This is the time of year when-no, that was the last one. However, Sitting Among The Eskimos has been uppermost in my thoughts since Bruce Young from the BBC emailed to say that he'd just got the audience reaction figures (called AI's) for much of last year's Radio 4 output. The figures represent the audience's appreciation rather than the actual size of the audience - so basically it's a measure of how much the regular R4 audience enjoy/dislike a particular programme. The average AI drama figure is 70 (although many plays register in the 50s or 60s). My drama of Sitting Among The Eskimos got 83 - which is just fantastic. I have to admit to being really chuffed; not bad for my first ever radio drama.
I was also delighted to receive an email from Miebaka Igah who is a big fan of the diary. Miebaka is studying architecture at Strathclyde University, and has entered a competition - "A Writer's Retreat". Sponsored by The Commonwealth Association of Architects, and he has asked me to be his writer. We've corresponded a few times and I've answered his questions on my preferred location, style of dwelling etc. Miebaka has been to the Trossachs to choose a 'rural but not alone in the woods with mad axe man lurking' site for the design, and his choice is just perfect; its at Tarbet, the Breadalbene part of Loch Lomond and the National Park, with stunning views from my proposed cottage. I'm very excited about it all; I keep catching myself wondering when I can move in. So, fingers crossed for you Miebaka; I'm sure you'll be a winner.
Another couple of West end writers will be wishing the same for themselves right now; my friend Gerry Loose and the wonderful Alasdair Gray are both on the shortlist for Creative Scotland awards. Alasdair's proposed project is to completely restore the murals he painted between 1955 and 1975, in the Scottish Russian Society, The Tavern, Kirkfieldbank, Greenbank Church of Scotland, Glasgow, as well as to make silkscreen prints based on his book illustrations. And Gerry's is to walk through Nevadan desert, Japan, the Deccan plateau (India), the Pakistan/Indian border and the west coast and islands of Scotland, including the nuclear-sensitive areas, in order to write about the interdependence between landscape, land use and language. Once the walks are complete, Gerry intends to build a Peace Garden for Scotland, as a physical representation of the links between language, renewal and landscape. Congratulations and the best of luck to both of them.
Nearer to home I've been a regular visitor to the newly opened Temple Library in Anniesland. It's a bright, modern space with excellent facilities, including banks of computers with internet access, and even a soft drinks machine. I'm hoping that there will be activities starting up in the near future; maybe a Reading Group, or even a Creative Writing group. I'd be only too glad to offer my services as a published writer and qualified workshop facilitator, and I live just up the road.
Speaking of where I live, this week the central heating engineers will arrive to tear the place apart, and the week after that it'll be new Double Glazing. Now I really do need a writer's retreat.
Before I'm forced to go and clear the midden that is normally referred to as my study, some writer's news. Submissions for New Writing Scotland must be in by 31st of January. I was first published in NWS in 1997, and it's very well respected and well-reviewed anthology. You'll find submission guidelines on http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/ScotLit/ASLS/NewWriting.html. And the launch of Anne Donovan's new novel Buddha Da, will be on Thursday, 30th January in the Arches, Glasgow, starting around 6.00 - 6.30pm. It might be best to contact the Arches beforehand for further details. Buddha Da has been receiving excellent publicity and reviews, so it should be a good night.
You might remember a column I wrote last February about poetry at the Botanic Gardens, and Gerry Loose, poet in residence. Gerry travelled to Nagasaki to collect a Kaki Tree which was planted in the gardens in March. This week I received a very sad email from Gerry, and I have his permission to reproduce it in full here.
My apologies for the joint mailing.
I'm writing to let you know the sad news that the Kaki Tree, planted in the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, in March this year, has been stolen. The tree made its presence felt while it was in place, both actually and as a symbol for the wish for peace. It touched the hearts and fired the imagination of all who encountered it, whether at the planting celebrations or after, in quiet contemplation, or chanced upon by strollers. Fortunately we have its sister tree, given to us at the same time as the Kaki Tree we all helped to plant. This little sapling has the same history - it's descended from the same Nagasaki tree, and is part of the same world-wide project which Glasgow has taken to its heart.This tree is being tended carefully at the Botanic Gardens and will be planted in the same place as its stolen sister-tree when it becomes strong-rooted and the season is right.
In the meantime, an ordinary (if any tree is ordinary) kaki tree will replace the stolen one as soon as possible. My plan is, as my friend Yushin Toda wisely wrote to me: "Please continue planting kaki trees so that people would know that nobody can steal the spirit of the Kaki Tree Project.
In this way, we have the opportunity to spread the word of the Kaki Tree and to further inform anyone who does not already know of the significance of the Kaki Tree Project; we are able to fully realise the worth of something when it's gone.
I'll be keeping you all informed of progress, and hope to have further celebrations and events centred on the kaki trees. I'd also welcome hearing from you with any ideas, comments, suggestions . . . In peace,
All of us who received this email were very upset to hear of the theft. I would like to echo Yushin Toda's sentiments and urge you to write a poem, say a prayer, meditate for a moment, walk in the gardens if you live locally, whatever feels right in the name of peace, and the spirit of the Kaki tree.
I also got an email from my friend Meaghan Delahunt in India. She's just back from a six day jaunt to Jaipur and Jodhpur. Quote "I really adore Rajastan, the desert, and the colours, and the men with khol rimmed eyes, and the fine-boned, startling women".
She'll be back in Edinburgh just before Christmas, after a trip to Bhopal. Ah dear, the furthest I've been lately is Great Western Road. No, that?s poetic licence. I made it along to Borders on Thursday night to hear the incomparable Janice Galloway reading from her new prose/ poetry collection "boy book see" (Mariscat Press) It's always a pleasure to hear Janice read, and this collection is brimming with courage and passion. I just love it.
It was a laugh trying to get down Gordon Street on my way to the reading. I found myself in the middle of a crowd of Celtic supporters, all giving it, "Oh, it's a grand old team". My father taught me all those songs before I was the size of tuppence, but I thought I'd act my age for a change, so I'm proud to say I didn't join in.
I don't expect you'll be hearing from me again before Christmas. So, I'll leave you, in the words of my friend Gerry,
I'm not going to mention Precious Little until it's ready for publication, which should be in spring or summer next year. Because, apart from the fact that I've done nothing but work on it lately, I can't think what to say, apart from It's good, I think. Aaaagh.
Since I overcame my writers block I've turned into the most boring woman on the planet. Friends ring up to invite me out, and invariably my reply is, "I have to work" or "I'm skint". I've become a recluse; a real writer at last.
Most days I go no further than Safeway, which is about ten paces from my flat. And since last Thursday when I walked in to find Dale Winton signing copies of his autobiography, I have to be desperate.
Although the same day I met the lovely Pat in Café Costa in Great Western Road. It was about five-o-clock when we came out. Pat went to Roots & Fruits, and I waited outside because the shop was packed. And I actually found myself getting all excited at being out, in the dark, with other people. My adrenaline surged even higher when a builder's van stopped, and a guy got out, nicked a pumpkin from outside the shop, and drove away with it. I could hardly contain myself.
I normally stagger out of my room around eight-o-clock, just in time for all my favourite programmes. I'm addicted to 'What Not To Wear'. I now know that I should wear low-necked tops, flat-fronted trousers, and skirts cut on the bias, all in autumnal colours. In fact, I'd like Trinny and Susannah, the American woman from 'House Doctor', and that nice Alvin Hall from 'Your Money Or Your Life' to visit me very soon. Then I'd look good, my wee hoose would be shinin like a shillin, and the sheriff officers would be long gone.
And then I'd be in a fit state for my other Dream Team, the actor Rufus Sewell, Jeremy Paxman and Hughie from The Fun-Lovin Criminals to come round. Although not all at once. But even one at a time, I don't think Douglas would be too pleased.
See - I'm not that boring.
And I do drag myself out for work. I did a short story workshop at Airdrie Women's Writers Group, which went very well. And I'm looking forward to this coming Thursday when I'll be at the Hillhead Library reading group. It's a good job I get these invitations or I'd have forgotten how to articulate anything other than Oooh, he's nice, and, I like her shoes.
So next year when, if? You buy a copy of that novel, you can say, That boring woman wrote this.
Thank God I'll never have to write another second novel again. With 'Sitting Among The Eskimos' I just sat there for years, writing away, dreaming of publication. With 'Precious Little' I have an agent and an editor waiting for it, and a contract to fulfil, plus the dread of everyone hating it. And I have to admit that I've grown more cynical; now I know that publication will add up to having my name in the papers for a week or so, then I'll still be skint.
However, the first draft has come back from Geraldine, my editor. She's given me a lot of positive feedback, and now I'm tweaking cutting, and extending. And if that sounds painful, then believe me, it is.
But it hasn't been all tears and panic attacks. Last month's Book Festival gave me a chance to catch up with friends Meaghan Delahunt and Alan Bisset. Meaghan was just about to jet off to India for a three-month residency, and Alan's going great guns down at Leeds University. (By the way, Alan, you promised me an invite, and I intend to nag until I get it) I also met up with some notable westenders: Chris Dolan, Bernard MacLaverty, who's reading from his novel The Anatomy School was terrific, and A L Kennedy. And I had the best Indian meal ever with Meaghan, Alice Thompson, Canadian poet Christian Bok and others too numerous to mention. If only I could remember the name of the restaurant.
My friends habitually go missing. I won't see Meaghan until Christmas, and Chris Dolan is going off to Hotel Chevillon in beautiful Grez sur Loing to finish his second novel. If I wasn't so fond of those two, I'd hate them. But I do still have some great mates kicking around. Today I met Peter Manson and Robin Purves in Café Cherubini; Mary Long has been nothing short of angelic in her support and the same goes for Deborah January down in Exeter. Usually Deborah and I only communicate by phone, but she was able to come up for a visit a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed showing her round the West End. The highlights were the Scottish Colourists exhibition, the Chip, and Heart Buchanan.
When Peter Manson was down in London, giving a reading at the Poetry Café, he bought me a present; the Samuel Beckett trilogy, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable. I hadn't read any Beckett, and I was completely blown away by it. Not an easy read; I?m glad I didn't encounter it till I was old and grey, but so wonderful. I've also been reading a biography of Beckett: Damned to Fame by James Knowlson, and I discovered that Beckett wrote the Trilogy, three long stories, and the plays Eleutheria and Waiting for Godot in the period May 1957 to January 1950.
Well, that put my gas at a peep. I might just get a grip and finish Precious Little very soon.
It's done. A draft of my second novel, Precious Little is with my editor. I will still be working on it over the next few weeks, but the gist of it is there, and now all I have to do is wait for Geraldine to tell me what she thinks. I might be waiting a while; the entire literary world migrates to Edinburgh at this time of year. It doesn't seem like a year since I was writing here about the Book Festival, but here I am again with a diary full of readings, events, and even a couple of parties.
This weekend we're in Edinburgh for recordings of The Readers and Writers Road show for BBC 4. On Saturday we'll be in the audience for a panel discussion with Joyce Carol Oates and Ali Smith, and on Sunday I'm going along with Douglas to another panel with Tariq Ali, Laura Blumenfeld & Kamila Shamsie. The producers have sent us the authors' books, so that we can prepare questions. Tariq Ali's book "The Clash of Fundamentalisms", has a wonderful cover, with a photo of George Bush dressed as an Afghan. I'll leave the questions to Douglas on that one, but I'm dying to ask Joyce Carol Oates how the hell she has managed to produce thirty-one novels, four novellas, eight poetry collections, twenty short story collections, umpteen plays, and numerous essays. Two novels and a radio play have just about finished me off.
I'm looking forward to meeting up with other writers in Edinburgh; my friend Meaghan Delahunt is reading with Kirsty Gunn on the 15th, and I'll be meeting up with Allan Bisset and Maggie O'Farrell, who are both reading on the 22nd. On the evening of the 22nd I'll be at the "Provocations" party; Provocations is being billed as a showcase of new writing talent, and I'll be there as one of the New Writing 11 writers, although right now I feel far too old to be new. On the 26th there's the Scottish PEN reception, which is a celebration of their 75th Anniversary year. And I'll be doing my best to go along to as many of the Imprisoned Writers readings as possible.
It feels good to be part of the human race again, after being locked away finishing the novel. Last week I went up to the BBC for their Writers Lunch. It was held only a few days after the broadcast of Sitting Among The Eskimos on Radio 4, and I was extremely chuffed at all the positive feedback I got on the play. I was expecting food, drink and blether but producer David Neville press ganged us all into consultations with other producers about future projects. After talking to Bruce Young, who directed "Eskimos" and Gaynor McFarlane, I've submitted another two ideas for next year.
But right now I'm taking a break. Today I'm meeting my friend Peter Manson before he goes off to do a reading at the Poetry Café in London on Friday, and I hope to catch up with Pat Byrne, Mary Long and Chris Dolan next week. I also have a pile of books to read, including Janice Galloway's new novel "Clara".I'll also do my utmost to update this diary on regular basis; so watch out for all the Bookfest gossip.
I didn't get out today, so I missed the protesters in the city centre. But I've been told that they were both colourful and peaceful, so that's all right. Douglas saw one young girl carrying a print of Picasso's Guernica with the slogan Art Against War written underneath. Gaun yersel, hen, whoever you are.
In the light of all the anti-capitalist demonstrations taking place today, I have to say that the saga of Safeway is tempting me to mount a one-woman demo. As I've said before, the store just opposite my flat has been renovated, enlarged and generally made impossible for customers for months now. The building work is finished, thank God, but the renovations continue inside. We now have a large Beauty section, a larger deli (with a smaller range of cheeses), and we expect a Noodle Bar, Pizzeria etc. But, and this is where I vent my spleen, no crèche, no coffee shop, no Post Office. I feel heart sorry for the elderly people who used to go in, get their pensions, pay their bills, have a wee seat and a bite to eat, get their shopping and a taxi home. Now it takes them an hour to get round the store, with no chance of a rest, and that's after they've walked from the new Post Office at Anniesland Cross. I could be jumping the gun, there may be plans for a coffee shop and crèche. I sincerely hope so. If I had young kids it would be my biggest nightmare having to trail them round a store that size. Bigger store, bigger profits, but little consideration for customers. Okay, that's me had my rant.
I have escaped from Anniesland a couple of times. I saw Liz Lochead's play Perfect Day at the Cits a couple of weeks ago. I really enjoyed it; a play filled with humour and pathos, and Una McLean in her role as 'the mother' was fantastic. And Douglas and I went to a poetry reading at Glasgow University last Tuesday. The readers were The Palestinian poet Ghazi Hussein, and Cambridge poet, Tom Raworth. Ghazi Hussein, who taught philosophy and linguistics in Syria, is presently living in Sighthill in Glasgow with his family as refugees. He read his poems in Arabic, then local poet Gerry Loose read them in translation. Even without translation, the anger and anguish of Ghazi Hussein's words left me extremely moved. Tom Raworth, a very well-respected poet read his satirical and very funny poems, and it was a great evening. I saw some old friends, a plethora of poets: Peter Manson, Robin Purves, Gerry Loose, Tom Leonard and Brian Wittinghame. The series of readings are attended by students of the creative writing school, but members of the public are very welcome.
My main excitement has been receiving my copy of New Writing 11 (Picador) in the post, containing an extract from Precious Little, my novel in progress. It's a very fine anthology, with works by Jenny Diski, Jackie Kay, and the wonderful Bill Duncan among other'. It was recently reviewed in the Sunday Herald as 'a showcase of exciting new writing talent?. I was all chuffed. Now I'll need to finish the book.
On the reading front, I have just devoured 'The Diaries of Dawn Powell 1931-1965' edited by Tim Page (Steerforth Press). Powell was a very prolific and well-respected writer, feted by Hemingway as 'the only living satirist' of her time. Her work disappeared for a while but some of her novels have recently been re-published. What I loved about this book was that here are the real writer's dairies. Marriage to a loving but hard-drinking and irresponsible husband, a beloved only son suffering from acute mental illness, lack of money, surfeit of domesticity, various friends and hangers-on' it's all in there. But so is the writing; the 'I have an idea for a novel', 'I can't finish this novel', ' I've been asked to write a play, review a book, send a story to a magazine', all of the work a writer takes on just to make money. And I laughed out loud at Powell's wit:
"Post-dated cheque. I don't know whether to lay low or get high. I would be at the end of my rope if I could afford rope. Let's say I'm at the end of my string".
Wish I'd written that.
Just back from a week away in Paris, and I've had to force myself back to the computer. After all the walking we did, I can't get used to being indoors, sitting still.
Those of you who read the last column will know that I fled Glasgow, partly to escape all the building work going on at Safeway, across from my flat. Well, I got to Paris, booked in to the Hotel Beauvior, and found workmen re-roofing the Port Royal railway station, directly under our window. Luckily, we were up and out just after they started in the morning, and they were long gone by the time we got back at night.
Like many writers before me, I went to Paris with my head filled with stories of Joyce, Becket, Hemingway, Sartre, De Beauvior, Gertrude Stein, Anais Nin, looking to find them in the places mapped out in my Time Out Book of Paris Walks. And I did walk the walks; but I didn't find them. We were based in Montparnasse, and we went to all their old haunts: Le Select, Le Dome, and La Coupole, but they weren't there. The book told me that one of Hemingway's favorite watering holes was Le Closerie de Lilas. I could see it from my hotel window, on the corner of boulevard de Montparnasse and boulevard St. Michelle. It's also where James Joyce and Sylvia Beach went to celebrate Beach's offer to publish Ulysses. Determined to raise a glass in tribute, we went in for a drink. Joyce, Hemingway and their friend Miss Beach would have run a mile from the price list, and the dinner jacketed pianist murdering I Love Paris in the Springtime. Two drinks cost us more than the fine meal we'd just eaten in a bistro in Le Halle. And nothing could've induced me to drink a Hemingway cocktail.
Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas weren't promenading in the Jardins de Luxemburg the morning I was there, and I didn't bump into Anais Nin rushing to an illicit tryst with Henry Miller in a seedy hotel, with her infamous diary clasped safe in her bag.
We walked the length of the Latin Quarter, finally reaching the present day Shakespeare and Company, on Rue de la Bucherie, named after Sylvia Beach's famous book shop on Rue L'Odeon. This ramshackle 'Little Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart' is also owned by an American, George Whitman. But, although George is still alive, he was also nowhere to be seen. I did buy a book, Sylvia Beach And The Lost Generation, and I did see the beds made up in the children's section, free accommodation for impoverished young writers. Was the young American at the till a writer? I[base ']ll never know. He was too arrogant to answer customer's enquiries, let alone shoot the breeze with a middle-aged Scottish novelist. I tried to tell myself that the expatriate writers who found shelter in Beach's shop were young, and quite probably arrogant, but I doubted that they were allowed to piss off the customers.
And yet, I was happy. We walked all over Paris, and everywhere we turned there was something delightful. In a bistro opposite the Sorbonne I laughed when an elderly academic smiled and said Bravo! as I succeeded in squeezing my very non-Parisienne, ample hips past his table. In a nearby shop I found a postcard with a picture of Becket and a quote in French. In English it read, "When you are up to your neck in shit, the only thing left to do is sing". I sent it to my friend Peter Manson, but the words wouldn' go way. I realized that they summed up one of the characters in the novel I'm trying to write. In a corner café in le Marie I watched as an old woman placed her shopping bag on the table, popped her two wee dogs into it, and had a beer with the punters at the bar, like a wee Bella in Partick. In a street market a stall holder called out, Merci ma belle, like a Barras boy's Thanks gorgeous. On the Metro a beautiful baby girl sang out la la la la, and said Au reviour to the passengers every time the doors opened. And from my hotel window I watched a wee drunk man conduct an imaginary orchestra on a deserted boulevard at five in the morning. Later that day I saw a chic Grande dame put her fingers to her lips and whistle a passing taxi to a stop. And I felt my writing return. I caught myself singing softly. What was I singing? Burns lyrics. Cup of kindness. Had we never loved sae kindly. This beautiful place was taking me back to my place.
Eventually I found Becket, and De Beauvior, and Sartre. I found them on a beautiful afternoon in Montparnasse cemetery. Satre and De Beauvior are buried in the same grave, the headstone states only names and dates. Enough. Fans had placed metro tickets, coloured stones, coins, and a cigarette there. I left my ticket and a coin; those two were always looking for money. Becket lies beside his wife; he outlived her by only six months. There were no mementos on their stone, but there were flowers planted at the foot of the grave, and they were beaded with droplets of water. Who had cared enough? It didn't matter.
And now I'm home, determined to keep the promises I made at both graves. I will write. And I will come back.Maggie Graham
Yes, it's been a long time.
I'll blame on a combination of being overwhelmed with work, and a complete inability to write as much as a message line for a while there. My second novel is far from finished and the publication has had to be postponed until Spring 2003.
As for my writer's block, I've been taking great pleasure in shifting the blame on to a giant corporation. I live just across the way from Safeway in Anniesland, which is being enlarged as I write. The sound of pneumatic drills and JCB's has been frightening the muse away on a daily basis since January. They say it will be finished in Spring, when I will overlook the third biggest supermarket in Britain, and may still have half a novel haunting me. On a lighter note, and I can't believe I'm resorting to puns, the Anniesland Tower flats are now illuminated in beautiful colours as part of the City of Lights project, so we're apt to gaze across as we eat dinner. Much better for the digestion than Channel Four news.
I haven't being doing much socialising either. I see my friend Chris Dolan for coffee when he can tear himself away from his horrendous workload; I don't know how the man does it. My pal Meaghan Delahunt was reading in Waterstone's last week with Alice Thompson, and I went along to give moral supprt. The reading and question session was fascinating; I could just sit there as a member of the public, pretending I hadn't the faintest idea what they were talking about. And the post-reading meal at Sarti's with Meaghan, her partner Francis and assorted friends made me feel almost human again. Apart from that, the nearest I've got to a literary frame of mind was on Saturday when we went shopping for birthday present for Douglas's ten-year-old nephew Lewis, who lives in Sydney. I haven't had as much fun in ages. Lewis is a fan of the Horrible History series by Terry Deary, so we got him The Cut-Throat Celts, and A Series Of Unfortunate Events by the wonderfully named Lemony Snickt, which came recommended by Chris Dolan's son, Daniel. I also found Jacqueline Wilson's books which look terrific, but I don't know any twelve-year-old girls, so I had no excuse for buying them.
Right now I'm working on the treatment for a proposed, and I have to stress the word, proposed screenplay of Sitting Among the Eskimos. However, I refuse to get all excited about it. Time will tell.
So, here I am, deafened, distracted and stressed out by the diggers and delvers across the road, and loath to work night shifts. So, I am doing what all disreputable writers would do, I'm running away to Paris for a week. I promise to keep a diary while I'm away, and reproduce it here (with edits) when I get back.
I've had some wonderful feedback on this column recently. A woman called Muriel Rourke e-mailed me, and was full of praise for the Diary and also for Sitting Among The Eskimos. Thanks again, Muriel, and keep on writing. I also heard from Lynn Malone, who is a Mature Student at Glasgow University, and is just beginning to work in freelance journalism. Good luck girl, you'll need it. And Jenny Brown from the Scottish Arts Council introduced me at the Edinburgh Book Festival with a very enthusiastic plug for the Diary. It's heartening to know that people do read it.
I had a great time at the Bookfest. Even although my Celtic Writers for breakfast slot with Dillys Rose and Mary Morissy was at ten-thirty on a Sunday morning, it was very well attended. And I thoroughly enjoyed working with two such accomplished writers. Overall, the Book Festival was very interesting and highly entertaining. Doris Lessing incensed all the feminists, including myself, Gore Vidal stirred up some controversy by expressing sympathy for the Oklahoma bomber, and Zadie Smith caused a media sensation. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw all the journalists and photographers stampeding across the site when she appeared. There was also a very lively debate caused by Kenneth White and Ronald Frame both bemoaning the state of current Scottish writing. The whole thing seemed to centre on James Kelman and Irvine Welsh. For a start, these are two very different writers, and I refused to take any of it seriously when no one saw fit to mention established women writers such as Janice Galloway and A.L. Kennedy. This was particularly annoying; coming so soon after Alison Kennedy had delivered a suburb PEN lecture on the importance of fiction.
Right, that's me off my soapbox.
Speaking of PEN, I also took part in the Imprisoned Writers series, organised by Amnesty International and Scottish PEN. These events took place every evening of the Bookfest, and featured readings about and by writers who have been imprisoned because of their writings, political or otherwise. I read with novelists Helen Dunmore and Nigel Planer, and poet Robert Crawford. The Harmony Singers who sang beautiful freedom songs joined us, and the whole event made me very thankful for my own personal and creative freedoms. For further information on Scottish PEN, see www.scottishpen.org
I had a break on the Sunday between the morning reading and the PEN event. So we went for lunch and then strolled through Princess St. Gardens. I was delighted whilst watching a troupe of jugglers to find myself standing next to Margaret Atwood; I'm really just a fan at heart.
Then it was back home, and back to work. I still have to overcome waves of terror every time I look at the manuscript of Precious Little, but I was heartened to come across this quote by the French writer Colette.
"The only virtue I pride myself on is my self-doubt. If every day I find myself more circumspect toward my work, and more uncertain as to whether I should continue, my only self-assurance comes from my fear itself. For when a writer loses her self-doubt, the time has come to lay aside her pen".
And self-doubt I have by the bucket load. I haven't been out and about much in the West End since I got back, but I did manage to meet up with writer Chris Dolan for coffee in Metro last week. Chris is just back from Barbados where he was researching his next novel. Trust me to set mine in Kilbirnie. It does me a power of good to get out and meet other writers,though, and Chris is always great company.
Otherwise, I'm stuck here for the foreseeable future, conquering fear on a daily basis, and washing it down with far too much coffee.
Till the next time.
Hello. Yes, it has been a long time. I have been so busy trying to finish my second novel that I haven't had much time for anything else.
And sadly, my fiance's mother died suddenly but peacefully in June. Hilda was a canny lass from the North-east of England who came to Glasgow as a young bride at the end of World War two. She was a strong-minded but fun-loving woman who took me to her heart when we first met, and who approved of and supported my writing career right until the end. On the night of the launch of Sitting Among the Eskimos at Waterstones, she was there in the front row, and her smile didn't slip, even when I read aloud, 'He didnie attempt tae sandpaper my clitoris'. Hilda's health hadn't been good for some time, but she was one of the liveliest invalids I've ever known. Two days before her death she led the singsong on the Women's Guild day trip to St. Andrews. She will be sadly missed by her family and her many friends.
Naturally, my writing was put on a back burner for a good while, but I'm back in the swing of things now, and the promised novel should be with my wonderfully understanding agent and editor very soon. I hadn't been out and about much either, until recently. I did take part in a benefit gig in Edinburgh, in aid of Turning Point Scotland, an organisation that helps drug users and their families. The event was for Turning Point in Leith, to help them provide acupuncture and other alternative therapies to addicts. I was one of six writers taking part; the others were Meaghan Delahunt, Bill Duncan, Linda Cracknel, Kevin Williamson, and Gordon Legge, who has recently returned from Grez-sur-Loing, as this year's recipient of the Robert Louis Stevenson award. The night was a great success, and we managed to raise £450.
Last week Douglas and I were in Edinburgh for a much-needed break. We caught up with friends, Fiona and Rod Graham (no relation) a lovely cultured and witty pair, and Meaghan Delahunt who is still coming down from her residency in India, and the success of her first novel, In The Blue House. We caught the Lee Miller and Roland Penrose exhibitions at the Dean Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art, saw the Salgado 'Migrations' exhibition at the City Art Centre, which has some of the most powerful images I've ever seen, and the Jeff Coons showing at the Fruit Market Gallery. I must admit that after 'Migrations' all the Koons kitsch left me cold.
We ate and drank far too much, and spent Sunday in Princess St. Gardens enjoying 'Jazz on a Summer's Day', complete with Russian band and Cossack dancers, (some bonny big laddies there) Great stuff. But later that night Douglas dragooned me into going to a Jazz Cellar, one of those wee tottie places where the drinks are extortionate and a succession of guys play a succession of doodly doodly tunes that all sound the same. I sat through umpteen drum solos, bass solos, and piano solos, played by men with their faces all screwed up, and after every one the audience whooped and applauded. It was the nearest I've come to a nervous breakdown in years.
Undaunted, I'm looking forward to spending much of this month in the capital. I have the Book Festival party on the 11th, Gregory Burke's fabulous play, 'Gargarin Way' during the Festival, Meaghan's reading at the Bookfest on the 15th, my own appearance is on the 26th, and I'll be staying over to catch Janice Galloway on the 27th. I should move through there. Come to think of it, any Edinburgh readers who want to rent out a flat for flumpence a month, please get in touch.
In the meantime, I still have a novel and a radio play to finish, so I'm going back to work.
Another month bye, and I'm still sitting here trying to finish a novel. Time fair flies when you're having fun.
These days my main excitement arrives in the mail. I'm booked to appear at the Edinburgh book festival on the 26th of August with Dilys Rose and Mary Morrissy. I've also had a letter from the British Council's literary department, inviting me to contribute to their next New Writing Anthology, plus an e-mail asking me to read at a fundraiser for Turning Point Scotland, an organisation which works with drug users and their families in Edinburgh. Now I have to bring together and edit a section from my 'work in progress' for the anthology, and finding a long enough section that'll make sense all by itself is going to be a hoot.
In spite of this, the good weather has been drawing me away from work. Last week I met up with a very dear friend, poet Peter Manson. We strolled round the Botanics, and visited one of Peter's poems, which is posted beside the succulents and cacti. Then we walked down to Kelvinbridge, and got lost for a while in Caledonian Books. I had been wanting to find TchaiOvna-House of Tea for ages, so we went looking and eventually found it round the back of Voltaire and Rousseau. We sat outside, overlooking another work in progress, the'secret garden' which will be beautiful when it's finished. Apart from having hysterics at the thought of ordering a pot of 'The Iron Goddess of Mercy', we had a lovely relaxed time. I intend to go back for one of their 'open mike' Thursday evenings. However, Peter has reneged, so I'll need to take another pal. That's poets aw ower the back!
Undaunted, I had coffee with another friend and poet, Gerry Loose, in café Metro on Friday. Gerry is just back from Japan. In his role as Poet in residence at the Botanics, he was there to collect a specimen of the Kaki tree for the gardens. He thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and is back full of ideas for his own work. We had a good long talk, and he has promised to keep me up to date on all literary happenings at the Botanics.
On Sunday, I went with my partner, Douglas to the Mayday event at Glasgow Green. Unfortunately, we waited so long for a no.66 bus that we missed Tony Benn, but the rest of the day was marvellous. We met quite a few westenders, including Tom and Sonia Leonard, who were manning the Friends of Palestine stall, Julie and Gerry Gorevan, and my best mate, Mary Long, with daughter Maria Sundstrom. Dave Anderson did a great job as compeer, and at one point I found myself bopping around to The Big Town Playboys, side by side with weel kent musician Alan Tall. The day ended with a great set from Salsa Celtica, and my attempts at Salsa, combined with spending yesterday working in the garden, has left me with aches in muscles I'd forgotten I had.
I have mentioned before that I would recommend some favourite books here. Recently I've been reading a collection of essays, 'Just as I Thought' by Grace Paley. Paley is one of America's foremost short story writers, but this is a collection of her non-fiction writing. Paley has spent her life as a writer and political activist, and here, alongside pieces on Vietnam and the Soviet Union, are some excellent treatises on the writer and writing. Paley believes that fiction should 'Tell the truth!' And here she lists some of the lies that every writer should omit from their work.
So I'd better away and check my manuscript for untruths.
Just as I Thought is published by Virago, priced £8.99.Anyone interested in Peter Manson's work can visit his website at http://www.manson88.freeserve.co.uk
The time between these pieces seems to be getting longer every time. Fortunately this means that I've been working flat out on my second novel, 'Precious Little', which is very apt, as for a long time there was precious little of it. Now I'm really getting into it, and I can finally see where it's going. I'm not one of those writers who plans and structures a book before I begin; I start with an idea or, in the case of 'Sitting Among The Eskimos', a phrase, and then I just write and see what happens. Not the easiest way of doing it, I envy writers who have everything plotted with diagrams pinned up on the wall, right from the start.
Yesterday's post brought a royalty statement from my agent. The first novel still hasn't sold enough copies to cover my advance, so I am owed zero royalty balance. It's strange seeing the breakdown of sales in black and white, for instance, who were the ten Canadians who bought 'Sitting Among the Eskimos', and what did they think of it? Anyway, there's little chance of me becoming a rich author, so if anyone out there needs a skilled novelist/ poet/ short story writer/ editor/ journalist/ workshop facilitator/ then I'm your woman.
While you're all feeling desperately sorry for me, I'd better confess that my life hasn't been all work and no play lately. A fortnight ago I went through to Edinburgh for the launch of 'In the Blue House'by Meaghan Delahunt (Bloomsbury-£16.99). I first met Meaghan last year at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh where we were participants in the BBC Writing For Radio labs. She is a fabulously talented writer, and this first novel has already made the long list for the Orange Prize for women writers. The launch was in Waterstones and the party afterwards at Marlin's Wynd, just off the Royal Mile. I'd forgotten just how generous Bloomsbury hospitality is; the free wine certainly flowed. I met up with some friends, Meaghan, of course, Alan Bisset, playwright Gregory Burke, Catherine Lockerbie, who is having quite a time in her first year as director of the Edinburgh Book Festival, and Kevin Williamson (Rebel Inc-Cannongate) whom I hadn't seen in years. The night ended on a highly farcical note. We caught the last train from Waverly, which promptly broke down at Haymarket. We sat there for almost an hour while engineers tried to fix it, then we had to get off and get to another platform to wait for a replacement train. Our party must have been quite a sight: two novelists, one training manager, and a staff writer from the Big Issue, all making their very unsteady way over to Platform 2. We got home at 2am, and the next day the other novelist declared that he'd changed his mind; he didn't want to be an author any more. It's times like these that make it all worthwhile.
My next sortie will be to the Tron on Saturday at 4pm to another Rehearsed Reading of a radio play 'The Treasure of the Sierra Midrumbie' by Simon Little. Simon was also a participant in the Radio lab last year, and I'm looking forward to seeing him again. These readings are very entertaining, and helpful for anyone interested in writing scripts. So, if you are interested, the tickets only cost £2.
Back to the tale of my two wee Ayrshire lassies.Contact: email@example.com
Sorry its been a while since I updated this column; I've been trying to finish my second novel, and failing miserably. I've had to extend my deadline, but I felt okay after reading that the man who wrote the Encyclopaedia of Food was fifteen years late in handing in his manuscript. However, I don't think my publisher will be as tolerant as his, so I have to have it all done and dusted before the paperback publication of Sitting Among The Eskimos in June.
Because I've been working constantly on the novel, I've been nowhere and seen no one for ages. I read, but only letters, diaries and biographies, as I cant cope with fiction while I'm trying to write it. I did manage to visit the book sale at Hillhead library last weekend, so I've got a few volumes to keep me going. Otherwise my only company is Jenni Murray on Womans Hour in the morning, and a wee keek at the Oprah Winfrey show when I stop for a sandwich at one-o-clock. If I feel my muscles seizing up from sitting at the computer for too long, I go for a short walk, but because the weather has been so awful, I've either been dancing (Barbara Anne by the Beach Boys is great for a quick bop about) or taking a run at the housework, a very short run; the house is never cleaner than when Im trying to put off writing.
To avoid turning into the bore of the century I'm going out this Thursday, March 8th: International Women's Day. Waterstones, Sauchiehall Street is holding an event hosted by Janet Paisley and Liz Niven of the Scottish PEN women writers committee. Titled MEN READING WOMEN it will feature contemporary male writers reading works by past women writers. Edwin Morgan, Bernard Mc Laverty and Chris Dolan and others will read works by Jessie Kesson, Helen Adams and other past women writers. Songs by past songwriters will be sung and played by musicians including David Paisley (Ryan of BBC 2 Tinseltown series).
The event starts at 7pm on Thursday, and free tickets can be reserved at Waterstones on 0141 332 9105. For further details about the event or Scottish PEN
a charity which works internationally to preserve the right to write contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
It promises to be a great evening, and for me at least, it will be a welcome change from the Beach Boys. I might see you there.
I'm still here, trying to finish a novel and begin the radio adaptation of Sitting Among The Eskimos for Radio 4. With that in mind I went to the Tron theatre yesterday, to a rehearsed reading of Susie Maguire's radio play: The Fairy Godmother, which was part of the BBC "Plays in Progress" initiative It felt a bit strange watching the actors performing the play, I had to close my eyes to imagine what it would sound like on radio. BBC Scotland Radio Drama has established a strong track record in working with established writers and new writers, which is obviously an area I'm particularly interested in. The department is currently running it's second series of Writer's Labs. I was one of the participants last year at the Traverse in Edinburgh, and as a result of those labs, four new writers will have their work broadcast on Radio 4 and Radio 3 in the coming year. This year the Labs are being held at the Tron, and I was able to talk to some of the participants last night. We all agreed that receiving training and feedback in the context of the labs was invaluable in giving writers the confidence to write for radio. I also met up with David Ian Neville again. David is BBC Radio Drama's Development Producer, and he is responsible for these new writing initiatives. As he says, "Giving new writers the opportunity to hear their work being performed can be an invaluable experience". I couldn't agree more. For further information about "Plays in Progress" and other initiatives for new writing, contact: The Development Producer, BBC Radio Drama, Room 314 Broadcasting House, 5 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JF.
Last week I had a rare opportunity to do the kind of shmoozing that people imagine authors get up to all the time. My agent was up from London and she took me out to lunch at Yes in West Nile Street. It's strange being a writer who's based in Scotland and published in London. At times it can feel like you're stuck in your own wee corner whilst everyone one else who's associated with your work is out having dinner at the Ivy and drinks at the Garrick Club. I had to ask Victoria what my editor looks like as I only communicate with her by telephone and e-mail. Then my partner, Douglas, and Allan Bisset and his brother Ronnie joined us. Allan is an author who has only recently signed up with Victoria's agency. I have a feeling that this talented young Falkirk writer has a great future ahead of him. Negotiations are underway for the publication of his first novel, so watch this space. We talked about the fact that there doesn't seem to be a real literary scene up here, the way there is in London, and how it can be easy to slip into paranoia and think that all the cool people are having a great time together in the pub, but they haven't invited you, when in fact they're all sitting at their computers trying to create something worthwhile and worrying about how to pay the rent. Boring, I'm afraid, but true. Anyway, lunch went on for quite a while with the conversation ranging from Ronnie Bisset's planned August wedding and honeymoon in Mexico, sexual violence in literature, the Edinburgh Book Festival, and Allan's determination to start a literary scene all by himself. (By that point the wine had been flowing for a while) I had a great time, even if I did have to drink a gallon of water and take two Ibuprofen before bed to prevent what promised to be a doozie of a hangover. Maybe that Lit. scene isn't such a good idea after all.
So then it was back to work, and the fears that the next book will never be finished, that it won't be as good as the first one, that everyone will hate it, etc etc. There are a few selected books that I turn to at times like this. I'm featuring them here because I think that anyone who is interested in writing will also find them very useful. The first is Yesterday I Cried by Iyanla Vanzant. Strictly, this book comes under the heading of self-help, but it is much more than that. It's Vanzant's biography, and shows how she overcame poverty and abuse to become a successful author and head of a worldwide corporation. I re-read it because it shows how any human being can become exactly who they want to be, no matter where they come from, and no matter who or what is trying to tell them otherwise. I also turn to Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. From the wonderful first line: 'Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board', this beautifully written novel tells me everything I need to know about story-telling, the use of dialogue and dialect, and how the ordinary can be written as extraordinary. Finally, and always, I read Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters To A Young Poet. This is the book for every aspiring writer. Written as a series of letters from an older poet to a young man who seeks advice and inspiration, this book always puts me back on track. From letter one: 'Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?', to letter ten: 'Art too is just a way of living'.., I can always find what I need to know.
And so, in the words of poet Tom Leonard: On we go.
E-mail Maggie Graham: email@example.com
These new pages will highlight some of the literary people, places and events within the west end, and maybe further afield, along with the occasional book review, and a few of my own musings on the writer's life. All of which sounds terribly posh and pretentious; I promise I'll get better.
With the festive season over and done with, I can no longer put off writing my second novel with the excuse that I really must shop, wrap, send, cook, entertain, nurse my hangover etc etc. So, I'm back in my wee room with the panoramic view of Safeway's car park, trying to fit ten computer files into something coherent before my March deadline. When I get fed up with spending so much time inside my own head, I make wee sorties out into the wider world. Last week I went with my friend Mary to Grassroots café in George Road for the launch of Micro Waves, a 'small collection of tongue-in-cheek recipes, food writing, stories & menus' from the Botanic Writer's Group. We really enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere of the night: a free glass of wine, olives and nibbles on the tables, and although it was difficult at times to hear over the clatter of pots and pans from the café kitchen, it all added to the foodie ambience of the event, and the readings were superb.
It was good to be out and about among other writers again. I met up with poets Brian Wittingham and Larry Butler, both friends whom I hadn't seen since my book launch last June. Brian told me about the writer's residencies at Yaddo artist's colony in the U.S., and tempted by the thought of new people and places, I've already downloaded the application form from their Internet site. Thanks Brian! Larry very kindly congratulated me on being shortlisted for the Saltire First book award. I didn't win, but congratulations to Douglas Galbraith, who did. I also met poet Valerie Thornton, and although we were both familiar with the other's work, we'd never met before. Valerie is a very busy woman who leads writer's workshops all over the place, and when I get myself organised, I will feature these in more detail. I managed to have a chat with Gerry Loose who is the Writer in Residence at the Botanic Gardens, and he agreed to meet with me to give me more information for a profile on these pages.
Later in the week I met Gerry in his eyrie at the top of the Botanic visitor centre. As Writer in Residence at the Botanic, Gerry aims to promote poetry within a wider scope. As he says, 'On a summer day the gardens are filled with people. Only a few of them will be poets, many of them will not be Scots born, and a great percentage of them will not have English as their first language. I want the poetry to reach out to everyone'. This inclusive policy also extends to the Botanic's staff. On National Poetry day last October, a video was filmed of the workers reading their favourite poems. Other events have included, 'planted poems', where poems are planted in the soil next to specific plants, or pinned to trees; and poetry readings where members of the public have read their work alongside published poets including Liz Lochead and Valerie Thornton. On Valentine's Day, February 14th, love poetry will feature, with poems being posted throughout the gardens. In March, Gerry will visit Japan to select a Kaki tree for the gardens. The Kaki, a specimen of the persimmon, was the only tree to survive the bombing of Nagasaki. When the tree is brought back to Glasgow, local children will plant it in the gardens, and there are plans to expand arts events around it, with exhibitions, paintings, poetry and a Japanese garden with an inscribed path.
Personally, I think it's wonderful that poetry and nature are being combined to inspire and entertain the public in such a beautiful setting as the Botanic gardens. More information can be had from the notice boards within the gardens, and I will try my best to publicise any upcoming events on these pages. Thank you to Gerry for giving me his time.