JM Wilson Book now available

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“Health and Home are Powerful Magnets”.
An Exile returns to Berwick.
Mike Fraser BA (Hons) MSc MPhil


John Mackay Wilson – the Writer of Tales of the Borders and Editor of the Berwick Advertiser 1832-1835

Mike Fraser

Mike lives in Berwick upon Tweed and writes and lectures on Northumberland political history, including studies of Sir William Beveridge and Sir Charles Trevelyan. He now turns his attention to a native of Berwick and his writings.
John Mackay Wilson (1804-1835) was the writer of Tales of the Borders and Editor of the Berwick Advertiser 1832-1835. At this turbulent stage in British history Wilson wrote his popular Tales, transformed the Advertiser and wrote controversial editorials on Grey, Peel, Wellington, the Great Reform Act, religion, trade unions, the Poor Law and the role of Freemen. Quoting extensively from Wilson’s prose and poetry Mike, in the first extended examination of Wilson’s life and work, discusses what his writings tell us about Berwick and Britain at the dawn of the modern age.

Praise for Mike’s Sir William Beveridge: the Man, the Report and the Berwick Division –
“I think it is terrific” – Steve Richards, Political Commentator

“This study should be in the House of Commons Library” – Sir Alan Beith (former MP for Berwick and now Lord Beith)

“I very much enjoyed your piece which taught me a lot about Lord Beveridge’s Northumberland career and later life” – Professor Jose Harris (Beveridge’s only Biographer)

The New Year, and beyond!

The Wilson’s Tales project has announced its first event for 2014 as part of its ongoing plans to support the retelling of The tales in contempory ways to modern audiences.

The first event is to be held at Berwick’s Historic Guildhall on the 30th March. There will be two principal presentations.

Firstly , local artist Morag Eaton’s interpretation through screen prints of “The Red Hall; Berwick 1296”, which tells one of the earliest Tales in the collection. It covers the siege and sacking of Berwick by King Edward 1. At the time it was held by Alexander 111 of Scotland who gave trading rights to the Flemish in return for defence of the town. The tale tells us that Berwick was a far more prosperous than London, which had none of Berwick’s natural advantages. The tale involves an interrupted wedding and the fierce battle to defend the town. The first of Morag’s prints showing the arrival of the English Fleet coming round Lindisfarne has already been completed and she will give a talk on her work , the tale and her interpretation . The 30th March has been deliberately chosen as it coincides with the anniversary of the fall of Berwick 718 years ago.

There will then be the chance to view the works on display in the Town Hall, before returning to see the second presentation.

This will be of the tale “The Royal Raid”, which deals with King James V attempts to bring the Border Reivers under control and order to the lawless “Debatable Lands”. This will be presented as an adaption as a short play by retired local Doctor Michael Fenty. Michael approached the project saying he had written three plays based on the tales some years ago but never produced them. The Wilsons tales project have been delighted to collaborate to provide an opportunity to premier this work. The Tale is based on an interpretation of the story behind the earlier Border Ballad “The Border Widow” , which will be sung at the end of the event.

The first tales published after Wilson’s death in 1835 were also written by a local Doctor from Coldingham, a Dr Carr so it somehow fitting this new presentation should also come from a doctor living in Coldingham.

The event is being jointly presented with the Berwick 900 project. Joe Lang is presently working or an update to Wilsons Tale “The Siege”, which deals with Edward 111′ s subsequent return and siege of the town, which will be presented in 2016 as part of the Berwick 900 project. Joe will give an update on his project and the 900 project generally.

Robert Wilkinson “interested in telling the Tale of Wilson himself”

We caught up with Robert Wilkinson, local playwright, after his succesful run at the Maltings with The Words in the Wires. Rob will be presenting his latest piece, an interpretation of The Lawyer’s Tale: Lord Kames’s Puzzle from Wilson’s Tales at Paxton House on Saturday. Tickets are available from the Maltings

The Wilson’s Tales Project (WT): Are you excited to perform at the Paxton Literary Festival?

Robert Wilkinson (RW)”Yes. And that’s not because my brain is hardwired to equivocate the word “festival” with “beer”.”

WT: Have you performed at Paxton House before?

RW: “Never. I don’t really perform all that much anymore. My memory is so lousy these days – can’t keep the lines in my head. I pretty much have to have them tattooed to the inside of my eyelids.”

WT: Anna Emmins, a.k.a Electric Penelope, said she was excited to see “Lord Kames’s Puzzle” because she says you are “a fabulous writer”. Are you excited to hear her song, “The Ballad of the World’s Vanity”?

RW: “I am deeply flattered that Anna would say such a thing and I’m a massive fan of Anna’s music. I heard a small sample of the song at her home and it sounded wonderful.”

WT: How are you getting on with “Lord Kames’s Puzzle”?

RW: “It took me a while to find out how to tell the story in a dramatically interesting way that would appeal to a modern audience. I had to rest it on the back-burner for a short while during the run up to The Words in the Wire but things are slotting together fine now.”

WT: How is “Lord Kames’s Puzzle” different from your other work?

RW: “I tend to write fairly romantically- swashbuckling aspirational idealistic characters who reach high and fall short… this story isn’t that at all- it’s very Hitchcock/Twilight Zone plot driven thriller. It’s a nice change of pace and a bit of a challenge.”

WT: Why did you decide to take on this challenge?

RW: “Simply, to see if I could. There’s always a danger that you can pigeonhole yourself as a writer. This was a way of finding a new string for my bow so-to-speak. I also rarely write with a set deadline. I’ve been spoiled in that all my other works have been held back until I think they’re ready… this time I didn’t have that luxury.”

WT: Would you be interested in doing more work for The Wilson’s Tales Project in the future?

RW: “I would be interested in telling the tale of Wilson himself. He has the feel of a modern historical bard. His tales would be told to the family brought together by the fireside on a Sunday evening. That’s a special thing and a heroic thing to do. To create something that brings people together is a very precious magic.”

Rob WIlkinson

WT: Have you read any of the Tales yourself (apart from “Lord Kames’s Puzzle” of course)?

RW: “Sadly not, I have been so busy working on several other projects that I rarely get the chance to read anymore. Reading was always a big passion for me. Thank God for bad ’80’s television or I may never have read a thing.”