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 Not to mention other stuff - out of date packets of semolina and glace cherries, guarantees and packaging for things you don't even possess any more, six types of mismatched glass tumblers, redundant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.