Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Islay without the whisky

It is hard to go to Islay without dealing with the distilleries in some form or other. There are so many of them and they dominate the landscape, the economy and, to a certain extent, the culture. We went to one of the events at the Laphroaig Jazz Festival, for instance, and we bought soap from Spirited Soaps in Bowmore which whisky in it. This is less odd than it would appear at first, as the owner Ailsa Hayes explained to us. Soap needs alchohol to make it transparent, and using the characteristic Islay malts gives her a link with the distilleries that benefits everyone.

However, neither of us has the smallest interest in whisky, and the last week was about the beautiful landscape


and wildlife we saw

This stag was on Jura, where we went for the day. Jura has a distillery but life there is dominated by the shooting estates, so it was a very different experience from Islay.

We saw eagles, hen harriers, redshanks, and curlews. We saw hares and rabbits, and migrating birds by the hundreds - geese and starlings arriving for the winters, lots of finches - goldfinches mostly but also twite and chaffinch, stonechat and whinchat passing through, and wheatears swallows and housemartins who were held up in the islands by adverse winds. This gave us a really strange mix of summer and winter birds a moment suspended in time.

Our biggest ambition was to see an otter. This is really hard, even on Islay which has many otters, and we were reminded of this when we attended a lecture at the Port Charlotte Natural History Centre on photographing Scottish Wildlife. The photographer said that it had taken hime twenty years to learn how to spot otters, and they never turned up in the same place twice.

We kept hoping, but the nearest we got to them was this

Friday, 16 September 2011


Just a quick post in the middle of all the running around I'm doing.

Thanks to Kevin and Sheila of Red Squirrel Press, I now have copies of this book, and if anyone would like to buy one, I'll be in a position to send them out when I get back from my next expedition.

On the afternoon of 30th September I'll be reading at the Community Centre in Dalry. The event is due to start at 2:00.

I haven't done an artist of the week this week or last, but check out Kirsty Mordaunt's web-site - the link is in the sidebar to the right. She has a web comic building there, plus illustrations for a couple of my favourite fairy stories. When I come to earth again I will have a couple of new blogs to share, some artists and photographers I've come across during the summer. The internet is a truly wondrous place!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Wherever We Live Now

This is the Friday night session of the Callander Poetry Weekend, where, thanks to the herculaean efforts of Sheila Wakefield and Kevin Cadwallender of Red Squirrell Press,
Wherever We Live Now emerged into the real world.

I always knew that poets were a kind and generous lot, but I was overwhelmed by the warmth of the reception it received. You know who you are - thank you to all of you who listened to me worry, enjoyed my happy moment, made me feel that it is indeed a big thing to have a book out - not to mention those who bought it and asked for signatures!

Also a very special thank you to Sally and Ian for giving us the space in their weekend! Sally was the first editor who ever published me, and the first to allow me to read at one of her events. I bet half of Scottish poets could say the same - we are all in her debt.

There were other books launched this weekend, too:

Anne Connolly's Love in a Mist also published by Red Squirrel

Ian Blakes' Remembering Falstaff and Others published by Sally and Ian King's firm Die-hard Poetry

Fred Beake's The Old Outlaw published by Shoestring press

and Deborah Tyler-Bennet's Revudeville
published by King's England Press, and her chapbook Mitton...Dyer...Sweet Billy Gibson which is to come from Nine Arches Press

Yes, I did buy them and Marion Macready's Vintage Sea (Calderwood Press) as well as pamphlets by kemal Houghton and Gordon mason. It was some weekend, and it's a good job I'm going to Islay shortly so I can catch up with all these poets!

Please email me if you would like to buy a copy, or they will shortly be available via the Red Squirrel website.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Callander Poetry

Helena Nelson, from Happenstance,,
wrote about the fabulous Callander Poetry Weekend, so I'm not about to add to that, except to say thank you to Sally and Ian for the poetry, the workshops and discussions, the friends, the food, the laidback atmosphere - not to mention the chance to read from the book!

(You'll hear all about that in the next post, but this one's for Sally!)

I'll just add a few pictures:

Kevin Cadwallender, who read from His latest book
Defragmenting Sappho, as well as his familiar more comic poems (including the famous Skincare for Daleks).

Sheena Blackhall reading - and singing ( there was a fair bit of that this year)

Anne Connolly reading from her new book Love in a Mist. Sally is listening. One of the very few things wrong with Callander is that we don't hear enough of Sally's own wonderful poetry!

Two things mean Callanderto me - Colin Will starting a session by sounding aTibetan singing bowl - it got into one of the Orpheus poems - and Ian Blake listening to someone read, with a cat on his lap.

The chickens were less than impressed with the poets invading their space!