A word in your lugs

22nd May 2009 at 01:00
It's international, it's local and it's out of this world with riddles in Scots and the Cosmic Dome

There is a strong Scottish flavour at the University of Aberdeen's Word Festival - the McHaggis clan has its own version of the Homecoming, with a reunion in Coorie Doon for an audience of nursery children. And the schools and children's festival kicks off with a two-hour workshop on creative writing in Scots, led by writer and teacher Matthew Fitt.

Later, an international highlight will be a discussion on The Rise of Manga, with Manga artist Chie Kutsuwada and Emma Hayley of Self Made Hero, publishers of the cult series Manga Shakespeare.

As the mercury rises to an unprecedented 12.5C for Aberdeen, Mr Fitt begins his workshop outside on the lawns in front of Elphinstone Hall. This is Curriculum for Excellence at its best, because the S2s from Aberdeen Grammar can combine linguistics with a biology lesson, watching an early-morning student mating ritual on a bench behind him. Like all teachers, Mr Fitt has eyes in the back of his head and soon traipses us all inside. As well as teaching, he is co-founder of the imprint Itchy Coo which, as its website says, publishes "braw books for bairns o aw ages".

Mr Fitt is passionate about Scots and returns to the biology theme by getting us to point to "oor een", "oor lugs" and "oor oxters". We conclude this interactive guide to parts of the body in Scots by "giein' oorselves a guid skelp on the bahookey".

More than 2,000 children come to Word at the King's College campus. The university principal, Duncan Rice, is proud of the event which has grown enormously since its launch in 1999. "Like the university itself, the festival is true to its Scottish roots but international in its outlook," he says.

Highlights include appearances by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, crime novelist Christopher Brookmyre, Joan Bakewell launching her first novel, and Irish writer John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, introducing his latest novel. For schools, there are readings by author of the bestselling Gussie series Ann Kelley and workshops on character creation by James Jauncey. There is storytelling at a teddy bear's picnic and you can learn how to be a radio presenter aboard the multi-coloured Reading Bus.

Festival co-ordinator Karen Scaife says: "What we tried to do this year was work with our partners in the city and shire education teams to look at the curriculum to see which areas we could start to build on.

"One event is Cosmic Dome, which is coming with TechFest - a big, inflatable dome where the children can look at the planets. That's in line with the university's new science engagement strategy. We're also trying to broaden our age groups, so this year we've tried to do more events for secondary and nursery schools," she says.

Back inside with Mr Fitt, the second years are enjoying solving topical riddles in Scots. "I am fae a wee toun in the hert o Scotland. It's no a bonnie place and there's folk oot there that say I'm no aa that bonnie either. I ken I'm nae ile-pentin but fa cares aboot that? Naebody kent fa I wis until aboot twa or three weeks ago, but noo the hail warld kens fa I am. I'm mibbe naethin special tae look at, but it turns oot I'm a no bad sangster. Fa am I?"

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