Archived pages Maggie Graham writer's diary 2003 - 05


February, 2005

Well, it's all happening. Aye Write, Glasgow's first book festival opened on Sat 19th. The programme looks extremely interesting and includes our own AL Kennedy, Orange prize-winner Andrea Levy, new writers from Glasgow University's M. Phil in Creative Writing course and Liz Lochhead, who has just been appointed Glasgow's new poet laureate. For the full programme see

I?m not directly involved in any of the events at the Mitchell Library but I will be heading an event being held in conjunction with the Workers' Educational Association and Aye Write. I'm hosting a writers' workshop called Beginning To Write Fiction at Saint Mungo's Museum on Thursday 24th of February, 1-3pm. Anyone interested in reserving a place in the workshop should contact Paul McGill at the WEA on 0141 221 10003 or email

On Saturday 19th I presided at another WEA event when all of the association's writers' groups met in the Glasgow office. I read from Sitting Among the Eskimos before opening the floor to any writers who wished to read. We had quite a few takers and the readings were brilliant. Lunch was followed by an information session on Aye Write and I'm sure the writers all felt the benefit of getting out and about among their peers.

I've been scootin aboot like a burst pipe (as my mother used to say) lately. Last week I finished teaching two Return to Learn courses at the WEA. My students were all health workers and did extremely well in completing all their assignments while holding down full-time jobs, looking after families etc. On the last day they presented me with cards and gifts, including the Scots Dialect Dictionary. I was all chuffed and now I can spell skeich, which has umpteen meanings but I use it to mean spirited and brisk. I have quite a few other courses coming up and I've definitely been feeling the lack of writing time. However, I was pleased to re-discover that other artists and art forms can still nourish my own creativity. At the beginning of February I went along to the Women?s Library to a screening by a young filmmaker, Lotta Pelligrini. Lotta's work, in particular a short film featuring four generations of Shetland women, was beautiful and uplifting. I'm a big fan of the Women's Library but I hadn't been there since last year. It's a wonderfully welcoming space for women with a great programme of events and activities on

While I was there I signed up for a series of mosaic workshops on the theme of inspiring mothers. The work will be exhibited on International Women's day and I'm really looking forward to it. I also had a very arty day last Friday when my friend Harry Donachy visited from Saltcoats. We went to GOMA, the Glasgow Print Studios, Transmission Gallery and Street Level Gallery and had lunch in Caf? Uno in Royal Exchange Square. Harry aided and abetted by his grandson, Stephen managed to negotiate his wheelchair round the streets of Glasgow without too much trouble. However, with the exception of GOMA I had to ask every gallery assistant to open doors etc. Accessibility doesn't appear to be a big concern in the smaller galleries, which is a shame.

So here I am, all fired up by the visual arts. The novel continues to go slowly, but its going. Also, I've just this morning sent of a proposal to the BBC for a radio project. Fingers crossed. But my most news is that I'm going back to New York in April at the invitation of my friend Judi. I'll be there for a week, staying at her place in Greenwich Village. I can't wait.

Writer's Diary: 27th December 2004

Christmas is over and I was determined to write this before the end of another year.

I got through the shopping madness unscathed, mainly by buying lots of books: poetry, historical biography, World War 2 history, Middle Eastern history, contemporary fiction, a couple from the new (inexpensive) Penguin: Great Ideas series (we're a very versatile family) and a beautifully illustrated edition of The Night Before Christmas for the baby, with entreaties to his parents to read it aloud every Christmas Eve for the rest of his childhood.

Apart from my dream trip to New York I didn't do much gadding about this year and aside from my radio play, Forever Young, I wasn't writing much. I did, however, read some entertaining and uplifting novels.

Siri Hustvetd's ?What I Loved' is just the type of literary fiction I revel in. Set in the New York art world of the seventies and eighties it skilfully portrays the lives and work of artists and art critics whilst also telling a very personal and human story of loss and heartbreak. ?Seek My Face' by John Updike is also set in the art world. Hope, a seventy-eight-year-old painter from Vermont recounts her life story to Kathryn, a young interviewer from New York. This isn't an ?easy' read; for instance there are no chapter breaks but it is a beautifully written and fascinating story.

I've already raved about ?Dancer' by Colum McCann but I can't praise this book too highly. A ?life' of Rudolf Nureyev, it weaves fact and fiction, using different narrative voices and perspectives and vivid characterization. Victor, a Venezuelan hustler is artfully portrayed with "here comes loneliness, parading itself all the way down the street", a line I would've killed to have written. This novel is an achingly beautiful exploration of artistry and exile and I again thoroughly recommend it.

I met Colum McCann in New York at the launch of Colm Toibin's ?The Master': two charming, talented Irishmen for the price of one. And I bought the American edition of Toibin's novel which has a much nicer cover. I say it again, this novel is a masterpiece. I found myself reading five pages at a time, rationing my reading because I didn't want it to end. A fictional biography of Henry James, it deserved to win the Booker Prize but was beaten by Alan Hollinghurst's ?The Line of Beauty' which I couldn't finish because it bored me to sobs. One of my Christmas gifts was ?Now is the Time to Open Your Heart' the latest novel from Alice Walker. Walker's books always have beautiful titles: ?By the Light of My Father's Smile', 'Possessing the Secret of Joy', ?In Search of Our Mother's Garden's', ?The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart'. I'm half-way through this latest novel which tells the story of Kate, a fifty-something writer who journeys down the Colorado river and the Amazon jungle in search of strength and wisdom. The book jacket sums it up better than I can:

? Written with Alice Walker's flawless and passionate prose, this is a beautiful meditation on wisdom and nature-the story of one woman's spiritual quest, her passage through time, and her collision with love'.

All that and a box of truffles still unopened. This fifty-something writer couldn't ask for more.

So, that's the reading. As for the writing, I've laid aside ?Precious Little' for the time being. I'm not saying I will never write it; just that I can't write it now and it was stopping me from writing anything else. I've started something new but won't talk about it for fear of scaring the muse away. I'm also working on an idea for another radio script which has to be with the BBC by February. My only New Year's resolution will be to show up at the page, i.e. sit down and write every day no matter what. That way my diaries might be a bit uneventful but when I've finally written another book I'll be a happy woman.

Have a happy and peaceful New Year.

Writer's Diary: 21st September 2003

Hello. Bet you thought I'd done a runner. I must admit to having been sorely tempted.

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. For quite a while now I've had a bad case of writer's block, and not writing turns me into the dullest person imaginable. I've had to rack my brains to think of anything to put down here, even though I know fine well that once I start they?ll come to me.

My radio dramatisation of "Sitting Among The Eskimos" was repeated on August bank holiday Monday, which was quite a coup, and I've got another commission from the BBC. The Afternoon Play again, to be broadcast next August. There, that's something. And I've been invited to go to New York to do readings. No definite dates yet, and it will depend on the Scottish Arts Council giving me a travel grant, so I'm not building my hopes too high.

Also, I turned fifty in July, which was a bit of a shock to the system. I don't know why; I knew it was coming. Fabulous at forty I managed no bother, but fifty requires a whole new mindset. I keep seeing young women with their hair in pigtails, and thinking, I'll never be able to do that now, even though the last time I had pigtails was in Primary Four, and I was mortified. Some of you out there who've known me for a while will be thinking "What the hell is up with her?" And the answer is "Huvnie a scooby; I just know I don?t like it".

I did havea lovely time with the family on and around the day itself. One memorable moment was my granddaughter Aimie singing Happy Birthday in Spanish, which she'd learned at nursery. She's recently started primary school, and reports are mixed. According to the teacher, she won't do a thing she?s told, and glowers if rebuked. However, she does spend a lot of time in the book corner, singing away to herself. Must be in the genes.

As a birthday gift, my daughter Cara gave me two tickets for the Dixie Chicks concert at the SECC last Friday. It was great to see them live, but the highlight of my night was walking back along the tunnel after the show, and seeing the actress who plays Moira in River City strolling along singing "Wide Open Spaces" at the top of her lungs. I'm sorry I don't know her real name, but she looked and sounded fantastic.

Sadly Cara wasn't able to go to the concert with me. She is expecting her first child in December, and has a condition called Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction, which makes walking, and almost all movement extremely painful. The tests and scans show that the baby is healthy and very active, but Cara is in almost constant pain. She has had physiotherapy, and has a brace which she doesn?t find much of a help. If there are any women out there who have experience of this condition, I'd be grateful if you'd get in touch with me, and I'll pass your comments on to Cara.

On the work front, I'm teaching Adult Literacy a couple of evenings a week for the WEA, and I've been out to Easterhouse Library to meet with the Reading Group and Writers' Group, and both groups were enthusiastic and very welcoming. My friend, Elizabeth Reeder is Writer in Residence in Easterhouse, and she's doing a great job. Elizabeth's also involved with Open Ink. Unfortunately, because of my evening class and having to travel by bus back from Pollok, I didn't make it along to the launch of their new anthology: A Fictional Guide to Scotland, but I do have a copy of the book, and there?s some terrific writing in there.

A couple of people from my past have been in touch through the site. Jim Robertson, who was a trainee at a centre in the East End, which I ran a few years back, put a comment on the page. I did try to email you, Jim, but didn't appear to have the right address. And an old friend from Saltcoats, Harry Donachy, got in touch after hearing the repeat of the radio play, and looking me up on the net. Harry and I were both adult pupils at St. Andrew's Academy in Saltcoats, and we went to Glasgow University at the same time. We lost touch after I moved to Glasgow, and it was great to get an email from him. Harry is very active in the local arts scene down there in what he describes as "that cultural desert", despite suffering from Multiple Sclerosis and having to use a wheelchair most of the time. He tells me his latest project is on Environmental Art, and is centred on the changes to Ardrossan Harbour. I'm going down to Saltcoats next weekend, and hopefully I'll catch up with Harry then. Is there anyone else out there I haven't seen for years? So, writers block. Roughly translated it means fear, plain and simple. Fear that the second book won?t be as good as the first, and that I'll be judged and found to be a one-hit-wonder.

Precious Little has been drafted, re-drafted, torn up, started again from scratch, and lies half-finished and ignored for days (weeks) on end while I procrastinate and give myself anxiety attacks on the Underground. I've tried all the self-help books, most notably every one Julia Cameron ever wrote. I've also given up booze, and tried therapy. Nothing works. I do know that the only way out is to do it, and that the only way to be a one-hit-wonder is to only write one book. Maybe that's why Donna Tart took ten years to write her second novel, and why Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mocking Bird never wrote another one. I will keep trying, if only for the sake of my poor beleaguered agent, Victoria, who has shown remarkable restraint in not threatening me with litigation (yet). So, if you catch me wandering around the West End looking hunted, then jump out in front of me and shout, "Go home and write", at which point I'll burst into tears, and you?ll have to take me for a drink. I know I said I'd given it up, but for medicinal purposes??..

17th February 2003

'Spring is sprung, the grass is riz I wonder where dem boidies is Dem ittle boids is on the wing .............'

I can't for the life of me remember where this comes from, but it's been running through my head all day. Anyone out there, who recognises the poem, please let me know.

So, spring is sprung indeed, and it should be time for getting out and about. I've managed a few sorties lately, but by far the most significant was the Anti-War march and demonstration on Saturday. I don't have an exact figure for how many people were there, and neither do the newspapers; figures ranged from fifty to eighty to a hundred thousand. I only know that the sight from the top of the hill at St Vincent Street of a sea of people stretching back further that I could see was the most impressive I have ever seen. I know that there were a number of other writers there, including Alasdair Gray, Bernard McLaverty, Suhayl Saadi, the poet Aonghas MacNeachail, and A L Kennedy, but the only one I saw was Alison Kennedy, perched on a fence at the SSCC, laughing. She's a great laugher as well as a very talented author.

I went as what is popularly known as a "protest virgin", nearly fifty years of age and never been on a march before. I don't think I was the only one, though. Judging by some of the conversations I had, many of us could've marched behind a banner saying Grannies for Peace. In hindsight the day becomes a collage, an assemblage of sights, sounds and emotions. Two buses filled with women drummers parked behind a fire engine on the edge of Glasgow Green, a banner that said 'Gonnie No' A man in a jester's hat playing sporadic jazz trumpet, a middle aged woman banging a loaf tin with a table spoon outside the SECC, a wee girl with a whistle, who when she wasn?t blowing, shouted We Don't Want Your Stupid War, another banner that said "Down With This Sort of Thing" that gave me fits of the giggles, a woman patting a police horse, and the polis man telling her, "Aye, she's getting old now, but she's a good horse", leaving the SECC after the speeches and being brought to a complete standstill by sciatica, at the same time as Douglas's back went, hobbling along to the Snaffle Bit pub and meeting my neighbour, Ruth who showed me photos of the day on her mobile phone.

I didn't go as a writer, I wasn't thinking of myself as a writer, only as a concerned human being, as a mother and grandmother, but as we marched along Saltmarket I looked up at a block of flats, and at every window was a young person; one boy wrapped in his duvet, a girl in a Rangers top, and at one particular window, a young guy who'd set his stereo speakers out on the sill, and was blasting out Bob Marley's 'One Love'. He didn't wave or smile, he just stood there letting his music speak for him, and I couldn't see him for tears. This morning I wrote about him in my notebook, but I think he deserves much more than that, so he's here now for everyone to see.

I regret not breaking away from my friends and running up those stairs to tell him how proud he made me, for there he was, letting his spirit travel along Saltmarket with the Anarchists, the Socialist Workers, Scottish Socialists, Trades Unionists, mammies and daddies and weans, virgins and grannies. One love.

And now here's some writer's news.

Launch at 6pm on 28th February in Borders Books, Glasgow of Mother Tongue (Survivors' Press) , by Nicholas Naumov translated into more than 40 (yes, forty) languages, from Arabic to Maori, from Amharicto Lugandan, taking in Gaelic, Scots, and Glaswegian along the way (Irish too.)

I quote from the Foreword by Edwin Morgan:

" A language, if it can be translated, is in essence universal, but it is also intensely native and local, and its preservation has often been a rallying-call for the soul of a people, just as its attempted suppression can be brutal and vicious beyond the bounds of linguistics."

More info on launch from Gerry Loose: 0141 556 4554; All Welcome

And OpenInk, a new not-for-profit organisation (maybe one day a press!), is calling for fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry submissions for a collection of Scottish Writing they plan to publish in the late summer. Anonymous submissions will be shortlisted by the OpenInk editorial board and the final stories will be chosen by two guest editors (Suhayl Saadi is confirmed! and they have another great author lined up but not yet confirmed) and someone from OpenInk.
OpenInk seeks short stories, creative non-fiction (max 5000 words, they'd love a variety including short shorts) and poetry (max 500 words) on any theme for anthology to be published autumn 2003.

Please send two copies of your work to OpenInk, Wellpark Business Centre, Unit 14, 120 Sydney Street, Glasgow G31 1JF.

Writers must be Scottish/based in Scotland, max 2 submissions per person, name and full contact details on separate sheet, send SAE for return of work. Deadline - March 31st 2003

For further information or opportunities to support OpenInk see website:
I might even have a go at that one myself.

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