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!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sea Silks

Have a look at textile artist Alison Bell's wonderful blog here. This is three dimensional (or perhaps even four dimensional!) textile art, currently on show in North Uist. Beautiful, moving, engaging, enthralling - actually adjectives are superfluous when it comes to describing this amazing work. Best just to recommend that you look at the pictures and read the blog and think about it. The only response to it would have to be in poetry I think, and I haven't quite got there with it yet. You don't write poetry or stories to 'illustrate' other artforms - why would you? But they do sometimes inspire you to write - and Alison's work inspires all kinds of feelings in me that sooner or later want to translate themselves into words.
Was thinking yesterday that one difference between (some) academics and (most) creative writers and artists is that the writers and artists are often struggling with very difficult, complex, profound ideas - trying to simplify them - and as Alison says, to communicate them.
It does sometimes seem as though academics are struggling to over-complicate really quite simple concepts! To obscure them with language itself. Or is that just the view of a slightly cynical creative writer? Comments please!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

And here's a love poem of sorts, well, a piece of advice really, for those who fancy themselves in love. It's called....

NEVER KNIT A SWEATER FOR A MAN

Twenty years later, clearing out a cupboard,
she comes across a plastic bag containing
the remains of a sweater she had been knitting,
fair-isle, tricky, half a dozen yarns carried forward
and woven into a complex textile which was
she remembers - she has never done it since -
a task requiring the utmost concentration.

She pulls it out, unfolding a back,
a single spiralled sleeve, an unfinished front
still on the needles and barely past the rib
with holes here and there where moths
have eaten their way in, feasting on her work
and at the bottom of the bag a few
skeins of wool, their colours dulled
and inexplicably tangled by time.

When did she lose the thread,
the will to see it through to the bitter end?
Was it after she and its intended recipient had
unravelled or was it even earlier?
Was it, she now sees, always beyond her skills -
a garment too difficult to be contrived by human hand
let alone worn?

She peers into the bag wondering what if anything
can be salvaged but the dust lodged
deep in the fibres brings a tear to her eyes
and makes her sneeze.
Bless you she says and throws it in the bin.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Anarchists Rule OK

Last September, returning from a ten day break with my sister and brother in law in their nice wee flat in the South of France, I realised that I was feeling more than usually well rested and up-beat about life in general. I'm sure a large part of that was down to good food, good company and excellent wine. They have the sense to have a flat right above the village's wine, fruit and veg shop where you can take large plastic bottles to be filled with the mellow red from the owner's vineyards at a few euros a pop. While you're at it, you can buy bags of uneven but tasty tomatoes, local apricots, anchovies, olives and all kinds of other delights. The weather helps as well. And a large intake of oily fish in the shape of barbecued sardines at the annual 'sardinade'. In fact we were doing all the right things. But the other factor, I realised, was that we hadn't watched television, we hadn't even listened to the radio, and we certainly hadn't bought an English newspaper. It wasn't so much the lack of news. It was the lack of fear and guilt that had turned us into shiny happy people.
I realised - almost as soon as I got back and turned on the TV - that I am completely, utterly and heartily sick of being told what to do. Or what not to do. Or what hideous dangers we face, at every twist and turn of our miserable lives.
I am so sick of being threatened with doom, death and destruction. I am sick of the presumption of people who think it is any of their business what I eat, what I drink, how many children I have, and what light bulbs I use. I am sick and tired of a hundred so called 'experts' who turn out to be boyish or girlish recent graduates who are not really expert in anything other than how to be an expert, giving me the benefit of their considerable naivety. I am sick of health and safety legislation that seems happy to go for soft targets, with sets of rules that used to be called 'common sense' (my husband gave up demonstrating woodcarving at public events when he had to do complicated risk assessments in case somebody nicked one of his chisels and cut themselves on it) all the while allowing some of the worst abuses to go unchallenged and unpunished.
I am sick of government agencies spending my money on immensely threatening 'we know where you are' adverts warning me about blocked up arteries, road tax, income tax and television licences. And while I'm on the subject, I am very very sick of picking up letters from that same TV licensing authority threatening apocalyptic retribution on a friend who isn't in the country and doesn't even have a TV to watch.
I've come to the sad conclusion that most of the people now working in the media seem to be blissfully ignorant of history in any area of life whatsoever. This results in presenters who are so naive that they allow politicians and others to pull the wool over their eyes. I object to the lies that are told with statistics by people who don't understand them and who also mistake theory for proven fact. I object to the ways in which we are browbeaten into believing impossible things before breakfast.
We read about the strangehold of the kirk over life in eighteenth century Scotland. Or at least, I've been reading quite a bit about it myself, of late. And from this distance in time, we view it as untenable that any single body should be able to dictate the way lives are lived. But hold on a minute. Rules and regulations, doom laden pronouncements about this or that risk, fear and panic, control and harrassment, threats of all hell breaking out and the constant snooping of those who sincerely believe they have our best interests at heart? Isn't there something remarkably familiar about all that?
I'm practising a little anarchy. I'm a nice, cheerful, polite person really, (well most of the time, anyway) but I think my ambition is to become an exceedingly grumpy old lady. I'll have to start now though. Do it bit by bit. Work hard at it. That way, when I'm very old and the young, fresh faced and infinitely patronising reporter comes to ask me about 'how I'm coping with the cold weather' speaking slowly and loudly as if to a recalcitrant dog, I'll be able to tell him to go and ask somebody else, unless he's brought a bottle of good malt, a box of chocolates and a fat cheque with him.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Literary Envy

We are all, let's face it, prone to a bit of envy. In the writing business particularly. Even once you are sure that you have a certain amount of competence and talent - some well reviewed publications and productions under your belt - you still sometimes find yourself subject to bouts of thinking 'why him or her and not me?'
I was mulling this over in the wee small hours because I had been having a discussion with some friends about a certain wildly successful writer - and no I don't mean JK. We all like JK very much, think she's a brilliant storyteller and appreciate all the hard work that went into the books. So although we certainly envy her the cash, we don't envy her the success. Most writers of my acquaintance think it's very well deserved. And curiously enough, although we don't exactly applaud the phenomenon of 'celebrity' publishing, we don't reserve our most bitter complaints for the 'brand' writers - the Poshes and Cheryls and Madonnas of the world. If you've got a brand like that, you're going to exploit it and nobody in their right mind would pretend that the results are great works of literature.
But just occasionally somebody comes along who seems to make it big, really really big, gushing reviews and all, for no very obvious reason . The writer in question, who had better remain nameless, has no claim to fame except the work itself - and the work itself is - dire. There is no other word for it. You try to read it and are reduced to gobsmacked astonishment. Not only that, but I'm reliably informed that this particular writer has a fine sense of his or her own importance and is content to slag off other writers.
I thought it was just me, but then somebody pointed out the reviews on Amazon, and the majority of them said much the same thing, citing reasons. And no, they weren't the kind of moronic, let's-slag-somebody-off reviews you sometimes find. They were sensible, readable, thoughtful reviews. Infinitely better written than the books in question.
You're left wondering how it could happen. Why did nobody point out that the king or queen didn't have a stitch on, not the least little vestige of anything remotely resembling a garment? But then somebody must be buying the stuff or the publishers wouldn't carry on publishing it, would they?
As the incomparable Bridget Jones (whom I genuinely adore) is so fond of saying 'why? why?'