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Artyness columnist Barbara Henderson has her own way of celebrating Halloween time, with books, of course...


By Barbara Henderson

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I have a confession to make.

In my last column, I emphasised how much I love an occasion, and celebrating my way through the year.

Well, I’ll tell you a secret: I don’t really love Halloween.

There, I have said the unsayable!

Artyness columnist Barbara Henderson.
Artyness columnist Barbara Henderson.

Perhaps it is to do with the fact that the festival was not part of my upbringing in rural Germany. Or perhaps I am a little uneasy with scary stuff in general – believe me, I am inherently a wimp! But what I do love about this time of year is the way that autumn lends itself to stories. I turn into an excited toddler on the day that we first light the fire after the summer. It doesn’t take long before I shoo the dog away from his favourite resting spot in front of the stove and take up residence there myself, a good book in hand.

So, for this month’s column, I would like to celebrate some of the books I am enjoying at the moment.

Gracie Fairshaw And The Trouble At The Tower.
Gracie Fairshaw And The Trouble At The Tower.

First up is the spooky-come-literary children’s adventure Hag Storm (pictured below) by Victoria Williamson. As far as ghostly autumn covers go, this is an absolute beauty, and it tells the story of a young Rabbie Burns, inspired by his famous poem Tam O Shanter. Young Rab finds a hag stone while working in his family’s field, and looking through it, he sees a gathering of witches which endangers his family. It’s a perfect mix of story, history and spookery, and may yet endear the scary season to me after all.

I was also really taken by a new book by children’s author Susan Brownrigg, Gracie Fairshaw And The Trouble At The Tower. Set during the seasonal heyday of 1930s Blackpool, it’s a mystery set in the famous seaside town, featuring the Tower’s famous children’s ballet and reviving much of Blackpool’s bygone charm. I found myself nostalgically drawn to wintertime at the seaside – an unusual and compelling setting.

Hag Storm.
Hag Storm.

Another new publication I cannot wait to delve into is 50 Words for Love In Swedish. I have long followed Ullapool poet Stephen Keeler’s progress on social media – aside from appearing like a thoroughly pleasant, kind and thoughtful gentleman, he has a way with words which effortlessly draws the reader in. I don’t know if you ever read books simply because the author seems like such a lovely person. Well, this memoir may be one of those purchases for me.

Finally, time for some poetry, don’t you think? Another Highland poet who has been on my radar for several years is Lynn Valentine, and at this time of Northern Lights and crisp, clear starlit skies, I couldn’t resist purchasing her poetry pamphlet A Glimmer of Stars, published by Hedgehog Press.

I’ll let you into another secret – I read prose in silence, but with the luxury of an empty house, I will read poetry aloud – in a whisper, often, but aloud all the same.

Go on, try it!

Wrap up warm, light a candle and reach for a book.

There is no better time for it than autumn.

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