Hazel McHaffie

St Andrew’s and St George’s

‘All morning putting in a comma …’

Well, that’s the general election over for another time and what an event it was! I confess I was not one of the enthusiasts who stayed up all night watching, but I did pop in and out on Friday morning to listen to the sound of big names crashing, big egos admitting defeat, big promises being dissected, history being made.

Molly Malone

Dublin’s Molly Malone

In between I revised all the dialogue in my current novel spoken by a minor character, one Mrs Kaetlyn O’Leary who hails from Ireland. At the beginning of the week I immersed myself in a lot of stuff about just how to capture the lilt and idioms of that musical tongue; then I went through the prose meticulously introducing the telltale patterns every time she spoke: ‘he went away, so he did’, ‘sure, and you’ll be after doing it yerself’, ‘it’s meself that’ll be doing that’ and so on. Then in the middle of the week I read a whole lot more bumpf about how folk are put off by thick accents, how hard it is to get it right, and I went completely off the idea again. So out it all came on Friday. I was reminded of Oscar Wilde who famously said, ‘I’m exhausted. I spent all morning putting in a comma, and all afternoon taking it out again.’ Thing is, I’m not at all sure Kaetlyn O’Leary’s voice is her own even yet, but I’ve put it to one side for the time being.

I’m getting close to the end of the book now – only about 2 or 3 chapters to go – which means that any changes I make have wide ranging consequences. Very soon I’ll have to spend my working days reading … re-reading … re-re-reading … ad nauseam, checking the authenticity and consistency of each voice, weighing up the value of each sentence, losing favourite phrases and paragraphs. Kaetlyn will probably go through several more metamorphoses – she might not even remain Irish! Fortunately for me I really love the editing phase.

Christian Aid book sale - queue on first dayAlso this week I boosted my spirits by attending the first hour of the first day of the renowned annual book sale in St Andrew’s and St George’s Church in Edinburgh, featuring over 100,000 books – the biggest Christian Aid fundraising event in the UK; largest charity book sale event in the world in fact. It’s such an encouraging experience for an author. I joined this queue three-deep that, by 10am when the doors opened, stretched all the way to the end of the pavement in George Street.

Christian Aid booksale -  inside churchThe boxes of books are lined up on rows of tables inside the church on two levels, sorted into every conceivable subject areas – a labour of love in itself. (Thanks to my son who provided this photo – much better colour balance than mine.)  Standing up in the balcony I couldn’t help but marvel at the energy and commitment of the folk behind the scenes masterminding this extraordinary event year after year – it has taken place annually since 1974!

Christian Aid book sale - outside stallsOutside in the courtyard all around the building are thousands more books. A crush of keen bookworms jostle for space as they determinedly scan the spines for something new and exciting, some even on their knees under tables seeking specific treasures. Yes, indeed, the book as we know it is very far from dead. Long live the book!



I came away with warmth in my heart and My bargain booksfour books I’ve been wanting to read in my bag. I limited myself this year – well, my tbr pile is already toppling over, and my shelves are threatening to sag under the sheer weight of novels lined two deep all along them. The sale finishes tomorrow so that’s it over for me – but spare a thought for the army of book-lovers who will toil away on Saturday to remove everything left behind and prepare the church for morning worship. There’s dedication and commitment for you.

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Below the Line

Well, that’s Christian Aid week over for another year. I can’t believe how quickly it comes round.

The highlight for me at a personal level is always, of course, the massive book sale in Edinburgh’s St Andrew’s and St George’s Church.St Andrews and St Georges

I must confess I bought more books than I donated – not good news for my already groaning bookshelves! In fact the new collection is currently just lying about in piles awaiting a home. But each time I visited the sale I found myself just standing staring at this amazing spectacle – literally thousands of books and not a Kindle in sight! For any author it has to be a brilliant affirmation of the appeal of the written word. And what reassurance to know there’s a huge crowd of folk out there hungry for more.

Customers were repeatedly dodging others in order not to miss a single gem in the rows of boxes. As the novels were snapped up volunteers quickly filled the gaps, and I overheard some of them discussing the relative merits of certain authors, clearly avid readers themselves. On one occasion I even saw a couple of venerable white-haired gentlemen on their knees under tables trawling through some ancient tomes.

The buzz spurred me on through the annual door-to-door collecting – it can be daunting at times. Particularly in times of austerity. Did the dog really eat their envelope? Does ‘the wife’ (absent today) always decide where the money goes in their household and take the envelope away with her in case hubby sneakily fills it? Have the whole family actually gone out leaving the TV blaring and the windows wide open? No, no, no!  I hasten to add that most of the householders on my particular stamping ground are exemplary citizens, giving generously and with a smile.

Oh, by the way, did you hear about this year’s Live Below the Line project? An octogenarian friend of ours brought it to our attention, setting a shining example by doing it herself. It’s a challenge to the general public to live on just £1 a day for 5 days to help raise £500,000 for some of the world’s poorest people. Apparently they’ve calculated that about 1.4 billion live on less than that all the time, not just for 5 days. How could we not respond to that appeal?

Actually chez nous the challenge has proved much more enjoyable than anticipated – easy to say when we live in the luxury of UK wealth the rest of the year, I know. But to be positive – I’ve had fun experimenting with dishes that eke out the rations but still provide enough fuel to get us through busy days. And king-size pots of soup and stews mean less hours actually preparing and shopping, more hours for writing, reading, proof-checking, etc. Has to be good! In fact we’re extending this particular project beyond 5 days. I can’t imagine Christian Aid would turn down latecomers.

Because of course, poverty, oppression and hunger aren’t confined to one week in the year; even a crammed-full bright red collecting bag is a drop in a bottomless ocean. But ‘mony a mickle maks a muckle’. We can all do our little bit and I’m sure you do. I know our fellow church members come up with the most amazing initiatives to keep money coming in for worthy causes; I’m constantly impressed by their unflagging commitment. Although we haven’t tried walking on red hot coals yet as I see MND Scotland have!

OK, let’s see how far a bowl of porridge will take me today … The theory is that the brain is sharper when the body is fasting. And I could certainly do with sharper.

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