I met Maggie Graham in the year 2000 when she had just won the Robert Louis Stevenson Award for her first novel ‘Sitting Among The Eskimos’. An Ayrshire lass she is now firmly ensconced in Glasgow’s West End and from time to time she delights us with a little peep into her trials, joys and literary world.
Chaired by Jim Crumley.
Sir John Lister-Kaye is one of Britain’s best-known nature conservationists. The author of nine books on wildlife and the environment, which include From The hearth, Nature’s Child and At The Water’s Edge and his latest; Gods of The Morning: A Birds Eye View Of A Highland Year, which is set in and around Aigas Highland Field centre, which he runs. He began by telling us of his various struggles with his publisher over this latest book. This was to be purely a bird book, because “nature writing doesn’t sell”. His readership, used to his first-person, anecdotal style, would not read about more serious topics, such as climate change and environmentalism.
His readings and conversation did deal with birds but also the ways he managed to get into other subjects, such as his pet dogs and various visitors to the field centre. He put his audience at ease, and it did feel like sitting at the fireside with a wee dram, in conversation with an old friend. Until, that is, he opened his mouth and put his foot right in it. In the midst of a tale of birds destroying other birds’ nests and attacking them, he said: “I mean these birds were thugs, gangsters, just like Glaswegians.” Stony silence. He then compounded matters “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that: when I leave I’ll find my tyres have been slashed.” Oh, how we laughed.
Sir John rapidly gained ground by being erudite and informative. He talked of the American Transcendentalists, wilderness writing, the Romantic poets in England, including Wordsworth and his sister Dot (as if he were and old family friend of Dorothy’s) He also spoke of his relationship with his friend and mentor Gavin Maxwell, who encouraged him to become a writer. It was only during audience questions that we saw the serious side to the author and his work. He spoke of his parents and his early career, climate change and environmental disasters in his lifetime, including the Tory Canyon.
I am a great fan of the man’s books and the event was very informative and enjoyable. However, I fear it may be some time before he lives down that terrible faux pas.
Review by Maggie Graham, April 22, 2015
As the editors of Edwin Morgan’s correspondence, John Coyle and James McGonigal could have made this event a dry academic treatise, but it was much more. McGonigal who studied with Morgan at Glasgow University, is his biographer and literary executor and John Coyle, is a senior lecturer in English at Glasgow. Their fondness for the poet as a man and admiration of his work was the evident throughout, even though, it seems their task was a huge one. The correspondence that was eventually published is, we were told, around a third of one tenth of that available to them.
Between readings from the book, they spoke of Morgan’s work and life. So we learnt that Edwin Morgan’s mother had worked as a typewriter, the word typist not yet being in use, and how it was she who taught him to type. They also spoke about the struggles Morgan had to have his more Avant-garde poetry accepted by the establishment, including his friend Hugh MacDiarmid It was meeting and corresponding with poets Gail Turnbull and Ian Hamilton Findlay who wrote concrete poetry amongst other forms, that gave Morgan the creative cohorts and acceptance he had craved.
Readings ranged from a hilarious account of MacDairmid’s birthday party, to kindly generous replies to students and school children and tender love notes, written at a time when his homosexuality had to be kept secret. One of the most interesting, to me, was Morgan’s account of watching the moon landings on TV on 21st July 1969, which just happened to be the date of my sixteenth birthday. The sixties fascinated and energised Morgan. He referred to them as “an unforgettable gauge on the landscape” of the times.
This event gave the audience a real sense of Morgan as man, poet, friend, lover and teacher. This “one man Google” as John Coyle called him. It was entertaining and informative. A great start on day one of the festival.
Aye Write 2015-04-20 Maggie Graham
I’m not sure why I haven’t written here in ages. Life, I suppose, just life, which most of the time is pretty unremarkable. However, now I definitely have something to write about. I must begin by thanking Pat Byrne for singing my praises in her piece Maggie Graham, Glasgow Writer and for adding a link to my most recent publication: An Insult to the Brain (PDF). I am really delighted.
Those of you who can remember will know that I have a wheen of grandchildren. The latest count is six: Aimie and Jack live in Ardrossan, Michael, Daniel and Christopher moved to Bangkok with their parents last August and the latest addition is Maisie Jane Montgomery, born to my son Steven and his wife Kia in Melbourne on the 28th of March 2012. Despite a year of photos and regular Skype calls I was longing to hold my latest grandchild, so I booked a flight and flew out at the end of March this year, just in time for Maisie’s first birthday.
My holiday got off to a chaotic start. I fell downstairs the day I arrived, after twenty-five hours travelling, suffering scrapes, bruises and a nasty bump on my head. Then my mobile died on me and my bank card refused to work in shops and ATMs. Eventually I was able to get down to some serious reading. Maisie loves her Animals book and Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes, which became one of my favourites too. “And all of these babies, as everyone knows, had ten little fingers and ten little toes.”
And then there was the birthday party. I made chocolate crispy cakes for the first time in years. They went down well but weren’t a patch on Kia’s gorgeous birthday cake and cupcakes. The birthday girl had nearly as much fun as her parents.
We made quite a few sightseeing trips as a family, to Melbourne Botanical Gardens, St Kilda with its gorgeous beachfront and funfair, lunch on Brunswick St, which reminded me of the west end and the massive Victoria market which is a foodie heaven with meat, fish and vegetable stalls and lots of wee delis. Nearly as good as the hot doughnuts we bought from a street vendor, before heading home. One Sunday Steven and I went to St. Andrews (not for the golf) driving through the countryside, seeing kangaroos on the way and stopping at a lovely wee hotel for lunch. On the way home we spotted a bar named “A Boy named Sue” but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera!
That same week I went with Kia’s aunts Kerry and Donna and her mum Debbie to Kerry’s family’s holiday home near Mansfield, Victoria. I had such a lovely time in a beautiful home deep in the country and facing a lake, listening to screeching white cockatoos, which sound prehistoric, mingled with Herman’s Hermits Greatest Hits, which Kerry bought when we went into town. In Country Tales bookshop I bought two volumes of memoirs by the Australian writer, Susa Duncan. They’re set close to Sydney, not Melbourne and are lovely tales full of character and nature. I loved the town with its main street ad great shops and cafes and had such a great time with the ‘girls’. It felt lovely to be welcomed into the family and receive such wonderful hospitality. When I asked Debbie what a particular brightly-coloured bird was called, she said “That’s a Galah” which made me laugh, remembering Alf Stuart in Home and Away – “Ya bloody big Galah”.
Towards the end of my trip, when Steve and Kia were at work, I took the train into the city. I wandered Federation Square and the Ian Potter Gallery NVG Australia, which is the world’s first major art gallery dedicated exclusively to Australian art. The exhibition of indigenous art on the ground floor was breathtaking. I walked down to Federation Wharf and spent a quiet hour watching the cruise boats on the river. I made it along to some of Melbourne’s hidden lanes, with their cafes, shops and restaurants. By far the most interesting was the graffiti art lane I discovered when I followed a crowd of schoolchildren and their funky tour guide. Travel tip: if in doubt, follow the weans; they’re usually headed somewhere interesting. The next day I went back to Brunswick Street and found Grub Street books. New and second hand and just what I’d been looking for, as new books were very expensive. The owner told me he had been to Glasgow and that his niece lives here. Small world. I bought The Fog Garden by Marion Halligan which is one of the most interesting novels I’ve read in ages.
On my final trip to the city I met up with Mike Shuttleworth, a friend of my friend Alison Somerville whom she met at Perth University in the 1980s. Mike is programme manager at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and was able to recommend other Australian writers, including Helen Garner, Elizabeth Jolley and Tim Winton. He also told me that Janice Galloway, John Burnside, Kirsty Gun and Doug Johnston will be among the Scottish writers appearing at the MWF in August. So, lovely lunch with a very nice man and a great deal of writing talk. Bliss. I managed a quick trip to the Victoria Library with its beautiful domed ceiling and caught an exhibition of books and book production. Definitely my kind of day trip.
Back at Stevie and Kia’s we celebrated Anzac day with home-baked Anzac biscuits and watching Australian rules footie on telly. That’s the game where players are allowed to knock lumps out of each other and not get sent off. Everyone and I mean everyone follows the game, even the nanas. Well, not this nana but I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. I spent my last day with my beautiful family having lunch by the riverside and just enjoying their company. I won’t mention baby kisses and hugs and tears at the airport.
So now I’m home from the land where a two-dollar piece is smaller than a one dollar, sweeties are called lollies, even when they don’t have sticks, a greetin face is a sooky la la and my granddaughter now knows clap a clap a handies and ally bally bee. I loved all of it (apart from the daft fitba)
I’ll be back bonny lassie xx
Glasgow West End: Maggie Graham's Writer's Diary.
Monday 8 Oct 2012
An insult to the brain (extract) by Maggie Graham. Included in Issue 28 From Glasgow To Saturn. Glasgow University Ceative Writing Online Magazine.
Download From Glasgow To Saturn for free (PDF)
Monday 19 Mar 2012
Following Our Fathers is the story of two walks undertaken by the author. The first is the story of the flight on foot across Norway to Sweden, taken by her friend Yuli?s father when he escaped from the Germans in 1944. Sven Somme was active in the resistance movement before his capture and kept journals and detailed maps during his trek.
Linda Cracknell, although the history is not hers, takes pleasure in re-enacting it. Throughout we share her pleasure as ?the story seems to come alive?, and she enjoys ?the sense of walking a storyline?
Cracknell, an award-winning short story writer is continually preoccupied with ?whispering ways to seek out stories? as they ?travelled through a landscape half-Scottish, half strange?, coming to the places Swen had stopped, meeting the people who, risking their own lives, had given him refuge.
The language is that of the outdoorswoman, taking pleasure in the landscape and in nature. A river ?meanders? she points out the vegetation: juniper, blackberry, young birch, and the ?pudgy buds of alpine anemones?.
However, throughout there?s a wistfulness, an envy of Swen?s family. She has no memory of her own father, who died young. ?My own valley seems strangely punctuated. I?m inclined to think of myself as a full stop.
Her walk is also brought to an abrupt stop. Fearing what the BBC calls a ?spoiler? I won?t recount the reasons here. Left ?hazed and estranged? she returns home with a ?sense of a living, resonant path way? and a desire to follow in the footsteps of her own father.
This proves to be a far more difficult journey. Knowing only that her father, Richard, had done some mountain climbing in his youth, Linda researches to find out where and when. Eventually, accompanied by two male friends who are experienced mountaineers, she sets out to climb The Finsteraarhorn in the Swiss Alps, a mountain her father had climbed in his twenties.
Here the experience is a much harder one. It ?wasn?t a walk of rhythm and thought but a strict regime of care and concentration? She doesn?t know whether she will be ?enchanted or terrorised?. And, although she is undertaking ?her own memorial walk? she is aware that her father was half her age when he climbed this peak. Again I won?t recount the outcome here, but this is a very different journey, it is also a proud and tender memorial.
Beautifully illustrated with the author?s own line-drawn maps and photographs, Following Our Fathers is a wonderfully descriptive and emotive pair of tales. This book and other titles from ?best foot books? are available from: www.lindacracknell.com
Marie: Saturday 24 Dec 2011
Bringing Together Writers Working In Scotland: Wednesday 17 Nov 2010
Maggie Graham's Aye Write 2010: Wednesday 17 Mar 2010
Diversions: Wednesday 17 Mar 2010
Radio Plays and Family Celebrations: Monday 2 Aug 2004
Visit to New York: Monday 7 Jun 2004
Happy New Year.: Tuesday 20 Jan 2004
Writer's Diary, 24th September, 2003.: Wednesday 24 Sep 2003
What have I been doing in the last three months?: Saturday 17 May 2003[ RSS .91 RSS 2 ]