January Mindful Writing Challenge – days 26 to 31

And so here are the final five days ‘stones’…

Nov 20th 2010 Geary 028

26. Wild, wet Sunday. Gusting to gale force makes the roof flex. Safe and warm indoors. Elemental versus fundamental – eternal battle.

27. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out – awareness.

28. Decision made; a good decision just for having been made; a right decision. The time has come. The momentous in a moment.

29. Thoughts: fleeting, rippling, tangenting; serious, speculative, fearful, frivolous, uncharitable, affectionate. CONSTANT. But they are welcome to float by…

30. The new moon and Venus hang, ice-bright in a navy-blue sky. Cosmic signposts. Eternity fleetingly viewed.

31. Another day, another week, another month. The ups and downs of life keep it flowing, depositing good and bad, giving it flavour.

Thanks again to Satya at Writing Our Way Home  for setting the challenge. I’ve really enjoyed it.

January Mindful Writing Challenge days 20 to 25

Lichen encrusted bench

 

20. Focus on hope. A shield, a rock, a comforter – on a very trying day.

21. Fatigue, sleeplessness, stress; take time to reset, note the now, the now of a breath, the now that is okay.

22. Acceptance; this too will pass. Comfort taken from a thoughtful gift. A gift that says, ‘Chin up. I understand’.

23. Cool, fresh bed linen. That moment of lying down and of laying aside. How beautiful it is to rest.

24. Connection. Advice sought and freely given. Appreciation, recognition. Gratitude.

25. Me and him in sun and rain, step out, pacing ourselves. Walking side by side in time and space. Always.

January Mindful Writing Challenge days 14 to 19

Here are my next six mindful stones:

A Jan day of snow 2011 021

 

14. Spirit low. Step out, wood smoke, blackbird, child’s laughter, ice-cold air, mountain’s downslope, hope…

15. Olive-oiled, spitting hot tomatoes; crackling, melted cheese, toasted pinenuts, green-fragranced basil and al dente pasta. The present of a meal.

16. In the dip between the peaks there is light.

17. Pause; 31 years ago today it was snowing in Glasgow and I gave birth to a son. Joyful then, joyful now. Gratitude.

18. Stillness, earth’s damp scent and the chill of the wind, peace, perspective in a moment taken.

19. Birdsong awakens me. No longer the solitary winter song of the robin; more trilling voices acknowledge the earlier dawn. The world moves on.

Hope versus Optimism – the start of a year of mindful living.

2014 – MY YEAR OF LIVING MINDFULLY

New Year Ahead

January – HOPE versus OPTIMISM

Welcome!

Happy 2014 to all of you who take the time to drop in here. I do appreciate your time, feedback and loyalty. I now have two hundred posts under my belt and the blog has grown and evolved since I began it at the beginning of January 2010. 2013 saw me trying put this new monthly magazine format. I’m still not entirely sure if it works better monthly rather than weekly, but I’m going to let it run like this for a wee while yet.

This is a packed issue of Put it in Writing. So what can you expect?

Well, it’s January, the two-faced month that looks both backwards and forwards, and so I’ll be doing a bit of that.

For me, 2014 is going to be a Year of Living Mindfully. By that I mean I want to slow down and pay attention. I want to be much more aware of life as I live it and not to be forever anticipating, planning and, more often than not, stressing. Over the coming months I’ll be reporting on how I get on with mindful meditations, mindful walks and simple mindful moments. To get me started I’ve just read a book lent to me by my friend and fellow blogger, Catherine. Do check out Catherine’s engaging and informative blog . The book Catherine lent me is called ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ and it’s by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s a great introduction to mindfulness. And, also by way of getting in the zone, I’m taking part in Satya Robin’s, January Mindful Writing Challenge, which you can find out more about at her Writing Our Way Home website . I’ve  posted my first six little ‘stones’ of mindful writing below  and I’ll be posting subsequent stones, in sets of six, as interim posts for the rest of the month.

 Also at Satya’s prompting I’ve chosen a ‘motto’ word for the year.

The word is PRESENT.

  • Present in the sense of the here and now – trying to live a bit more mindfully and in the moment

  • Present in the sense of a gift –  of kindness to myself and others

  • Present in the sense of show – show the world the real me

I hope the word will keep me focused on my goals and plans. I prefer the terms goals and plans to resolutions. I suspect resolutions are all about ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and ‘musts’. And I’ve lived more than enough of my life being a slave to that evil threesome. From now on, I’ll strive for ‘wants,’ ‘hopes’ and ‘desires’. I want to slow down and pay attention. I want to try new things including different types of reading material, new foods, a new way of living. I want to stop giving myself a hard time and to be more tolerant and forgiving of others. I want to be more fully myself.

 

Another  extra this month is a piece I’ve written in response to an invitation to take part in the My Writing Process blog tour.

There will be a bit more, too, on politics as I continue to look at what is going to be a significant year for Scotland’s political future.

This month’s book review is of a guide to memoir writing, Old Friend from Far Away, by that wonderful teacher of writing, Natalie Goldberg.

So, get yourself a cup or glass of your preferred tipple and  let’s get started.

hot cup of coffee

THE PERSONAL

idea plan vision

As with any year, 2013 had its ups and downs.

My first writing highlight was back in January, when my entry in the National Library of Scotland’s/Scottish Ballet’s Hansel and Gretel competition was shortlisted. Other writing highlights included completing my second novel which is scheduled to be published in the next couple of months; and finishing the writing, re-writing and re-writing of my first novel for children. This latter book will soon be going off for professional editing and then on to publication later this year. I also continued writing my contributions to the bi-monthly writing magazine Words with Jam. Taking part in Writing Our Way Home’s  31 days of Joy writing challenges back in May proved enlightening, inspirational and was also very enjoyable.

In my teaching life, I took up the challenge of piloting a new way of delivering support to children presenting with very difficult behaviour and whose learning was severely compromised by that behaviour. This has involved working intensively with three children, aged nine and ten, every morning, (leaving afternoons free for me to work with other pupils with special needs). It is proving very successful. Everyone seems to agree that these pupils have really turned things around and, for me, this is turning out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my thirty-five year teaching career.

However, as to the future for my life in teaching, 2014 will be the year I retire. I’ve made what I see as a very big decision but one that is full of hope and faith in the future. I’m taking early retirement in August. It will be good to end my career on such a high note. I won’t miss all the form-filling, box ticking and endless ‘initiatives’. But I will miss all my pupils and the daily engagement with children.

live your dream

Retirement from teaching will not mean retirement from working. The decision is not a negative one but is one fuelled by a desire to change. I want to be able to devote much more time and energy to writing. I want to be truly professional about it. I’m very much looking forward to my new job.

In my family life, 2013 included my thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, something me and the old fella have still to celebrate, once his two-year long battle with ill-health is finally over. And we’re very hopeful that his return to full fitness will be accomplished by the Spring of this year after two more operations.

My own battle with anxiety, stress and mild depression continues, but it’s one I  feel I’m winning. In fact the title of this issue of the blog, Hope versus Optimism, arises out of that battle. Optimism is a concept I’ve long had a problem with. Well-meaning people will often say ‘look on the bright side’ or ‘everything will be fine’ or ‘you’re worrying unnecessarily’ or ‘things will get better’. They are trying to offer a distressed person comfort but, it seems to me, what they’re actually doing is not really listening and suggesting a passive response to real difficulty. Hope is a much more constructive attitude, both for someone who is troubled and for someone trying to help. Hope offers positive possibility and can prompt positive action to attain a positive outcome. For someone who is fearful, anxious or upset, a supporter offering hope, rather than bland platitudes, is much more helpful. It shows that the problem has been listened to and its significance has not been dismissed.

What I’ve come to see is that finding hope in all situations is key to survival and peace of mind. It doesn’t mean glossing over challenges and putting a sort of quasi-trust in a benign fate. What it does mean is looking for the possibilities for change, for growth, for progress and taking small steps towards these possibilities. Hope gives me control. Optimism leaves too much to chance. Hence, for example, the decision to quit my stressful teaching job and to become my own boss doing something creative and something I love.

 I also continue to delight in every moment I spend with my wee darling of a granddaughter and I love being her ‘Manma’. And I’m looking forward to the arrival, in February, of my daughter’s second baby. Yet more delight in the life of our family came with was our son’s engagement, at long last, to his lovely girl. We all look forward to their wedding in 2015.

So lots of good stuff to anticipate and hope for in 2014.

MY WRITING

 

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I was invited to take part in this tour by Kate Blackadder who is a fellow member of the Edinburgh Writers Club. I’m a member at a distance, but Kate is a very active committee member of the club. Click on her name above to visit her blog. Do visit it if you can.

So, to the My Writing Process interview questions and my responses:

What am I working on?

I’m putting the finishing touches to Displacement, which is my second novel. 

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’m not entirely sure what genre my books fit into. Broadly speaking, it’s commercial women’s fiction and there’s a strong element of romance in my writing. But it’s unusual in that the main characters are people in their late forties and fifties, so it’s not chick lit. There are also other themes, apart from romance, running through both my novels. For example, I’ve included the themes of bereavement, politics, nationalism and serious illness in my work. I like to think it’s multi-layered and that it will appeal to intelligent, mature women.

Why do I write what I do?

I definitely fit into the category of writing the type of books that I would want to read as a fifty-something. Middle-aged women can sometimes feel a bit invisible. It certainly seems to be the case in fiction. So I want to write about menopausal and post-menopausal women who are still vibrant, passionate and have lots to contribute. There is life, and dare I say it, sex, post-fifty and I think our literature should reflect that.

How does my writing process work?

As I’m still working full time as a teacher, I write in the evenings, at weekends and in the holidays. I ‘diary-in’ my writing slots even if I can only manage half an hour and I keep these appointments with my word-processor. I also plan my writing long-term over a year or more, so I know when I need to be finished a first draft, the redrafts, the professional editing process and when I plan to launch.

So there you have it.

And next on the tour:

On January 13th it will be the turn of Jill Marsh to answer the Writing Process questions. Jill grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After graduating in English Literature and Theatre Studies, she worked as an actor, teacher, writer, director, editor, journalist and cultural trainer all over Europe.

Now based in Switzerland, Jill is a founder member of the Triskele Book collective, forms part of the Nuance Words project, curates litmag The Woolf and is a regular columnist for words with JAM magazine. She lives with her husband and three dogs, and in an attic overlooking a cemetery, she writes.

Find out more about her European crime series by clicking on Jill’s name above. I can highly recommend her books. All of them are great reads. And don’t forget to look in at her website next week to see her answers to the above questions.

 

January Mindful Writing

As I said above I’m taking part in the January Mindful Writing Challenge set up by Satya at Writing Our Way Home.

Here are my first six ‘stones’:

January 1st – Small body. Curved, a perfect blend with mine. Grandchild seeks comfort. Me overwhelmed by love.

January 2nd – Bridge-crossing. A place to a place. A time to a time. Wheels turning. Engine droning. Transporting me home and back to life.

January 3rd – Mopping the floor. There’s comfort in the rhythm and swish, pleasure in the shining, satisfaction in a job done.

January 4th – Breakfast. Sweet, blackcurrant jam on warm, buttery wholemeal toast, mug of hot Earl Grey, me solitary, eating, sipping, thinking, robin singing outside.

January 5th – Laundry. Floral scents, cool cotton, warm wool, crack of shaken linen, a nod towards the pleasing, folded pile.

January 6th – Back-to-work, back-to-work. My steps reconnect me to the world and beat out my inner chant. Air damp, streets slick with rain, sharp wind and a grey, grudging light. Ready-to-go, ready-to-go. The heels of my boots click on the playground gravel. Anticipation rises. School door slams behind me. Let the new term begin.

THE POLITICAL

It starts with you

At the start of this new year, things look hopeful for Scotland. There’s the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, Homecoming Scotland, the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and, of course, the independence referendum. None of these events have been left to blind optimism. They all involve a lot of planning, a lot of faith and a lot of a hope. They include hopes and plans for action, for economic benefit, for challenge and achievement, for national pride and for change.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum in September, Scotland has a chance at last. A chance to show we have ideas for a better way of life, a fairer, more caring way of life, and Scotland also has a chance to show off and be seen at her very best. That is my hope.

However, the official, political script on all sides offers only one dimensional optimism. The smallest signs of improvements are exaggerated. Promises are made – and believed –  that everything will be bigger and better in the future. We’ve come to expect material growth as if it’s a law of the universe. Our politicians wilfully ignore past disasters such as the 2008 economic crash. They keep us ignorant of all obstacles and we go along blindly, telling ourselves things will get better because they have to.

It’s time we, the electorate, were more proactive. To have real hope we must engage. We must educate ourselves on the realities and familiarise ourselves with what’s going on beyond our own near horizon.

As the journalist, Gerry Hassan, wrote in the Scotsman newspaper on the fourth of January 2014, ‘Many of the great campaigns of humanity have been defined by hope. Think of the campaigns against slavery, for the welfare state and against the hardships and degradations of Dickensian Britain, of Martin Luther King and the American civil rights movement, the anti-war movements on Vietnam and Iraq, and the anti-apartheid movement.’

For these campaigners there was no scaremongering, no talk of ‘strivers and shirkers’. Rather they sought cohesion and fairness, they asked awkward questions, made difficult demands and they worked to realise their dream.

So here’s to involvement, change, and hope for a better society for all.

 

THE REVIEW

This month I’m reviewing ‘Old Friend From Far Away’ by Natalie Goldberg. It is a guide to memoir writing. Memoir writing is something I’d like to do in the future, but I realise it’s a form of writing like no other. I recently re-read this excellent book.

Old friend 2

 Find your voice and tell your own story.

Memory isn’t always reliable or objective, but, when writing memoir, reliability and objectiveness are not prerequisites. Indeed they are not even desirable. A memoir should be a meditation, a deep consideration of what mattered and why.

About twenty years ago, one of the first books I read on how to write on was Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I loved it. I found the short, sharp writing exercises prescribed by the author to be both enjoyable and useful. Writing was presented as a muscle that requires frequent exercising. The approach was very much a ‘just do it’ one. Working through the book, I felt for the first time that I might be able to write stuff that others might actually want to read.

Natalie Goldberg is a poet, writer and teacher of writing. Old Friend From Far Away is about how to write memoir – and oh, so much more. The author has written three volumes of her own memoirs, so she is well placed to offer advice on that basis alone.

Anyone contemplating doing memoir writing would do well to read this guide. It’s crammed full of exercises and suggestions. It’s also got lots of examples of how others have tackled the form. And it’s reassuring too. Memoir is a subjective form of writing. It’s not a scientific or forensic examination of a life. It is rather a reflective response to that life by the one who has lived it.

Indeed, Natalie Goldberg makes it clear at the start that memoir is not a ‘chronological pronouncement of the facts of your life’. A memoir presents subjective accounts of selected episodes. These accounts are not necessarily organised linearly and are not necessarily wholly accurate. But they are an attempt to make some sense of a life lived and to speculate on its meaning.

The book’s chapters vary in length – just like those in life. Some are only three lines long. The longest are three pages. They are all memoir writing prompts and Goldberg encourages anyone writing memoir to approach it sideways. She advises ‘using the deepest kind of thinking to sort through the layers: you want reflection to discover what the real connections are. A bit of brooding, pondering, contemplating but not in a lost manner. I am asking you to make all this dynamic. Pen to paper gives muscle to your deliberations.’

Exercises include: ‘Tell me what your biggest mistake has been; Tell me about someone’s hands; What do you no longer have; What have you waited a long time for.’ All are accompanied by the command ‘Go. Ten minutes.’ All get you thinking sideways about events in your past. There are other types, such as one on weather. The suggestion here is that, for example, while writing about your brother, include how it was raining the day you realised he was always going to be better in school than you; or in writing about your grandfather, describe the big flakes of snow that were falling the last time you saw him.

The book ends with a very useful list of guidelines and suggestions which summarises all that’s gone before. And there is a list of recommended memoirs to read.

All in all, whatever your preferred genre, this is one of the best writing guides around. Even if memoir writing isn’t your thing, I can just about guarantee it will get you writing something, – and that can’t be bad, can it?

 

Old Friend From Far Away is published by Simon and Schuster.

 

NATURE

In January 2011, we had a heavy snowfall here on Skye. This winter is a much damper and dreicher affair and not nearly so pretty. So I’ve decided to post a couple of photos taken in our garden three years ago.

A Jan day of snow 2011 008

A Jan day of snow 2011 044

 

AND FINALLY

Robert Frost said: ‘Freedom lies in being bold’

Be brave, dare to hope.

 

 

Put it in Writing – edition 1

Welcome to the first edition of Put it in Writing, my new magazine-style blog . Older posts from when the blog was called Write Enough are all still here, just scroll down in the usual way.

I hope readers like the new look and enjoy the content. There are six sections, so you can pick and choose which bits to read, although, of course, I hope you read them all.

THE PERSONAL

Mindfulness and Joy

HPIM0192

Joy is not the same as happiness and to notice joy we have to be sure to pay attention, to be mindful. Happiness is mostly dependent on external circumstances and on things over which we have no control. Joy, on the other hand, comes from and resides within us. That knowledge alone is helpful in times of trial.

It’s taken me far too long to realise the true nature of joy and I still forget it at times. I’ve experienced a few bouts of depression over the years and, recently, although I’ve avoided outright depression, I’ve had a couple of prolonged doses of anxiety. The practice of mindfulness goes a long way to helping with symptoms and it opens the door to small but joyful moments.

Satya Robyn, over at the Writing our Way home website, offers several online courses on mindfulness. Last June I took the one she does on finding joy. If mindfulness is something you want to explore, it would certainly be worthwhile having a look at what Satya offers. One thing she asks you to do if you are taking part is to write down moments of joy on a daily basis for a month. I found this very useful. It was way of stopping, taking a few moments out of a busy day and focussing on the present. There was always joy to be found. For example I spotted three starling fledglings in the birdbath one morning and it was magical to observe their exuberance as they bathed.

As well as continuing to take these mini-meditation moments whenever I can, I also find it useful when anxiety levels rise to be mindful for a few moments; to bring myself fully into the present, to accept that panicking about possible future events is pointless, as is picking at things already done.

I’m not advocating relentless optimism. Nor am I suggesting it’s never appropriate to be sad. Sad things do happen and then it’s absolutely appropriate to experience the present sadness. Mindfulness and recognition of joy are about maintaining perspective, about choosing a point of view that allows a less catastrophic way of looking at things. It’s about low-key, everyday moments – a meal cooked and shared, a good book finished, a pile of freshly done ironing, a work project completed, a smile from a neighbour, a walk to the shops in the rain, a cat curled up in a lap, snuggling up to a loved one on the sofa, time alone, time with friends…

In some ways joy is like bubbly champagne. It fizzes and pops, but, unlike champagne, it’s available ‘on tap’. It’s always there, sometimes even in the sad moments. You just have to look for it.

One of my most treasured books is my 1970s copy of ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran. I’ve re-read it many times over the years and always find something meaningful in it. And when I was thinking about this post it was Gibran’s section on Joy that came to me right away. For Gibran joy and sorrow are inseparable. Below is a short extract from it:

‘Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the self-same well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper the sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain’.

I wish you all moments of mindfulness and joy.

THE POLITICAL

Scotland Yes or No

Flag of Scotland. Ratio 3:5. The blue used is ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2014 will be a significant year for Scotland and the Scots. For history buffs there’s the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. For sports fans there’s the Commonwealth Games being held in Glasgow. For engineering aficionados and road trip enthusiasts there’s the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge.

 And, as if that’s not enough, there will also be the climax of the debate about Scotland’s future. In September next year, the citizens of Scottish voters will take part in a referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country; that is to say whether it should no longer be part of the United Kingdom.

The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), who are the party of government in Scotland, want independence. It’s their raison d’être. The other parties that make up the Scottish parliament want the country to remain part of the union.

And before I go any further, I’d like to make it clear that I have no party political allegiance. However, politics concern me.  I always vote in elections and I cast my vote according to conscience – at best inspired by optimism for effective approaches that will benefit the majority, and at worst settling for the least of several evils.

I’m of the baby-boomer generation, born in the 1950s, grew up in the ‘never had it so good’ 1960s. My parents’ and grandparents’ generation had fought in two world wars to keep Britain free and democratic. They’d built a strong country and a hopeful future for those who came after them. And, although my family was relatively poor, I had an excellent, publicly funded school education, followed by a free place at St Andrews university supported by a maximum grant. I was the first in my family to go to university. I became a teacher , bought a flat and got married in 1978. I was blessed indeed.

Then came the 1980s and the beginning of a thirty year decline to the mess we’re in now. One in four children in Scotland live in relative poverty, higher education is increasingly the preserve of the wealthy and young people find it very difficult to get on either the career or property ladders.

And now Scotland and the rest of the UK are at a crossroads

Scotland has been in the United Kingdom since 1707. For most of that time all political decision-making that affects Scotland has been taken in the British parliament in London. However, Scotland has always maintained a separate legal and church system and has always dealt with its own  education, health and farming matters. Since the setting up of the Scottish parliament in 1999, Scotland has had even more powers devolved to its control.

But for many people in Scotland the present level of devolution is no longer enough. Some, such as the SNP and its supporters, want complete independence. Others want devo-max, a form of devolution that would give independence in lots of matters such as tax-raising, but would stop short of breaking away from the United Kingdom.

So interesting times to be living north of the border.

Where do I stand?

I started out as a No. I didn’t want to break away from the union. I have an instinctive dislike for nationalism of any sort. It has too many nasty connotations. But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud to be Scottish.

 I was also proud to be British until fairly recently. Yes, like many of my fellow Scots, I get annoyed when the English media equates English with British and ignores the Scottish, Irish and Welsh parts of Great Britain. I also get fed up with the English media labelling Scottish sportsmen and women Scottish when they’re losing and British when they’re winning. But these are trivial irritations, certainly not enough to make me want to cut the ties.

But lately I’ve moved from being a No to being an undecided. This has grown out of a growing uneasiness about keeping the status quo.

I’m increasingly unhappy about the kind of society Britain has become. I despair about the rise and rise of the small number of super wealthy, vested interests who hold all the power. What was a market economy has become a market society.

Back in May this year, I read an article entitled ‘A new blueprint for an independent Scotland’ by Tom Gordon in the Sunday Herald newspaper ( 5th May 2013). Gordon is the newspaper’s political editor. Reading the article was a bit of a turning point for me, the beginning of my shift from ‘no’ to ‘maybe’. Gordon’s introduction to the piece stated that:

‘A group of economists and academics has stepped into the independence debate with their own vision of how Holyrood (the home of the Scottish parliament) could transform Scottish society after a Yes vote in the referendum.’

The group included Mike Danson professor of enterprise policy, at Heriot-Watt University, Ailsa Mackay, professor of economics at Glasgow Caledonian University and Andy Cumbers, professor of political economy at Glasgow University and they produced a paper, or blueprint, for the possible future of Scotland. The blueprint suggests, in Tom Gordon’s words,  that:

‘Instead of continuing the UK’s decline into  a low-wage, low-skill economy in which markets rule, public services dwindle and the gulf between rich and poor widens, they (the blueprint’s authors) say Scotland can choose a new direction of travel.’

The suggested model is one that runs along both Nordic lines and follows the principles of a concept called the ‘Commonweal.’  The suggestion is that, a post-independent Scotland adopts the best bits from Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Germany and combines these with the collective approach favoured by Commonweal or common good. This is a vision of a higher waged and yes, higher taxed  but fairer society, improved public services, more diverse ownership of industry, reform of the financial sector, a bigger variety in types of business and greater democracy at work and in communities.

It’s as another Sunday Herald journalist, Iain Macwhirter, said in a piece in the 29th September 2013 edition of the paper, when he wrote that  ‘countries like Germany and Norway have stuck essentially to 1970s consensus policies with great success’. He acknowledges that industrial confrontation was out of control, but he also says that ‘Britain was at its most equal in terms of income and wealth in 1977. It was an era of genuine social security, when houses were cheap, jobs were relatively abundant, Britain was an industrial nation, and there was genuine social mobility thanks to free higher education. Unemployment was thought to be excessive when it surpassed one million.’

The Commonweal/Nordic model is something both the SNP and Labour are taking seriously and want to know more about. This fact alone is refreshing.

Might it be that no matter who wins the referendum, or the next Scottish government election, that Scotland will be done with the ghastly ‘strivers’ versus ‘shirkers’ mantra, done with protecting the rich and persecuting the poorest, down with the warped and cruel mentality of the present UK government?

The Commonweal blueprint is not a plan for utopia. There would be hard choices to be made. There would have to be sacrifices. But I believe the rewards for going for it would be worth it.

However, I suspect it’s not only the Scots who want changes. I don’t believe that feelings of disenfranchisement and despair are restricted to Scotland. I’m sure there are many in England, Wales and in Northern Ireland who’d like to live in a more egalitarian, more compassionate, more hopeful society. And I’ll bet there are British citizens all over these islands who would like to see Royal Mail and the power companies taken back into public ownership, who’d like to see a mansion tax replace the bedroom tax, who’d like to see more house building.

I reckon Scotland is fortunate to have this chance, this time to consider her future, to ponder and to reflect on what kind of nation she wants to be. Scotland is also fortunate to have Salmond’s dogged leadership and a strong opposition. There’s no room for complacency and that is never a bad thing.

Whatever the results of the referendum, we Scots should not squander this opportunity, whatever road we take, it’s time to grasp the thistle, time for a change whether that’s in or out of the UK.

As for me I remain undecided, but fully engaged in the process. Interesting times indeed…

THE REVIEW

Tristan and Iseult by JD Smith

Tristan and Iseult

click here to order from Amazon

This is a beautiful book. By that I mean the book itself is a pleasing artefact. The cover looks and feels good. The fonts, the images, the slightly raised appearance of the lettering of the title, even the quality of the paper, all combine to make this novel a pleasure just to hold. And in this age of the rise of the e-book that’s no bad thing.

Personal note: Don’t get me wrong I like my e-reader, but there are times when only the real thing will do. I hope both paper and e-books will co-exist for a long time to come.

So, just holding this novel sets the reader up for a quality reading experience. Proof of the value of a good cover? And it might surprise the reader to know that the cover is actually designed by the author. A surprise, that is, unless you know that JD Smith is also a graphic designer and has designed countless stunning book covers for other writers.

But was I be right to judge this book by its lovely cover? I wasn’t disappointed. Expectations of a good read were wholly justified.

The story is based on a medieval legend which is itself based on an even older tale dating back to Pictish times. As you’d expect several versions of the story exist as well as at least one opera and a film version. JD Smith has, however, made it her own in this book.

Set at the time when Briton was defending itself from Saxon attack, Tristan is a knight and nephew to Mark, King of Briton. Iseult is  a woman of royal Irish blood. These three become part of a love triangle with very high personal and political stakes. The story has romance, poignancy, suspense, action and intrigue. It ticks several genre boxes so is never formulaic. It is beautifully set up by the author. Her feeling for the period landscape means the integrity of the setting never falters. The telling is perfectly paced. The characters are completely believable. The tone, phrasing and rhythm of the prose are excellently judged to provide appropriate atmosphere and authenticity to the telling. Not only that the prose has a wonderfully light touch. It manages that rare thing – to be both sparse and multi-layered simultaneously. The telling may be economical but the story has the feel of a richly detailed medieval tapestry.

This is a first novel from JD Smith and it will appeal to, and deserves, a wide readership. I look forward to more novels from this author.

The book is published by Quinn publications, part of Triskele Books

ON WRITING

Wips, Tips and Quips

P writing blue
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wips:

So, my work in progress, or ‘wip’ as we say in the trade.

It’s taken four years but at last it’s done. Novel two is written, edited and polished. I’m pleased with it and of course I hope readers will be too. Next step is investigate several routes to publication. There will be lots of decisions to be made, cover design, layout, whether to do it as an e-book first then paperback, whether to approach agents and traditional publishers, or to take the increasingly popular rote and be an author-publisher.

I have around me a strong network of other writers, some traditionally published, some who have set up their own small publishing houses, and some who are individual author-publishers. I’m also a member of the wonderful Alliance of Independent Authors who provide excellent advice to prospective go-it-aloners. They offer support through the minefield of both paperback and e-publishing, they help with promotion and marketing and they campaign on authors’ behalf.

At this point, I should also mention my fabulous editor, John Hudspith, who you can read about in ‘Tips’ below and the person who designed the cover of my first novel, Jane Dixon-Smith, ( yes, this is the same Jane whose book I reviewed above) who I intend to ask to do the cover for the new one. There will be more about Jane in a  future blog.

So, one way or another, the new book will be out in the not too distant future. Watch this space for more information.

Whilst writing the above book, I’ve also completed a children’s novel and I intend for John, the alchemist editor, to begin taking it apart in January.

Tips:

The single most important piece of advice  I would give to any writer is get your work edited and get it edited even if you intend to approach a traditional publisher. You may think your work is a masterpiece, your family and friends may tell you so, you may have redrafted it hundreds of times, BUT, it still won’t be good enough. It needs and it deserves a pair of  astute and dispassionate eyes. Here’s more about my own authorial minder:

John Hudspith, book editor and alchemist.

John describes himself as a book editor. I don’t agree with his description. He’s so much more than that.

First of all he’s no mean novelist in his own right. As such he brings his own writing skills to the editing table.

This fact alone is worth paying for. Why? Because as a client you’ll benefit from more than his editor’s red pen. He’ll also be your writing tutor and mentor.

He’ll criticise, he’ll be brutal, he’ll make you mad, but by god he’ll make you a better writer. You’ll be forced to slaughter some of your darlings – or ‘shave those babies’ as he calls it. He’ll stand over you telling you to rip out all extraneous wording, or ‘microfluff’.

And, oh yes, he’ll line edit and proofread too, he’ll spot every stray comma, space and missing piece of punctuation – all as part of the package and all for the price you’d normally expect to pay just for a copy edit.

At the end of the process you’ll love him. You’ll love him because what he gives you is a writing course, a constructive appraisal and a determination to make your writing the best it can be. And when you do receive praise from him, you’ll know he means it and your heart will sing.

John has now edited two novels for me and I cannot really adequately express how much me and my writing owe him. He’s turned the base elements of several drafts and redrafts into something much more valuable, something that’s ready for publication.

Hire John. You and your writing are worth it.

 

Quips:

This month’s writing tips come from author Matt Haig’s How to write a novel: 25 rules

  • A first draft is the beginning of the end. But the end lasts forever.
  • It isn’t the words you choose to use. It’s the words you choose to leave out.
  • Adverbs dilute.

ON NATURE

AURORA BOREALIS

This year has been an outstanding one for seeing the aurora borealis or northern lights. Local photographers here in the Hebrides have been able to take some amazing photos of this natural light show. One in particular, Andy Stables, has posted beautiful pictures of nature’s light show on the Glendale Skye Auroras page on facebook  throughout the year. Here are a couple:

aurora Stables 2

Aurora 170113

They speak for themselves.

AND FINALLY

WISE WORDS TO THINK ON…

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in curs...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The pen that writes your life must be held in your own hand. –Irene C Kassorla