The Howff

Dundee Howff burial ground grave 2

It never struck me as strange, growing up, that smack in the city centre of Dundee there is a graveyard. But then I also grew up next to an undertaker so I was used to the idea of dead people from an early age.  When you think about it, it’s an odd thing, that right in the middle of town there’s an ancient burial ground. There’s a few, actually, but the others are attached to churches, which always makes them seem more proper. The Howff, on the other hand sits across the road from the DC Thomson offices. A stark reminder in these grim days of the slow, painful death of print media.

There was a church there once. A monastery to be exact, founded around 1260. A fact that will surely boggle the minds of most North Americans. Originally the gardens of Grey Friar’s monastery it was granted to the town as a burial ground in 1564 by Mary, Queen of Scots because apparently the stench of the burial ground outside St Mary’s church was too unbearable. Anyone wanting to make a comment about how this says a lot about Dundonians and their predilection to not washing and therefore being immune to stench would be well advised to hud their wheest.

The name comes from the fact the Nine Incorporated Trades used to use it as a meeting place, or Howff in Scots. Documents from the time mention that each Trade had a tombstone that they liked to gather round for meetings and on which the Deacon in charge of the Trade would sit. They paid rent to the town for the privilege of doing so. As well as their individual areas the Trades would meet together at a specified area where the “Convener’s Stone” stands. This stone also has dubious and unproven connections with the last witch executed in Dundee, Grissell Jaffrey, who was strangled and the burnt at the stake in 1669. People still leave offerings for her on this stone to this day.

It would be a shame really to set a book full of supernatural doings in Dundee and not bring the Howff into it. So I buried the protagonist, Moira’s, late lover there.

The Howff stands in the centre of Dundee. It is the dark, mossy heart of the town. Flanked on two sides by the unadorned walls of old tenements it seems rarely to get sunlight and rots away in a green, damp fug. Moira scaled the locked gates and walked up the pathway straight in front turning once right and then left before stopping at a worn chunk of stone. While in better condition than those surrounding it, it still showed the wear of 269 years under the east coast elements. Rain, sun, wind and the rub of Moira’s fingers had all worn away the writing that once marked it to be John Gordon’s final resting place. As she stood before it her only thought was his face, the joy it would be to see it again. The propriety of raising the dead was not something she’d ever worried about. Nor was it something she’d ever had a problem with before but as she stood there, hands out stretched, the energy crackling as it hit the ground, calling him from the Underworld, nothing happened.

She screamed in anger, and the sound resounded off the buildings, sending pigeons into the air and causing windows to break.

Again, she tried and again nothing happened. In the midst of her rage, she wondered if she needed to eat more but before she could decide a shadow appeared on the pathway to her right. Her heart leapt and his name formed on her lips but she held it back just in time. The shadow stood taller than John, broader in the shoulders. But no less familiar to her.

“Graham,” she spat the name like a curse.

John Graham of Claverhouse, Bonnie Dundee, Bloody Clavers, took form from the shadow.

For more on the Howff check out:


And for more of Grissell Jaffrey take a look at the awesome Dark Dundee site:


It’s been a wee while since the last post but things have been busy. I finally got the first draft of the Work In Progress (hereby referred to as The Lucky Weasel, with a promise to give it a better title at some point) finished. I’m trying to focus on starting an editing plan but never being much of a planner it’s causing massive headaches and much procrastination. Still, at least the dishes are done.

Reading through I’m noticing a trend. It’s possibly not a good trend and it’s doing nothing to dispel rumours that the Scottish diet is mostly anything deep-fried. Fast food is featuring heavily, there’s kebabs and pot noodles galore. But my favourite appearance is that of the helicopter.

Dear reader, it is time to introduce you to another of Dundee’s wonderful establishments. Clarks 24hr Bakery. Also known as Heaven.


I doubt there’s soul of drinking age (and a good few legally below that line) who has not, at one point or another, been saved by Clark’s. As it name implies it is open 24hrs. I’ll give you a moment to take that in. No matter what time of day or night you can fill your cravings for anything from an empire biscuits to a pot of stovies. I didn’t call it Heaven for no reason.

But wait…there’s more. There’s THE HELICOPTER. This is indeed food from the Gods. Manna. Nectar. Ambrosia. It is: bacon, egg, lorne*, burger and chips** all on a roll***. It puts a Scooby Snack to shame (more on those another day).


I only found one picture of this incredible meal on the internet which worries me that it has met its demise. Perhaps an unsuspecting punter who ate a whole one and died of a coronary has finally sued them. I’ve only ever seen someone eat a whole one once. And the was my good friend, Anna. A wee bit of a lass, not a pick on her. She ate it all and then my left-over stovies.  I will never respect anyone more.

Translations for North American:

*lorne– a square sausage patty

**chips– not for dip but rather fries.

****roll– bun

To read more on Clarks:


I’ve wanted to write about my hometown for ages. Like most Dundonians, I’m intensely proud of the place. It’s not got the romance of Edinburgh or Inverness. It’s not got the friendly reputation of Glasgow or the oil money of Aberdeen. In fact ask anyone outside the town what they think and they are likely to turn their nose up at it. Or back off in fear. As well they should. But ask a Dundonian and we’ll tell you another story. A story of how the light is perfect, of the way the river reflects sunsets in glorious colours. We’ll tell you of people who know hard work and hardship. We’ll tell you about the strong, fierce women who bind the city and its families together.

So, I’ve set the WIP (provisionally entitled The Lucky Weasel) in Dundee during the referendum of 2014 and this is the first in a series of short posts about the locations that come up in the novel.

The action opens in Mennies, also known as the Speedwell Bar, on the Perth Road. It’s one of my favourite Dundee places. Good beer, good punters, and scampi fries.  The pint of eighty I had on my last visit home still haunts my dreams with its silky loveliness. The bar’s website describes it as “one of the finest examples of an Edwardian Bar embracing all that was good in pub architecture at the beginning of the twentieth century.” Which is a fancy way of saying its affy bonny.  It makes a great location to set a book in, too. With a main bar, a couple of lounges and the world’s smallest ladies bathroom there’s plenty scope. Add in a magic weasel and the scene is set for a heist of Royal proportions:

No one noticed when Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth the Second walked in the side door of the Speedwell Bar and stole the Lucky Weasel. No one but me. And I wasn’t about to stop her. Not yet at least. So I just watched from the booth I’d managed to commandeer on this busy Saturday night as she leapt neatly over the gantry, sidled along the bar past Gary, stuck with his arm out pouring a pint, to where the weasel sat behind the gin. She tucked the beast in the folds of her cloak, throwing me a saucy wink before disappearing back out the side door. But not before she downed Iain Cunningham’s pint. I wasn’t sure this wouldn’t cause the bigger scandal.

Unfortunately, I made the legend behind the Weasel up. There’s no Weasel behind the gin. I checked. But maybe her Madge really did get it.

For more info on Mennies, see its website or Facebook Page.