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Not the only story in town

By Barbara Henderson

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Viking women liked to goad their men, according to the sagas – I learned that through a podcast. Medieval ladies and monks were most likely to keep pets in the Middle Ages, and cats were almost always called ‘Gilbert’ then – I learned that in a podcast too.

Books, history, theatre, teaching – whatever subject you are interested in, there is bound to be a podcast on it.

There are few days when I don’t listen to podcasts, and for the record, I am not particularly brilliant with technology. It lifts me up to find interesting content I can listen to on my countless dog walks.

For example, I really enjoy Americast, a behind-the-scenes look at the US election presented by BBC heavyweights Jon Sopel and Emily Maitlis.

I follow a range of book podcasts, but my latest discovery was an episode of the BBC’s Thought for the Day. The presenter, a Reverend Lucy Someone, described something we are all familiar with: a sudden urge to switch off the news, overloaded with the realities of a global pandemic. She related how she flicked through other channels instead – a documentary about delicate ecosystems and another with beautiful opera music. Covid, it would seem, was not the only story in town. These stories were also true. These stories had value too.

I was struck by the words the speaker used. Not the only story in town. Make no mistake, the Covid story is loud and brash and elbows its way into our consciousness. But we build resilience if we open our minds and our souls to other tales.

On reflection, I too have been guilty of allowing this one story, the pandemic, to hog most of my attention. No wonder, as all our lives are so profoundly affected. But our souls are hardwired for more: for creativity and paradox, for more than one story alone.

In the end, our resilience is inextricably linked to these choices: which stories we choose to listen to, and which stories we choose to tell.

The Cauldron of Life.
The Cauldron of Life.

With that in mind, I have been enjoying reading The Cauldron of Life by Grantown-based writer Caroline Logan, a new fantasy novel to follow on from The Stone of Destiny. It seems fitting to give the autumn season over to mythical and escapist tales like that of brave heroine Ailsa, and Logan certainly knows how to throw a character into deadly peril one page and resolve the tension with humour on the next. Monsters and ghouls become characters we come to care for and I was sorry to finish it.

In the run-up to Halloween, it would also be remiss of me not to make mention of the latest (seasonably gothic) offering from exciting new Lochaber publisher Garmoran Publishing.

Girl of the Ashes by Hayleigh Barclay has just reached number one in the Amazon chart for Magical Realism for Young Adults. I love a strong opening and this new take on the vampire genre had me hooked from the start: "Somewhere, about six hundred miles from here, is a gravestone with my name on it. Elise de Volonte, 179-1897. May she rest in peace."

Spooky or what!

Girl of the Ashes.
Girl of the Ashes.

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