Deal­ing with death

Dark dis­cus­sion planned forWig­town Book Fes­ti­val

The Galloway News - - THE WEEKEND TICKET -

An ag­nos­tic bishop, a sci­en­tist and an ex- athe­ist with a fas­ci­na­tion for a cler­i­cal killer will be ex­plor­ing the many faces of death at Wig­town Book Fes­ti­val.

For­mer Bishop of Ed­in­burgh Richard Hol­loway, foren­sic an­thro­pol­o­gist Pro­fes­sor Dame Sue Black and lit­er­ary critic Stu­art Kelly will dis­cuss the one fate that awaits everyone.

Black’s new book All That Re­mains is the work of some­one who has spent her ca­reer restor­ing iden­ti­ties to the dead – in­clud­ing the vic­tims of mas­sacres in Kosovo whose killers made de­ter­mined ef­forts to hide their crimes.

In other cases she has helped ar­chae­ol­o­gists un­der­stand the life­styles of peo­ple from many cen­turies ago.

Black said: “Death has many faces but its com­mon­al­ity is some­thing that ex­ists across all hu­man­ity and all time.

“When we are look­ing at some­thing from the dis­tant past, like the me­dieval skele­tons dis­cov­ered at Stir­ling Cas­tle, it’s about peo­ple who have been for­got­ten due to the pas­sage of time. So we are try­ing to find out what they might have looked like, what they might have done and how they lived.”

Black, whose fa­ther played the piano in their lo­cal kirk on Sun­days, re­vealed that the book was partly brought about by see­ing how her fa­ther’s Alzheimer’s dam­aged his mem­ory, lead­ing to the loss of his sto­ries and knowl­edge.

She said: “I was asked what sort of book I’d like to write and thought I’d like to record my ideas and ex­pe­ri­ences for my chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and the gen­er­a­tions I will never know.”

Hol­loway’s lat­est book Wait­ing for the Last Bus has been de­scribed as “rad­i­cal, joy­ful and mov­ing”.

He is con­cerned that so­ci­ety is “un­der­go­ing a great flight from death” – with peo­ple try­ing every­thing they can from straight­for­ward de­nial to cryo­gen­ics.

He saids: “Death is one of na­ture’s great ne­ces­si­ties but it freaks many peo­ple out.

“By deny­ing re­al­ity peo­ple make them­selves more un­happy not less.

“I med­i­tate on this a great deal my­self and it is some­thing I en­coun­tered a great deal dur­ing my min­istry.

“I spent a lot of time with the dy­ing, I buried a lot of peo­ple and have thought a great deal about my own death.

“It’s some­thing to which rec­on­ciled.”

He added: “For those who have a be­lief and think there is an after­life, to fear that their God is af­ter them and will cast them into eter­nal flames is an aw­ful thing.”

Kelly’s jour­ney has been away from athe­ism and into faith – hav­ing re­cently be­come a kirk elder.

At the same time he has deep con­cerns about how hu­mans be­have dur­ing their lives on Earth.

His book The Min­is­ter and the Mur­derer takes one of the most ex­treme and un­usual true sto­ries in re­cent Scot­tish church his­tory to explore hu­man be­hav­iour and ethics. I am

It ex­plores the story of James Nel­son who mur­dered his mother in bru­tal fash­ion af­ter she al­legedly said some­thing “dis­re­spect­ful” about his girl­friend.

Af­ter 24 hours on the run he handed him­self into the po­lice on Hal­lowe’en 1969.

Af­ter serv­ing time Nel­son de­cided to fol­low a ca­reer as a Church of Scot­land Min­is­ter – which be­came the sub­ject of huge de­bate. In 1986 a parish voted to ac­cept him.

Kelly said: “Was this a fab­u­lous ex­am­ple of Chris­tian­ity at its best, wel­com­ing the re­pen­tant sin­ner or were they hood­winked by a ma­nip­u­la­tive char­la­tan?

“The ac­counts of those who en­coun­tered him only deepen the is­sue. Some said he was su­perb, a great com­fort in times of dif­fi­culty and emo­tional pain.

“Oth­ers found him sly, sar­cas­tic and in­so­lent. Did he change or not? None of us can know. There is one who knows, but God’s not down here to tell us.”

Wig­town Book Fes­ti­val takes place from 21 to 30 Septem­ber and in­volves a host of events and ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing the­atre, film and mu­sic.

New book Stu­art Kelly has writ­ten about the re­mark­able life story of killer-turned-min­is­ter James Nel­son

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