Glasgow Writers: Maggie Graham
I first met Maggie Graham back in 2000 when she had just returned from a month’s writing in Grez-sur-Loing. This trip was part of her prize for winning the Robert Louis Stevenson award for her first novel Sitting Among the Eskimos. The book was also shortlisted for the Saltire Prize.
More success was to follow when she was invited onto the BBC Writing for Radio course and guided through the adaptation of Sitting Among the Eskimos by director Bruce Young. Subsequently this was broadcast on BBC 4’s Afternoon Play and a second play, Forever Young, was broadcast in 2004.
She was ‘delighted’ to find Forever Young featured in the Choices page of the Radio Times, where it was described as ‘finely-written and beautifully performed’.
Maggie has enjoyed other achievements, and following a dream, she played a major role in the founding of the Scottish Writers’ Centre (SWC) at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts. It has flourished; providing a base from which writers can hone their craft and where a varied programme encourages and showcases the art of writing.
Maggie, a Board Member of SWC, has worn many different hats in her involvement with the group. She has contributed to workshops, given presentations and acted as a judge in competitions including. A short story competition. Let’s Get Lyrical, Aye Write.
Apart from Glasgow’s Literary Festival, Aye Write, she has participated in many festivals and literary events. Even taking herself off to New York, where she gave readings in the wonderful New York Public Library.
Maggie has also demonstrated her commitment to promoting literacy and writing to students at every stage. She’s taught literacy classes in the community and encouraged budding creative writers at courses with the Workers Education Association, Survivors’ Poetry, ProjectAbility and taught courses at University.
She has written poetry, scripts, contributed to anthologies and struggled with the arduous task of writing her second novel. However, disaster struck when she had stroke. Surely one of the most awful experiences anyone can suffer but a particular calamity for a writer.
For one so fluent and compelling in their writing this episode was a disaster for Maggie, who found her life turned upside down as she struggled to string words together in any sensible form. However, rather than complain about new found impediments, her confusion, loss of language and memory, stirred her to address these challenges through somewhat surprising routes.
In the initial phase of her recovery I was amazed by her realization, if not absolute acceptance, about what she couldn’t do, and her determination to channel her abilities into other areas. Unable to write, she acquired new skills and began crafting a variety of gifts for her friends and family. I was astounded when she produced artistic icons, their intricate designs created from odd buttons and beads placed upon discarded shoe heels she had picked up in the street.
Maggie appeared to work on the theory that if she couldn’t use her creativity in one way, then she would nourish and cultivate it in new ways. Her unspoken hope was that this strategy would assist her in the return of her writing ability.
Her strategy seems to have worked and if I was ever asked to describe what characterized the working of a writer’s mind then I would think of Maggie – with her openness to new ideas, relentless curiosity and a mind that’s ever lively and forever seeking answers.
It should have been no surprise that she channeled these traits into dealing with the plight created by her stroke. Her capacity to understand the onslaught she had experienced was impressive, but what was most striking was her ability to stand outside of herself, simultaneously displaying horror and amusement at her predicament.
Somewhere within this mix she continued to derive pleasure from friends and family and deal with day=to=day problems pragmatically. Now she is once again providing them with the opportunity to be knocked out anew by her writing.
Over the years Maggie has sporadically contributed to my website in her writer’s diary. At one point she wrote:
‘Famous diarists like Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Townsend Warner have written that the (unwritten) law of diary writing is that when interesting things are happening they don’t get written down. In my case it’s the opposite; when I don’t write, I can’t write.’
It seems now that she can write and most fittingly she was invited to read an extract from the book she is writing, An Insult To The Brain, at the Virginia Woolf conference at Glasgow University in 2010.
Recently a mind blowing extract from this book was published in Glasgow University’s Literary Magazine, From Glasgow to Saturn (PDF)
An Insult To The Brain (a short extract)
Neither day not night in the artificial light in which I wake.
Close your eyes.
Woman with a history of smoking and migraine.
Right sensorimotor disturbance.
MRI Brain confirmed recent infarct.
Close your eyes
Speech slurred and vision blurred.
In the tomb of the brain’s room, wound.
Close your eyes.
Every bed is narrow
I hunch here stunned and mute.
Empty team of specialists. How tall, like a race of trees…
Soon Maggie is setting off for Australia, where she’ll meet Maisie, her granddaughter for the first time. She’ll also be meeting Mike Shuttleworth, a Senior Lecturer in the Literature Department at Victoria University, to discuss the novel. He’s in for a treat.
Insult To The Brain is looking good – experimental, scary, engrossing and intriguing – looks like Ms Graham has resoundingly returned.
Pat Byrne, March, 2013.
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