Autobiography like no other

The Arts
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

A VERY well-known member of Helensburgh Parish Church wrote an autobiography covering an astonishingly full and active life.

Octogenarian Katharine M.E.Liston’s book ‘Doorstep to Damehood’ tells her story from when she was left outside a hospital as a baby until 2015 when she was invested as a Dame of the Order of St John.

Active in a number of local and national charities — including St John Scotland Dunbartonshire — and a very generous benefactor to them, octogenarian Katharine remains to this day a talented singer and writer and reader of poetry.

She holds regular musical afternoons and evenings in Ross Priory, Gartocharn, many attended by Helensburgh and district people.

She was inspired to write her autobiography by an old friend, actor John Cairney, who spoke at the launch and described her to the ninety-strong audience of friends as an “astonishing and very individual woman”.

He continued: “I have learnt that when you are with this woman, you just do as you’re telt!

“I must say that the book is the result of many lunches we have had and conversations we have had. I have been here at Ross Priory a few times and I have learned what astonishing verbosity this woman has.

“She doesn’t know who left her on a doorstep, but they must have been formidable people. They gave us this lovely person whom I have learned to admire more and more over the years.

“The fact is that she sat there talking glibly and easily at lunch and then started to tell me about things. I said that you should write this down — that’s a fabulous story.

“She said that she did not have time, and I asked her to at least start to do it.

“I am as ego driven, in the right sense, as she is. You have got just to acknowledge that. If it is true, it is not vanity.

“I think she has true ego, a true sense of self, a true eye, and then that eye has seen so many things as well.

“That’s what makes it such an easy read, and I have nothing to do with the publishing, I don’t have a part interest in the book or anything, but I did write the foreword.”

Publisher Paul Murdoch of Neetah Books said that Katharine, who lives in Gartocharn but spends a lot of time in Helensburgh, is an enigma — her life is a story and it has ingredients in it that any novelist would envy.

Starting from a miserable home environment caught between an unsympathetic mother and a kindly but disturbed father, with a sister who was kept apart, she somehow got herself educated to university level, found employment as an editor in a publishing company, married a good man, and between them supported many excellent causes.

He said: “This should be an encouragement to all who are finding their own lives difficult, and an example to any who seek the reward of a full and fulfilling life.”

Katharine told the audience at the launch: “I was a very reluctant author and was bullied by John Cairney! That’s the only way to say it!

“I am not going to say much about my autobiography as the book will say it all for me.

“Perhaps if people get the length of page two I might have the chance of having my name correctly spelt, and they might stop calling me Kathleen!

“One thing I can guarantee is that my book is not like any other book you have read.”

The very first paragraph sets the scene: “The year was 1930. The month was November. A new-born baby girl lay on the steps of the famous maternity hospital in Rottenrow, Glasgow. I was that baby girl.”

Katharine takes the reader through a childhood which was often unhappy, to two small private schools in Glasgow, and then to the well-known Park School. An arts degree at Glasgow University followed.

This led to work as an editor and proof-reader at the Blackie and then Collins publishing houses, and then as publications editor at the University of Strathclyde.

Music is a consuming interest. She learnt to play the oboe at what is now the Royal Conservatoire of Glasgow, and was Glasgow Orchestral Society’s first oboe for 20 years, serving for a time as president of the society.

Typical of Katharine, she decided that she wanted to be married, so she registered with a marriage agency. Through it she met Iain Liston, and they tied the knot on September 19 1969 in Netherlee Church.

They had a very happy and fulfilling marriage, sharing many interests and helping many charities. Iain died after a long illness in June 2007, but Katharine has continued with all her activities.

One of them is singing — in the late 1970s she wanted to have singing lessons, and she has had them weekly ever since. She also has a long-standing love for Ross Priory, and is an honorary member of the Ross Priory Club.

An absorbing read, ‘Doorstep to Damehood’ was published at £12.99.

She has also written for Neetah Books a booklet of Perthshire Limericks, full of witty rhymes and pictures.

Katharine said: “When I was in Pitlochry an ex-colleague and I started to talk about limericks — I don’t really know why.

“When I returned home I composed 36 limericks, one after the other, about Perthshire — all in the one day. To cut a long story short I made them into a booklet.

“I had four cartoons created by a friend who is a very splendid and highly professional artist. The other illustrations are of places in Perthshire.”

The booklet, which is on sale at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre shop with all proceeds going to the theatre, costs £4.99.

Both the book and the booklet can be ordered online at the website.