It’s hard to write this and feel that there is anything positive to say. What positive can you take away from a life cut too short by a brutal disease?
I’m not even sure why I’m quite as cut up as I am. I didn’t know Scott, not personally. I know people who knew him, he could have been any one of my friends. Maybe that’s why it hurts, why so many people are touched by his music and his death. He could have been any one of us. He wrote about each of us, not just the surface things- the casual sex, the drink and drugs, the parties, the weather, the things that mark out normal Scottish lives. It was they way he got beneath our skins, because what was beneath his is beneath ours. The anxiety, the awkwardness, the constant presence of thoughts darker than the Scottish winters.
Maybe I’m cut up because his lyrics run through my own work. MAybe not directly but Frightened Rabbit have been a constant muse. The feelings their songs bring me make their way into my own work. If I’m stuck they would be one of the first bands I put on to bring me home, to take me back to what I remember, what I love and what I hate about home.
Maybe I’m cut up because it’s another fail on the system, on the way we treat mental health, and the way we treat people with mental illness.
Maybe I’m cut up because selfishly, I won’t ever see them live now. I’ll never get to shout along with the crowd, pouring out my own landslide of rocks and hopes and fears.
Maybe it’s because everytime depression takes another of us I have the voice in the back of my head that knows why a person would want to end their life. Because that voice, the voice which is nothing but a disease, whispers a little too loudly to me sometimes too.
But maybe that’s also my positive here, the thing I’m taking away. Because I know that voice and when it claims another of us it gives me the strength to face it and tell it to go fuck itself. It won’t take me. And I will damn well fight to make sure it is silenced in as many people as I can reach in my work.
So fuck you depression. Fuck you mental illness.
While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth.
Goodbye Scott. Hope it’s easier on the other side.
It’s that time of year again. Jackie-time.
Now. Before we go any further. I KNOW. I think we’ve already established the fact that I’m pro-Indy. So, I KNOW we have issues with the Beeb.
But this isn’t about politics (for once). Or writing. This is about the majestic wonder of Jackie Bird. Say what you like about The BBC. Jackie is fantastic.
Hogmanay would not be Hogmanay without her. Even this guy agrees:
But Jackie is more than just a sparkling outfit and an even more sparkly smile:
Happy New Year everyone. May 2017 be massively better than 2016.
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:http://www.cms.dundee-howff.info/index.php/history
And for more of Grissell Jaffrey take a look at the awesome Dark Dundee site: http://www.darkdundee.co.uk/people-politics/grisselljaffray/
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.
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.
It’s two years to the day since Scotland voted to remain part of the UK. I wish I could be more objective about this but it still hurts a bit. And yes, I know, because it has been pointed out more than once, that I don’t have a right to an opinion on this having chosen to leave eight years ago. But guys, I’m sorry. I do have an opinion and the last two years watching Britain descend into fear and insularity has done nothing to change it.
I wish it had been different. But the results cannot be changed. Unlike the face of Scottish politics. Back in 2014, I was on a trip through the Rockies with my parents and staying in a cabin in the mountains. I had no idea if I was going to have access to the internet that day so before I left Banff I posted:
Probably losing internet later today so before I go I just want to extend my thanks to everyone back home for embracing the referendum. I don’t need to tell you all how important it is but for those elsewhere reading this- it is momentous. A country is deciding its fate by democratic vote. It’s not something that happens very often. Whatever the result Scotland has changed history, and changed itself. Nothing will be the same again- people now know they have a voice- the fact that the result looks like being so close really only emphasises this. It’s brilliant and inspiring. Yes there’s been a lot of trolls come out- yes the debate has been heated and personal at times. I expect nothing less, it is personal. But overall, I’m so proud right now to be Scottish. Go vote guys- Looking forward to Friday when I can find out the score!
Throughout the campaign I was so impressed by the way everyone embraced it. I heard stories of people discussing it at bus stops, in the pub. Wherever people went they were talking. And that was huge.
In the end, the result wasn’t the one I’d wanted. It was the one some other folk wanted. But in the end, Scotland gained something that it will be hard to kill- the knowledge that the people really do have the power to change things. Shame that couldn’t have filtered south during the Brexit vote.
But at least we can still blame the English. The other alternative was cats. And that just wouldn’t have been so satisfying.
The sea plays a vital role throughout The Remote Part. It is never far from the action and its moods often set the tone for the chapter. But for Isla the sea is part of who she is. It is a realisation that comes to her as the novel progresses, but even in the opening chapter she cannot escape it’s grasp.
Exhausted and sick she curls up in bed only to be pulled out into the night by Stewart, and pushed into the sea. More than anyone he knows the power it has to heal her.
Before them the sea roared, the waves breaking close to shore, so close she could taste the spray. The pull of the waves on the land was almost unbearable now, pulling her in. As if he knew she could no longer stand it, she felt his lips on her forehead, cool against her hot skin. His voice cut over the pounding rhythm of the water.
“Come back to me,” he said.
His hand was on her back gently pushing her towards the sea.
She stepped forwards, the sand giving way unevenly beneath her until she was running, falling to where land met sea, where everything was blurred. The water wrapped around her and she let her body be carried by it until she was through the churn of the shoreline and out into the heave of the open water. The currents whipped round her like the wind. They tugged at her, tugged at what was inside her. She fought them, instinctively, until the calm came. It came slowly, a warmth which sparked in her chest and flowed out to the tips of her fingers and toes to the top of her head. She let herself sink, deeper and deeper, losing the sense of where she stopped and the water started.
Frightened Rabbit are another band that is going to pop up a lot here. This is classic Scottish Indie rock. And they just keep getting better. There’s a darkness through their work, particularly Scott Hutchison’s lyrics that just gets to me. It’s a brutal honesty, almost a slap in the face sometimes that draws me in again and again. These songs sum up so much of the Scottish experience, the reality of a life that is harsh but not without joy.
This song worked its way into the novel as a whole. The idea of Isla being linked to the sea, bound to it. The way the water can cleanse and heal but also how it can empty a soul.
And the land is a marker line
All I am is a body adrift in water, salt and sky
So here’s the song:
I’d like to say I listen to music as I write, that I sit down at my old oak desk and tap out words in time to pretty tunes. But in reality I do most of my plotting in the car on the school run. So my inspiration comes from what CDs are in the glovebox. Or at least they did until I dicovered Spotify. Now I just stick it on shuffle and see what happens. It’s making the WIP interesting.
For this novel it is the songs I listened to on the road to daycare that worked their way into the text, inspired whole chapters and gave the project its name. So that’s where we start today. With the name.
It’s going to become pretty obvious that I’m a big Idlewild fan. They are one of those bands I’ve followed from the start- I remember them rolling round the floor of the Old Old 13th Note in Glasgow in the mid-90’s, creating a shambolic noise that still somehow managed to tear your heart apart with the gorgeous lyrics. This was that post-punk, post-grunge noise that Scotland reverberated to back then. And it had soul.
Fast forward a few years and things have calmed down a bit but at the centre the pure poetry of Roddy Woomble slays me every time.
The Remote Part is the third album, released in 2002, was on repeat in the car for a long time. My daughter knows the entire album off by heart. The songs wove their way through the story but it is the last one- In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction featuring Edwin Morgan that ended up being anthem for the book. This song, for me, captures the relationship between Isla, the main character and her home.
I also make a cheeky reference to it in chapter 19. Because I couldn’t resist.
She was eventually roused by a nudge and became aware that Stewart was playing the guitar and singing an old Idlewild song that she loved. She guessed from Fiona’s frantic nudging and the fact that he was looking in the opposite direction from her that it was directed her way. She also realised it was apparently a favourite of the group when he did his best Edwin Morgan impression to hearty cheering. He handed the guitar to Neil once he was done and announced he was going outside for a smoke.
So go have a listen.