Tag Archives: Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

Music Hath Charms – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

We just had a weekend away and enjoyed a great time with musical friends in Williamsburg VA. We went to join the farewell party for Mick and Neva Mikula who are headed permanently to Florida. Mick is an ex-member of a great Celtic rock band called Coyote Run who split up a couple of years ago and the company was composed of other ex-members and associates of the band.

At the last minute I discovered that there was to be a wedding on Sunday and I was invited to contribute to the musical accompaniment. To my astonishment I encountered a fine fiddle player who launched into Niel Gow’s ‘Farewell to Whisky’, which confirmed for me that behind the kilts and leather gear favored by ‘Coyote Run’ lay an unusually deep (for that particular musical scene) appreciation and understanding of real traditional Celtic music.

We first encountered the Coyotes a number of years ago at the Sycamore Shoals festival in Elizabethton TN, where Wendy and I had started to MC the main stage. We found that we shared a mutual quirky sense of humor and over the succeeding years our paths continued to cross. In their final year we were able to book them as headliners at Big Stone Celtic. I was always impressed by their combination of musicianship, stagecraft, visual effects and sheer exuberance. By comparison with the other regular and much shallower bands on the circuit they clearly had listened to the ‘right stuff’ and that was reflected in their repertoire.


Over the weekend, in conversation with the fiddle player (Paul Anderson) and Mick and the others I was astonished to find how much overlap there was in the singers and musicians we all admired.

However, there was another amusing occurrence before we headed home. Wendy went on a shopping spree with the others as I recuperated from a very late night and found a bookstore – Mermaid Books. She happened to be wearing one of our bookstore tee-shirts and the owner asked her if she’d ever visited Tales of the Lonesome Pine. She said that she had. He said that there was a great book about it that he really enjoyed, to which Wendy said “I’m the author”. Cue much hilarity and exchanging of bookstore stories!

A final big thank you to our hosts, who I suspect didn’t originally intend to have so many house-guests just as they were about to box up their possessions ahead of their departure. They treated us and the other ‘lodgers’ like royalty and we were fed delectable Indian and Middle-Eastern delicacies, not to mention haggis for breakfast.

it’s a hard life over here – – –

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

The Monday Book

Jack’s guest Monday review (on Tuesday – just) –

Ian Rankin – The Rebus Series

Not so much a book review, as an author review this week –

I’m not usually one for novels, preferring biographies and memoirs for the most part. But I do have just a few novelists I like and one of those is Rankin. I hasten to add that it’s not that I like every book he’s written, but the Rebus series do stand out, in my opinion.

It’s probably because both Rankin and his character have their roots in West Fife (my home territory) but are resident in Edinburgh (a place I know well). In the series Rebus frequently revisits Fife and the Edinburgh that forms the backdrop to most of the books is very lovingly and accurately portrayed.

The books are well written, full of believable characters and with plots that grip you to the last page. This is noir detective with a Scots accent and firmly in the world of Philip Marlowe.

The Edinburgh he describes is a mixture of the historic center after dark and the run-down housing schemes on the outskirts. His plots are always relevant to the times and clearly involve  a lot of careful research.

Rebus is a complex guy with a troubled personal life, who is looked on with suspicion by most of his colleagues and especially by his superiors. During the course of the series he moves from being a regular working cop to the branch that deals with internal matters such as bribery and collusion with criminals and gangs.

All the books except the last one have been made into TV dramas, with half being done by the BBC and the other half by ITV. The casts were different for each series and, although presenting contrasting interpretations, both were excellent.

I have read other novels by Rankin that were not part of the Rebus series and didn’t find them as compelling I’m afraid.


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What do you do?

 Jack’s weekly post –


In a previous post I spoke about my visit to the Buffalo Bill museum in Cody, Wyoming a few weeks ago.

I felt I needed to put that into much more of a personal context, so here goes –

As I said previously my Grandad went to see the Wild West Show in Dunfermline in 1904, which was part of the last European tour by Buffalo Bill’s show and was augmented by additional subcontracted acts such as Zulu warriors as well as Cossack and Japanese horsemen.

I had always been intrigued by the notion of the cobbled streets of my historic old hometown being clattered by Native Americans and the Deadwood Stage, not to mention Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley!


Buffalo Bill Cody himself!

But back in the early 2000s I was roped into collaborating on a CD featuring my friend and folk music mentor, the late John Watt. John was a wonderful and very individual songwriter and most of his songs were written from a very ‘Fife’ point of view. The CD was titled ‘Heroes’ and one of these accorded this honor was Buffalo Bill. I discovered that John’s father had also witnessed that 1904 performance in my (and his) hometown.

We talked about this shared family history and it turned out that John had written a number of songs about that occasion, and two of them were to be on the album. One was a quirky and very funny one called ‘The day that Billy Cody played the auld grey toon*’ while the other was much more thoughtful – ‘The Wild West Show’.

The ‘Wild West Show’ describes the mix of acts, but also points out that the massacre of Wounded Knee had happened just a few years earlier and suggests that the answer to the ‘Indian Problem’ was to turn them into cheap entertainment, playing a parody of themselves in front of European heads of state.

John very rarely wrote ‘message’ songs, but this one, with a great tune and a very sing-able chorus has been covered by many other performers and is one my own favorites.

Shortly after we left Cody we deliberately drove to the site of the Wounded Knee massacre where we met a number of descendents of the survivors staffing tables by the side of the road. They weren’t selling trinkets or souvenirs; nor were they asking for money; they were just there to tell their story.

I felt very guilty that many of the Scots that were ‘cleared’ from the highlands and survived the coffin ships to reach America, then proceeded to ‘clear’ the indigenous folk they found there in turn.

The irony is that because this was the last tour, some of the Indians decided to stay on in Glasgow. A ‘ghost shirt’ they had brought with them ended up in a local museum and was finally returned to the US five years ago – quite a circular tale!

“The red man rides for the white man’s fee,
Better than a grave at Wounded Knee,
I better he never thought he’d see,
The spires of the auld grey toon*.

“Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Bill, my daddy saw you comin’ down the hill.

A big success for soldier blue, with the last brave dead in the snow,

What do you do with the Cheyenne and the Sioux?

You put them in a wild west show”


*The auld grey toon is an affectionate nickname for Dunfermline.

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Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book

Wendy is still on a writing deadline so Jack is standing in again –

Tsunami by Iain MacWhirter

Health warning: this is a book about Scottish politics, specifically the landslide victory by the Scottish National Party in Scottish constituencies during the 2015 UK election.

I have a great deal of respect for Iain MacWhirter, a thought-provoking political commentator who works for the BBC.  MacWhirter has a long and honorable pedigree as an observer of UK and Scottish politics, not to mention the respect of his peers. That’s not to say that he hasn’t penned a few newspaper articles with which I’ve taken issue, just that his  voice carries weight.

Tsunami is a follow up to an earlier book by the author about the Scottish referendum on independence the previous year, Disunited Kingdom.

Regardless of my occasional disagreements with him I recommend both of these books to anyone with an interest in the incredibly fast-moving political scene in the UK right now. Of course the arrival of ‘Brexit’ means that Iain will probably have to write another book about the second referendum on Scottish independence next year.

For those unfamiliar, Scotland wanted to stay in the EU and since there was a vote recently on Scotland leaving the UK, Scottish politicians are ready to take advantage of the mood and the timing to try again. Scottish voters declined to declare themselves independent of the UK, and then pretty much found that the promises made to them if they stayed had been false. As a result, the vote that McWhirter writes about in Tsunami was expected to swing so overwhelmingly toward the Scottish National Party candidates that the leaders of the party began to caution people not to have unrealistic expectations.

Tsunami captures the flow of the various parties’ campaigns in the lead-up to the UK election. A big part of its thrill is McWhirter’s description of the atmosphere in the BBC green room, and the responses of the various spin doctors, that election night, as the SNP finished with 56 out of 59 Scottish seats. Watching the events, I remember one political commentator saying, “This isn’t an election. It’s a rout.”

The book finishes with the overwhelmingly triumphant SNP members of parliament arriving at the House of Commons in London to find themselves disregarded within a parliament of 650 members, despite being the third biggest party there.

MacWhirter captures with humor and insight a strange time in Scottish politics, and sets the tone for the stranger times yet to befall the UK as the full implications of Brexit become clear to all parties.

Better read this before it’s completely out of date; books will be coming out soon on Brexit.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

A Story within a Story within a Signature

Wendy is on a tight writing deadline before holidays next week, so Jack takes up the keyboard and presents this guest blog.

We often have folk come in to ‘Tales of the Lonesome Pine’ bookstore carrying a copy of ‘The Little Bookstore’ and hoping to meet Wendy. They come from all over the country and even from other countries. Their personal tales frequently carry on a theme of the book, that the customers’ stories are as important as those in the books we sell.

One of the other conversations in Wendy’s book was about the fact that some products that are sold on from one owner to another only benefit the creator the first time they’re sold – houses, books etc. The result of the exchange was that there wasn’t much to be done about it, nor should there be. Another question was how long  ‘The Little Bookstore’ would circulate in used book stores.

To our great amusement we received a lovely card from a fan in New York a couple of months after the first publication, saying how much he’d enjoyed the book and that he’d bought it for $10 in a used book store. He enclosed a $10 bill just to prove that the author was wrong!

But today topped that. (Drum roll, please….)

Three couples had been through the store today looking for Wendy, so when I looked out the window and saw a woman holding a copy of the book and the husband taking pictures, I knew what they were about. Sure enough, Carol and Paul were on a trip back to Cary, NC and came the long way through Big Stone Gap to see the bookstore because they loved the book and follow Wendy’s blog.

However, their story had a twist. Carol loved Wendy’s book, which she’d paid $5.99 for in a used book store, already signed to someone called Laura. And she’d come to get Wendy to sign it again, having read the conversations about second hand books in Little Bookstore.

We had a lovely chat (they are also cat lovers) and then I signed her copy and so did Wendy – but check out the picture to see how she did it.


May the circle be unbroken, Laura – wherever you are!



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Lend me your ears – –


Jacks’ Wednesday guest blog post

There we were, on our way home on Monday night from the annual volunteers’ appreciation banquet at the prison where I visit every month. I’d noticed that Wendy had been busy on her phone for the last half hour and that usually means cats.

I should explain that I generally try to be the sensible one in these situations, trying to remind her that we can’t save them all and that the bookstore can only accommodate a finite amount while still operating in a customer friendly way. So I’m the ‘bad cop’ to Wendy’s ‘good cop’ much of the time.

Thinking this would probably be another clutch of tiny kittens I was gearing up to be my usual grumpy curmudgeonly self. But as we arrived home Wendy announced we were going out straightaway to find a feral cat that was hanging out in an area of town we’re not too familiar with. We had an address and the lady who Wendy had been on the phone with had offered to guide us to the place.

We arrived as it was beginning to get dark and began to search. No luck until Wendy’s phone contact came out and began guiding. In the darkness a very friendly white cat with oddly shaped black ears came straight to us. We had brought food and water and she made straight for them. Purring and most definitely not feral, so we had a closer look. Her ears weren’t naturally black – they were half eaten away and bloody. She was also scrawny but with a bloated belly. So she was injured, mal-nourished and pregnant!

We brought her back but couldn’t risk putting her in the same space as our own cats or the other fosters, so into the garage she went for the night. All this time she was happy to be picked up and carried in a box – as if she knew she’d turned a corner.

Of course the whole episode was being followed on FaceBook by a whole host of friends and fellow animal rescuers. One of them was our good friend Joe, who offered to come round in the morning to take her up to our Sainted Beth the veterinarian who never imagined she’d share so much of her personal and professional life with us.



So now we know that Pogo (we called her that because she looked like a possum in the half-light) has melanoma on both ears, is completely flea-ridden and has a belly full of worms (so – not pregnant).

But all of that can be treated, although she may lose a goodly part of both ears in the process. Apparently she is about seven or eight years old and has obviously been a domestic pet. She either ran off and got lost, or was abandoned because of her ear problem. And to my astonishment, as soon as Wendy posted the update the next day showing Pogo relaxing in hospital, people began to offer financial assistance towards her bill. Which we know Beth will keep to the bare necessities, because she is a saint. But hey, saints and their nurses gotta eat too. Powell Valley Animal Hospital should you want to donate to her care. And we thank you from the bottom of Pogo’s sad little ear stubs.

I may try to lose Wendy’s phone, but she’d just get another one – bless her heart – – –


Filed under animal rescue, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

“Kids, Glorious Kids”

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

Wendy and I don’t have kids – but – – –

Kelley, our chef par excellence married her true love Sam in February and immediately inherited a bunch of them, and has entered the role of parent with joy and enthusiasm. As have we, as surrogate grandparents. But we’re not the only ones, as our other friends Mark and Elizabeth (the goat herders) are also staking a claim and have these well-adjusted young people climbing on trees, feeding baby goats and being stand in grandchildren as well.

Despite not having any children, I have a plethora of nieces, nephews as well as their offspring and I delight in their doings of course. Wendy has a nephew and that gives her some insights as well.

But there’s nothing like kids running around your feet and we consider Asher and James, as well as Brook and Ciaran not to mention grown up Thom, as part of our extended family.

When my old singing partner Barbara was with us before and after ‘Big Stone Celtic’ a couple of years ago she and her husband Oliver immediately became stand-in grandparents too. They cheered them on at their soccer matches. My fond memory is of Oliver standing on the touchline dressed in typically English garb, complete with a hat, with a bunch of Asher’s team-mates circled round him. The players were obviously aware that he was an expert but couldn’t understand a word he was saying as he berated them. Completely illegal of course, to coach from the side while the game is in progress!

That’s children, though – they capture your heart. They don’t have to be yours, but they are part of the next generation and that does make them your responsibility too.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch