Tuesday, 23 December 2008

happy christmas

Thanks to family activities - illness, a death, a party - and responsibilities on behalf of our local community council, work has almost come to an end for the year.
I'm making plans for next year, however, and hope to be back with poems and short stories in January.
Happy Christmas everybody.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

family stuff

Work seems to be grinding slowly to a halt. I get distracted by Christmas shenanigans (our village Christmas lunch and carols, catching up with friends before we get too busy, shopping, cooking, cleaning ---)and also by family stuff. We have one daughter at home, and her erstwhile flat-mate staying for a while, and a grand-daughter not far away who wants to play a lot. Plus a vast extended family who are moving into Facebook along with the poets I like to keep up with.
So there's not much new work going on. About four poems started, another three in prospect, and a short story called Lithic Flake. But mostly I'm reading, and I've come across some excellent new fiction - Sue Gee, John Banville, Stevie Davies. They have given me a lot of ideas for Recusant, which is going to be a more multi-layered and multi-centred novel than Saracen Woman ever was, and is going to let me put in some more of the things I've learned from poetry.
Poetry is strugglng. I seem to be reading more rhetoric about it than poems, which can't be right.Hugh Macdiarmid is a discovery though. His Lallans poetry (despite the neologisms and obscurity) is so much better than the English. It is more direct, more simple, and so can carry so much more than more writerly stuff. This seems counter-intuitive. Perhaps it suits his mind-set better, or perhaps using a familiar culture he is able to imply more without stridency.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Northwords Now

The new edition finally got here, and I have copies for my mother and my mother-in-law. Sally Evans and I share a page, which makes me feel very honoured, and we feature on the front cover, which impresses me! It's a very well-produced magazine, and has been one of my favourites for the last couple of years. At this moment,when it has just reached its tenth number, the editor, Rhoda Michael, has just stepped down, and I'd like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to her.
A voice for the creative work going on in the Highlands was always going to be a desirable thing, but making it a free news-sheet available through libraries and bookshops was a stroke of genius. It makes good poetry and fiction an accessible community activity without the temptation to dumb down.
Plus Rhoda was always lovely to work for. I am sure I will miss her, but her successor, Jon Miller, seems fine too, and I wish him every success.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Northwords Now

The new edition of Northwords Now is out, and though I haven't seen a copy yet, I am assured that four of my poems are in it - Naming the Autumn, The Voice of the Carnyx, Hekla's Country, >and April.

Friday, 31 October 2008

tidying up

I've spent all week cleaning and tidying stuff. There seems no end to the waste paper a family can generate. Not to mention other stuff - out of date packets of semolina and glace cherries, guarantees and packaging for things you don't even possess any more, six types of mismatched glass tumblers, redundant cables and keyboards, souvenirs whose provenance you don't even remember.
I have also spring-cleaned (odd how often spring-cleaning happens in autumn) my office, my accounts, my filing system and my work projects. I'd been getting bogged down in research (so many interesting things seem important and relevant - I think I was a jackdaw in a previous life)and not really thinking what exactly I wanted to do. But once you know that, the how and the when fall into place so neatly.
I'm working on a collection of poems and short stories for the Lúcháir project while I put my notes together for Recusant and experiment with dialogue and layers of narrative and a more evolved and involved form than the one I've been used to.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

editors' comments

I noticed a link on Emma Darwin's blog to an editor's comments on rejection, which made me think some. Saracen Woman got rejected not long ago, and the note that came back with it was kind and polite, though bland. But then said editor blogged about the novels she had rejected, saying that the only reason anyone wrote most of them was for the vanity of being published. This was below the belt.
It seems to me that no-one writes 70,000 words plus out of vanity - life is too short. You put years of your life into your first book, and if your heart and soul isn't in it, you'd never finish it. Or send it to people. It's been your life and love and constant obsession for years, otherwise it would be just too hard to do.
So why did she say such a thing? Ruling out the possibility that she was being mean and spiteful, or just blowing off steam, what was the point?
Perhaps she was just exasperated at seeing the same old, same old stuff. A first work is often hackneyed, unoriginal, naive, and over-familiar. Everyone's first work, like everyone's first love, is almost always just the same as everyone else's. You think it's new and special and wonderful because it's your first, because you have too little experience to know better, too little craft to transcend the basic thrill of creation.
You can't expect a publisher to accept work like that, and you should expect them to tell you so.You won't learn how far you have to go to be publishable until you set out and see the distances for yourself. It's how you learn, right?
So I'm not saying a publisher should indulge new authors, and certainly not publish them. Joy Hendry, who said this about my early poems, was, frankly, my greatest benefactor.
You can work with criticism of your work, even if it's devastating (at least once you get over the adolescent hissy fit). Being told that you are both vain and venal is something else again.

So, five years after I got that wise rejection from Joy Hendry, is Saracen Woman an unpublishable inexperienced first novel? I honestly don't think so. I had several weeks of soul-searching about it. And then Eurydice Rising got reviewed by Steve Sneyd, who said exactly what I would have hoped to hear about my work. Saracen Woman is still going out there.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

the new novel

We went to the Crannog on Loch Tay on Saturday to do some research for the new novel. What you can see is a reproduction of a real Iron Age Crannog further up the loch, and there is a chance to see the building,and learn about the methods of construction and try out some Iron Age skills like spinning or making a fire or turning a lathe. They hold festivals and story-telling sessions there and it was really interesting in spite of the very patronising guide. And the weather was fabulous. Even more remarkable considering the appalling rain and wind we've had before and after. I have not seen such wonderful leaf colours in years. I love Perthshire. If it wasn't such a long commute to Kilsyth I would up sticks and go there now.
All this made a very welcome break in the major tidying up that has been going on in this house. Naomi has been sorting and organising all the stuff she brought home from university, and I've been doing a clear-out of surplus books, clothes I'll never wear and hobbies I'm not up to any more. It as very dusty but the house is fit to live in again. Meanwhile Katherine has been doing the same in her house, as Lucy is just on the point of becoming mobile, and now I am houseworked out. It is good to be back at work, and thinking about the aesthetics of traditional singing, and the authenticity of reconstructive archaeology.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

One Leaf, One Link

On Friday I went to the launch of the anthology created by the One Leaf, One link project in Perth. It was run by an organisation called Plus, a user-led mental health service funded by the NHS. The project ran for over a year, and produced a tree hung with leaves created in all sorts of different media,by school-children, pensioners, support workers and clients, friends and well-wishers, and poems which were mounted on hand-made paper, and beautifully displayed.

At the end of the project an anthology was been created by Jackie Proctor, the project leader. It will be sold in Perth library in aid of the work of Plus. It has Walking on Water in it, on a page of blue and white marbled paper she chose for it.
This was the book that was launched on Friday.It was a lovely occasion. Margaret Gillies-Brown, whom I knew from the Callander Poetry Festival, was there, and there were speeches, well-deserved tributes to those who had been involved, a song by a local primary school, and some very good chocolate cake, iced in red and with autumn leaves on it.

I have thought for a long time - that art therapy needs to have genuine artistic aspirations and respect for production values to have any value as either art or therapy. Workshop anthologies sometimes don't reflect this - they can be rather poor quality and rely on loyalty from the friends and relations of those participating for their success. But not this one. Jackie's vision and craftsmanship have produced a book that is lovely to handle as well as beautiful to look at.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

sunny morning

Today is sunny again after yesterdays heavy rain, which is good, because this afternoon a man is going to go up on our roof to see why our chimney liner bangs in the wind. he wanted to go up last night at ten o'clock (in the rain, in the wind, with a torch that wasn't working)and I think invoking the dreaded health and safety was for once quite in order. If all goes well we will be able to light a fire for the first time this year on Friday when the hearth cement dries out. Only a month later than the firm originally promised. And I will be able to get all the books back in the sitting room, and roll back the carpet and take off all the dust-sheets. Winter can start.

Of course all this dealing with tradesmen takes a toll on the work, which is heading nicely towards the concept stage (ie no actual words written yet)and so does family history.

This photo is of Grace Dieu House, which has figured in family history since my great-grandmother's time.
I discovered last week that my great-great-grandfather, who features in The Green cliffs of Moher was on the White Star Line ship The Atlantic which went down in March 1873, with the biggest loss of life at sea right up until the Titanic.And I'm still digesting the profound impact of seeing where I came from - both country and people. It explains so much, fills in so many gaps, makes sense of so many anomalies. It would be too much to say I felt I'd come home - I didn't. But it showed me the sub-conscious bench-mark I've carried with me for what home should be like.

Friday, 3 October 2008

new work

Today I started work planning the new novel. I thought I would give myself a break and spend some time just doing poetry and short stories, but no. I appear to have a novel compulsion, and I'm going to give in. It is going to be called Recusant, at least at the moment, though as it has already had three working titles in its short and flickering life I don't see that lasting. It is going to be set in Scotland and in the present day, which is something of a relief after all the historical research I had to do last time. It's going to have music in it, because I can't do any more art, and archaeology, and wildlife. And it is going to feature one of my favourite characters from a story I wrote two years ago which got rejected a lot.

There is a poetry project going on too, which I will talk more about as it happens, both here and on the Lúcháir blog, about Scotland and Ireland, the links between them, the shared traditions, the common history, the things that divide and separate, and my own journey from my Irish past to my Scottish present.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

back from holiday

I have been to Ireland and found my heritage, in terms of family history, culture, and some art forms I am surely going to incorporate into my work over the next few months. The weather was lovely, which was the first time you could say that since May, and we saw the Bru n-a Boinne and Tara, Glendalough, Cashel, Dublin,Kilkenny and Waterford. I can't believe how much we packed in. There was music, history, landscape, some very kind and friendly people some good, and some very very bad food, a lovely cottage, and a pub session. Yes, I did sing. And if you push it, I'm going to do it again.
The picture is by Paul Rimmer, and features the waterfall at Powerscourt, which is apparently the highest in the British Isles.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

poetry in the garden

We just had a wonderful weekend in Callander at Sally and Ian King's Poetry in the Garden Festival. I notice a fair degree of cynicism about festivals in some quarters - Susan Hill is really bitter about them, but this one would revive the most jaded publisher. There were about fifty poets all reading over the three days. Some of them are in groups like Clylevlom and Onya Wick, but most were individual performances. There were young poets, old poets, Gaelic poets, Scots poets, English poets, some writing in dialect, some in translation. We had a poetry and jazz session, exhibitions from publishers, and a discussion on poetry and fiction. We met up with old friends and made new ones. We walked around the town, enjoyed Sally's garden, bought books from the shop, and ate a tremendous amount of lovely food.
And get this. The whole festival was free. No-one making money out of it at all. It was just for the love of poetry and friendship.
All I can say is, if poetry in Scotland survives the credit crunch, climate change and cultural meltdown we seem to be going through, we'll all have Sally and Ian to thank.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

migraines and such

Not much has been happening because I have had the world's worst migraine. Research into this phenomenon implies that it can be triggered by computers, bright lights, noises, perfumes, heat, stuffy atmospheres, dehydration, humidity, food, (any kind of food), food additives, some sorts of medication, illness, shock and anxiety. Nobody has actually cited breathing while female, but it surely can't be long.

I will be reading at Sally and Ian King's fabulous Poetry in the Garden Festival in Callendar on Saturday evening, 6th September. You can find out more about this three day poetry party at the Poetry Scotland website - see links.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

still revising

Almost completed the tinkering with Saracen Woman and she will be trying her luck again next week.
Now I am re-thinking the Lúcháir blog, as life seems to have overtaken me, and beginning to think very hard about some elemental poems. Also about a holiday in Ireland which may actually happen. Also about Poetry in the Garden which is very much happening. I will need to read some new stuff, I think. We have had Eurydice for two years now.
The 'x' key on my keyboard is sticking and it's amazing how often you get to use it, and how odd your text looks without it. Is there anything you can do about sticky keys, or is it just time to cut my losses? I have the tiniest keyboard in the world, as I have very small hands, and though there are several normal keyboards in the house, I will certainly miss this one.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

end of an era

Went to sign the Scottish Covenant for Peace yesterday, and discovered that the last of the Halflings from the Youth Theatre has left school and is going to university. of course none of them look like halflings any more - they have all grown up, done well, and most of them seem to be six feet tall. One of them is going into Final Year this year. But it's the very last connection I had with that generation. Now I have to join the grown-ups myself.
Perhaps this is just in time. I bumped into a couple of young men in town last week, and one of them said to the other, "Mind the granny." And there's nothing I could say about it, because a granny is what I am.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

playing with Lucy

Not much work is getting done today as I am spending it with my grand-daughter. Saracen Woman is recovering from the shock it got from agents. Note the change in title. Who was I kidding - it was always Mab's story.
The next novel is growing at the back of my mind. I'm thinking of calling it Recusant. It's going to be a bit Jungian, and about music.
But I'm also thinking about poetry for Lúcháir. There are several poems about water happening/

Friday, 25 July 2008

meeting heroes

I went to a book launch last night. Anne Connolly's book 'Downside Up' is indeed very fab, lots of poems about Ireland and her family, but not cosy or nostalgic, just thoughtful and beautiful.
However, I also met Christine de Luca. And behaved with some enthusiasm.

Christine de Luca is one of my favourite poets at the moment. She is from Shetland, and writes in Shetlandic as well as English, and this gives her poems a texture and multi-layered resonances with Old Norse and with Scandinavian poetry. She says it's hard to do, though as Shetlandic poetry has to appeal to Shetlanders (otherwise what's the point?) and then you find yourself writing to a niche market and restricting your options. She doesn't give into this, though. The poems in Parallel Worlds are not backward looking, not rural idylls or ballads. They bring new words, new perspectives to poems that could have been written wherever poetry is a serious art form. She writes in English too, and then you see how a different language shapes your thought differently.

I think there's no point in being a poet if you can't take Orpheus' stand and say
'All the words will be available to me'. I admit I was thinking about the big fancy grandiloquent words that I was sometimes made to feel weren't for the likes of me, Liverpool Judy that I was. Especially when the trend for vernacular poetry came in. But it cuts both ways. All the words means ALL. Dialect, academic, technical, street words, rude words, foreign, antique, abstract, ugly words and neologisms.
I admit it takes some skill make them pull together coherently. But some people can, and I aspire to it.

Friday, 18 July 2008


I got reviewed! I got a nice review!
Seriously, a guy called Steve Sneyd reviewed Eurydice Rising in an 'alternative world poetry newsletter' and although it was printed in the smallest handwriting on the planet so reading it was like trying to knit your own eyelashes, it was really brilliant - by which I don't mean just favourable though 'fascinatingly different' kind of trips off the tongue, but the guy really knew what I was trying to do, picked up all the obscure references (well, except the ones to the Black Parade, anyway, and who can blame him for that one), and really helped me think harder about the next project.
Thank you so much, Steve Sneyd.
And thanks too, to Sally who passes these things on to me. I would be nowhere without support like that.

Monday, 14 July 2008

round and round

Yes I am working on the Lúcháir project, but it isn't going very fast. I still have my head full of Saracens, and it's hard to get focussed. So I have been going round my bookshelves picking things up and turning them over, and so far I have read
Colour by Rose Tremain
Medieval Lyrics ed RT Davies, who is still as annoying as I remember him from uni
What I Loved by Siri Husdvedt which I'm sure I read once before, but can't remember
The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell (fun but repetitious)
and I am in the middle of a book about the blues by Alan Lomax (which seems to have provided the entire plot for Honeydripper - a fine film btw) and The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro.
It is all turning into a rich compost, but I have to say that it feels more like a new novel than poems and short stories, at least so far.

Monday, 7 July 2008

well done daughters

Naomi graduated last Thursday, and it was brilliant. She got a first! She didn't tell us, at first because she was waiting for confirmation and then because she expected it to be announced (which it wasn't). So afterwards she said, Oh, you haven't seen this', and flashed the certificate and there it was.
An utterly wonderful moment.
Katherine and grand-daughter were there too, which was lovely.
Looking over poems this morning, trying to work out what needs revising, what could go on the lúcháir blog and what could be sent out. It's a whole new way of thinking and constructing thought and playing with language, and now my brain is waking up again after all the arthritis nonsense, I am loving it.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

fingers crossed

I finished the last revisions of Saracen Women this morning, and have made the first approach to a publisher.
Now what are the odds? Pretty poor, I'd say from all you ever read about this process, but you have to try. And I really believe in this book, I've worked hard on it, and I'll just have to hope for the best.
But my goodness, I'm going to miss all those characters. Some of them have been in my head for over thirty years!

Friday, 27 June 2008

One graduation

Yesterday I went to the graduation of a friend who finished a degree in Philosophy at the age of seventy-six. She got capped by Diana Rigg and got a special mention in the speeches, and an award from the Philosophy department because she always brought home-baking and sandwiches to the weekly seminars. How brilliant is that! Well done Edith!

Monday, 23 June 2008

after the gap

Blimey it's a long time since I posted. It isn't that I haven't been working, though - at least it isn't only that!
We had family shenanigans, as some of us went to see Bruce Springsteen in Cardiff ( and yes, they were as impressed as all the people who have written in to Radio 2 were) and we all went to a silver wedding celebration. This involved mixing Granny, a five-month old baby, a lot of relations who don't see each other very often, and someone's new significant other - a recipe for trouble if ever you heard it! Actually, no. In fact it was all very enjoyable, though it felt like a very long journey home.
Then there was all the catching up with the NHS. Don't know why it is, but when you get one appointment you often find you have several all in a bunch. Like buses.
But I have been working very hard on the revisions for Saracen Women, which are almost complete. I have discovered the temptations of cut and paste, which gives you the illusion of easy editing, but in fact just encourages you to think in terms of cool little pieces instead of a smooth flow and careful construction. It's beginning to iron out, and I am beginning to feel pleased with it.
Lúcháir is up and running now, though I have been rather slack at posting (same reasons, lame excuses). However, I am just going to remedy that one.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

too much stuff

This house is full of stuff. We have junk everywhere. Our papers now clutter three rooms and today I have community council work all over the sitting room floor and the kitchen table as well. We have Dom's spiderman toys. We have half of Naomi's stuff - and where we will put the rest when she finally comes home I don't know. And we are both exploding out of our work spaces. I have had so many schemes for rationalising and de-cluttering, but I have reached the limit. I am going to have to get rid of books. There is no alternative.
If it isn't hurting, it's not working.
I put this on facebook, and SallyE got back to me saying there's a good jumble sale in October. I wonder if I can persuade her to take things now?

Friday, 30 May 2008

thinking like a poet

I am trying to get my head back into poetry, since I have been thinking solidly of Saracen Women for about six months. It is harder than I expected. After weeks of allowing my thought to relax and unfurl and unravel gently and build slowly into whatever I wanted, I now have to try something more lateral and spiky, more concentrated and allusive.
I'm reading Tom Paulin's The Secret Life of Poems, but I haven't yet got past thinking how hard I got smacked for writing about poetry like that when I was at university. Fashions change in criticism, as in so much else

Thursday, 29 May 2008

new format

The old blog suddenly spouted adverts, so I moved here, which has the benefit that I can tinker with it. This will help a lot as my web-master is going to be gainfully employed over the summer. Also it can link with the Lúcháir blog, which is up and running already.