From the upheaval of loss to insight, acceptance and love
This is the second of two posts where I share a bit about why I chose the theme of displacement for my novel of the same name. In the first post I talked about physical displacement – displacement from home and country. In this post I’m going to look at the emotional aspects explored in the novel.
Rachel, one of the two main characters, is a fifty-something woman. She lives alone on the Isle of Skye, one of the Hebridean islands off Scotland’s west coast. Her home is on a small farm, or croft as it’s called in the Scottish highlands. And as well as looking after her sheep, she also works as a children’s book illustrator and writer. Rachel has been through a lot of upheaval in her life––divorce, grief after the loss of her soldier son, killed in Afghanistan, and then as the story begins, the loss of her mother who she’s been living with and caring for.
And the other main character, is newly retired Edinburgh police detective, Jack. He’s coming to terms with his retirement, has just had heart surgery, and is feeling stuck in a relationship that has run its course. Like Rachel he is divorced. At the start of the novel he has just bought a rundown cottage in the (fictional) Skye village of Halladale. He plans to do it up and to use it as a holiday home.
Both Rachel and Jack have lost their way emotionally. Both of them need to come to terms with the changes in their lives and to find a new way of living. During the course of the novel both of them explore new ways of life.
Rachel goes to Israel-Palestine, where her brother lives. She wants to explore her Jewish heritage and to see if she too can settle and make a new life in the Middle East. And the people she meets there certainly open her mind to new ways of living and new possibilities. There’s Hana, a Palestinian woman who owns a guest house on the West Bank where Rachel spends a few days. The conversations Rachel has with Hana are life-changing. And then there’s Eitan, an artist, and best friend of Rachel’s brother. Eitan reawakens in Rachel what it is to be a woman and a person in her own right––not just a mother, daughter or ex-wife.
Jack meanwhile finds working on his cottage to be therapeutic. He also finds walking in and photographing the stunning Skye landscape provides him with time and space to decide what’s next now he’s retired.
And then there’s the relationship between Rachel and Jack. They establish a strong friendship before Rachel leaves for Israel and it’s a friendship that benefits both of them emotionally. But there’s also a complication––an undercurrent that both of them sense but neither acknowledge––they are strongly attracted to each other. Beginning a new relationship isn’t something either of them wants and it’s this emotional complication that drives the narrative of Displacementforward.
At its heart Displacementhas the question of whether Jack and Rachel can become new anchoring points in each other’s previously turbulent lives.
The reasons behind the plot and settings of my second novel
When I wrote Displacement, I wanted to explore what knocks people’s lives off course, what pushes them out of their normal place and space. I also wanted to examine the consequences of both physical and emotional displacement. In other words i wanted to look at what happens when people are forced by circumstances to change their location – both external and internal.
At the emotional level, I wanted to explore the displacement caused by grief, betrayal, illness and ageing and I’ll share more of the background to this in a subsequent post. But I also wanted to explore the long term consequences of physical displacement, of what happens when people are forced to abandon their home and culture in order to stay alive – and that’s what I’m looking at in this post.
When I came to write Displacement, three examples of the forced movement of people were in my mind – two from the relatively recent past, and one that has existed since the 1940s and continues to the present day. The first was the forced eviction of people from their land in the north of Scotland. The evidence of the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries is still visible today. And this, combined with the earlier punitive measures put in place by the victorious Hanoverian side following the Battle of Culloden, meant that Gaelic culture came close to being eliminated. The wearing of tartan was outlawed as was speaking Gaelic. The organisation of Highland society by the clan system came to an end and thousands of Scots were forced to emigrate to Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand.
The second example of the forced displacement of people that I had in mind was the much deadlier clearance of a whole culture that was wrought in Nazi Germany. I saw an item on Scottish television marking the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport that took place just before the second world war. This happened when Great Britain agreed to accept 10,000 Jewish refugee children from Germany and Austria. The children were taken in by British families and most never saw their parents again as they died in the Holocaust. Some survivors of the Kindertransport were interviewed about their experiences of arriving in and growing up in Scotland in their adoptive families. Their stories of stoicism and survival made quite an impression on me.
And the third example is that of the plight of the Palestinian people displaced from their homes by the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 following on from the end of the Second World War.
I brought the three together in Displacement by making the late mother of the main female character, Rachel, a Kindertransport survivor who was taken in by a family in Glasgow and who later married a native of the Isle of Skye (in the Scottish highlands) and settled there. Rachel lives on Skye, but her brother has followed his Jewish heritage and emigrated to Israel-Palestine.
And because of the significant emotional upheavals in Rachel’s life, she decides to visit her brother in his adopted homeland and see if she too can find a renewed sense of home by being there.
Hence the action in the novel moves between these two very different places and addresses many layers and levels of displacement as Rachel tries to decide where in the world her future lies.
And I was able to describe both settings from experience.
I’m a Scot and I live in the Scottish Hebrides so I’m steeped in that environment and its history. The wild and often challenging landscape, the resilience and resourcefulness needed to survive here, and the still visible evidence of whole townships abandoned and left to crumble when the inhabitants were forced off their land – all lend themselves to the exploration of the themes of upheaval and displacement .
I’ve also been to Israel-Palestine several times. It’s a country that fascinates me and it’s certainly no stranger to upheaval.
My link with the Middle East dates back to when I was fourteen and to my high school days in Edinburgh. A new girl joined the class and I was the one who volunteered to look after her. The new girl was Revital and she was an Israeli. Her father was doing a PhD at Edinburgh university and had brought his family with him for the duration. Revital and I quickly became friends. So much so that after she and her family returned home we kept in touch and in 1975 during my long summer holidays from university I travelled to Israel to visit her. As she was doing her national service at the time we could only meet up at certain times, so I worked on a kibbutz for a bit and did a bit of travelling. The kibbutz was on the Golan Heights – something I didn’t tell my mother who was worried enough about me visiting what she saw as a very dangerous country. I wasn’t worried though; I had the invincibility of youth. And I was smitten by the place – its beauty, its ancient landscape and its vitality.
I’ve revisited since then. One trip was in 1993 and coincided with the optimism which followed the signing of the Oslo Accord. The Palestinian flag flew from balconies, houses and cars – something that would have been illegal before the Accord. The atmosphere was relaxed, peace seemed to have been established. Revital and her husband were activists for the peace settlement and knew there was still a lot of work to be done, but were hopeful that they could now live and bring up their children in a new, constructive and co-operative society with all their neighbours regardless of background, religion, or race. Fast forward to my most recent visit in 2012 and the situation had deteriorated to worse than before 1993. All optimism for a peaceful and fair settlement was gone. Revital and her husband continued to work for a peaceful solution, trying to raise awareness amongst their Israeli friends of the true plight of the Palestinians. Her husband, an academic has written several books on the subject and speaks on it all over the world. You can view one of his many talks here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qblO4u0pF9M And Revital is part of Machsom Watch – who in their own words are
‘a volunteer organization of Israeli women who are peace activists from all sectors of society. We oppose the Israeli occupation in the area known as the West Bank, we oppose the appropriation of Palestinian land and the denial of Palestinian human rights. We support the right of Palestinians to move freely in their land and oppose the checkpoints which severely restrict Palestinian daily life.
And amongst other things they, ‘conduct daily observations of Israel Defense Force checkpoints in the West Bank and the hamlets in the Jordan Valley.’ (taken from the Machsom website at http://www.machsomwatch.org/en/about-us)
When I visited in 2012 I accompanied Revital on one of these checkpoint observations. It was a bit scary – I’ve not been that close to a soldier on active duty before or to an automatic weapon – but it was an interesting and enlightening experience. Palestinians, including the elderly, the sick, and the pregnant are given a lot of hassle while just trying to go about their ordinary daily business such as visiting family or attending hospital appointments.
So all of the above was in my head as I wrote the novel and I incorporated some of my own experiences into the story – from Rachel’s life as a crofter to the realities of life in the Middle East.
Footnote re current refugees:
I’m not a historian, a politician or an activist, so I wrote simply as a human being reflecting on the plight of other human beings and on the injustices of enforced displacement inflicted by some of us on those we perceive as ‘other’.
But, as I mentioned above, I’m only too aware of the plight of refugees from Syria right now as they try to get Europe. I’ve donated to charities and written to my MP – as I’m sure many of you will have – and I will continue to do whatever else I can to help, albeit in a small way. I’m particularly proud that my relatively small and remote community is, as I write this, collecting desperately needed items for those refugees and as soon as there’s enough to fill the articulated lorry that is on standby, these items will be driven to Greece for delivery to those who need them.
So by way of acknowledging displacement as an ever-present and often devastating fact in human life, I thought I’d end by including the cartoon below. It has been shared a lot on social media recently in relation to the recent deaths in the Mediterranean and to the refugee crisis in general. (The cartoon is actually from 2014 and was created Australian cartoonist and fellow wordpress blogger Simon Kneebone, in response to the time when boatloads of people were trying to reach Australia from Indonesia.)
I’m interviewed over at Jan Ruth’s blog today. It was fun to do and I hope you enjoy reading it. You can, amongst other things, find out which character I fell in love with whilst writing him and can you guess my favourite word?
We’ve been home now for four days. Our stint as booksellers-in-residence at the Open Book second hand bookshop is now over for the husband and me. It was a great adventure. We hope we’ve left the Open Book slightly tidier and the stock a bit better organised – having built on the hard work of our predecessors in the project. Now it’s over to our successors-in-residence to continue the process.
You’ll have seen from my earlier posts on our time in Wigtown that we met all sorts of interesting and lovely people – both local and visitors to the town. We did a bit of exploring of this corner of Scotland and liked what we saw. It was good to visit the other bookshops in Wigtown as well. How wonderful to have them all, and to have people who are so committed to selling real books in real independent shops and who are prepared to work so hard to do so. It was an eye-opener as to how much goes into running a successful bookshop and it’s definitely a labour of love. More power to all independent bookshops!
During the fortnight, although there wasn’t a lot of spare time to write, I did get to do a bit of thinking and planning in connection with my writing. And I met several local authors and we shared experiences, thoughts and ideas – this in itself was such a valuable opportunity.
So thanks to the Wigtown Book Festival Company and all those behind this unique project, especially to project manager, Anne for the chance to be part of the Open Book. Thanks, too, to Joyce from the Old Bookshop, to the owners of the Glaisnock Cafe, (yummy), to Jayne and to Sarah from the writers’ group, and to everyone else who made us so welcome.
And most of all thanks to the Open Book shop. It was fun getting to know the best wee bookshop in the world.
END OF CHAPTER
It’s a long drive from Scotland’s National Book Town to our home in the Hebrides, so we broke our journey north on Saturday with an overnight stay in Glasgow. We stayed at a hotel in the city’s vibrant west end and so were able to enjoy a walk in the Botanical gardens and along the River Kelvin walkway, as well as a lovely dinner out at a nearby Italian restaurant.
Then on Sunday we drove the rest of the way home. And what a drive home it was. It was a beautiful day and the west of Scotland was looking stunning. Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Kintail, to name just a few of the places, were all showing off their full glory – Scotland was at its most jaw-dropping and glorious best.
It’s nice to be home. The weather has continued to be good and I’ve already had the chance to enjoy one of my favourite local walks.
Since getting back, I’ve also been catching up on all my own writing jobs and looking to further the plans I finalised while I was away.
There are two deadlines tomorrow.
One is for my contribution to Words with Jam, the online writers magazine that I’ve been on the staff of since its inception around four years ago. The theme of April’s issue is History and I got two pieces off to the editor yesterday.
The other deadline is for an application to be included in an opportunity being offered to writers by XPONorth. Below is an edited extract from the organisation’s publicity for the opportunity.
XPONorth (Writing & Publishing) is delighted to offer seven independent, self-publishing authors living in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the chance to sell and promote their work at the Indie Author Fair 2015. The Fair takes place at Foyles Bookshop, London, on Saturday 17th April 2015.
The Fair is part of the London Book Fair Indie Author Fringe Festival, run by The Alliance of Independent Authors/Indie ReCon, and Triskele Books are hosting the 2nd Indie Author Fair at Foyles Bookshop.
Authors selected for the showcase will be offered support and mentoring in developing their marketing and promotional materials and platforms in readiness for the Fair.
Indie authors living the Highlands and Islands can apply to participate in this showcase either to be present in person with their books at the Fair (books, plus promotional materials), or to have their books available on the XPONorth display forsale and with promotional materials.
Whether for readers, writers, publishers or observers of the publishing scene, this will be an unmissable event – an opportunity to say hello to the best indie authors in the business, meet suppliers, talk to experts, buy/sell some books. The event will be FREE to the general public.
( XPONorth Wrtiting and Publishing is delivered by Emergents Creatives CIC Ltd, and the programme is funded by European Regional Development Fund and HIE.)
My application is away. I’m not planning to attend in person, but it would be good to have my books promoted and on offer there, so fingers are crossed.
A week from today I’ll be off back down to Glasgow. I’m attending the annual, weekend conference of the Scottish Association of Writers. So I’ve got travel arrangements to finalise and promotional materials to gather. This is a great opportunity to meet other writers, to catch up with my fellow members from the Edinburgh Writers’ Club, to network, attend workshops and to see if I’ve had any success in the Association’s conference competitions. I’ve entries in a few categories so maybe, just maybe…
Then, after I get home, it will be all systems go for the April publication of my first children’s novel. More of that in a later post.
And here is my shortlisted story – see previous post for details about the competition I entered.
Hansel and Gretel
[ story is copyright of Anne Stormont]
The decline had been rapid. Within a few years, Riversdale had gone from being a thriving farming community, populated by lively and growing families to being an unsettlingly quiet and barren place.
Now, the fields lay unploughed, withered and brown. Birds no longer sang in the sickly trees. The once, brightly whitewashed cottages with their red, pan-tiled roofs and pretty gardens stood neglected. Dark, paint-flaked windows, weeds choking and smothering the flower beds, children’s toys abandoned in the undergrowth – all told the story.
But it was the empty school that made the starkest statement about what ailed Riversdale.
One fine spring afternoon, Gretel sat on the schoolyard wall. She often came here to sit and think. She would stare at the deserted building with its sad black windows. She would try to imagine the schoolyard full of children as she’d heard it had once been. But she couldn’t. She had no idea what that would be like.
Her twin brother, Hansel, jumped along a grid of faded, numbered squares that had been painted on the playground’s dusty surface. Gretel had once asked her mother about the grid of numbers. Her mother began to explain that it was a game, but she became too upset to finish the explanation and Gretel hadn’t asked again.
Over by the school gate, Gretel noticed that the woman was there again. The woman came every school day – every school day at three o’clock – and she waited. She waited until her husband came to fetch her back at four o’clock and she listened – listened to him explain once again – as he always did. And she listened, every time as if it was the first time, to her husband telling her that their son wasn’t in school, that he would never be in school, that he was gone, taken by the Helpers. And every time she cried – as if it was the first time.
Hansel and Gretel were taught at home by their mother. The teacher left when the last school age child had gone from the village. Gretel and her brother were babies at the time. It was the year after the river dried up and the crops didn’t grow. It was the year the Helpers came.
Today, as she stared at the sad old building, Gretel wondered again what it would be like to go to school, what it would be like to be in a class full of other children her own age. She longed to be in a class full of other children. She longed to have other children, besides her brother, to play with. Hansel was all right – but he was a boy. He didn’t want to play Gretel’s games and he always seemed quite happy on his own. She wished she could have a group of friends – all girls her own age. Gretel did have one friend. She was called Lottie and she was the same age as Gretel. She was quite good company most of the time. She and Gretel talked a lot about all sorts of things. Lottie came for sleepovers and she was always there when it was Gretel’s birthday. ‘If only she was real,’ thought Gretel.
Gretel had asked – begged – her mother to move the family to the town – to let her and Hansel go to the school there. After all, wasn’t that where the Helpers had taken the other children – to Forestville -to the town? But her mother wouldn’t talk about it, wouldn’t consider it. She would only say that their father said it was a dreadful place and that he wouldn’t allow it. He wouldn’t even let Hansel and Gretel visit the town. They’d never been to Forestville – not once.
She’d also asked over and over again why the older children had gone. She’d overheard bits and pieces. Sometimes the grown-ups forgot she was there or thought she wasn’t listening. She’d heard her mother and grandmother talking, or sometimes it was her mother and Marta, the woman from next door. And some nights, when she and Lottie couldn’t sleep, Gretel would creep out of bed and sit at the top of the stairs and listen to her parents talking in the room below.
When Grandma and Mama talked about the arrival of the Helpers, Gretel would be sitting quietly reading and it was as if Grandma and Mama forgot she was there. They spoke of how the Helpers came after the river dried up. They came and they offered to help the families whose farms were wastelands and whose children were hungry. They gave the families money and said that they would take the children to Forestville and feed them and look after them and send them to school. In return the children could do a bit of work for the Helpers to earn their keep. Grandma would sniff, as if she was crying, and she would say, “Those poor people. Those poor, poor people and their poor lost babies. They weren’t to know they’d never see or hear from their darling children again.”
At other times Marta would come from next door. She and Gretel’s mother would sit at the kitchen table, drinking tea and talking. Sometimes Marta would speak about ‘my Peter’. And Gretel, playing a game with Lottie on the kitchen floor, would listen unnoticed. “My lovely Peter,” Marta would say.”I miss him every day. I should never have trusted those horrible Helpers. But we didn’t have enough food. We were so hungry. Our boy was so hungry. Our beautiful, beautiful boy…”
And then Marta would cry and sob and Mama would hug her and say, “Sh, now,” like she did when Gretel was upset. “One day they’ll be back, you’ll see. The Helpers promised to look after them while you couldn’t – but soon they’ll be back.”
One day Marta said to Mama, “Everyone says you’re so lucky. You’re so lucky that your Hansel and Gretel were babies when they came for our children – and so lucky that their father could find work in the town.” Gretel thought Marta sounded cross. And after Marta left, Gretel thought she heard her mother crying.
Sometimes at night, as she sat on the stairs, Gretel heard her parents as they talked. Then, one night, they seemed to be arguing. Their voices were loud. Both of them sounded angry.
“I hate it here,” Mama said.”And our neighbours hate us. They hate that we have still have our children and they don’t. We should leave. We should live in Forestville.”
“No!” Papa shouted. “Never, we will never live in that place.”
“But why not?” said Mama. “Living here is no good for us. Our children need to go to school, to have friends. This place is dead. It’s never going to recover.”
“No! Don’t say that,” said Papa. “The village will recover. One day we’ll get our water back and it will be like it was before. Families will move here. The village will come back to life.”
“When?” Mama cried. “When will that be? Next year? In five years, twenty years, when? It’s all right for you – you get to go to Forestville every day. You’re not stuck here – here in this desert – where no flowers grow, no birds sing, no children laugh.”
“Do you think I like going there?” asked Papa.
“I don’t see why you wouldn’t like it,” answered Mama. “I don’t see why you won’t let me go there. I miss it. Why must it be you who gets all our provisions? I’d love to see the shops and the grand houses again. And our children – they would love to see the parks and the gardens. At least let the children go to school there. I know we’d miss them, but it would be better for them-”
“No! No!” Gretel jumped when Papa banged his hand on the table. She hugged Lottie tightly as she listened to Papa’s words. “It isn’t safe. It’s not like it was before – before they came – before the Helpers came. You’ve no idea – no idea of the evil they do.”
“What evil? What do they do?”
“I can’t tell you. If I did, you would be in danger. They don’t want people knowing the truth – knowing what it is they really do. But me and a few of the other men we’ve been investigating and soon, soon we’ll know enough to prove what they’ve done – done to all of us. And when we do, then Riverdale will recover and the children will come home.”
“I don’t understand,” said Mama.
“Please,” said Papa, his voice was quieter now. Gretel had to strain to hear his words. “Please, my dearest, please trust me. Please, promise me you will keep our children safe here for a bit longer and soon all will be well.”
“I promise,” said Mama.
But it wasn’t long after that night that Mama broke her promise.
Papa had arrived home from work early. Gretel was sitting at one end of the kitchen table drawing and Hansel was playing with his toy farmyard at the other end. Mama was preparing their evening meal. Papa almost fell into the kitchen he was in such a rush. He stumbled over to Mama, who looked very surprised, and hugged her. “Come here, children,” he called, gasping to catch his breath as he beckoned to Hansel and Gretel.
The children ran to their father and he held them and Mama close.
“What is it?” Mama asked, looking scared. “What’s wrong? Why are you home so early?”
Papa let go of them and ran his hands through his hair. And now he looked scared too. Gretel wished that Lottie was with her.
“They found us out,” said Papa. “The Helpers – they found out what me and the other men had discovered about them – about their business and the terrible things they have done – to this community – to our children. They’ll come for us – me and the other men. They’ll stop us from telling what we know – so we must go into hiding.”
“What do you mean? Where will you go? What about your job? ” Mama was crying.
Papa put his arms around Mama. “I can’t go back to my job. The Helpers know where I work. It would be too dangerous. Me and the other men – we have a plan and a place to go where we think we will be safe until we can get to the authorities and tell them the truth about what is going on in Forestville. But I can’t tell you more than that. If I did, you would be in danger too. You must wait here until this is over and I can come home.”
Hansel was crying. Gretel was determined not to. Their father embraced them both quickly and then he was gone.
At first their mother tried to keep things going as normal. But the longer their father was gone, the harder it got. The money ran out and, soon after, so did the food. Then, one morning as Hansel and Gretel shared the last slice of bread and their hungry Mama watched them, the Helpers arrived.
It didn’t take them long to persuade Mama. They commented on how thin Hansel was and promised Mama he’d be fattened up. In fact, both the children would be fed and educated. In the afternoons they’d do some light work for the Helpers. The money they earned would be sent to Mama.
It didn’t take Mama long to pack a little bag for the twins to take with them. The last children in Riversdale were leaving. Hansel and Gretel were going to Forestville.
So, it’s onwards and upwards in 2013. I have the motive, means and opportunity – as the cops say of criminal masterminds –to succeed. Only in my case, I don’t plan to commit a crime – but to commit myself to what really matters in life – and especially to my writing.
The blog pause is over and I promise I put my time away to good use.
I did get some writing done but, with the small matter of Christmas to organise, perhaps not as much as I’d hoped. However, I’m not going to be too hard on myself. Last year’s mantra was ‘now’ but this year’s is ‘mind/don’t mind.’ By that I mean I’m only going to be mindful of the important stuff – the stuff that is worth paying attention to. The other stuff – guilt, pointless worrying, and other unimportant wastes of time – I’m not going to pay any heed to them.
So, on that positive note, I’m not going to mind too much that a lot of time in 2012 had to be given over to family matters, health matters and moving house as well as to the ever-increasing demands of my fulltime teaching job. That was all as it should be.
And in spite of all that stuff I did get a reasonable amount of writing done last year. I made progress with both novels-in-progress – my second adult one and my first one for children. I submitted my bi-monthly articles to the writers’ magazine ‘Words with Jam’. I also blogged almost every week. I made a new personal best, record number of sales for my novel ‘Change of Life’ and made it into Amazon’s women’s fiction bestsellers list – albeit briefly.
Other good things from last year – I read some great books – many of them reviewed on here. I spent a lot of quality time with my wee granddaughter during her first year. In July I made my third visit to Israel and had an amazing time there – also recorded here on the blog. And the visit provided some valuable research for the grown-up novel.
And 2013 has got off to a good start. I spent a few days at New Year in my home city of Edinburgh. It was a lovely break made up of family, fun and fireworks.
The city’s Hogmanay fireworks, which I viewed from the street outside my son’s flat, were an awesome and a fitting start for ‘WriteEnough’s’ year of living mindfully. I stayed with my son and his lovely partner and was thoroughly spoiled by them. I met with my sisters for a good catch up and spent some time with my elderly father and auntie.
I spent a magical morning in Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens, one of my favourite places in this city of many magical locations. I said hallo to the grand old Figus Sylvatica – one of three specimens of this magnificent silver-barked tree situated at the top of the Gardens. It is under this tree, looking out over the town that I would like my ashes to be scattered – but not for many years yet! I spent some quiet time in the Chinese garden section, enjoying the sight and sound of the gentle waterfalls . And I sat on the bench where I used to go and sit when I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer and needed to get my head round the fact that I was mortal after all.
Another highlight of my visit to the capital was going to the John Bellany exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland. Wow! What an amazing artist he is. Three of my favourite paintings were ‘Eyemouth Boatyard’ because it reminded me of childhood holidays spent near there, ‘My Father’ because it was so alive with the artist’s father’s character and ‘The Obsession’ which was subtitled ‘Whence do we come? Who are we? Whither do we go?’ in which Bellany’s desire to know the meaning of life is grippingly portrayed. And there were so many other incredible pictures, from gorgeous Tuscan landscapes to gruesome Holocaust evocations – and some truly amazing ones done while the artist was recovering from a liver transplant and contemplating his mortality. Fabulous!
And now, I’m back at school and enjoying seeing all the children and hearing about their Christmases. Some have had lovely stories to tell about their near misses almost meeting Santa Claus, hearing him on the landing outside their bedroom door or being certain they saw him cross the bedroom floor. Magic!
And as to my writing motives, means and opportunities – well – I have the means – I have my little writing den back as the granddaughter and her parents have their own home once more; I have the opportunities – as long as I choose to take them and make time for them and I have the motives – two novels almost complete and ready for editing AND –
AND – what could be more motivating for an insecure writer who sometimes wonders if she’s kidding herself about being a writer at all – than to hear (today) that I was shortlisted in the story competition jointly run by the National Library of Scotland, the Scotsman newspaper and Scottish Ballet. The brief was to rework the Hansel and Gretel story for an adult audience and to end it at the part where Hansel and Gretel go into the forest. It seems the judges liked my version. I am smugly but quietly proud.
So here’s to 2013, thank you for reading my blog and happy new year to you all.
The clocks have gone back and it’s early dark, but rather than going into hibernation I seem to be nicely busy.
There’s been reading, writing and several coffee and cake dates with friends. And I’m really looking forward to attending the latest of the Atlas Arts talks this coming Saturday. I’ve enjoyed all of the Atlas talks I’ve been to this year. It’s a great local organisation that promotes the work of artists from all over the UK. This week it will be Nicky Bird talking about her work with photography and new media. You can read more about Atlas at http://www.facebook.com/atlasartpeopleplace or on twitter at @skyeatlas
And it’s a collage of a post this week – a book review, a round-up of how my writing’s going and a general witter on my life as a busy old bat.
First, the book review. It’s been a while since I read a proper page-turner of a novel – a book that keeps me from getting to sleep at a sensible hour. So it was lovely to discover Louise Douglas’s ‘The Secrets Between Us’. Having previously read and greatly enjoyed two other novels by this author – ‘The Love of my Life’ and ‘Missing You’, I was hoping for an equally enjoyable experience this time. I wasn’t disappointed.
With its shades of Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ this contemporary, romantic, thriller is gripping right from the start. Even although I worked out whodunnit quite a while before the end, I was still in suspense to see how it all played out. My only gripe – and it’s a small one was that the ending was a little rushed and underplayed. But I do recommend the book to fans of Du Maurier and Douglas.
As for my own writing, I seem to have got my mojo back. The creative flow has been a bit interrupted – and even blocked – of late, with both work and family stuff having to take priority. But I resolved during my half-term holiday from school to get back to the desk. Or, rather, to set up a new desk.
Family circumstances have meant that my little granddaughter currently has my study as a bedroom. So, I bought a laptop with a nice big screen, a set of good earphones in order to listen to music while I work and block out the noise of the TV, and I’ve set up my office on the dining-room table. And so far so good.
I’ve entered my children’s novel in the ‘Myslexia’ magazine children’s book competition. I’ve entered a reworking of the Hansel and Gretel tale in the competition being run jointly by the National Library of Scotland, Scottish Ballet and the Scotsman newspaper. I’ve written my contribution to the December issue of writing magazine, ‘Words with Jam’.
But the thing I’m most chuffed about is getting back to my partly written, second ‘grown-up’ novel. Yesterday evening, I began re-reading the 80,000 words I’ve written so far. I haven’t looked at it for a few months and I was pleasantly surprised (she says modestly). It was great to be back with the characters and get re-involved in their lives. Now I’m really looking forward to spending my evenings in the company of these people and completing the telling of their story.
I’ve also put three more competitions into my writing diary for early in the new year.
And it won’t be long before 2013 is here. I know everyone of my age finds that time whizzes past, but I suspect that living by the termly rhythm of the school year, makes the passage of time go even faster. At school we’ve just had the excitement of Halloween and bonfire night and this Friday will see staff and pupils all wearing red in honour of armistice day. Then it’s our mega fundraising day for ‘Children in Need’ with lots of Pudsey related activities – before we career towards the Christmas concert, parties and Santa’s arrival.
Autumn is well and truly ensconced on Skye – and winter has already run some preview trailers. The crunch and smell of fallen leaves, the woodsmoke and the early morning mists have been trumped by icy roads and pavements. Even the fireworks display had to compete with a heavy snowfall on Saturday evening to win the wow-factor contest.
I’m bracing myself for the short days and very long nights that you get this far north in December and January. But the long evenings mean plenty of time to write. There’s also the granddaughter’s first birthday to look forward to – as well as the magic that is Christmas. And then the holidays should provide an opportunity to get engrossed in a good book – or two…
Another month has ended. My real life, my writing life and my working life have all been very busy throughout April and May doesn’t look as if it will be any quieter.
In real life, the Easter holidays were enjoyable and fun. The husband recovered from his lurgy and we got over the disappointment of our cancelled holiday. This was made easier when our daughter, son-in-law and our gorgeous granddaughter, Eva, came to stay. The wee one is four months old now and smiles and babbles away at anyone who pays her any attention. She also developed a liking for one of our floor-lamps and it got the most enthusiastic chatter of any of us – especially when lit.
And then it was back to school. It was lovely comparing notes with the granny colleagues as several of us had been able to spend time with our grandbabies during the break. It’s hard to believe that it’s term four already and that the school year will end in eight weeks time. We’re already preparing for the new intake of five-year-olds in August and it only feels like yesterday that our present Primary Ones arrived. The school is already going Olympics crazy and there is an absolute extravaganza of stuff planned for the next few weeks – all related to the Games.
As for the writing – it can be hard going after a busy day at school but I usually make it to my desk after dinner – and I always get a bit done at the weekends. Novel number two is coming along nicely. I’m two-thirds of the way through the first draft and I’m at that stage where the characters are always with me – and I half expect to meet them at the co-op they are so real to me.
I was very chuffed to be mentioned on the cover of April’s issue of Words with Jam, http://www.wordswithjam.co.uk/ the writers’ magazine that I’m a ‘staffer’ on. I’ve been with the magazine from the start but never had billing on the front page before. The founding editor, Jane Dixon-Smith, is amazing and has taken WWJ from solely free online editions to e-format and print versions. It is now a well-established, high circulation and entertaining and informative journal. The staff is even getting paid now!
I was also very pleased with the results of offering my novel ‘Change of Life’ as a free download for Kindle on one weekend in April. Hundreds of copies were downloaded and paid sales also experienced a boost afterwards. The book made it to number 3 on the Kindle paid Women’s Fiction chart on Amazon and to number 63 in the paid general fiction Kindle chart. I did enjoy my fifteen minutes of fame.
And still on the subject of writing I have also joined The Alliance of Independent Authors http://allianceindependentauthors.org/ . This is a new body started by Orna Ross and it aims to support, represent and advise independent authors and looks well worth being a member of if you’re a ‘struggling’ indie author.
As for island life – well – lambing is over. The weather has been amazingly good and the lambing snow has been confined to the hilltops. Foxes are proving to be a pest as always and a colleague lost a lamb the other night to Mr Fox. I know they have to eat but it’s the way they just take the head that gives me the shivers – and they leave behind these wee headless corpses. On a happier note, there’s already a healthy number of tourists enjoying our beautiful surroundings.
And so March is coming to an end and it seems set to live up to its old reputation for coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb. In common with most of the rest of the United Kingdom our little island has been having the most gorgeous weather for the last week. Apparently the Hebrides were hotter than the Balearics at the weekend. Daffodils are out in their hosts and my walk to work is scented by the coconut waft of yellow gorse flowers from the hedgerows and verges.
We’re trying not to get too comfortable without our vests and our cardis though. April often sees a fall of ‘lambing snow’ – but for now we’re soaking up the full spectrum light and giving the central heating a rest.
As for my end of month round up of my March reading and writing – well – it was tough but I’ve now got properly back into the writing groove. My second novel is back on track and I aim to have the first draft complete by mid July. Then after a bit of a break I intend to get on with the rewriting and redrafting of my novel for children.
I’ve always found that listening to music helps me get in the writing zone. All three of my books are associated with particular playlists. And playing the ‘Novel 2’ tunes definitely retuned my brain to the correct writing frequency.
My current read is the book I received as a Mothers’ Day present. It’s Mary Quant’s autobiography. I dropped heavy hints about it – i.e. said to the husband that I’d like it and to tell the kids if they asked for ideas of what to give me.
I’m a child of the sixties so Mary Quant – fashion designer, trendsetter and feminist was a role model, heroine and figurehead for lassies of my vintage. I’m whizzing through the book. Quant is no great writer, and the book might annoy some by being a bit haphazard in its organisation and a mite repetitive here and there, but i find that to be part of its charm. There’s no airbrushing or ghost-writing. It’s honest and I’m gripped by it. It’s really like sitting down and having a right good blether – or rather, listening to anecdote after anecdote – in no particular order – but all lively, interesting and full of insight. It shows Quant’s take on her life as a wife, mother and woman as well as a grounded and highly successful businesswoman. The book is an original and refreshingly female take on an amazing era. The hardback is available now and the paperback (cover above) will be out in September.
So the first quarter of 2012 is almost gone. I began the year with a new motto – ‘NOW’ – 2012 is to be, for me a year of ‘Carpe Diem’, of less procrastination, of feeling the fear and doing stuff anyway… And so far I’m doing not a bad job of sticking to it. My main focus is on the ‘now’ – only the odd glance backwards – and no worrying about futures that only exist in my over-anxious brain.
On that chilled note, I’m off on holiday on Saturday for a week. Yes – it’s the school holidays – yes again! The husband and I are going to Ireland with the son and his lovely lass. And when we get back the daughter, her wonderful husband and our gorgeous wee granddaughter are coming to stay for a week. Totally gle mhath (very good)
Whatever your Spring festival of choice or conviction – Enjoy and be in the moment!
So, where was I? Ah, yes, moving house. It’s done. Hurrah! We’re exhausted, but it’s done. It was quite a bourrach for a while there. But now the boxes are unpacked and it’s good to be reunited with all our stuff that’s been in storage for the last seven months. It’s also good to bring our nomadic existence to an end. Once more we have a home of our own. There’s still all the pictures to put up and some new curtains to be made – but mostly everything is in place.
We have surplus furniture in the garage, but I’ve already managed to sell some of it by advertising on the local free ads page on Facebook. Still got a couple of wardrobes to go and then there will be space for the ‘Big Beamer’ – otherwise known as the husband’s motorbike. Needless to say there will never be space for the car to go inside.
We have had a great incentive to get on and get the house organised as our daughter, her husband and our gorgeous eleven-week-old granddaughter are coming to stay on Thursday for a long weekend. It’s hard being three hundred miles away from them, so I’ll be making the most of the visit.
I still can’t quite get over the fact that I’m a granny but I absolutely love this new status. The love you feel for a grandchild is as, if not more, intense as you feel for your child – but it’s also different – in an (for me) inexplicable way. We’re also very glad that my very dear father-in-law got to meet his wee great-granddaughter before he passed away so suddenly in January. His passing has left a large gap in our family life, but his children carried out a most poignant and fitting funeral service for him where we felt his presence more than his absence.
My new study is very comfy. I’ve commandeered the fourth and smallest bedroom as my lair. It looks south over the garden to the Portree hills and the Cuillin ridge beyond. I think I’ll be very content to write in this room and I’m so grateful to have a room of my own. My writing has been so disrupted over the last few months – with one thing and another – that it will be good to finally get back some rhythm and momentum. My children’s novel is ‘finished’ (first draft) and is fermenting quietly in the background. My second novel for adults is almost finished the first draft stage and that is my priority. Then it will be back to the children’s book to start the rewriting process.
I still write for Words with Jam – the bi-monthly writers’ mag – haven’t missed an issue and am so proud to be associated with Jane Dixon-Smith’s most marvellous creation. Next edition is out in April (available both in e-format and paper copy) and the theme is storytelling. After my visitors leave, I must get on and write my next piece.
The island continues to be almost permanently swathed in grey. It’s hard for us Hebrideans to believe that there’s a drought in parts of England. We have had almost unrelenting rain, wind and dreichness for many weeks now. The bairns at the school are hardy though. We make sure they’re well wrapped up and out they go in all but the most foul of weathers. But the children – and the rest of us – desperately need to see some sun. It would be nice to go for a walk without all the waterproof gear on.
The current main concerns for many islanders are – lambing in a few weeks time, the Co-op’s plans for expansion in Portree, the possible arrival of one of the ‘big boy’ supermarkets, the continued practice of some companies to charge outrageously for delivery to the island – we have had a fixed road connection to the mainland, i.e. a bridge, for many years now – and the change over from the Crofters’ Commission to the Crofting Commission – yeah, spot the difference?! We can only hope the new governing body for crofting is less bureaucratic and more efficient and crofter friendly than its predecessor.
Oh – just been interrupted by a knock at the door. Scuse me.
Aw, our next door neighbour is a fisherman and he’s just handed in a humungous turbot. He told me there’ll be plenty more. The kitchen smells of the sea – incredibly fresh fare – Mr T was swimming in a loch this afternoon. Right must go – have to look up turbot recipes on interweb.
Oidhche Mhath/Night Night.
PS if you’ve spotted/been puzzled by the muckle amount o’ guid Scots words in this post – that’s because I watched a braw wee programme on BBC2 Scotland the nicht a’ aboot the Scots language. It was called Scots Scuil and followed six Scottish bairns who spent a week at a special residential Scots school and developed their abilities to talk, sing and write in the language. I was fair ta’en wi’ it, so I was.