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Dynamic duo in a new adventure

Denyse Presley talks to two women who have been a major driving force behind the Scottish Book Trust and are now striking out on their own.

News that the executive director and deputy executive director of the Scottish Book Trust were leaving at the end of May after 11 years was met with puzzlement and some alarm in the world of literature. What would happen to the organisation without Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross?

The pair arrived at the Scottish Book Trust in 1991 within six months of each other. Ms Fraser came with a background in bookselling while Ms Ross had taught secondary English and came directly from managing the children's programme of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Their predecessor, Mary Baxter, had pioneered promotional book events in libraries and bookshops and by the time the two newcomers arrived, readings at shops such as Waterstone's were well established and it was time to take the book trust in a new direction. The pair went on to develop outreach programmes which have benefitted schools and libraries all over Scotland.

The book trust now organises in-service training for teachers and librarians and children's workshops. It produces the termly magazine Shelflife to recommend and encourage ways into reading. Other publications include Beginning with Books, for parents reading with children from an early age, and Radical Reading for teenagers.

It also runs Words on Wheels, an authors' tour bus sponsored by Scottish Friendly Assurance, and the Writers in Scotland scheme, which provides a directory of writers available for events in schools and libraries and, sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council, pays half the author's fees. It administers a number of prizes, including the Blue Peter Book Awards, too.

Ms Fraser and Ms Ross felt their roles were becoming increasingly administrative. "I suppose we were both looking at ways of moving our careers forward and doing the things we think we're particularly good at," says Ms Fraser.

They want to develop training for librarians and teachers. "That was the sort of thing we ended up doing between the hours of 6pm and 2am because there wasn't time to do it within the day at the Scottish Book Trust," says Ms Fraser.

"We've worked with a lot of librarians individually and we feel we could develop that and also work with library authorities and do things that way," explains Ms Ross.

"And we want to continue working with children, Primary 1s right up to Secondary 6s."

They will continue their readership development work most likely in partnership with an organisation such as the SAC or the book trust, but they do not intend to replicate the book trust's work.

They are also starting a literary agency and, although based in Edinburgh, are not looking to sign up just Scottish writers. They have some experience: they are known in the London publishing scene, having done much to raise the profile of Scottish writers. And already they are in talks with potential clients.

"Most of the established writers are well agented so it's going to be the new writers who are going to think about getting an agent," says Ms Fraser.

While daunted by the challenge of balancing this work as it grows with their readership development work, they are also excited by it.

"There are all sorts of possibilities," says Ms Ross.

They are leaving the Scottish Book Trust on an even keel, with literarature development administrator Amanda Liddle managing the Writers in Schools scheme.

Chairman Richard Holloway adds that they may remain in a consultancy capacity, at least until the organisation redefines itself.

They are also honouring other commitments, so the Edinburgh International Book Festival's outreach programme will be handled by them this year.

While still supportive of the book trust, Ms Fraser and Ms Ross wanted to let others take it into the future. Fresh energy was needed to continuously come up with the ideas needed to secure funding. National Poetry Day in October, for example, is a huge project where impetus and imagination is required to get sponsorship for the schools' poetry competition. This year it has been supported by TES Scotland, which featured a poetry writing guide for teachers by the poet John Rice (April 19 issue). The idea sparked 1,500 entries.

As part of the book trust's pound;125,000 National Lottery advancement programme, it carried out an audit and decided that fundraising expertise was paramount. A chief executive post, with business and financial skills as primary requirements, has now been advertised.

The book trust is planning a number of new schemes, including a family reading bookplates project featuring Scottish illustrators, to start this autumn, and a social inclusion programme, for which Scottish Executive funding is available.

Scottish Book Trust, tel 0131 229 3663; www.scottishbooktrust.comFraser Ross Associates, tel 0131 553 2759

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