Archives for October 2010

Sink your fangs into Scottish vampire fact and fiction

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Alistair Mooney Alistair Mooney | 12:24 UK time, Friday, 29 October 2010

Following on from his blog post about Charlie Higson's zombie invasion of BBC Scotland, Craig Jackson wrote for the Scottish Book Trust about the rise of the zombie. Now his attention turns to the dark, shadowy and immensely popular world of the vampire. How about engaging your students by connecting the vampire's tale to history, literature, science and perhaps surprisingly, Scotland...

If you've spent the last two decades resting in an open coffin or skulking along the stone passages of your dank ancestral crypt, surfacing only in the black of night in search of the blood of innocents, then it might be possible that you've missed the recent popularity explosion of vampires in popular culture. They have abandoned their gloomy castles and stepped into the limelight where some have begun to glitter.

Boy dressed as Dracula

From Anne Rice's An Interview with a Vampire to Bram Stoker's Dracula and of course Stephanie Meyer's huge Twilight series, vampires are everywhere. They're being played by huge Hollywood names like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise; girls want to go out with them; they're in our cartoons and video games - and some of them are even teaching our children to count.

But fiends that feed on the blood of others are by no means a new concept in Scotland.

In traditional Scottish mythology, the Baobhan sith is a creature that has the form of a beautiful woman, and seduces young men in order to attack them and drink their blood.

Meanwhile, in 12th century border country, the undead wanderings of a deceased townsman known as The Vampire of Berwick, was held to be the cause of numerous deaths (though the plague is a more likely explanation).

The Vampire of Melrose Abbey is the tale of an impious chaplain cursed to have no peace in death, and Blair Atholl is the setting for another story in which two unfortunate men were attacked by a creature that drank the blood of one of them before flying away ... Glamis Castle is also said to have played host to vampiric deeds carried out by a servant who, according to legend, was walled up alive in a secret chamber ...

In literary terms, Scotland has another vampiric claim to fame.

Emily Gerard, an author from Airdrie, was the first person to bring the word "nosferatu" or "vampire" into western European use. Gerard's interest in Transylvanian folklore came from her husband - an Austro-Hungarian chevalier, who was stationed in a small town there.

Her collection of Transylvanian myths and legends are known to have influenced Bram Stoker's classic 1897 novel Dracula.

Gerard may not have been Stoker's only Scottish inspiration though. The remote, imposing features of Slain's Castle in Aberdeenshire is said to have inspired Count Dracula's Transylvanian castle.

Dracula may not have been the first vampire novel, but it has become the most well-known and is undoubtedly responsible for bringing vampires to the masses. Stoker's original novel has sired countless works based on the Transylvanian count with portrayals from actors like Max Schrek, Béla Lugosi and later Christopher Lee that have led to a cult following. The survival of the vampire in the horror genre appears secure for many years to come.

Christopher Lee and Béla Lugosi dressed as Dracula

Back in the 1950s, the lore of the vampire manifested itself in Scotland's largest city where the lines of fiction and real life for a while became surreally blurred in the minds of the young. Hundreds of children, armed with sharpened sticks and knives, gathered in the Glasgow Necropolis in an attempt to seek out and destroy a vampire who was said to have iron teeth and to have killed and eaten two children in the Gorbals area of the city. At the time the immediate blame was aimed at the horror comic books from America such as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror which were becoming popular among the youngsters of the time. You can hear more about the Gorbals Vampire on Radio Scotland and Radio 4 on Sunday, 31st October.

With Halloween on its way, here's my personal top 10 favourite vampires...

  1. Dracula Vampiric Royalty. The only way to fully experience Count Dracula is by reading the book.
  2. Count Orlok (Nosferatu) An irresistibly creepy take on the Transylvanian Count
  3. Elizabeth Báthory A real life Hungarian Countess, with some very bizarre bathing habits.
  4. Count Duckula A vegetarian vampire before it was cool.
  5. Louis de Pointe du Lac (The Vampire Chronicles) Conflicted and personable ... A complex character, well portrayed by Brad Pitt.
  6. Barnabas Collins (Dark Shadows) Johnny Depp wanted to be this vampire when he was a child. Understandable.
  7. Lucy Westenra (Dracula) Beautiful, sweet and innocent ... turned terrifying and deliciously seductive.
  8. The Count (Sesame Street) What age was I when I was first introduced to Vampires? One... two...three! Three years! Ah ah ah!
  9. Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Selfish and sadistic. But you just can't help cheering him on.
  10. Max (The Lost Boys) Just the kind of person you don't want to date your relatives.

Have I missed anyone? Have a fangtastic Halloween!

Classical music with youth appeal

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Alistair Mooney Alistair Mooney | 14:28 UK time, Wednesday, 27 October 2010

So how do you get young people to appreciate classical music, and get them along to live concerts? Some suggest dropping all the silly conventions. Others suggest beer. Like writer and broadcaster Tom Service in this video about reaching new audiences, I suggest exposure and education. So how about trying the following clips as an accessible route in to the supposedly scary, mysterious world. Producer Gerald Strother went on a musical learning journey himself, from a starting point of not really knowing his Chopin from his Chopsticks...

'I saw orchestras when I was younger, they didn't have any great fascination for me ... I remember always finding it quite difficult to stay awake...'

This is how Stuart Murdoch from indie pop combo Belle & Sebastian described his youthful forays into orchestral music. He pretty accurately nailed my own personal experience.

To be fair, Stuart then went on to say that being exposed to orchestras as a child did sow some seeds in his brain and that as he grew so did his fascination for them. A growth I can't echo, I'm afraid to say.

It's not that I actively disliked orchestral music, it's just that as a youngster it didn't grab me in the same way that the ever available pop music did. As I grew up and began to really open my mind, musically speaking, there seemed like a natural path through early rock n roll, punk, blues, soul and it even took me quite naturally into electronic music and rap. However, I never saw a turning in the path which might take me to orchestral music. My beginning and end point with the classics tended to be through TV adverts and it was always the same stuff. To get beyond there - where do you begin? There's just so much of it. To me it was like turning up at a national library and telling them you wanted to read a book.

And that was how I continued to feel about orchestral music, until late last year when I was asked if I would produce and direct Talking Music, a series of four programmes which were to look at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and some of its collaborators.

Amy Cardigan and some of the first violins of the BBC SSO

Amy Cardigan and some of the first violins of the BBC SSO

To say I was nervous embarking on the series is an understatement. Luckily for me though, the Executive Producer I worked with was not only very experienced in arts programmes but also someone who just loved orchestral music and was eager to share his knowledge.

As the production progressed and developed I began to speak to more people involved with the orchestra who were happy to give me pointers of what I might like, suggest seminal recordings, offer bits of background info and generally give me a few points of reference to work from. Heck, I even started listening to Radio 3 for inspiration and discovered a piece of music by Arvo Part, Spiegel im Spiegel, which I would now proudly make part of my Desert Island Disc playlist (I think it would sit right fine next to Prince, the Afghan Whigs and the Rolling Stones).

Nicola Benedetti celebrates a performance with the BBC SSO

Nicola Benedetti celebrates a performance with the BBC SSO

There were lots of other gems I discovered along the way, and many of them appear in the series. For example, James MacMillan's The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, Elgar's Symphony No 1, Reynaldo Hahn's beautiful À Chloris and an absolutely enchanting rendition of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' Farewell to Stromness, performed by the Caliban Quartet of bassoonists.

If you head over to the Talking Music programme page then you can see films about Master of the Queen's Music Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Aberdonian Soprano Lisa Milne, violin virtuoso Nicola Benedetti, Chief Conductor of the BBC SSO Donald Runnicles and a good number of others. Not to mention Stuart Murdoch who talks about his God Help the Girl orchestral pop project.

I'll bet his 10 year old self wouldn't have seen that one coming.

God Help the Girl play with the BBC SSO as part of the History of Scotland concert

God Help the Girl play with the BBC SSO as part of the History of Scotland concert

Clips from the Talking Music programmes have been added to our collection at Learning Zone Scotland and can be shared and embedded in blogs or other sites from the following page:

School radio on the go

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Alistair Mooney Alistair Mooney | 16:16 UK time, Monday, 25 October 2010

Richard Bull pops by the blog to tell you how to get your hands on BBC podcasts for Scottish primary schools...

Do you remember listening to the radio when you were at school? Did you hop, skip and jump to a music-and-movement programme? Or perhaps doze off in an overheated classroom while a resonant voice intoned endlessly about the industrial revolution?

In the past radio was used routinely in the classroom. So why isn't it still?

Audio is an ideal medium for classroom use. It's simple to use, and whereas watching TV can be a slumped, passive experience, listening to the radio demands an active mind and a lively imagination. Good programmes will stimulate listeners and spin off into discussion and activities.

BBC Scotland has never stopped making radio programmes for primary schools, but we've been looking at the best way to deliver these programmes to our audience. And that's why, for the first time, Scottish school radio programmes are now being made available as podcasts.

There are two regular podcasts, corresponding with Curriculum for Excellence learning stages.

Scottish Learners Early/1st Level will deliver all our programmes for young children in the Early and First stages. Available now and in the coming weeks will be a series of Nina and the Neurons about everyday inventions, SoundStory which is a radio programme without words, and the PE resource Movement First!

Scottish Learners 2nd Level will include the Financial Education resource Money-Go-Round, Landscapes/Soundscapes which explores various locations in Scotland, and Boys + Girls, a series of plays which address issues of growing up, relationships and transition.

Each podcast is available to download for 30 days. In addition to the podcasts, each programme has its own page, and in the weeks ahead we'll be adding audio and information to these pages, so that the programmes will remain an accessible and useful resource.

I'll write more soon about the radio programmes that we're making, and - crucially - about how we want to get you making radio programmes too. But for now my message to primary teachers is: Download! Subscribe! And let's get radio back into the classroom!

For those unfamiliar with the rules of podcasting, the BBC provides good help pages.

And if you want more, most of the programmes made by our Learning colleagues in England are also available as podcasts.

A personal war story

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Alistair Mooney Alistair Mooney | 18:36 UK time, Friday, 22 October 2010

Making something feel 'real' is half the battle with history lessons, and we've really tried to help teachers do that with our Thirty Nine 45 website. Producer Neil Scott reflects on how a personal story inspired him to unearth and piece together fragments of evidence for the website, revealing the realities of war. A story that goes back to the 6th of August 1942, just after 10.30pm, when the east coast of Scotland was attacked by three Luftwaffe planes...

I first heard about this bombing as a child, some 40 years ago. Last year I heard it again as my own son interviewed his granny for a school project about her war time experiences.

By 1942 my mother, aged ten, had just spent the best part of four years as an evacuee on a farm near Lockerbie. That summer her evacuation was brought to an end by her parents and she returned to Glasgow. Once home she was greeted with the thrilling news that her parents were immediately re-establishing their traditional holiday to the Fife coast.

For three days the holiday in St Andrews was the blissful treat it was intended to be. Within the safe boundary of the famous step rock pool my mother was taught to swim. Another family, met sitting at the pool side, was befriended and my mother's rubber ring (a precious commodity after four years of U-boat blockades) was happily shared with their own little girl. Then, one Thursday night the Luftwaffe attacked and the delicate fabric of normality that these families were trying to draw around themselves was blown away by four high explosive bombs. Fourteen people that I know of died as a result of these bombs. Amongst them was the little girl that had shared my mother's rubber ring.

As I sat watching my son listening to this story for the first time I realised that as an adult I needed to know more. I wanted to explore what could be found out about this raid today. Obviously there would be newspaper reports that I could follow up and records of fatalities that might help me trace other families caught up in it. There must be some official documentation as well. I wanted to know what the intended target in St Andrews had been that night. It certainly would not have been the boarding houses in Nelson Street that were obliterated. I also wanted to find out if there had been an RAF response to the raid.

Through my research, and really ever since these questions popped into my head, I've felt a growing sense of responsibility for this moment from WWII. So has my son. He has been delighted to see his primary school project taken on by BBC Scotland and grown into something a bit bigger than he initially imagined! Coincidentally this is exactly the strategy that the new curriculum in Scotland is actively encouraging young learners and teachers to adopt. The belief is that by starting with the personal or local historical context a relevancy for learning has more chance of taking hold of the imagination and stimulating curiosity in the learner. Teachers have always known this, as have grandparents and the new curriculum is simply formalising a trusted and very natural process of learning.

If relevancy is important for learners then the study of World War Two 1939 -1945 can't escape the test. The question "why do I have to learn about this?" absolutely needs to be answered. So how does this 1942 attack on the east coast of Scotland stand that test? Well one use might be to consider the wider impact crater of the term "collateral damage". When our leaders and military commanders report incidents of collateral damage it's hard to get much understanding beyond the 30 second news report. In studying the collateral damage that occurred in St Andrews (a term only used since the late 1980s) I was much struck by just how much the pain and sense of pointless loss still affected the family members I met. Their generosity in providing us with interviews, letters of condolence and photographs from their private archives will give learners an opportunity to see how the repercussions of these bombs dropped almost 70 years ago are still with us. Can we believe that bombs causing collateral damage in Afghanistan will cause any less of a lasting impact for those families affected? Well that's one possible use. I'm hopeful that if you decide to use the content you will find many more.

Birth of a superquango

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Seonag Mackinnon Seonag Mackinnon | 16:29 UK time, Monday, 18 October 2010

Given the scale of quango scrapping south of the border, the proposed merger of two Scottish government education agencies arguably is more reminiscent of a wee camp fire rather than a bonfire of the quangos.

But the announcement by Mike Russell the education secretary of a marriage between HM Inspectorate of Education and Learning and Teaching Scotland which produces information and resources for schools, has undoubtedly created a little heat in Scottish education.

Unusually there has been no apparent consultation with interested parties such as the teaching unions and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. And these parties didn't appear to receive the usual private heads-up of a significant speech and press release from Mr Russell.

Hostile responses could of course amount to pique or that well known Scottish phenomenon: "It wisnae my idea so I'm agin it."

There is after all much to commend the plan. On the face of it cohabitation should as Mr Russell says, cut red tape and enable freed resources "to go to the frontline". (War zone vocabulary is arguably a brave choice by an education minister as one of his predecessors often maintained that the media's reporting of classroom indiscipline conjured up an impression of Beirut streets in the Seventies.)

However there's concern that the creation from the merger of one ginormous body, the Scottish Education Quality and Improvement Agency, will strengthen the control of government ministers over what happens in the classroom.

Privately there's concern that inspectors will be unlikely to attribute problems e.g. concerning implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence on the materials and guidance offered by their own agency. Teachers suspect they will be in the line of fire for the bulk of any blame for problems.

Already teachers and local councils resent reports from HMIe partly because it is not known for blaming problems on government policy. For example, many a modern languages teacher felt that discipline problems in certain classes were directly linked to the national policy that prevailed for many years of requiring all pupils to study a modern language even if they were barely literate in English.

Following the new merger HMIe will be no more independent of the Scottish government than it is now. The EIS teaching union points out that despite reconfiguration and scrapping of many quangos in England, the inspectorate there, Ofsted, will retain the independence it has long enjoyed. As Ofsted is answerable to Parliament not the education minister of the day it is - on paper at least - free to speak out honestly.

Speaking out - there's a thought. How on earth are we going to refer to this mouthful of a new agency - Scottish Education Quality and Improvement Agency. Sekia? Sequeea? Sekeyea? Answers on the usual postcard please.

Higher education: fee or free for all?

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Seonag Mackinnon Seonag Mackinnon | 09:33 UK time, Thursday, 14 October 2010

Depending on their mood, lecturers smile or grimace when they overhear some students discussing gatherings in restaurants and skiing trips to Chamonix.

St Andrews taxi drivers derive some of their income from students in residences a 15 minute walk from the city centre.

A minority of students are undoubtedly more affluent than their lecturers. Families used to paying around £10,000 a year for day school fees or around £26,000 for boarding school, suddenly find they are paying nothing at all.

So, privately, many university staff wonder if the policy in Scotland of universal free higher education is really as laudable as it sounds. The other big topic to ponder is whether it can really be sustained in an era of public spending cuts and escalating fees south of the border.

At the same time, students who genuinely are on the breadline have access to grants and loans considerably smaller than they are in England. Many believe this is one reason the drop-out rate is higher in Scotland. And it may go some way to explain why fewer students here come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

While few have an appetite for any kind of charges coming to Scotland, there may be some who would prefer to have more maintenance money while they are struggling students, even if it meant paying charges when they have graduated and see salary cheques coming in.

So far, so logical. But when did logic ever have anything to do with our feelings? For many the concept of a price tag on higher education will always be deeply offensive. At a seminar this week on higher education spending run by the David Hume Institute in Scotland, there was undisguised revulsion in the voice of a member of the audience describing the prospect of thousands of young people starting their careers mired in thousands of pounds in debt.

Guest speaker Professor Neil Shepherd, an economist from Oxford University, gave an interesting reply. He urged us to think not just of the predicament of those who go to university - but also of those who don't.

If Scottish universities don't find a new source of funding he said, there will undoubtedly be rationing of student numbers. The professor then highlighted the fate of his own father, who he said had a higher IQ than he did but didn't get the chance to go to university - as numbers were rationed then.

Read more as Scotland eyes Browne review on student fees.

World Class want Scottish schools to 'Twin for 2012'

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Alistair Mooney Alistair Mooney | 09:52 UK time, Monday, 11 October 2010

BBC World Class is an initiative bringing the benefits of international school linking to schools across the UK. Emma Till puts the call out for Scottish schools to take part in their latest major themed event...

The BBC has teamed up with the British Council to find dozens of primary and secondary schools across the UK to twin with schools all over the world and take part in a special project in the run-up to the London Olympics.

The Olympic Dreams School Search launched early on a sunny September morning on BBC Breakfast from Park House Secondary School in Berkshire . From 5am pupils were trampolining, hurdling, astounding us with their back flips and showing Matthew Pinsent and Kate Silverton how their school has already reaped the benefits of school partnerships. Kate also took up the trampolining challenge on live TV.

Pupils running at St Mary's school in London

Over 800 schools have signed up already but we are looking for even more Scottish schools who are excited by the Olympics and want to link up with schools in the UK and around the world attended by World Olympic Dreams athletes. We want more schools to see for themselves how school partnerships can enrich the curriculum, motivate and broaden students' horizons. The competition closes on 31 October so now really is the time to get involved and 'Twin for 2012'.

Over the next two years winning schools and their partners will follow the Olympic athlete's stories. The BBC and the British Council will support the partnerships and encourage pupils to share creative work inspired by the 2012 Olympics with the organisations' global audiences.

To spark a global conversation between schools, we're looking for partners for schools including those attended by sprinting superstar Usain Bolt in rural Jamaica and female Indian boxing sensation MC Mary Kom's schools in India. Luol Deng is an NBA and GB basketball star who was born in southern Sudan and went to school in London. We went to meet the students at St Mary's in Croydon and they told us that they would love to link up with a school in Scotland and beat them at basketball!

Pupils at William Knibb High School

Our athlete's schools are all looking forward to starting the journey to 2012 with their partners and meeting teacher and pupils at an event in London early next year.

How can your school take part?

Register your school's interest and you will then be given a unique log-in by the British Council team. All competition entries will be uploaded to a special section of the British Council's Connecting Classrooms Online Community.

Together, teachers and pupils respond to the following:

WORLD We want teachers to tell us why their school wants to twin and to send us questions from the pupils that they would like another school to answer.

OLYMPIC We want teachers to tell us what the Olympic Games mean to their school and to send us questions that their pupils would like to ask Olympic athletes.

DREAMS We want teachers to tell us about the aspirations of their pupils, and to send us creative work from pupils sharing their hopes and dreams.

For those who don't 'win' there will still be the opportunity to twin, as a 2012 twin school will be offered to every school that enters the competition.

Remember, the competition closes on 31 October - now is the time to get involved!

Zombie invasion of Pacific Quay

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Alistair Mooney Alistair Mooney | 16:04 UK time, Friday, 8 October 2010

We sent the biggest and bravest Web Assistant we could find to record some workplace disturbances that took place yesterday. Take it away, Craig Jackson...

On Thursday the 7th of October 2010, BBC Scotland found itself host to a vast horde of the undead. At approximately 11:00, zombies began to pour through the front doors and ascend the main stairwell - crawling, lumbering, grunting and groaning. With a single compulsion driving their decaying bodies forward - the desire for fresh brains. Not just any old brains though, specifically the brains of author/comedian Charlie Higson.

School children dressed as zombies

It shall surely come as no surprise then, that the unfolding of these grisly events just so happened to coincide with the fourth Authors Live webcast and that the legion of zombies in question were in fact pupils from Hamilton Grammar and Airdrie Academy who had, in the spirit of Halloween, covered themselves in fake blood, white makeup and torn clothing.

Charlie spent his time talking to the children about his experiences as a writer, his experiences as a writer of horror and of course, zombies! He also read from his latest book The Dead and answered questions from high school pupils from across Scotland. You can watch it all in nifty highlights.

What is it about zombies that such a vast number of people worldwide find so fantastic?Check out their rise to pop culture - in recent times we have seen them on television, film, board games, video games, radio, magazine, books and we have even enjoyed choreographed zombies dancing along to our most popular music. In the session, Mr Higson highlighted that one good reason zombies are really scary is because "they are us". Certainly they were once very much like us, and even in form they still greatly resemble us.

Zombies induce tears and provoke laughter, they also encourage very passionate debates among fans - Night of the Living Dead style slow zombies or 28 Days Later quick sprinting modern zombies? Mr Higson's preference (and mine too!) is the good old fashioned slow and lumbering ones by the way!

So with Halloween approaching, and thoughts turning to creative costumes, perhaps we'll see a winner in the popularity battle between vampires and zombies. Take some inspiration from this event, be it in your writing or in your imagination and let a little fright in your life.

Charlie Higson surrounded by school children dressed as zombies.

Broadcasting with the Book Trust

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Alistair Mooney Alistair Mooney | 09:32 UK time, Thursday, 7 October 2010

Back in the summer (remember that?), I wrote a blog post for the Scottish Book Trust website about our writers event with Michael Morpurgo. Well, today sees the next author in the series take his turn - step up Charlie Higson. We asked Heather Collins for her take on the whole Authors Live experience.

As part of Scottish Book Trust's children's team I get to help organise and attend a lot of excellent children's book events. They normally consist of an author, some members of Scottish Book Trust staff and a few hundred children. Even the smaller sessions are fun and it's the variety of events that we do which make the job so interesting.

However, not being content with seeing around 10,000 children a year in schools and theatres around Scotland, we decided to think bigger. In partnership with BBC Learning Scotland we've started filming the biggest and best names in children's fiction at the BBC and broadcasting the events live over the internet to hundreds of thousands of children UK wide. This is Authors Live!

So how does it all work? Take one amazing children's author, get them to the BBC, invite a studio audience of school children, set up a few cameras, enlist the help of some technical wizards from the BBC and make sure you let people around the UK know when to sit in front of their computers or whiteboards to tune-in live *deep breath!*. Saying it like that makes it sound relatively simple but watching an event take shape from beginning to end is very exciting and takes lots of hard work from many different people. The Scottish Book Trust children's team is made up of 4 people but the team at the BBC is much bigger, each person doing a very specific task. There are producers, camera men, photographers, runners and most importantly, lots of techy people who do complicated techy things (we don't ask - we just leave them to it). I think the rest of my team would agree that it's great to get out of our office and work in a very different way.

So far we've had events with Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson and our most recent event was with the incredible Michael Morpurgo in June.

Michael Rosen, Michael Morpurgo, Julia Donaldson

To see such a prominent author speaking live must be one of the most exciting things a reader can do. To learn their secrets, their methods, ask them questions even though you're hundreds of miles away, hear them read their work - it doesn't get more inspiring than that! I'm sure I'm not the only person who sits there thinking, 'YES! I too can to write a novel!'

I'm incredibly excited about today's event with Charlie Higson - already anticipating the buzz before the rehearsals start, the audience are seated, and Janice Forsyth (our amazing chair) gets us warmed up.

And it doesn't stop today - our events continue with Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson, and Eoin Colfer. I have no doubt they will be just as brilliant to watch. Seeing an author event never gets old, I know I'm incredibly fortunate that I get to do it for a living.

My favourite bit about the Authors Live programme though, is to be sitting at the edge of the studio space watching 30 children waving down the camera to many thousands of children who are watching at the same time (I like to think they're all waving back). Technology is incredible, and to put it to such fantastic use is something which makes everyone involved very proud.

Watch all of the events and find out more about the programme at the Authors Live website.

Weighing up the case for three year uni degrees

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Seonag Mackinnon Seonag Mackinnon | 10:38 UK time, Monday, 4 October 2010

English critics call it getting off Scot Free. No university charges here.

The concept of charging is anathema to many, particularly in Scotland. But university leaders are concerned that because of that we'll end up with poor relation campuses, and few superstar professors. All that and obsolete lab facilities.

I may have exaggerated there but you get the picture. There's concern, with perhaps an element of shroud waving, that Scottish universities will dwindle into second rate institutions. Why? Because the Browne review due out around October 11 is expected to recommend for England tuition fees of up to £7,000 a year - and possibly nae cap at all.

Assuming the Treasury lets unis keep a large part of that money, the cash-strapped Scottish government would have problems trying to match that money for Scottish institutions.

As Hugh Henry MSP reminds us, university principals earn sums approaching £250,000 a year. Anyone seen any sign of them turning out their pockets? Ah well, in any case that couldn't in itself solve the potential funding gap.

Mike Russell the education secretary has been slow off the blocks in engaging in public debate over potentially hard-up unis. He's ruled out upfront tuition fees while students are still on campus struggling to pay for books and baked beans. Arguably not a dramatic statement as no political party or principal is calling for upfront fees. Even in England payment is usually after graduation when people are earning salaries.

In the last few days however Mr Russell has sent a tremor through ivory towers by floating the idea - not of a new income stream from graduates - but of efficiency savings in existing education budgets. He's resurrected the idea of three year degrees in Scotland. That would mean more students with Advanced Highers or A levels or college qualifications going straight into second year of university. As it is the taxpayer pays for young Scots to do AHs in their sixth year of school, then they repeat the work in first year uni.

Around 6,000 students a year, mainly in science faculties, are already going straight into second year. If there were a wholesale shift it would mean cost savings with fewer university classes to run and less money spent providing bursaries and cheap student loans. And savings for individual students too, as they or their Mas and Pas, would have one less year of rent, food, utility bills and beer to pay. A further plus - a potential cut in the high drop-out rate from Advanced Higher classes which are expensive to run.

But a move towards three year degrees could mean a horrible erosion in the number of university staff jobs. And what chance many more pupils will take Advanced Highers? With the tight squeeze on public spending schools are finding it ever more difficult to justify staffing these classes which may have no more than six pupils.

Could it be the idea of three year degrees may sink beneath the waves again?

BBC Blast - another successful tour in Scotland

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Alistair Mooney Alistair Mooney | 16:38 UK time, Friday, 1 October 2010

For the last six months Emma McDonald has been working on Blast, the BBC youth project which delivers free creative workshops for teens all over the UK and Northern Ireland. As the regional Events Organiser for workshop tours in Scotland, we asked her to share some of her experiences and highlight some of the content produced by Scotland's creative young talent at the events in Ayr and Perth.

For the first few months after creating the workshop schedule, I worked in close partnership with local Ayrshire and Perthshire councils and the Perth 800 arts project to reach the intended teen audience. With several marketing and promotional activities rolled out, both myself and my team of work experience crew worked really hard at engaging with the teens of each town.

Our hard work paid off and both events were packed full of 13-19 year olds. Some were shy and reluctant, so needed just that extra wee push to get their creative juices flowing. And some were just bursting with creative energy - they could have given some media experts a good run for their money.

It was a fantastic feeling seeing all the workshops come to life, having spent months tweaking the arrangements on bits of paper, to then watch young talent actually make their radio show, write their first song, turn humans into zombies through special effects make-up or write a screenplay; made my job overwhelmingly worthwhile - on several occasions I felt like a proud mum!

Boy made-up as a zombie, kilts in the crowds, and three girls wearing clothes made in a fashion workshop

We were much impressed by one enthusiastic group of teens who currently run the Fife Youth Radio charity station, travelling all the way down to London to take part in radio workshop as the Scottish radio workshops were full. Such enthusiasm was rewarded with an invitation to Perth for a whole workshop dedicated to them to run their own live radio show. Their presence on the tours was simply fantastic, a very creative and professional crowd for such a young age - well done Ricky!

Here is some content produced on the workshop tour in Ayr and Perth.

Perth teens make a film in a day...

Students in Ayr made this podcast during a radio production workshop...

Right from the beginning I knew that Blast was going to be great fun to work on. From the long days, the masses amount of call sheets, to the rain on the BAT Van days, it's been challenging and hard work but hey, that's life and that's Blast. And it's definitely been worth it. I have learned so much about myself and about the BBC but most importantly I have learned how to deal with such a challenging audience. And to never underestimate the highly creative minds of teenagers, as well as their wicked sense of humour!

This is Blast's last year as a BBC project; I'm simply chuffed to have been a part of it. It's been... awesome.

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