About Me

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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Theatrical Ups and Downs

Have sent out several drafts of new play, The Physic Garden, to people who have asked to see it. Have irresistible impulse to tweak script in between times. Suddenly decide that the linguistic differences between the two characters should be more marked. One must be much more obviously Scots than the other. This seems to change the relationship between the two men significantly. Then decide that some of my changes are just too phonetic and would hinder rather than help actors. So tone it down, but it has served its purpose. Also, play seems much longer. An hour perhaps? Is it too repetitive? Is it, in fact, a load of old rubbish? I no longer know.
To add to my incipient paranoia, there has been no reply. Zilch, nada, nothing.
Suspecting spam boxes and deletions, I try again, but still no answer.
Attempt to print out hard copy.
Printer throws wobbly and starts printing out page after page of code. Decide that PC is definitely male. Have suspected this all along. It cannot multi-task.
Ink cartridge runs out. Find replacement at bottom of drawer.
Finally manage to print out hard copy and put it in the post.
In the evening, the phone rings. It is nice man who asked to see a copy of The Price of a Fish Supper some time ago.
They have chosen six of the Oran Mor plays to be staged at the Edinburgh Festival.
Fish Supper was the seventh on the list. Story of my life.
By now, though, I can see exactly where he is going, and why.
At the worst possible moment, from a publicity and planning point of view, the actor from one of the chosen six plays has had a better offer and has pulled out. Would I be agreeable to Fish Supper coming off the subs bench so to speak?
I would.
But of course all this depends upon (a) availability of director (b) availability of actor and (c) the final decision of the venue which may decide to go for an empty space instead of a play.
And there is very little money.
Which presumably means that the empty space costs less.
So bearing all this in mind, says nice man, would I still be agreeable?
Can he see my big shrug, I wonder?
Yes, I say. That's absolutely fine by me.
Which, of course, it is.
But meanwhile, I will not be holding my breath.
Would you?
More later, as it happens.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Poles and Poland in Translation

Have been asked to review a couple of books of Polish poetry, in translation, for a literary magazine. This means putting brain very much in gear, since this is demanding (but also rewarding) stuff. Wish my dad had taught me Polish when I was a child - especially now, when bilingualism might give me another source of income, since the UK is currently inundated with incoming Poles.
My dear, late dad came over here at the end of the war, via Italy, with a Polish (tank) unit of the British army. He had had a horrible bleak time of it,during a war which included the complete loss of house and home, the imprisonment and subsequent death of his own father, and successive occupations from West and East. There was a spell living in the forest, and at some time he acted as courier for the resistance. He was also in a prisoner of war camp for a time. He was a lovely lovely dad: patient, kind, optimistic and interested in everything. He almost never spoke about the war, although he did tell me plenty about his childhood in the Polish 'wild east' in what is now the Ukraine and wrote quite a lot of it down for me. Much of it was extraordinary - tales from a lost world.
He was stationed near Helmsley in North Yorkshire, and after he was demobbed, worked in a mill, on the outskirts of Leeds, which was where he met my mum. He was an economic migrant, I suppose. Later, my mum told me, somebody said to her 'I think they should send all those awful Poles back, don't you?' and she said 'No. I've just married one.'
He was trying to improve his English (and studying at night school - he subsequently became quite a distinguished research scientist) so when I came along, we always spoke English at home, although we did sometimes eat Polish food, and we did follow Polish traditions at Christmas and Easter.
Later still, I started to write a novel - a sort of Polish 'Gone with the Wind'. I didn't realise that, at the time when I began it, Poland was very far from being a marketable proposition.
Of which more, in due course!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Cutty Sark, the City of Adelaide and Living with Invisibility

In London, the Cutty Sark goes up in flames, and it headlines the national news. There is weeping and wailing, gnashing of teeth and much wringing of official hands. It is part of our heritage, it is a much loved vessel, it will be rescued come what may and cost what may.
Meanwhile, in Irvine, Ayrshire, the even older clipper, City of Adelaide (later renamed the Carrick) lies, as it has done for years, a mouldering wreck in the hugely underfunded maritime museum, another casualty of the curse of Ayrshire as well as the curse of our complete disregard for our maritime history, explored recently in the Scotsman
Expert Jim Tildesley comes on TV to say that the ship will almost certainly be 'deconstructed' - for which read dismantled under archaeological supervision, with large parts of it burnt to a crisp or sold on as souvenirs.
There was a time, a few years ago, when the harbourside at Irvine was a vibrant place, with a real buzz about it. There was the Magnum pool, ice rink and theatre, there was the Maritime Museum and there was the Big Idea science attraction. Now the Big Idea is a large white elephant, closed for many years, with the council determined to develop the land for housing. They want to move the Magnum so that they can build there too, so presumably all that will be left is an increasingly underfunded Maritime Museum full of mouldering vessels, surrounded by houses and flats.
Ayr is a particularly hideous example - read The Price of a Fish Supper below, to find out what can really happen to a harbour when the developers get their mitts on it - and now Irvine will follow suit. It would be OK if these developments included shops, restaurants and shoreside cafes. But they don't. They just include flats, and private walkways. The councils in Ayrshire have this strange skewed view of things. They want visitors to come and spend money in the area. They simply don't want to have to provide any kind of attractions for them when they get here. Well, only Golf. Meanwhile Prestwick Airport flies in screeds of tourists, who head north to the Highlands, without so much as a backward glance.
And why not?
There are times when living in this part of the world feels like living in Brigadoon, a place that is magical but invisible most of the time. Even the first BBC's 'Coast' programme completely ignored a vast chunk of picturesque south west Scotland, and only revisited it when they got a Scottish presenter. Sometimes it's as if there is a line drawn from Gretna to Glasgow, and anything to the west of it is a sort of non place which can safely be forgotten. And at one time, Ayrshire could safely be forgotten by our Labour politicians at Holyrood and Westminster, because it was such a sinecure for them. Somebody once said to me that you could have a fruit bat standing (or should that be hanging?)on a Labour ticket in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, and folk would vote for it.
There seems, thank God, to be a wind of change blowing, even in Ayrshire - but too late, perhaps, to save the Carrick /City of Adelaide from being recycled as a pitiful handful of museum exhibits and a million souvenir boxes.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Keep on Blogging

Have been considering the struggle to be known, to network, which seems to be what it's all about these days. Piece in last week's Scottish Sunday Herald about publisher's editors trawling blogs for the Next Big Thing. At once heartening and depressing. Do you know how many millions of blogs there are out there? And then some.
Trouble is, it's possible to waste whole life in pursuit of elusive Next Big Thing, while somewhere else, the true Jaberwocky of the real Next Big Thing is unexpectedly whiffling through the tulgey wood of somebody else's imagination, no doubt burbling as it comes.
Have been whiffling my way happily through Chris Anderson's wonderful, anarchic, iconoclastic book, The Long Tail, over the past few evenings. 'Fundamentally, a society that asks questions and has the power to answer them is a healthier society than one that simply accepts what it's told from a narrow range of experts and institutions' he says, with which I can only agree.
The essence of the book is that the future of business does not lie only in a small number of blockbuster 'hits' but in those, plus an endless line of all those millions of things, real, or virtual, from music to books, from specialised widgets to specialised information, to be found on sites from Amazon and eBay to Wikipedia and MySpace - and Blogger, of course - with all the opportunities in between. Given access to more choice, our tastes are more eclectic than even we ourselves realise - and we will find like minded souls in ever more niche areas of life. Which is strangely heartening. The Web is a seredipitious place, which is why most writers love it.
So we keep on blogging, because we're communicators, and it's better to get stuff out there than to keep it sitting in a folder in the bottom drawer of the desk. Even if we do it for free. Which should be a scary thought for publishers everywhere. There is, let's face it, a microscopically small number of writers who make any more than a pittance out of what they write. The rest of us soldier on for peanuts, or nothing, in the hopes of being discovered as the Next Big Thing. But more and more of us seem to be deciding that we would rather write what we like, and put it out there ourselves, for nothing, than desperately search for the elusive 'deal' which is about as likely as winning the lottery, only takes up a hell of a lot more time and effort than buying a ticket.
There may be a hell of a lot of crap out there, but there is also plenty of interesting stuff to be discovered, and coming across it is one of the joys of the Web. As Anderson points out, what we need is more and better aggregators - unconstrained by the bottom line, the accountants, the suits - to point us in ever more serendipitous directions.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Poetry and Pond Life Cookery

Spend morning in kitchen, baking a very large pie for a friend's birthday barbecue this afternoon. Pie filling consists mainly of rhubarb from the garden. While making pastry (never my strong suit) watch strangely compulsive saturday morning cookery programmes on TV. Two chefs are competing for privilege of cooking for some event in France. Miss beginning of programme, so am not sure what event.
Am bemused by judges, a trio of such crashing old snobs, their comments so close to self satire, that if I wrote them in a play the critics wouldn't believe me. Do they imagine that the majority of people watch the programme to admire their perception? Do they know that the majority of people watch it, partly to see the chefs sweat, partly to marvel at the strange and uneppetising combinations of food, and almost wholly to scoff at the judges? Amazingly clever double bluff on part of the programme makers. They can't lose really, can they?
Just as I am fitting swathe of Jamie Oliver's buttery pastry into large and lovely earthenware pie dish (made by my friends at Peinn Mor pottery near Girvan, if you want to know) I am brought up short by a dish described as 'A warm salad of duck liver, heart, snails and bacon.'
Even typing those words gives me a quick qualm of nausea. Wonder why? Think it has something to do with the connections between the words. It's like a line from a poem, in that it conjures up a crowd of images over and beyond itself. Not very nice images either.
Not helped by one of the judges commenting on the 'wonderful smell of offal'.
Queasy stomach is improved by the next programme which involves Gary Rhodes cooking duck breasts this time, in competition with a Takeaway. No contest really. Don't need all these gimmicks with Gary. He's sheer poetry and theatre rolled into one. Why don't they just let him cook and talk to the camera? Suspect he could even make warm salad of pond life seem appetising.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Random Weirdness on the Phone

Have just had call from weird American trying to interest me in a mineral mining operation. He says he has emailed me. I refrain from telling him I have software to deal with that sort of thing. I am not that kind of business, I tell him.
But don't you have investments? he asks me.
No, I say. I'm a creative writer. I don't have any money, never mind investments. And - I add - I think I am terminating this call now. Which I do.
Afterwards, wonder why I felt impelled to use that very strange turn of phrase?
Was fast asleep in bed the other night when woke with a start to sound of mobile phone ringing in room next door.
This is, incidentally, the only room in the house which gets a signal. You usually have to lurk near the window to pick it up. The phone was nowhere near the window, so the very fact that it was ringing seemed a bit odd.
Plus, phonecalls at one in the morning are not good news.
Went off before I could get to it. Message flashed up. Twelve missed calls. Hell's teeth.
All from large viking like son.
Aaaargh.
Generalised mum's panic sets in.
While I'm fumbling about with it in semi dark and no specs, it starts ringing again.
Press green button to be met with strange click clack noise, faint traffic sounds (like city skyline FX in a radio play) and the occasional distant voice in conversation with somebody else.
Nobody actually speaking to me.
Switch it off and it rings again. Same noise.
This happens several times.
Then silence.
Try dialling number. It rings twice, and then seems to be answered by ....strange click clack noise, faint traffic sounds, distant conversation.
Try a few more times. Same reply.
Switch it off and go to bed. Do not sleep well.
In the morning, restrain self from meanly calling son at 7 am. Wait until 9 o'clock and call. He is up and working. Denies all knowledge of calls.
'But the keypad was locked' he points out.
Call him later in the week. His phone - a simple, pay as you go phone - has been making random calls to other people in his address book. Friends have contacted him to ask why he called them several times.
Told you so, I say.
Gremlins. Glitches in the Matrix. The phones are alive.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Head for the Cities

If I were asked to give one piece of advice to young, aspiring writers, I know what it would be.
Go and live in a city. Or don't leave one.
It doesn't have to be London. Though if you want to be a novelist, it might be a good idea. But if you want to be a playwright it had better be somewhere with a thriving theatrical life.
Some years ago, I was at a stage in my career where, as well as masses of radio drama, I'd had a novel published, I'd done a bit of telly, I had a London agent, I was giving public readings, and becoming reasonably well known as a Scottish writer. Then, for a complicated combination of perfectly good reasons, I took the decision to move to the countryside. Personally, this was exactly the right move at the time. It was certainly the right move in terms of my emotional life and for my family. So I can't say I have ever regretted it. I love where I live, and I've never really been in the business of might- have-beens.
But as far as my career goes, it was quite possibly the worst move I could have made, especially since, at the time, I had aspirations as a playwright.
If I had stayed in Edinburgh or Glasgow, my profile would have been that much higher. When I look at my track record, it's pretty good, but there has never been a time when I felt - or was treated - as though I was building on the solid foundations of a well established career. It's like having to apply for the same job, over and over and over again.
We're assuming a certain amount of writing talent here, but to make it as a playwright, it isn't enough to write a few reasonably well reviewed plays.You also have to be seen in theatrical circles. You have to hang about in the Traverse Bar or the Tron and meet people. You have to go to opening nights, and network like mad. All of which I quite enjoy. But when you live a long way out of town, that becomes a problem in itself. Sure, it can be done, but it costs money which you don't have. And it takes time. And that's just Scotland. Move out of your comfort zone to England or the US and you'll probably have to start all over again.
Even with novels - and again assuming a basic level of talent and a handful of original ideas - the launch parties matter, the networking, who you know and who knows you, where you are seen, how comfortable you are within an urban context and - increasingly - whether you can write grittily about that urban context.
It is, I suspect, too late now - though if I had a premium bond win, my first purchase would be a small flat in Glasgow for part time use - but I reckon it's good advice all the same. There are anomalies of course: writers who work with such a strong sense of a particular rural place that they are completely enmeshed and associated with it. You would think that the Web would have changed things, and maybe it has. But we're still only at the start of that interesting process and for now, my best advice for aspiring writers everywhere, but playwrights in particular, would be to head for the bright lights, put on your best smile, and get yourself known

Monday, May 14, 2007

Jean Armour and Robert Burns.

Burns on the Solway (see post below this one) was another Oran Mor production. The play was a long time brewing, and one of these days I may go back to it and write something longer on the same subject, though Lord knows there have been plenty of plays about the poet. I've loved Burns, ever since we moved to Scotland when I was only 12 - a romantic and impressionable age! Once I discovered his songs, I was hooked. What other writer, at this time and place, could so precisely put himself into the mind of a woman, and write so sympathetically from her point of view? And if you want to know what I mean, read My Tocher's The Jewel for a fiercely female song, a full two hundred years ahead of its time. There are a number of otherwise distinguished Scots writers who can't even manage it now.
Later, I wrote a radio play about the inspiration behind Tam O' Shanter. And I gradually realised that - unlike so many (male) academics who wrote about the poet - I was becoming fascinated by the woman who became his wife: Jean Armour. She always seems to be relegated in favour of Highland Mary, Clarinda, or Maria Riddell, depending upon the writer's particular taste in heroines. (Men can be romantic too, they just conveniently categorise it as something else.)But I began to believe that Jean Armour may have been the one real love of the poet's life.
Perhaps writers are deterred by the Gilfillan portrait of 1822, when her husband had been dead for 26 years: a rather grim-faced elderly lady in a bonnet. But look closer and you will see her for what she is: a smart matriarch (why else would she be wearing her best bonnet?) with greying but still dark curls peeping out from below the frills, large, wideset, thoughtful eyes which must once have been stunning, rosy cheeks, and a slightly set line to her mouth which speaks not of ill temper, but of the memory of sorrow, or possibly even present pain: arthritis or rheumatism. She has a real 'Ayrshire' look about her. You can see many like her today, bonnie lassies all: lovely, clear skinned, capable young Scotswomen, like trees in bloom, strong and attractive.
Mauchline was a small place. Jean knew Highland Mary Campbell and her reputation, and by some accounts didn't like her very much. Like many a woman before her, she couldn't see how Rab could be so deceived in her, but Rab was always a soft touch where a pretty face and female vulnerability was concerned. The same goes for Clarinda. Although he wrote one of his most beautiful love songs for Nancy McLehose, it doesn't make her any less of a tease, nor does it change the sense you get from their correspondence that Rab was playing a game and that she was a willing conspirator - a kind of flirtatious game which it would never in a million years have occurred to honest Jean to play. Maria Riddell was a more serious proposition. It seems they were friends, and may or may not have been lovers. Certainly, she was bright, clever, and adored him. He enjoyed her company, genuinely liked her and was cut to the quick when she fell out with him, big time. Why else would he have written such bitterly satirical verses about her? They were reconciled before he died; Maria even visited his widow, and did her best to organise some financial help for her.
But Jean was the real woman in his life. It was serious with Jean. Her voice, herself, the essence of her is in so many of his best songs. She is at the heart of so much that we know and love about him. And if that seems overly romantic, it doesn't mean that it isn't true. It's just that her influence on him is seriously undersold.
She could sing, for one thing. Though Burns knew a good song when he heard it, and was perhaps the best lyricist ever to come out of Scotland, he was no musician. Jean was his voice. So many of the songs are essentially her songs. Even when they were not directly about her, I think he heard them in her voice. She was a kindly soul, a good woman in the best sense of the word, although she was very afraid of her father. She was attractive, and - although inexperienced when they met - she was comfortable in her own body. She loved him. She loved him enough to forgive him. She loved him enough to bring up his children by other women, although the more I learn about her, the more I suspect that she just loved children. She knew what it was to lose a child, and there was no way she was going to allow the sins of the father to be visited on his offspring.
For sure, she was a country lass and much is made of the fact that she wasn't his 'intellectual equal' - but there is another side to Robert Burns. Contemporary accounts (often with a certain amount of surprise) tell us that for much of his time, he was happy to live the life of a country farmer, fond of hearth and home, with the weans playing about his feet. And why not? It was the life he had been brought up to and it suited him.
So the play is as much about Jean, as it is about Robert - it is about the relationship between the two of them, as much as it is about the 'great poet'. It's not meant to be judgemental: it's just an exploration of the way it may have been, and an attempt to restore Jean Armour to her proper - and central - place in the poet's life.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Monkeying About The Secret Forest

I was emailing a colleague yesterday, when I realised that my husband and his friend were carrying large, carved, scary, wooden monkey through house. Is it me, or are such bizarre events increasingly commonplace in this household? Life grows ever more surreal.
Monkey, nicknamed Harrison, for reasons best known to Alan (possibly string of connections starting with Chewbacca, via Han Solo) is destined for the Secret Forest in Kelburn Country Centre, near Fairlie in Ayrshire.
Alan has a large number of his carvings there (and some of his paintings in the cafe as well). Every year, he has to replace a few of them, since they are pinched, by appreciative members of the public. Wish they would decide to buy them, rather than nicking them, but at least they like them. Says he is considering carving 'Stolen from Kelburn Country Park' into the back of them.
Harrison is intended to be scary, and has teeth like no monkey in life. He was transported to Troon Cruising Club, where he embarked on small yacht to be ferried to Largs Marina, by water. Husband and friend tell me they lashed him to the mast for the final leg of the journey. They also say that as they motored into the marina, there were many spectators, but nobody laughed. Find this hard to believe, but sailors sometimes take things (and themselves) very seriously. Harrison will be seen, shortly, by visitors to Kelburn.
Late yesterday afternoon, I joined the boat. Harrison had already departed for his new home. Boat is joint project of husband and friend. Old and rather nice Scandinavian built yacht, called Swedish Maid, which name always elicits giggles. Wonder why?
Always forget how much I dislike sleeping on small boats. Or not sleeping. Must down to the seas again, or perhaps not. Bang head all the time. Husband and friend are like two small boys, camping in the garden. They adore it all. Only remedy is to drink a lot of wine Once spent three months aboard a boat in the Canaries - but it was a 50 foot catamaran, that Alan was skippering for a charter company. It was wonderful. Sat and watched the harbour for days on end. Wrote an extremely romantic book called The Golden Apple. Came back pregnant. Nothing has ever really lived up to it since.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Physic Garden

Finally finished another draft of the new play. Well, I use the word 'finished' loosely, since plays are never finished but hang around in your head, demanding to be tweaked. I suppose what I mean is that it really is time to stop for a bit, let it lie fallow, maybe let somebody else have a look at it - and come back to it in a little while. This is a two hander about William and Thomas. William is a gardener and Thomas is a doctor. The play is set in the early 1800s in Glasgow, and these were real people. I've called the play The Physic Garden for so long that I can't think of it as anything else, but still feel that An Uncommon Gardener may be a better title.
What is it about? The question every writer dreads. (Along with 'Are you still writing?' of course.) It's about an uncommon gardener and a lecturer in botany. It's about two men from quite different stations in life who are nevertheless friends. It's about (I increasingly realised as I wrote it) at least one of them loving the other, though in denial about it. It's also about botany versus anatomy, about a passion for green and growing things, versus the showmanship of dissection. It's about disappointment and the desire for success, about the fear of poverty and aspirations than can never be fulfilled. From this end of the process I realise that these are big ideas for what is really quite a small play - three longish scenes. Maybe I am trying to pour a pint into a half pint pot. Don't know. It may need to be longer and have more characters. But perhaps not yet. Of the two, William the gardener has become so real to me that I can see him move and hear him speak. So why is it Thomas that I find myself feeling sorry for?
These days, I write plays the way I used to write poems. I have this uncontrollable impulse to pare the language down and make line endings and rhythm and punctuation - or lack of it - matter. The shape on the page becomes important as well as the shape on the stage. Love doing it, love hearing these voices and seeing these people move, and love seeing what actors make of it (when I can!) but in the writing of it am like somebody feeling my way through a dark maze. Not sure where I'm going or if I'll get there in the end.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Bookshop Miseries

Rainy Glasgow. While waiting for my son, I wander round Borders books on Buchanan Street.
Am distressed and puzzled to find that I cannot see a single book I want to read, let alone buy. Why? It's like when you spend £100 at the Supermarket and arrive home with nothing you can actually eat.
Could it be because this seems to be so obviously somebody else's choice, so different from my own, so thoroughly Metropolitan that I just don't get it?
Or could it be because so many of them seem to be rehashes of the Last Big Thing in an effort to turn them into the Next Big Thing?
Notice that the trend seems to be for covers to look like vintage railway posters. Covers actually seem much more interesting than contents.
It must, surely, be me, faintly depressed, in rainy Glasgow.
The single book that draws my attention is a new translation of stories by Tove Jansson called The Winter Book. I dramatised her Summer Book for BBC Radio 4, way back when. It was a favourite of mine, and the producer alike, a masterpiece in miniature. It took us years of trying to get it through the BBC's suspicious defences. (A Finnish writer of children's stories? Who could possibly be interested?) I almost buy The Winter Book, but the queue is so long that I think better of it. Don't have twenty minutes to spare. Will probably find myself looking for it on Amazon, while lamenting the demise of the book shop.
There is a brilliant blogger called Grumpy Old Bookman. Realise that I am definitely becoming a grumpy old bookwoman.
Realise too that I find second hand bookshops (or those with an enticing mixture of new and old) far more congenial than the big chains. Which is some admission for a living writer to make. There is one in Wigtown called Readinglasses which is so wonderful that I'd be happy to live there for a while, browsing happily, fortified by their excellent home made bread and local cheese and fresh coffee.

Physic Gardens and Uncommon Gardeners

Spent most of yesterday afternoon working on new stage play. This began life as a play called The Physic Garden, set (more or less!) in the old Botanical Garden of Glasgow University, or the old college, in the city centre, as it was in the early 1800s.
The play started out as a 'two hander' - a dialogue between a gardener and one of the lecturers in botany - loosely based on real people. I was interested in the fact that the physic garden was dying, because the university had allowed a type foundry to be built right next to it - and the fumes were poisoning the plants. Also, the gardener was about to lose his job, in spite of the fact that he was a good amateur botanist.
Somehow had it in my mind that lecturer would be much older than gardener. Some very basic research revealed that in this instance, lecturer (also rather distinguished medical doctor)was only a very few years older than gardener. This helps to explain relationship between the two which emerges as something verging on friendship. Difference between them - socially - was vast. Intellectually not so vast - a matter of education. More research opens various cans of worms and nature of the play changes, as I write and revise it and write it again (printing out compulsively between drafts!)
Relationship between these two men becomes closer than I had intended. Dialogue between them starts to delve into differences (and tensions) between botany and anatomy. Botany, the study of plants (sometimes for medicinal purposes) was part of a medical degree back them and not an individual subject. But medicine was already heavily influenced by anatomy, the impulse to know what was going on inside the human body. And anatomy had not just its criminal side, but an element of showmanship about it. There were bound to be tensions between these two approaches. Almost in spite of me-as-playwright, this is what these characters are starting to discuss.
Then, quite by chance, I discover the existence of an old book which startles me, distresses me, and - in terms of the play - means another rethink. The contents of the book - provocative on any terms - would be part of the experience of at least one of these men, possibly both. The big 'what if' has to be asked again. It's what writers ask all the time. What if this happened? What if that were true?
Rewrites and more rewrites are needed. This started out as a play aimed at The Oran Mor in Glasgow - consequently quite a short play, 45 - 50 minutes. Suddenly it seems to have the potential for something much longer. What to do? Not sure, but possibly try to keep it short, initially, with the potential to expand it in the future.
Will it ever be staged? Not sure about that either. I'll give it my best shot, but am seriously considering posting plays on this blog, and/or on MySpace in any case. Frankly, would rather see them 'out there' than languishing in folders!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Looking for a Hero

Am fascinated by the way Nicola Sturgeon seems to have blossomed from rather grim nippy sweetie into elegant and occasionally smiling politician. There are Sturgeons in our village and they look so like her that can only assume she must be distant cousin. Nice to see young, obviously intelligent woman on political stage. Too many shabby grey suits in Scottish politics.
Still reflecting on recent events at Holyrood. The Blair /Iraq war effect played its part but think southern commentators still don't understand the nature of Scotland's discontent. Glance at results map in Herald (the only Scottish paper that didn't indulge in disgraceful pre-election scaremongering of the most apocalyptic sort) and am not surprised to see vast swathes of SNP support across Highlands and Islands, as well as nibbling away at Labour's 'heartland'. Jack McConnell was beginning to seem a bit too much like Labour's labrador, an honest man for sure, but too accommodating, too ready to fetch and carry for his Westminster masters. How could it be otherwise?
Many of us are looking for the political equivalent of a terrier to nip a few ankles. We want somebody to say no to nuclear - if we have to put up with coast to coast windfarms we don't see why we should have to have nuclear foisted on us as well - to put the brake on Trident, and to argue effectively with Westminster on a variety of issues. Alex Salmond seems to be the only Scottish politician with the strength of character, the general canniness, and - face it - the charisma, to do it. Anyone travelling any distance in Scotland, can see that governing this country is a completely different proposition from governing its over-populated neighbour. The priorities and agendas are, or should be, quite different. It remains to be seen whether the SNP can attempt it, or indeed whether the other parties will let them.
Wake to news that Labour Party may contest election in Cunningham North. This may be the rock they perish on, since it would open the floodgates to more legal challenges. Wasn't just Cunningham that was major cock-up and smaller parties would be right to make a fuss, since they are probably the ones who have lost most. If Labour want to push the electorate into full scale support for SNP this may be the way to go about it.
Notice that just about every second MSP questioned after election says 'The people have spoken...'
This reminds me of the (probably apocryphal) famous last words of an outgoing MP : 'The people have spoken... the bastards!' he said.
On this occasion, the people have attempted to speak but some of them have been silenced and in any case, many of the politicians don't seem to want to listen.

The Joys of Gardening.

Spend most of saturday, gardening, or in Dobbie's buying stuff for garden. Expensive but their plants are fabulous, well cared for, and ready at the right time, unlike the big DIY stores where everything is too big and too tired, much too early for local conditions. Have also had excellent half price bargains there, since enjoy nursing half dead twigs back to life. Prefer to grow things from seed, but am behind with everything this year, due to building work, writing work, etc, etc. Realise, while pushing trolley slowly down alleys of scented shrubs in brilliant sunshine, all by myself, reading labels with nobody harrassing me to 'get on', that I am perfectly, nay ecstatically, happy. Immediately worry that this too is a sign of impending seniority.
Ladies loo is full of grey permed heads, short polyester trousers and sensible lace up shoes. Realise that have strayed into middle of coach party. They run coach tours to garden centres these days and why not? This place has gifts, clothes, food hall, books, great cafe, as well as plants - oh and fish. Mustn't forget the fish. Used to visit something called long horned cow fish here - extremely friendly Disney-type fish with puckered lips and blue eyes - till it was sold.
Gardening is big time displacement activity for me at the moment. How can I sit in and write when there's so much to be done out there? eBay is also major d.a. but necessary and excusable since this is what pays most of the household bills these days.
Love garden very much indeed, but this time of year it's more slog than pleasure since we have huge patch at back of old cottage where everything seems to be flourishing. Rain last night, says husband, means that grass will grow like weeds. Also means weeds will grow like weeds.
Quite like weeds. Tend to leave rather a lot of them to flourish, to protect the wildlife that lives in the undergrowth. Well that's my excuse anyway.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Dreaming About Alex Salmond

For the first time ever, I confess it, I voted SNP. (Well, I think I did.) I didn't do it with any high hopes, I might add, but will vote for anyone who seems to care about (a) small rural post offices (b) small rural schools (c) local hospital services, all of which are seriously under threat hereabouts.
Find myself constantly enraged by way in which Labour Party (which used to be my party of choice) rabbit on and on about climate change while busily centralising everything they can get their hands on so that if we want to do anything whatsoever we have to travel. If the post office goes (and why wouldn't it, when they have taken away everything that made it profitable?) the shop will go as well. If the school goes, as seems increasingly possible, the heart will go out of the village. Meanwhile Accident and Emergency is going to be transferred to Crosshouse in Kilmarnock, many busy miles away, which already cannot cope with what it has.
Also, although Labour Party claims to care about the Arts, they want to be very much in control.Watching a politician trying to deal with writers and artists of all varieties is like watching somebody herding cats. Only those previously sedated can be handled with impunity. The rest have to be crammed spitting and screaming into small cages before they can do any damage.
Spend night dreaming about Alex Salmond. This was embarrassing and faintly disturbing, like when you dream that the queen comes to tea.
Wake to electoral chaos. This isn't surprising. Needed two degrees (which I have) to understand system. Yesterday I think I got my crosses and numbers in the right place, but folded paper when shouldn't have. Friend phones from Arran to say that it was his boat that broke down while taking ballot boxes to the mainland.
Realise that there is serious lack of coverage from Scotland on all available media. After an initial phone in about the election, BBC Radio Scotland has - I kid you not - Fred Macaulay wittering on, and some woman who has phoned in to sing a song. Cannot decide whether this confirms reasons for voting SNP - surely we should be able to find dedicated coverage from, in, by Scotland at this time in the morning - or reason for not voting SNP (breweries and organisation of urination therein )
Decide on former because cock up so obviously not their fault.
Alex Salmond is on afternoon news, talking about cock-up. Sounds reassuringly capable. Innate cynicism wars with desire to be able to trust somebody.
We await the final results with interest.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Cut Glass

Oh speak to me of things that do not matter.
Our friendship is a fragile thing
Speak too loudly and
It will shatter.

Each self is patterned with
The other self.
We are similar but not the same,
Surrounded with a tissue
Of touches now and then
Or compliments.
The light shines through us,
Is distorted.
We both pretend
Not to know
That this fragile thing
If subject to one outright blow,
Would shatter.

Take care.
Oh speak to me
Of things that do not matter.

Catherine Czerkawska, Edinburgh 1973.

Edinburgh in the 1970s.

The semi-hippy chick in the middle is me, back in the early seventies, in Edinburgh. There's a maxi skirt in there somewhere as well, although the bike is in the way. The guy on the right with the guitar is distinguished poet and novelist Andy Greig. Standing between Andy and me, with his hand on the bike, is poet and playwright Brian McCabe. (He's wearing a false face in case you're wondering.) On the left of the picture is somebody called John Schofield, who organised poetry festivals in Edinburgh way back then. The last I heard of him, he was involved with archaeology in the City of London. In front are two musicians from Fife, George (with another false face, beard etc) and John, of the cheekbones with the fag hanging out of his mouth. Cool. They were part of a band. My own writing on the back of the pic tells me that there was a Pete and a Dave and another Dave involved too, but I can't for the life of me remember who they were. I do know that John of the cheekbones (I think he was the one, but I could be wrong) wrote some brilliant music to one of my poems, called Cut Glass, which has come back to haunt me from time to time. More prescient than I ever imagined. I'll post it immediately after this.
Looking at it now, the thing that really strikes me about this picture is how modern we all look. You would expect a thirty five year old photograph to look dated. I suspect that this could have been taken on the Meadows (which was where we were back then) yesterday. John from Fife has a Paolo Nuttini look about him. Only John Schofield's too smooth leather jacket gives the game away.
If anyone out there knows what became of the band from Fife, I'd love to hear from you.
Browsing through Primark the other day was a deja vu experience. All those brightly coloured prints and smock tops. Dug out vintage Marimekko dress I brought back with me from Finland in the mid seventies. Felt strangely elated - and saddened - by rush of memories . Or as I wrote at the time: 'Take care. Oh speak to me of things that do not matter.'

On Crowning Glories and Shabby Chic

Have spent three hours and more money than I can really afford getting hair done.
But cannot afford to go about looking like tired old bat, not when women of a certain age become completely invisible. This doesn't mean that they don't enjoy themselves. Just that nobody younger than, say, fifty, notices them doing it. Don't really mind cloak of invisibility, but still have career ambitions, so a certain attention to appearance is in order.
Do NOT go grey, mum, says large Viking like son. I concur.
Meet acquaintance who says I look ten years younger with straight hair. Ponder this. How old does she think I am? How old do I look with hair in its usual messy mass? (Or should that be massy mess?) How old do I feel?
But she's right. Wavy hair, even naturally wavy hair, is curiously ageing. Rats. Will have to spend an extra half hour every morning drying hair.
Remember when I had clouds of long, dark, naturally wavy hair, so long at one time, that I could sit on it. Remember Irish boyfriend's mum saying 'You have lovely hair, God bless it.'
Sometimes I find myself dreaming about it and wake with regret.
Ponder girly things. Love, and have always loved clothes, handbags, shoes. Husband has been known to refer to me as the Imelda Marcos of Ayrshire.
Try to comfort myself by thinking of advantages of growing older in relation to all of above. Difficult. Still can't afford to shop where I would like to shop. Big Cheese at Writer's Guild once accused me of preferring to spend my money on 'clothes and cosmetics' rather than on exortionate yearly contributions. Since all of my clothes that year had come courtesy of Oxfam, I laughed, hollowly, before writing rude letter in response. Mind you, favourite jacket is still Italian pink wool lined with white silk creation, £5.00, courtesy of the British Heart Foundation. I was doing vintage before it became shabby chic.
Can only think of one distinct advantage of accumulating years. Have always adored vintage perfumes. (I buy them on eBay). Now, I can wear scents like Mitsouko and l'Heure Bleue, to which I have an almost alarming addiction, without feeling outclassed by the scents themselves. This only comes with age and a certain amount of confidence. More about perfumes in future posts.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Outlook Express is Grim

Remember the old joke? (Well, not that old really...) There is no cock-up so great that a computer cannot make it a million times worse in a fraction of a second...
Two days ago, I managed to delete all the emails in my inbox in one fell swoop.
Now I don't know about you, but I keep various 'not answered yet but definitely need to be dealt with some time' emails in my inbox. Not, mind you, as many as my sister in law who had about 400 in there at the last count...
Disaster.
Where have they all gone?
Do I have an - aaaargh - VIRUS?
Run around like headless chicken for a bit, panicking.
Run compulsive virus scan.
Reassuring stack of zeros. Nothing found. Don't have virus.
Nothing in inbox either.
Check delete box. Those are gone as well.
Check all other possible files. Everything where it should be but no sign of contents of inbox.
Realise that - just around midnight and knackered beyond belief - I must have pressed the wrong buttons. Deleted whole inbox, and then deleted delete box as well.
Worrying thing is, don't remember doing it.
Calm down. Try hard to think what was in there. What was in there? Did it matter?
Not as bad as academic friend who inadvertently deleted six months unbacked up work in a few easy keystrokes.
Remember some of emails and their contents. Reply to them.
Bugger. Realise that have deleted email from Douglas King Smith (any relation of the more famous Dick?) who was trying to sell me advertising in a festival magazine on behalf of sculptor husband. Are you out there? If so, I have deleted you. Please contact me again!