Displacement: The Novel’s Emotional Turmoil

From the upheaval of loss to insight, acceptance and love

Displacement Cover MEDIUM WEB - Copy

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 Displacement forward.

At its heart Displacement has the question of whether Jack and Rachel can become new anchoring points in each other’s previously turbulent lives.

Memory Maps

English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree.
English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is such a neat idea. I read about the concept of the memory map in our local weekly newspaper, the ‘West Highland Free Press’, last week.

West Highland Free Press logo
West Highland Free Press logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never heard of anything like it before. I’m so taken with the idea that I wanted to share it with you and then I thought I’d give it a try – but using only words rather than words and drawing.

So what is a memory map? It’s a work of art primarily, but it can also be used to find your way around a place. Artist J Maizlish Mole recently produced one for Portree, the town where I live. To produce such a map, Mole spends time walking around a place such as a village or town. He’ll do it for hours and on several occasions. He’ll speak to locals and respond to landmarks and the landscape at a personal level. Then from memory he produces a, to scale, personally annotated map of his walks.  For example on the harbour section of the map of Portree, he has the note ‘helluva place for oil tanks’.

Portree
Portree (Photo credit: stevecadman)

Beside the main road into the town from the south he has noted at one point ‘many rabbits’. Other labels include, ‘extreme danger of sudden and violent death’ this is beside the cliffs; ‘grassy knoll’, scrubby knoll,’ huge supermarket,’ ‘graveyard spend eternity,’  ‘ghost trail’, ‘marvellous walk’, ‘scrubby clearing’, ‘boats to Raasay, Rona and round the bay’.

Skye coast
Skye coast (Photo credit: Paul Albertella)

Initially Mole had done only the map of Portree, Skye’s main town. But then Atlas Arts and Portree Area Community Trust commissioned another map – this time of the whole of Skye and its neighbouring island of Raasay. The maps will be displayed in the centre of Portree as public art – and print copies will be available from April. They will be Mole’s personal response to the experience of driving and walking round the islands. Emma Nicolson, director of Atlas Arts, was quoted in the West Highland free Press as saying that what Mole has created is a ‘love song to Skye’.

By coincidence, while I was out walking last Saturday, my mind wandered back nearly fifty years to my childhood street. As I walked I made a metal map of the area where I played, got shopping for my mum – or ‘got the messages’ as it was described in the local vernacular, and rode my bike.

Tenement in Marchmont, Edinburgh built in 1882.
Tenement in Marchmont, Edinburgh built in 1882. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in a typical Edinburgh tenement flat. There was me and my five wee sisters. It was a two bedroomed flat.  So we were outside a lot. There was no garden – but instead there was the drying green – where all the residents shared clothes drying space. Strictly speaking children weren’t allowed to play there. But of course we did. There were the ‘peever stones’ – that is a slabbed path where we played hopscotch. There was the ‘big wall’ which looked down to the ‘deep garden’ and from where, if you were brave enough to sit on top, you could see into Armstrong’s (the butcher) back shop and take in the gruesome sight of animal carcasses hanging on hooks. Then there was ‘over-the-wall’. This was a lower boundary wall that separated the drying green from the gardens at the back of the big Victorian houses in the next street. We would hop over ‘over-the-wall’ and play with the friendly – but definitely posher – private school kids.

English: Angel sculpture, Morningside Cemetery
English: Angel sculpture, Morningside Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Out front was a busy street. Across the road was the local cemetery. Or ‘hide- and- seek land’. Its gates were directly opposite our front door and we were small enough to slip through the bars. We knew all the paths, headstones and statues and it was the perfect place for hiding. Up from the cemetery was the swing park which contained ‘the tree where John fell and broke his arm’ and the ‘swing which hit wee Lizzie on the head’. On the route from park to home was the spot where ‘the collie dog bit me as I cycled past’.

On the same side of the street as our flat were – ‘the ivy wall’, the newsagent, from where I did my paper round, Armstrong the butcher’s and the mysterious Masonic hall. Down from there was the cobbler’s – this was the ‘place I cleared my throat loudly to get the attention of the cobbler when I went to collect my dad’s shoes and he couldn’t see me over the high counter because I was so wee’. And then it was the hairdresser – where I had my first hairdo for the primary school ‘qualie’ (leavers) dance. On the corner was the bakers shop and across from that the grocer and greengrocer, the sweetshop – ‘the place whose existence means I have a mouth full of fillings’ – and ‘where the dead people go’  i.e.the undertaker.

Edinburgh City Hospital, Feb 1996
Edinburgh City Hospital, Feb 1996 (Photo credit: alljengi)

At the top of the street was the lunatic asylum – yes it was still called that in the sixties – and this was the only forbidden territory where we actually respected our parents instructions and never ventured near. And close by to there was the city’s fever hospital – which I would label on my memory map as the ‘place where my wee sister nearly died of bronchitis and where me and my granny sat outside on a bench while my parents kept vigil at the bedside’.

One day I might try to draw all that childhood street stuff out on a map. Maybe it’s something you could try and/or blog about. What would be the labels on your memory map? And where would be its location in time and space?

 

Atlas Arts exists to facilitate innovative arts projects in Skye and Lochalsh. It offers a platform for projects that are not fixed by or to a gallery.

Portree Area Community Trust aims to stimulate the economic, cultural and environmental regeneration of the Portree area in response to community-identified priorities.

I’m indebted to the report in February 1st 2013 edition of the West Highland Free Press for the information provided there that I have used in this post.

Subversive rants and grateful raves

It’s the second Tuesday of the month so it’s whine and whoop time. I’ll start with my gripes and save the goodies till later.

The grumpy, cynical and subversive bits of my old bat personality are well and truly stirred up this month. I hardly know where to start. So deep breath, focus and here goes…

Politics – or rather UK politicians – when did they stop being political? Was it in the 1980s? Did Thatcher strangle the passion out of them? And by naming the blessed Margaret, I’m not trying to be party political. I’m getting at the whole blooming lot of them, regardless of affiliation.

Being a politician is now, more than ever before, a career. Politicians are no longer driven by a passionate commitment to change or preserve things for the greater good – whatever their perception of that greater good might be. Now it seems to be about personal ambition, promotion, power and fame. Of course these ‘perks’ have always been part of the motivation and reward for success in politics – but it seems to me that they’re now the sole motivation. Posh boys dominate on all sides and it’s all more X-Factor than solid apprenticeship and hard slog. All of them take the short-term view, basing decisions on what will work for them during their short tenure – and to hang with the long view of what will be best for their constituents in the long run.

As for Scottish politics – good grief! It’s embarrassing. There’s wee Eck Salmond’s vanity project a.k.a. the campaign for independence. In Scotland we are subjected to a cynically controlled trundle towards the 2014 referendum. Meanwhile almost one in four Scottish children live in poverty. Yes, it’s relative poverty and not the absolute poverty of a child in famine hit country in Africa. But that doesn’t make it acceptable. Some of our youngsters eat only one meal a day i.e. their free school lunch – with some having nothing between the Friday one and the Monday one. Some parents are going without food themselves in order to feed their children.

And local politics are no better. I live in the local government area with the most scattered population in the UK i.e. the Highland Council area. The council is currently holding a series of budget consultation meetings which the public are invited to attend.  However these meetings have been poorly advertised and held in the evenings at a wet and windy time of year in places with no public transport during the day, never mind in the evening. They have also been held on only one evening in each location. Oh, and in an area where the council is a major employer, employees like myself aren’t allowed to express an opinion in public about council business. So I can’t comment personally on what is up for discussion but I’m told that’s what’s causing the most consternation is the proposal to save money by cutting the school day for primary children. Draw your own conclusions on this one.

And breathe…

So to the good bits – my wee granddaughter continues to be a joy. Nine months old already and what a privilege it is to see her every day. She and her Ma and Pa are living with me and Mr Writeanne as they’ve relocated to Skye and are awaiting the sale of their flat before they can get a place of their own here. It’s so fascinating watch her develop – something new every day. I wonder anew at the amazingness of the human brain and its capacity to learn and develop.

This weekend me and Seanair (Grandad) will be in sole charge of the grandbaby as her parents are away for the weekend to celebrate their anniversary. Can’t wait.

In other good news stuff – On the writing front – I got my entry sent off for the Mslexia magazine children’s novel competition. I feel a great sense of achievement just to have got it to this point. I’ll know in November if it’s got to the shortlist. I’ve also completed my contribution to the October issue of Words with Jam, the writers’ magazine. I’m proud to have contributed to every issue of this magazine since its inception. I also just received my second royalty cheque for the kindle version of my novel. That’s quite a buzz. And now the competition deadline for the children’s novel is past, I can leave it to one side for a while and get back to my second adult novel. My writing keeps me sane and is my anti-stress drug of choice. I love my day job teaching children with special needs but it is exhausting at times. However, I always find the energy to write no matter how tired I am.

Another positive is that autumn is my favourite season and I am enjoying the softer light, the turning of the leaves, the nip in the air. This year the heather is particularly magnificent with all the hills sporting a gorgeous purple blanket. And a wee robin has taken to visiting the garden feeder on a regular basis – so that and the selection boxes in the co-op gives an intimation of end of year festivities.

And that’s it. Gosh that feels better. Thanks for listening.

Tioraidh till next week!

 

New year, new season, new month – phew!

English: Portree, Isle of Skye (Scotland)
English: Portree, Isle of Skye (Scotland) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apologies for the absence of a post last Tuesday. It was my birthday and Mr Writeanne took me out for my dinner. We went to the Bosville Hotel restaurant in Portree and as usual, it didn’t disappoint. It was especially nice to be out on a school night and made the day feel special. I’m glad we didn’t wait until the weekend.

So another year older – eek! But getting older sure beats the alternative – something I try not to let myself forget. I am still grateful to be here and in remission from the dreaded cancer. And the upside of being this age is I’m now a grandmother. I have a nine-month-old granddaughter and it’s indescribably good. I can highly recommend moving up a generation.

In the last year as well as becoming a grandmother, I attended my daughter’s wedding, moved house, went to Israel and finished writing a children’s novel – oh and I worked full time at the day job as well.

The last month alone has been pretty full on. School went back three weeks ago and has been manic from the off.

The husband and me went to see Scottish comedian, Kevin Bridges, doing his sell out show here on Skye. He was brilliant! And it’s just so cool to see such a famous person perform here on our small island.

I’ve also attended two talks by artists in the last month. These have been part of the wonderful organisation ATLAS’s ‘Talking Art’ series. The first of the two was a talk by Frances Priest, a ceramic artist who spoke about various community projects that she was involved in. She told how she liked that her way of working on these projects took art out of galleries and let people interact with and influence the works.

Frances Priest
Frances Priest (Photo credit: Craft Scotland)

The second talk was by Chris Dooks, an artist who describes himself as a polymash. He’s an audio-visual artist – highly original and quite different to any other artist I’ve come across. He was an engrossing speaker and like Frances encouraged the audience to keep open minds when viewing or engaging with art.

Another thing I did in August was sign up to Pinterest. I’m not sure how I’ll use the site and I haven’t made time to really think about it. But something about the site just grabbed me – I love all these pictures – and I will get around to dipping my toe in. I think I may use it to ‘pin’ story ideas in pictorial form. For example I may put together a board consisting of images of possible settings for future novels and/or homes of characters.

And suddenly, it’s September. Our island is becoming less busy as the tourists depart for another season. We’ve had our first Atlantic storm of the autumn over the last couple of days – wild, wild wind and lashing rain. All the garden furniture has been put away and all loose objects secured. But as well as the wildness, there’s the mellowness. The hills and hedgerows are awash with purple heather and the light is softening. Autumn is definitely my favourite season.

For my blog of the month I have chosen Alison Wells ‘Head Above Water’ which is here on wordpress http://alisonwells.wordpress.com

Below is her own introduction to her blog:

Hello my name is Alison Wells. I’m a writer of literary fiction, some science inspired and some with a dash of comedy. I’m also a mum of four kids age 11 and under.

I’ve been shortlisted in the Hennessy New Irish Writing, Bridport & Fish awards for short stories and am a resident blogger with the Irish National Writing Website http://www.writing.ie

Here I blog about writing and headspace and do interviews with busy people who write. I also post my short fiction.

My favourite mode of transport is the TARDIS.

I recently won The Big Book of Hope Ebook Fiction Prize.

I read Alison’s book ‘Housewife with a Half Life’ recently. It’s a clever and funny piece of science fiction. And her blog is a great one for writers – especially for those of us who write in our ‘spare’ time.

And I leave you with a quote from a board on Pinterest ‘If you’re lucky enough to be different, don’t ever change. Nice one.

So, Where Were We?

Great Britain, Skye, Portree
Great Britain, Skye, Portree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sorry to have been away so long. It’s a month since my last post and it’s been a busy time. However, I’m determined to get back in my blogging stride once more.

I thought that I’d combine the usual themes of the first two Tuesdays in the month, namely – a roundup of island life and a bit of rant and a rave.

The biggest news is that last month our daughter, her husband, their daughter and the cat relocated to the island and are living with us until they get a place of their own here. We’ve all settled into a routine and are managing to live comfortably together. It’s such a wonderful blessing to have at least some of our family so close.

London Olympics 2012
London Olympics 2012 (Photo credit: Andrea Vascellari)

School stopped for the summer holidays at the end of June and the last couple of weeks of term at our primary school were incredibly busy. We had the closing ceremony for our very own Olympics, we had the final mile of our marathon in a month for children, parents and teachers, and we had our Olympics musical and our annual prize-giving. Pupils, parents and staff were certainly giving it their all right up until the last day. I love my teaching job but oh I do love the holidays as well!

English: Castle of Edinburgh
English: Castle of Edinburgh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But there was no immediate rest. On the day school stopped me and the husband packed up and drove the three hundred miles to Edinburgh for a week of socialising and shopping.

My city break got off to a fab start on the Saturday morning. I went to a talk at Edinburgh Central Library by author, Sara Sheridan. I’ve reviewed some of Sara’s books here on the blog – two of her historical ones – ‘The Secret Mandarin’ and ‘Secret of the Sands’ and her latest novel, ‘Brighton Belle’ – her first venture in crime writing. Sara is an author that I greatly admire and I was delighted that her talk coincided with my visit to the capital. I was also delighted that Sara invited me to meet her for a coffee before her talk. She’s a lovely lady and her talk on her writing career and on her plans for an eleven book series for Mirabelle Bevan aka Brighton Belle was fascinating and informative.

The week continued with an extended family gathering of my husband’s clan – a rare occurrence where almost everyone was in the same place at the same time and a great chance for a catch up. We continued to be sociable for the rest of the week and had several lunches and dinners with various old friends. I also spent some time at the big, city shops.

This was my first retail therapy session in nine months – so I made the most of it. One of my purchases was a brand new crash helmet. It’s a flip-up, white number and will serve me well on my up and coming ‘granny rides pillion’ escapades – of which more later.

Prometheus Trailer2 - Pilot Seated
Prometheus Trailer2 – Pilot Seated (Photo credit: Filmstalker)

We also made it to the cinema. We saw Prometheus – the Alien prequel – jaw-dropping special effects made up for a slight lack of characterisation and a thin plot. And we were tickled pink to see the opening scenes that were shot on Skye. Our island was even mentioned in the story – apparently Skye was visited by an alien race 35000 years ago and this is evidenced by cave paintings on the island. What a hoot!

It was a good week in most respects and definitely deserving of a rave review – but I’m afraid there’s a bit of a rant too. Edinburgh is my home town. It holds a special place in my heart. I love it. But – oh dear – it’s in a very bad way. The city centre has been completely wrecked by a botched and ridiculous attempt to install a tram system. The project is years behind the original timetable and millions of pounds over budget. The route has been drastically reduced from that which was first intended and will be of little practical use if and when it ever gets up and running. Edinburgh already has an excellent bus service – one of the best in the UK – so there’s really no need for trams. The heart has been ripped out of what was a most beautiful city. Roads are closed and traffic endlessly diverted, businesses are ruined as customers and clients can’t get access, tourists are baffled and locals bewildered. Crossing the city is like being in a circle of hell. I was left feeling very sad by Edinburgh’s plight.

English: The Cuillin Hills from the Ord to Tok...
English: The Cuillin Hills from the Ord to Tokavaig road In fine weather, some of the best views on the whole of Skye of the Cuillin can be seen around here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was very glad to get back to our stunningly beautiful island. Unlike the rest of the UK, the Hebridean islands have had only a couple of days rain in almost eleven weeks. Locals and tourists are enjoying a very pleasant summer. The hedgerows are brimming with tall, ox-eye daisies and purple flowering clover. Sheep are being gathered in to be shorn. Porpoises, dolphins and whales have all been spotted in inshore waters. The tourist season is in full swing – there are cruise ship passengers, bikers, campers, caravanners, climbers, cyclists, B&B guests, self-caterers and walkers – the island attracts all sorts. It’s great to see it showing itself off to best advantage – with no mist and rain. And as I write this at ten o’clock in the evening it’s still light outside – marvellous.

At the moment – when not being distracted by my gorgeous wee granddaughter – I’m catching up with all the aspects of my non-school life, including both writing and non-writing projects. The husband and I hope to do a couple of motorcycling trips – including a jaunt to the Western Isles. We also have a few local walking trips in mind.

Rainbow Cave arch in the Galilee, Israel.
Rainbow Cave arch in the Galilee, Israel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

And in ten days time I’m off to Israel for a week. This will be my third trip to the country. I’m going to visit an old school friend who is an Israeli. We’ve kept in touch and see each other about once a decade. It’s my turn to go there. It’s an amazing, beguiling, complex and at times baffling and infuriating place – and is well worth a visit. My friend lives in Haifa on the Mediterranean coast so it will be hot. But we plan to escape to the relative coolness of the Galilee for a couple of days. I can’t wait to see her and to catch up properly – face-to-face.

So watch this space at the end of the month for a report on my trip.

In the mean time there will be a book review post on the late Tom Lubbock’s incredible book ‘Until Further Notice I am Alive’ and a guest post by Karen Cole on ghost-writing.

And I reckon that’s enough to be going on with.

So, for now, tioraidh!

Bully birds, dozy tourists and long, long days…

Group of sparrows.
Group of sparrows. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First Tuesday of the month – so it’s time for a glimpse of island life.

A brisk north wind has been blowing across the island for the last week. It has kept temperatures well below the thirty-plus degrees that we experienced a couple of weekends ago. But the start to June has been pleasant enough with blue skies and sunny days. The quality of the light is superb, making the Cuillin mountain ridge seem very close to the village.

And, of course, we’re enjoying the very long days. It is light until around eleven p.m. at this time of year and doesn’t ever get properly dark – with dawn at around four-thirty a.m. For all the crofters with sheep on the hills and in the fields these extra hours of daylight are precious.

The whole island is bustling with tourists, which is great for all those whose businesses depend on the visitors. But one of the single track roads on the south of the island got so jammed on Sunday that the police had to go and show the tourists how to use passing places properly. It can be very frustrating for the residents, who are not on holiday, and who need to get to work, school and appointments on time.

The medieval 'Queen Mary harp' Clàrsach na Ban...
The medieval ‘Queen Mary harp’ Clàrsach na Banrìgh Màiri preserved in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This month is a busy cultural one for the locals as it’s when we have our Mod. This is a festival of Gaelic culture. It includes – recitation, drama, singing, precenting ( a form of unaccompanied Gaelic singing) and fiddle, accordion and clarsach (Gaelic harp) playing. Rehearsals and practices are in full swing.

Our garden is a busy place too. We’ve been adopted by an extended family of sparrows. There seem to be parents, aunties, uncles and kids – and who knows – maybe the odd grandparent – as well as the young ones. The grown-ups are all over the feeders and trays – as well as hoovering up the spilt seed from the grass. Meanwhile, the fat fledglings sit on the fence, or clamour on the path. They wait – beaks a-gape and wings a-flutter – for some poor overworked adult bird to feed them. Cheeky wee beggars – they’ve managed to fly into the garden – surely they can feed themselves. You want to shout, ‘Get a job!’ as you watch them take, take, taking.

We also have chaffinches, bluetits and siskins among our regulars – but it’s the sparrows who rule the roost.

There’s a lovely collared dove who visits the garden. She seems very genteel and gentle and keeps her distance from the small birds – but the sparrows are having none of it and regularly scare her off. Even the local rooks and crows don’t dare fly down from the fence when this mob is around. The sparrows also regard next-door’s cat with complete disdain as he sits in the corner watching them. He ends up getting bored and slinking away.

It’s only four weeks now until the school summer holidays and I’m very much looking forward to my six weeks off. I love living on the island – but at times it can get a bit claustrophobic – and it’s nice to get away to the mainland and beyond. I’ll be getting a ‘city fix’ at the start of the holidays with a week in Edinburgh visiting friends and family – and then at the end of July, I’m off to Israel to visit an old school friend. This will be my third visit to the country and I’m really looking forward to it. It will certainly be a big change from Hebridean life!

The Mountains and Molehills of May

English: A Clear Skye Day Taken from Raasay wh...
English: A Clear Skye Day Taken from Raasay whilst waiting for the return ferry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May has been a month of contrasts in many aspects.

Not least with the weather. The beginning of the month was so cold that we still had the central heating on – and I had to fetch my winter coat back out of the spare room where I’d thought it would be safe to pack it away for a few months. But then last week it was warmer on our island than it was in Minorca and, although a bit cooler now, it is still very pleasant and no jacket is required when out and about.

And here at Write Enough Manor, life in general has been veering from low to high.

Health wise, the low white cell count that’s been making me feel a bit washed out, fell again this month. This was disappointing after it had begun to rally in April. But I must be a patient patient while the count is monitored over six months. My GP is fairly certain that nothing sinister is going on and I have to trust her on that. But I’m afraid since having cancer I’m a pathetic hypochondriac. I do know I’m not imagining the horrible little cystie thing that I have growing on the cornea of my left eye. It’s been developing for a while now and when it became uncomfortable I decided I’d better go bothering the doctor again. And now I await an ophthalmology appointment.

However, the good news is that I’m off the medication I was on for anxiety and I’m flying solo. So far I’m coping well – even at work which is very stressful at times. So the health score this month is – mentally strong, physically – a bit feeble. But I’m fighting back and getting more exercise and eating (even more) healthily. My exercise of choice is walking – daily. I’ve just treated myself to a pair of Shape-Ups, these special fitness trainers that feel a bit like having rockers on the soles of your shoes. I’ll report back on how effective they are. Prepare for a super-fit, lithe and toned grandma…

And in my grandma role – I’m most excited. Our daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and Oli, the cat, are moving to Skye. I’m just ever so slightly excited! How wonderful it will be to have them so close instead of hundreds of miles away. They’ll be lodging with us to begin with so I’ve been busy having a clear out and making space for them and their stuff. As for the granddaughter – she’s five-and-a-half months now and just gets cuter and cuter.

Our son and his lovely lass will also be here in June for a week’s holiday – so it’s going to be just fab to have the whole clan together.

In other nice sociable news – I’ve been to a housewarming party and to a lovely dinner at a friend’s house this month. And last night was the Bill Bailey show at the village hall. It was superb. What a talented chap. He’s a skilled musician as well as a very funny guy. One song with the phrase ‘when they took the porn away in Stornoway’ nearly brought the house down – you would have to understand the Skye/ Lewis rivalry and the religious/moral ambience of the Western Isles to really get why that was so funny. And it was just great that he had taken the trouble to have some very local references in amongst his gags and stories.

The lovely weather has helped us to focus on our ideas for the garden at our new house. It’s a blank canvas – just as it was when handed over by the builders – and we now have a firm plan for developing it. It will be great to have some trees and bird-friendly planting as well as a proper patio area on which to sit and enjoy it all. I miss having the birds visit so much. At our last place our garden was a real sanctuary for all sorts of wildlife. We even had a hen harrier visit one afternoon. Last weekend I succumbed to buying a couple of interim birdfeeders and already we’ve been adopted by an extended family of sparrows. The fat little fledglings are hilarious, sitting on the fence, beaks agape, while their hardworking parents flit from feeder to their offsprings’ ever open mouths.

And I was just hearing today that the sea eagles are back nesting near our old house and that a whale was spotted in ‘our’ loch at the weekend. There has also been a group of dolphins in the Sound of Raasay this week, close to where we live now.

Moving indoors, I’ve been enjoying two very different drama series on television. I felt bereft when ‘The Bridge’ on BBC4 finished a week ago. It was an incredibly good Swedish/Danish crime series – in the mould of Wallender and ‘Borgen’. Even the subtitles didn’t detract from the sheer quality of the storyline and the acting. And I’m quite taken by ‘Starlings’ on Sky1. This is a warm and gentle, family drama and is also beautifully written and well acted.

My most recent reading has included ‘The Most Beautiful Thing’ by Fiona Robyn, a touching, coming-of-age novel that I’ve reviewed on Amazon and will be critting on her in a couple of weeks. Currently I’m reading ‘Sightlines’ by the mistress of the essay, Kathleen Jamie – wonderful writing as always.

Any ounce of spare energy that I have goes on my writing, of course. The second novel is progressing – slow but steady. And I’ve also completed my regular ‘column’ for the bi-monthly writers’ magazine, ‘Words with Jam’.

A wee P.S. to last week’s post on my motorcycle pillion riding, I have now ordered my own pair of biker gloves and biker boots. This is a start to having my own complete kit. Once I’ve saved a bit more cash, I’ll be getting my own ‘bespoke’ helmet. It’s an expensive hobby, but what the heck.

Right, I think I’ve probably banged on for long enough. So I’ll leave you with best wishes to all for June and happy Jubilee weekend to UK readers of the blog. Have a good one!

 

 

May the force of the darling buds be with you

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.

The days are lengthening and the beautiful sunny days are ending with spectacular sunsets and magnificent displays of the Northern Lights. For some amazing photos of the Aurora over Skye go here: http://www.glendaleskye.com/sightings.htm#aurora .  Skye is truly Hebridean heaven at the moment.

Slainte Mhath to all my readers and tioraidh for now.

The Best Laid Schemes…

‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’ so said Rabbie Burns in his poem ‘To a Mouse‘. And for me and the husband our plans went awry on Friday. As I said in my last post, we were planning to go away on holiday to Ireland. Bags were packed, fridge emptied, washing up to date, house all clean and tidy. Then the horrid lurgy that Mr Write Enough had been battling for a fortnight came back – bigger and nastier than before. Half the village have had this yukky virus and it leaves its victims with a hacking cough and feeling generally low. There was no way he could travel – so we had to cancel. Of course this was very disappointing for both of us but it was the right decision.

The good news is he’s on the mend (touch wood) and we plan to  go to the big metropolis 🙂 of Inverness  (200 miles away on the Scottish mainland and our nearest city) tomorrow for a bit of shopping and R&R. Even better, we’ve booked into our favourite hotel in the town for the night – the Best Western’s Lochardil House – a lovely, comfortable place with excellent breakfasts.

So, here’s hoping that the snow and the artificial-UK government-created petrol shortages don’t cast our latest getaway plan into disarray…

This week’s photos were taken this morning when I took my constitutional meander through the village. The wind was a fierce, razor-sharp north-easterly, but it was a beautiful day. I walked up the small hill known locally as the Lump, where rabbits scampered at my feet as I took in the view of the snow-covered Cuillin ridge and the bay at low tide.

 

The Craic from Packing Cases to a Housewarming Turbot…

English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree.
Image via Wikipedia

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.

Windowpane flounder

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.