also highlighted the fact that David Hume had been a good amateur cook towards the end of his life.  His recipe for Potage à la Reyne was served (or at least a variation of it was). John also looked at vistors’ impressions of Scottish cuisine, starting with Samuel Johnson and Tobias Smollett, before he examined a few recipes from a cookbook by Elizabeth Cleland (A New and Easy Method of Cookery, Edinburgh, first published in 1759) (Google Books: 1755).

My talk started in sixteenth-century Rome with food as performance (particularly the carver and other officials who engaged in a choreographed performance of table ritual), and then moved on to Catherine de’ Medici, the fork and the mistrust of the “Englishman italianate” that was generated in England in the late Elizabethan period. This all came under the title “‘Enchantments of Circes’: Why the Fork and Italian Table Manners were regarded with Suspicion”.

Lastly, Pasquale Iannone showed an entertaining audio-visual essay that explored Scottish and Italian culture through ice cream: “Identity Carved in Ice (Cream)”.  He put together clips from films such as Comfort and Joy (1984), Soft Top Hard Shoulder (1992), American Cousins (2003).

Comfort and Joy

Bill Paterson and Eleanor David in Comfort and Joy (1984)


This was a really creative and different form of collaboration, celebrating learning in an unusually appetising format and highlighting the extraordinary links that were forged in the past and are felt just as strongly today between us and our European neighbours.

UPDATE: On 16 March the Meet Eat Drink Think event won the Creative Learning Award given by the Festival of Creative Learning! To quote Jenny Hoy, Head of Short Courses at the Centre for Open Learning:

The Festival run an awards scheme alongside the programme which celebrates the variety of events offered and the skill involved in bringing them to fruition. I’m delighted to say that both of our short course events were shortlisted and went on to win despite some stiff competition from across the University



Posted in Cultural history, food history, Scottish history | 1 Comment

A talk on behalf of the Society of Authors at Publishing Scotland

Publishing Scotland held their annual conference last week and the Society of Authors were invited to give a short presentation. Given that I’m on the Scottish committee of the Society of Authors (SOAiS), Caroline Dunford and I went along. It was a great idea to involve us, although we did feel a little like the rabbits turning up at the foxes’ tea party! My best quote of the day is thanks to the Society of Authors (SOA):

“Authors remain the only essential part of the creation of a book and it is in everyone’s interests to ensure they can make a living.”

My second best quote was mine (modesty apart) – and it featured a bit on Twitter too (thanks to Alice Fischer and others!)

For translators, like authors, their name is their brand.


I’ve included some excerpts from my part of our joint presentation below, but first I must acknowledge my debt to the SOA and to Sarah Macintyre whose blog was a great inspiration for the part on illustrators and the hashtag campaign #picturesmeanbusiness

Publishing Scotland

Photo thanks to Merryn Glover

So here it is:

Seven Ways to work better with authors and translators (and sell more books)

Between us Caroline and I have come up with seven ways that we think publishers can work better with authors (and translators) and sell more books. So I’m starting off with the first four.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-16-07-34I’m going to jump in at the deep end and talk about contracts, and for obvious reasons much of what I’d like to focus on is related to translators. In that sense, the contract is well down the path towards publication. A lot could be said about the many stages that precede it: the sleuthing work of finding suitable books to translate, reading them and preparing reports, gauging the feasibility of the project, the possibility of sourcing funds, and of course the key part, actually choosing a translator.

However, let’s leave all of that aside and go straight to the point. Contracts between publishers and translators have often been extremely one-sided in the past, that is the onus is entirely on the translator: mostly stick and precious little carrot.

The Society of Authors supports a vision of authors’ rights, centred on the author, and it campaigns to ensure that the implementation of that vision is not undermined by a concept of copyright which instead is centred on the investor.

The argument is that an investor-centred system of rights maximises the benefits for a minimum number of holders, whereas in an author-centred system of rights these benefits are more equably divided.

So, in the case of the translator, what rights are we talking about?

  • The moral rights are (or should be) unwaivable but they must first be asserted. With particular regard to translators, all translated books should contain that phrase in the copyright section.
  • However, more importantly, a translation is an original work, and given that it involves considerable creative effort translations are eligible for copyright – and have been since the nineteenth century Berne Convention (1886). Sadly, it is all too frequently taken for granted that the publisher will hold the copyright for an English translation, but things are changing. The reading public are growing more aware of copyright issues and readers have been known to check the copyright page.

Best practice would seem straightforward in this regard: Your translator should assert his or her moral rights, and should automatically retain copyright. Then, in a separate clause in the contract, she or he will license it back to the publisher subject to a straightforward negotiation regarding a reasonable percentage to be paid for subsequent exploitation of the work.

This is the more equitable vision of shared rights that the Society encourages. It also allows the translator and other copyright holders to benefit from the ongoing success of a publication – which sadly is not always the case.

Big as we all know does not always mean beautiful – let alone equitable. The largest publisher of fiction in translation is now Amazoncrossing. You might pull a face, but Amazon’s investment in this sector has been game-changing. Moreover, Amazon has also shown that it can mend its ways in one important respect: copyright.

potzch-hangmans-daughterThe author I’ve used here as an example is Oliver Pötzch, whose book The Hangman’s Daughter was translated by Lee Chadeayne.  Pötzch became the first translated Amazon Publishing author to sell over 1 million copies. In that book, published in 2010 Amazon acknowledged the translator’s moral rights on the copyright page but retained the copyright to the English translation – meaning that Chadeayne largely missed out on the book’s success. However, for Pötzch’s subsequent books, the Dark Monk series, Chadeayne has retained copyright – a lesson well learned, for the translator, but notably also for Amazoncrossing.

It is worth adding that many of the smaller, independent publishers have always set high standards in this respect, but I won’t name any more names!

Which brings me to where it is important to name names: This is closely linked to the first point on rights. The moral rights clause of a contract states that “X shall be recognised as the translator of this work”: this means what it says: The translator must be acknowledged as the translator everywhere, in publicity, in catalogues, and most basically on the book itself.

Almost without exception translations into English are now acknowledged on an inside front cover.

But on the outside front cover the story is rather different.

The situation has improved in recent years, but somewhere around 40% of books do not have the translator’s name on the front cover. Yet reader surveys show an overwhelming majority (up to 90%) of respondents who think that translators ought to be visible on the cover. As was mentioned in the case of copyright issues, readers’ opinions are a powerful motivator for change in this respect.

There is one more aspect about accreditation that needs to be touched on:  it’s that dreaded word. Metadata. It’s linked to two important Twitter campaigns: #namethetranslator and #picturesmeanbusiness promoted by the Society of Authors.

hashtag-picturesmeanbusinessTranslators – and illustrators – have been wondering why their names don’t show up with their books on Amazon, why reviews often list only the writers, and why radio programmes sometimes don’t credit the translator while discussing the English book! It often comes down to one basic thing… faulty or incomplete book data.

This affects translators’ careers in their loss of valuable name-brand recognition – for translators, like authors, their name is their brand. But it means publishers lose out, too. You lose what is becoming one of the most valuable things in book publicity – which hopefully will translate into book sales –, and that’s discoverability.

hashtag-namethetranslatorDiscoverability of the book, of the publisher, but also of the translator. My name was left off a book review in the Wall Street Journal a year ago, and although I did manage to contact the reviewer and editor afterwards, the opportunity had been missed. Who knows what might have happened if my name had been there, and if a reader happened to have been looking for a translator… that is the way future opportunities are made and lost.

The Society of Authors is working hard to change this. Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive, often ends a talk on this particular subject saying, “If there’s one thing you go away and do after this, make sure it’s improving your book data.”

Sarah McIntyre, a brilliant illustrator, recently visited Nielsen and two publishers in London to try to work out what was going wrong. The answer is that Nielsen can only work with what they’re given. The problem is down to publishers, who aren’t submitting full book data via their software systems.

So, making sure you improve your book data and the discoverability of your books will also give you massive kudos with your translators and illustrators. We are, as the phrase goes, all in this together. And one last point about discoverability: if you publish translated works please credit the translators on your own website – you’d be amazed, but some publishers don’t!

My last point is on fair remuneration. This letter written by the SOA a year ago makes the point clearly.


Earnings are falling fast, yet – as was said earlier – it is in everyone’s interests to ensure that creators and writers, in the broadest sense of the term, can make a living.

The key solution lies in protecting and equitably sharing those rights we’ve been talking about, and copyright in particular.

Let me briefly mention a piece of European legislation, the European Commission’s proposed directive to modernize the European Copyright framework, referred to as the Digital Single Market directive. Irrelevant you might think, but the SOA urges the government to continue to reflect European legislation in order to provide stability for the industry.

On the specific point of fair remuneration the draft legislation (Chapter 3) addresses the findings of that survey I just mentioned. Creators of all stripes were championed by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (again September 2016) (scroll down – about halfway through his speech)

Artists and creators are our crown jewels. The creation of content is not a hobby. It is a profession. And it is part of our European culture. I want journalists, publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work, whether it is made in studios or living rooms, whether it is disseminated offline or online.

All I can add is here, here!

22 February 2017, Lucinda Byatt ©

Posted in Cultural history, foreign languages, Italian translation, translation, translator | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Saintly Twin Sister: Protectress against convulsions and storms

Scholastica was Benedict’s twin sister, and both were born in Norcia, probably around the year 480. They came from a wealthy family that is said to have lived more or less on the site of the cathedral of Norcia, named after her more famous brother.  That cathedral was damaged in the earthquake that shook Umbria in the summer and it finally collapsed, completely, on the morning of 30 October 2016.


Scholastica is the saintly protector of convulsive children and those threatened by storms, so perhaps it is fitting that her memory should now be evoked in the name of all those who’ve been affected by this latest natural disaster.

St Gregory the Great gives an account of Scholastica’s last meeting with her brother shortly before her death in c. 542/3. That meeting probably took place in Piumarola (often recorded as Piombarola) where a building, known as the Church of the Colloquy, was erected in the eighth century (possibly already on the site of an earlier church?). This church appears to have been destroyed by the Saracens in 893, and the site was later bombed in 1939 (Herbert Bloch, Monte Cassino in the Middle AgesHarvard University Press, 1988, pp. 647-649).

Her twin brother’s Rule spread across Europe in the monastic reforms of the tenth century. In England, St Aethelwold (bishop 963-984) introduced it to Winchester in 964, after translating the Latin Rule into Old English (Donald Scragg, Edgar King of the English, 959-975: New Interpretations, Boydell & Brewer, 2014, p.219). By 966 Aethelwold had expelled the canons from the “New Minster” and replaced them with a community of monks living in accordance with the Rule. Later, Aethelwold formally presented the Rule to King Edgar at a meeting of England’s monastic leaders summoned in 970. It confirms that the king was the protector of monks and the queen of nuns, linking monasteries to the crown.


Rule of St Benedict and the Regularis Concordia f.117v, courtesy of British Library

Elfrida (Aelfthryth), became the first queen of England to be officially crowned when Edgar was inaugurated as king for the second time in Bath in 973, a decade after their marriage (probably in 964/5).




Further north still, in Edinburgh, there is a tenuous link to St Scholastica through St Margaret, the sister of Edgar Aetheling (who was proclaimed but never crowned king in 1066 because of other momentous events).




On returning from exile, Margaret married Malcolm III and founded a Benedictine abbey in Dunfermline, where they are both buried. Scholastica’s influence is not recorded but Benedictine nunneries were later founded in North Berwick and Kilconquhar, among other places in Scotland.


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On Samuel Johnson, Sorley McLean and Talisker Bay

Talisker House on Skye lies at the end of a long descent through Glen Oraid, probably about 5 miles beyond the turning to Carbost.  The weather on the day we visited was miraculous: sunny with brilliant colours, and not that much wind. Unlike two hundred and forty-three years ago, when Dr Samuel Johnson complained that “The weather was now almost one continuous storm”.

You have to leave the car well before the house and walk down a track that leads to the bay past the house and its garden, The house is very striking and, most unusually for these parts, it’s surrounded by mature trees. The building seems to have changed very little and the garden was beautiful looked after. Johnson was clearly very taken by the house and its setting too, as well as the occupants. As he wrote on 28 September 1773: “We passed two days at Talisker very happily, both by the perfectness of the place, and elegance of our reception.”

Talisker House dates back to the early eighteenth century, but in 1780, a few years after Boswell and Johnson visited, a new front wing was added with a ground floor dining room and a drawing room above. The ornate plaster ceiling in the drawing was said to be original in the Listed Buildings description of 1971.


We came by car, and then on foot, whereas on 23 September 1773, Dr Johnson and his travelling companion, James Boswell, left Dunvegan Castle to ride to Ullinish, and from there by boat to Talisker.

Even then the area had a reputation for making the best whisky on the island. A little aside here, Talisker Distillery would be built in Carbost in 1830, and fifty years after that another great writer, this time Robert Louis Stevenson (A Scotsman Returning from Abroad, 1880), listed this particular whisky among his favourite three: “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Isla, or Glenlivet!”


Commenting in general on his impressions of Skye, Johnson remarked that “The hospitality of this remote region is like that of the golden age. We have found ourselves treated at every house as if we came to confer a benefit.”

Johnson and Boswell landed at Ferinlea, on Loch Harport, and then rode about five miles to Talisker where they stayed with Colonel John Macleod of Talisker and his wife Mary Maclean of Coll.

Sept. 23. We removed to Talisker a house occupied by Mr. Macleod, a Lieutenant colonel in the Dutch service. Talisker has been long in the hands of Gentlemen, and therefore has a garden well cultivated, and what is here very rare, is shaded by trees. A place where the imagination is more amused cannot easily be found. The Mountains about it are of great height, with waterfalls succeeding one another so fast, that as one ceases to be hearrd another begins; between the mountains there is a small valley extended to the sea, which is not afar off beating upon a coast of very difficult access.

IMG_1256The photo above was taken on the day we visited when the sea couldn’t have been calmer. But in September 1773 matters were different. Johnson wrote:

Two nights before our arrival two boats were driven upon this coast by the tempest, one of them had a pilot that knew the passage, the second followed, but a third missed the true course, and was driven forward with great danger of being forced into the great Ocean, but however gained at last some other Island. The crews crept to Talisker almost lifeless with wet, cold, fatigue and terrour, but the Lady took care of them. She is a woman of more than common qualifications; having travelled with her husband, she speaks four languages.”

What’s fascinating about this diary entry is that Johnson refers to Macleod’s wife, Mary Maclean of Coll, as being a notable linguist. This unexpected talent is surprising, but Johnson puts it down to travelling with her husband.

What four languages might these have been? They might well have included English and Gaelic (or Earse, as Johnson called it), and probably Dutch and French.  After fighting for the government during the Jacobite Rebellion, Macleod joined the Scots Brigade in Holland, where he rose to the rank of colonel. In his Life, James Boswell also agreed that John Macleod and his wife, “in consequence of having lived abroad, had introduced the ease and politeness of the continent into this rude region”.


This is a really special corner of Skye and it was lovely to find that Sorley Maclean also wrote about Talisker Bay. Below is the English translation of Tràighean, thanks to the Scottish Poetry Library website (what a fantastic resource!). The basalt rocks of Preshal Mhor are visible in the photo above.

If we were in Talisker on the shore
where the great white mouth
opens between two hard jaws,
Rubha nan Clach and the Bioda Ruadh,
I would stand beside the sea
renewing love in my spirit
while the ocean was filling
Talisker bay forever:
I would stand there on the bareness of the shore
until Prishal bowed his stallion head.

There was no sign of white horses (whether on the hills or in the sea) when we were there – that must be a dramatic sight!  Below is the stack of Bioda Ruadh, at the south end of the bay, in fabulous sunlight.


Writing to Macleod of Macleod as he waited for a boat to leave Skye, Johnson also expressed his gratitude to all those he had met on the island, and particularly to his steed:

“Boswell grows impatient, but the kind treatment which I find wherever I go makes me leave with some heaviness of heart an Island which I am not very like to see again. Having now gone as far as horses can carry us, we thankfully return them. My Steed will, I hope, be received with kindness; he has born me, heavy as I am, over ground both rough and steep with great fidelity…”

We didn’t have trusted horses, but we can share the sentiment of the heaviness of heart when we left and the kindness of the lovely people we met on the Winged Isle. I hope we will be very likely to see it again!

Posted in Cultural history, reading | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment