This has been a great year for Maggie Graham her first novel 'Sitting Among the Eskimos' is about to be published this week (8 June, 2000); she is the winner of the Robert Louis Stevenson 2000 award for writing - as if that is not enough excitement for any Ayrshire lass - she is about to remarry.
When I met Maggie for the first time in The Chip (that infamous haunt of the literati, intelligentsia, wine drinkers and West End hoi polloi) she was looking marvellous in the good company of her daughter Cara and fiancee Douglas. She had just returned from an idyllic stay in the beautiful surroundings of Grez-sur-Loinghe a riverside village in south-east Paris, whose claim to fame just has the edge on Ashton Lane: In the19th century the Hotel Chevillon, where Maggie stayed for two months, was the home of international artists such as Strindberg, Carl Larson, Frederick Delias and "Glasgow Boys" Frank O'Meara, Arthur Melville and John Lavery. This was also where Robert Louis Stevenson met his wife Fanny.
Maggie's delight in winning the prestigious Stevenson award is refreshing and unmistakable with not a trace of nonchalence in sight.
"Winning the award was just marvellous. And to be given the opportunity to spend two months in such idyllic surroundings was almost unbelievable. I used to sit at my window, looking down at the river where Stevenson and the painters used to swim and sail their canoes, remembering the wee lassie going out in the dark mornings for her seven-o-clock shift in the dyeworks and think to myself. Aye, you've come a long way, baby"
Certainly, when Maggie started her working life as a factory girl in her native Ayrshire at the age of 15, she had little notion that she would become a successful writer. She married young and had three children before enrolling at St Andrew's in Saltcoats as one of the first adult pupils. In the company of school children Maggie worked her way through '0' grades, Highers and Sixth Year Studies before going on to study English Literature at Glasgow University.
After she graduated she moved to Glasgow where worked with the Workers Education Association. She began pursuing her interest in writing in 1994 when she enrolled in a creative writing course in Invernesshire. She was tutored by the writer Duncan McLean - he felt he had nothing to teach Maggie but he pushed and encouraged her to finish her first novel - when she claimed "I can't" his answer was "You can, now go away and do it".
Prior to signing her contract with Headline Review in 1999 Maggie combined her writing with child rearing. She has worked with a range of organisations including The Big Issue and Survivors Poetry - she was also co-ordinator and editor of The Blackhill Family Album which toured with Mayfest in 1997. Her short stories have been published in various journals and anthologies including 'New Writing Scotland'.
It has been suggested that her extremely funny debut "Sitting Among the Eskimos" is autobiographical: the story is about Lizzie Burns, a whacky mature student in the final year of an English degree struggling to cope with her finals, her children and a disgruntled elderly father. Thought to be "no right in the heid" by a resentful husband and most of her neighbours in the seaside town where she lives. She may be panicking but she is holding on tight to her aspirations.
Maggie is emphatic that the book is not her own life story, however, she has drawn on her experiences to produce this outstanding work about mothering, friendship, love, the clash of cultures and the fears and joys of life. "I've taken my experiences and combined them with imagination - it's not my life story" . She explains that some of it is "like when you think I wish I had said that or I wish that I had done that - well writing gives you that chance".
It's a fine piece of fiction and one of which Maggie is rightfully proud. Looks like 2000 will be a year to remember - maybe in 2001 we'll be watching the film. Scotland's 21st Century response to "Educating Rita".
"Sitting Among the Eskimos" was launched at Waterstones, 153 Sauchiehall Street on15th June 2000.
I remember Maggie well from our days together at St Andrews and later Glasgow University.
As I listened to the play on Radio 4 today 25th August the style and content could have come from no other. I just had to confirm it was youand wish you all success with your book.
I am still here in Saltcoats and very happy that one of us made it.
Continued success in all your endevours in the future.
--Harry Donachy ( harrydonachy at fsmail dot net ) from Scotland on 25.8.2003; 16:23:29 Uhr
I am so glad that you enjoyed Sitting Among The Eskimos.
And thank you for taking the time to comment on it,
I'm looking forward to visiting your beautiful country again very soon.
--Maggie Graham ( e-mail at yourhost dot com ) from Scotland on 5.10.2000; 0:00:00 Uhr