Aye Write: Prof Dame Sue Black ‘The Books that Made Me

prof-dame-sue-black ^
Review by Mary Irvine

A near-full Main Auditorium of the Mitchell library enthusiastically greeted a very popular speaker who was to be interviewed by broadcaster Clare English on the six books that have played a significant part in the life of Professor Sue Black.

Sue also has a very long list of other titles and honours as well as a most impressive C.V. Well worth ‘looking her up’. Despite this ‘academia’ Sue Black was a person to whom one instantly warmed. Speaking in a relaxed, almost ‘chatty’ manner and revealing an ebullient sense of humour – you felt she was speaking to each individual present.

A much more serious side emerged when she referred to her work as a forensic anthropologist. She has a high reputation around the world for her work in war crimes as well as being valued at home for her work with police forces. Even writers of crime novels  consult her to check on the authenticity of her work.

The Books

‘The Hills is Lonely’ by Lillian Beckworth (available in paperback at £7.94)

Sue described her first book as one of gentle humour, the author writing of her time when convalescing on a remote Hebridean island. She described it as reminding of of her grandmother and a lost life-style which allowed freedom and was character building.

‘Poetical Works of Robert Burns’ (Kilmarnock Edition)

Her second choice was actually a book belonging to her father, containing an inscription that indicated it was a gift, but from whom she never discovered. Confessing she was not a Burns’ fan she admitted to learning the whole of Tam O’Shanter – to increase her power of memory. It stood her in good stead as she won a school Burns’ prize by being able to recite the poem in its entirety. To everyone’s delight she recited a goodly hunk of it.

Charles Dickens

Third choice was an author, Dickens. He was described as a good story teller whose books were multi-layered. In particular she commented on his ability to choose appropriate names for people, names which usually captured an aspect of the person. The particular book chosen was ‘Bleak House’ which gave Sue the opportunity to let everyone know exactly what she thought of lawyers, much of which caused great laughter.

all that remains

‘All that Remains: a life in death’

The next book was her memoir which was a long time in the coming. It included stories about her three daughters. She claimed each only read the parts about themselves. Sue also confided there were parts she now regretted including but didn’t specify which they were. This book won the Saltire Book of the Year Award 2018 for non-fiction.

Grey’s Anatomy (36th edition)

A huge tome we were only shown a facsimile of its cover. As anatomy looms large in the Professor’s work this must be akin to a ‘bible’. Here we were regaled with some of the ‘training’ of potential forensic anthropologists including having their own personal cadaver to dissect – slowly, over a year! Commenting that this could be a daunting task for  some we did learn that working in a butcher’s shop during her teenage years helped her somewhat. Sue was very emphatic that in all her career, bodies, in whatever state, were always treated with respect. Lawyers again came into the equation as Sue alluded to being the expert witness in court cases with potential clashes. ‘Lawyers see things in black and white. I deal in probabilities.’ She summed up her work as ‘Find, analyse, present the evidence.’ This book won the CWA Dagger Gold Dagger for non-fiction

‘Waiting for the Last Bus: Reflections on Life and Death by Richard Holloway – Paperback £7.99 Kindle Edition £5.69  

waiting for last bus                                                             

Professor Black was full of praise for this book and the author. She made it clear both now, and when she was awarded the Saltire prize, that it should have gone to this author. She spoke of his amazing brain and erudition but also referred to his ‘naughty’ sense of humour.

It was great event, enjoyed by all present. Do check out Sue’s latest books – you’ll be ‘hooked’. I was.

‘All That Remains: A Life in Death’ (published Doubleday)

Paperback £9.34 Kindle 0. 99p

Written In Bone: hidden stories in what we leave behind’ (published ) Paperback  £8.49, Kindle 0.99p

All book prices quoted from Amazon and are correct at the time of writing. Other outlets may be available.

Mary Irvine, Aye Write, May, 2022

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This section: Aye Write Book Festival 2022, Book and Event Reviews, Mary Irvine: Writer and Philhellene, Pat's Home Page Blog, Writing

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