Saturday, 30 June 2018

Poetry competition win!

The creative writing class that I go to every Friday occasionally ventures outside its room in the Southside Community Centre. Among other excursions, we have: visited the Early Peoples Gallery in the National Museum of Scotland; walked the Edinburgh Labyrinth in George Square Gardens; sat on benches in the Meadows; looked at the buildings in the streets around the Centre; and watched tapestry being made at the Dovecote Studios.

We have also been to Surgeons' Hall Museum with its fascinating, gory collections. These include various items connected with the notorious 19th-century grave robbers William Burke and William Hare

After digging up newly buried bodies and selling them to the Edinburgh University anatomist Dr Robert Knox, Burke and Hare progressed to murder and are thought to have had at least sixteen victims. They invented a murder method, still known as ‘burking’, a kind of suffocation, and they picked on unlikely-to-be-missed people, on the margins of society.

Mary Haldane was a prostitute around the dark streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town. She must have had a bleak existence – and she came to a very bleak end at the hands of Burke and Hare.

I’ve never done this before or since, but when I came home from that visit I quickly wrote, in prose, how I imagined Mary’s life and death, while what I had learned in Surgeon’s Hall was fresh in my mind. Then I turned it into a poem called For Mary Haldane, a victim of Burke and Hare, 1828.

Now … tada … the poem has won a competition run by Grey Hen Press and is on their website here; I am gratified to learn there were 500 entries. It’s not cheery – you’ve been warned – but I see from the judges’ report (not that they mentioned my poem specifically) that any poem with an interesting title or an unusual subject was most likely to catch their eye which I thought good advice for next time …

Friday, 22 June 2018

Six in May

I read six books in May.

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner
A second police procedural with the terrific DI Manon Bradshaw. I read the first one Missing, Presumed and loved it; was not disappointed with this one and do hope there will be more.
As dusk falls, a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding from a stab wound. He dies where he falls, cradled by a stranger, a woman's name on his lips in his last seconds of life. ...

Bought in Christian Aid book sale.
Years ago I read and loved Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by the same author. I liked this one less but there is something fascinating, when you live in a place that’s more often than not a wee bit wet and chilly (OK, ‘dreich’), to read about the Deep South of America when the intense heat and the fecundity of nature transfer themselves to the printed page – and you find characters with names like Calla Lily … Louisiana is a brilliant place to spend a few hours virtually, but I’ll stick with dreich for everyday.

Plotting for Beginners by Sue Hepworth and Jane Linfoot
Bought in Christian Aid book sale
In his fifties, Sally’s husband goes to build himself a cabin in the wilds of America, and live like his hero Thoreau for a year. Sally is happy enough anticipating all that time to herself and trying to make a success of her writing, but first her d-i-y obsessed brother in need of a temporary home disturbs her peace and then there’s her boomerang son and the local lothario and other distractions. Can her long-distance marriage survive?

Read on Kindle
‘Nine romantic novelists from Yorkshire and Lancashire, including best-selling and award-winning authors, have joined together to create this collection of uplifting stories guaranteed to warm your heart. This intriguing mix of historical and contemporary romances will make you laugh, cry, and believe in the happy-ever-after.’ What more can I add except that I enjoyed this collection – and every community should definitely have a Miss Moonshine.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Bought in Christian Aid book sale.
ES has been on my radar for a while but this is the first one I’ve read. Why have I waited so long? It’s a miracle, this book. Olive, a retired teacher, is looked at from the points of view of various people with whom she is regularly, or hardly ever, in contact with. In some chapters she barely appears. Sometimes she comes over in a good light, sometimes not. I didn’t really like her, not until the very end – not that that mattered at all because I think this is the most effective portrayal of a character I have ever read. It’s all beautifully written but the last chapter particularly – I read it quickly because it drew me in and then read it again to appreciate the language.

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
A retired Irish couple take a break in Amsterdam and over the few days the fractures in their relationship are revealed.

This has been much lauded but my appreciation of it suffered because I read it directly after the Elizabeth Strout and any book would have paled in comparison … plus for me two authors, Anne Tyler and Carol Shields, have covered this territory more beguilingly.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

An island story

I have just come back from a holiday with friends on the Isle of Arran – ‘Scotland in miniature’ as it is deservedly known because of the variety of scenery contained within a circumference of fifty-five miles.

Last week there was no rain, only the gentlest of breezes, and glorious sunshine from morning to night, on this island off the west coast of Scotland (yes, really … ).

Having lived there as a teenager I know that the weather is not like that all the time … but it is beautiful come wind or rain. My three friends, two of whom had never been before, and I briefly entertained fantasies of abandoning our families, moving there and opening a tea-room.

 However, back in the real world … memories of working in an Arran hotel one summer holiday many years ago inspired a story in this collection:


It’s called Summertime Blues. Can you guess what the era is from the first paragraph?

It’s Saturday night and I’m getting ready for the dance. Purple flares, white cheesecloth smock, strappy sandals, hoop earrings. Plum eye shadow, two coats of mascara, a spray of Aquamanda, and I’m ready.

Read on …

Friday, 1 June 2018

A writerly week

Didn’t get much writing done … but had a very nice writerly week nonetheless.

The last meeting of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club year was on Monday. The AGM followed by the prize-giving and a social event. I’ve been the membership secretary for rather a long time but I stepped down this year and was touched to be presented with these lovely flowers.

The Club year begins again on 24 September 2018, 7.30. Grosvenor Hilton Hotel, Grosvenor Street and meets every fortnight until the end of May. The 2018-19 programme will be up on the website towards the end of August. You can also find the Club on Facebook.

When I joined the Club I had never been published or even tried to be but I found people to be very friendly and helpful and it was so encouraging to get feedback in the competitions and from other members, and thus to think I might actually send a story out into the big wide publishing world.

Fourteen years on, although of course members have come and gone, the ethos of the Club is still the same – it’s a mix of published and unpublished writers who write in various genres (novels, short stories, poetry, drama, articles) but who come together in their shared love of the written word.

It is no exaggeration to say that joining Edinburgh Writers’ Club changed my life!

One of the encouraging members I met when I joined EWC was Anne Stenhouse. Now she and I and two other writers, Jennifer Young and Jane Riddell, all Edinburgh based, have come together as Capital Writers. The idea is to have a joint platform for promoting our writing. So we have a website, a Facebook page and are on Twitter @reekiewriters. We have produced a book of short stories, one from each of us, Capital Stories, as a taster of our work; a further anthology is in the pipeline for the end of the year.

And on Wednesday this week, Anne, Jane and myself (Jennifer was away) found ourselves on a writers’ panel at the Corstorphine Festival (Corstorphine is an area of Edinburgh), alongside crime writers Wendy H. Jones and Cecilia Peartree, and Ray Bell who was there to talk about his book Literary Corstorphine.

There was (almost) more panel than audience but what a lovely audience they were, really friendly and engaged and asking excellent questions. Capital Writers had a capital time and <hint> are available for similar events …

I have a story in the current issue (No 158) of The People’s Friend Special called What Would Jane Think?, my thirty-third for the PF. I do like the illustration they've had done for it.