Category Archives: The Millenial

Snippet: The Millennial/Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts

I still haven’t decided on which title. Whichever fits snuggest, when all is done. I’m putting up this snippet as another reminder to myself how far I’ve made it – how much the book has changed already, from when it was a fantastical desert-set piece, to this. Still a long way to go. In this part, the main character, Aida, is at a low point, far from home and alone on Christmas day. She begins to come around when she thinks back to her childhood, the narrative switching to second person to reflect this distancing and awareness (hopefully it achieves this). 


One word for those who know me – Non-autobiographical!


Draw the curtains, Aida, keep back the light. Walk with your voice back to your cousin, your role model, going towards a receding tide over gleaming rocks, with the light on your shoulder, and everything clear, children shouting to one another. Hurry up, you were always so slow, lethargic, delicate, putting on your clothes, though at that point no one outside the family had ever removed them from you. The purity exists not in the body of the girl you were, nor in memory. You were crude and dirty and stupid, but also you loved your mum, and hated her, when she was there to be loved and hated. You made eyes. You prodded around in the mud. You put the dinner on which was fish fingers and peas, with Maud monitoring the water, lighting the gas. You strove to make. You admired those who tried to obvious effect or none. Plurality exists. Possibility, that this past moment still enacts in you a brightness, a seaside blistering cold.

“The lido’s closed, Mum,”

“Well, there’s the whole sea, still open for business.”


Filed under 2012, snippet, The Millenial, The Now

Further down on that same road

I have been quietly working away on the (technically) second draft of this second novel since July of last year, and now have come to the end of it – I hesitate to say, the true end of the draft, because the work of crafting really begins from here. Up until now, I’ve been hauling my stones up into mountains, raising the trunks of imaginary trees. Now I have to sand the landscape of the novel all down, build it sturdier and into something that will sing when the winds blow over it. If I’ve been a little quieter online, it’s really because I’m half standing in the wilderness, trying to spark the night and day into these characters I’ve been carving out all this time.

I tried today to print everything, but the ink ran out too quickly. I don’t mind, my eyes need time to rest a bit more. I’ll listen to music and read whatever’s to hand, to bring clarity, electricity, back into my world.

Currently this mixtape downloadable free from Oh, Pioneer! is doing a good job. The creator of the list says “This playlist has been personally tested to be suitable for fireside chats in the woods, falling asleep in a tent, quiet nights reading, driving through the mountains, fly fishing, and whatever adventures you can get yourself into.”  And it’s quite lovely, if you are a fan of bluegrass and softly strummed guitar, softer vocals.

That’s mostly all – that and I’ve been reading some enjoyable American Alt Lit fiction from Gabby Gabby. This story (also a download, dependent on the form as well as content) is quite fine and sweet and funny, I think. Ah Colonial Williamsburg, land of swamps and trinkets and people in tri-corner hats putting your money in their electronic tills.


Filed under 2012, celebration, consolations of reading, consolations of writing, Scotland, The Millenial

Signal Clear

Moss growing in the words carved on a grave flagstone, Dunbar. Contrast turned way up to help with reading

I have been trying to read what the stone above says on it – Here lyes haste Patrick…who…this life…take(?)… – if anyone is good at decoding the worn and the moss grown, please chime in (like the bells of a cathedral). I am interested in those spaces mutated by time and nature, the worn, the seeded, the words interrupted by lichens and the washing away of stone by the weather.


This in contrast to the living spaces some of you have so kindly shared. It makes for an interesting and incomplete dichotomy, between the living line (word brush pencil) and the dead.  In both, the continuity is change: Lyra’s train seat which she leaves and returns to, a seat which is hers and different each time.  Anna Fonte’s chair, which is still in the picture as it once was, now moved (that makes it sound terribly serious). Think of your papers, ephemera,  work in motion, creativity manifest. The changeability and constant of human needs and wants: for a light-soaked view; for home comforts; for the sweet consolations of pets at our feet; for a good drink of water; for our words and images to mean, endure, be transferred on.


I think of how I am constructing characters who must always place and replace themselves within this frame, of the living and the remaining and the sometimes terrible inevitable pace of change. I think of how they must make their peace, and how hard that is sometimes.


For myself, I think of how much information I am taking in on a daily basis – how many words, how many sights that fire, overfire my brain.  Which is my way of coming to – how I need a short break, after all these encounters. Insightful as they have been, I need now to sit and think, instead of search and see. Not for long, just to give myself time to read the words and the images with due diligence, instead of at break-neck. I’ll be light as a ghost till then, back to full solidity at some point next week.


Filed under 2012, art, consolations of reading, consolations of writing, reading, The Millenial, The Now, Theory

Storyboarding, Storymaking

D and I are whisking off today on the trains bound North for Oban, the gateway to the isles (though we aren’t sure what our plans are on that point).  Not a literary journey, but likely a very picturesque one.  As you can guess, I will probably have plenty of photographs to share. I hope I don’t overdo the images to the detriment of words, and that soon I will have a lengthy, word-rich post for you to sink your teeth into. You might also ask, what happened to Endless Reads 2012? Tobias Smollett happened to it. Smollett and all his Georgian puffery and personal wretchedness…I hope four-odd hours confined to a carriage will help me toil through more pages than I have managed so far. He’s going to be one of the two-weekers. Not giving up yet!


More fun so far has been starting a second illustration class at the Edinburgh College of Art.  This time, we have to design one lengthy project, alongside general practice and keeping an observational sketchbook.


Tonight, we were set the task of producing a mock-up of our project ideas.  I decided to do a series of illustrations showing Aida’s long bus journey from New York City to New Mexico. It would be a blurring of reality and the work-in-progress, of the real journey D and I took and the rough outline I’ve made in the draft of The Millennial. Non-fiction visual narrative, I suppose? I said I would put them together in a little booklet, perhaps. After class, one of the other students came up to me with a suggestion that I add diary entries for each panel, to give a feeling of intimacy. I’m havering on this idea, though I was so grateful to have kind feedback. I like the idea of having it a silent sequence,  removed from the burden of text (I know I’ve been writing too much when I say that, and welcome Oban as a wee break from type-type-type).


Here are the rough (oh so rough) drawings I made, plus a little extra one just for fun. There will be more scenes in the final project, I think. More drama, as there was on the actual journey.

Diary of a houseplant. The real-life one didn't take to being sketched, and has turned very peely-wally in the few hours since.


Filed under 2012, Endless Reads 2012, Illustration, New Mexico, New York, Planning, reading, The Millenial, The Now

An Interior Mood

figure moving through a door

Thinking today of: inner spaces, dim lighting, blurring motion.

Inside the National Museum of Scotland

Of golden light, the hum of voices, or silence bound within walls, bound from an exterior that extends into unfathomed space.

Sign in the Subway, NYC

Of what constitutes interior space, of the void between the character and the fictional world, the reader and the character. How to measure and chart this distance.

Plant in the window of our flat

Also asking, how to write solitude, without making the character static. How to use both the silence and the chittering of thoughts to good effect. That and making up a music the character listens to, shoring herself against sorrow, or feeling at all. But further -

D with a sparkler

how to bring the warmth of living into such a text, to entrance, to transmit, to speak of the fleeting and the enduring. Getting the measure right.


Filed under consolations of writing, Edinburgh, New York, Scotland, The Millenial, The Now

Light, Placement

Japanese Garden 1 (Dublin), 2004 - taken from Glasgow Print Studio Archive

Yesterday I went with my dad and D to an exhibit of the works of Elizabeth Blackadder. She is in her eighties now, and, in the video at the end of the exhibit seemed heartfelt, tongue-tied, surrounded by the curated objects of her life, and by flowers (her other, more well known subject matter). This print above is one of my favourites of hers, and I have been thinking about why.

As you can probably infer from the title of this post, it’s to do with the light and placement in the picture. How the dark grey of the sky melts into lightness, but is still firmly divided from the snow covered earth. The luminous quality. The placement of scratchy circular lines around the stones, and the distance of the stones from one another. The dividing screen forming both a link between garden and sky, and a shelter for the viewer to stand behind – a limit to the landscape, perfectly judged, imperfectly rendered in slightly wonky lines.  It’s to do with the tiny gilt touches on the black fencing – drawing the eye, but not too much. A trust in the viewer to notice, a tip in the scale of things, a fleck of luxuriant colour in an otherwise austere scene.

Fifeshire Farm (1960), taken from

Another of her prints tackles a larger scene – the fertile farmland of the Kingdom of Fife on the East Coast of Scotland. In opposition to the carefulness of the first picture, here is all wildness in frantic motion – a wind seems to shake through the black trees, the colour of the earth rushes, crumbles, licks into the roofs of byre or house.

At this time of year, when it is so dark, when there is a sense of holding ones breath in wait for the new year as if it will never come, these paintings suggest a kind of kinship with winter, darkness, winds (gales buffeting us here, yesterday, possibly today but I haven’t risked poking my head out the window yet), the possibility of fat cold rain outweighing the likelihood of a breaking sky, a return ever of the crystalline or verdant.

I have to relate this to my writing too: that, nearing the beginning of the end of the draft (I’d give a word total, but it would only be for my benefit, and not really meaningful) I long for the betterment of my sentences and a crispness and fruitfulness that for course can’t and shouldn’t be there in the text just yet.  Right now, I must see the value in having the bones, the stark branches, all lying out. And in the sense of possibility – a sudden blast might metaphorically tear off the roof of Aida’s cabin, or sweep her to her country, before I expected that to happen. I can’t know quite yet how things will place themselves of the page –  like the progressive inching of frost or the weight of snow – or whether, what this time will do to the text. Bring the weight of an absence of colour, or a chill, brooding space where the words can breathe.


Filed under consolations of writing, Edinburgh, The Millenial, Theory

Back to the Village

Christmas is over, Boxing Day is done, and the flat is still strewn with tinsel, many surfaces padded with cards, and the fridge full of rich left-overs to be munched when appetite returns.

So, time to resume where I left off, in the beautiful St Mawes.

Looking out over the rooftops, towards the inlet

It is really such a lovely place, cluttered up streets tucking in on themselves, tiny houses tressed in ivy and climbing plants, and those subtropical species that seem to endure quite well on the mild westerly coast of the UK.

A pink cottage with palm trees leaning in close

A thatched house on the road up to the castle

Ye Olde Petrol Pumps

It has been so well preserved I think because of its location, at the tip end of the Roseland peninsula. Hard to get to by car, along those single-track roads (hairpin bends, obscured further by high hedgerows), the quickest way to get there is by special chain-boat ferry.

The Ferry, decked out for Christmas (I love the little man watching over the cars)

The ferry leaves from a small hamlet with the docking point, that wonderfully appears on the map under the name of King Harry Ferry. As you can see, it’s more of a flat platform, and is ported across the river Fal by the use of chains, rather than an engine on the boat itself.

Despite the small difficulties of getting there, the village (or perhaps it is a town) doesn’t feel isolated or in any way dead, even in the depths of winter.

All the cottages have names, some descriptive of those who used to live there, others a bit fanciful (like 'Pirate cottage') and then there was this one

This cottage has a pretty sensible name, considering its location..

...quite close to this, the Holy Well of St Mawes (dating from around the 6th Century, and sadly locked behind this tiny door)

I really wanted to open the door and peer down into the well underneath. A grotto of ferns around a dark, stone pool – or perhaps less impressive, and better imagined than seen.

With all these sights to fire the mind, I plan to start back later today on the draft of The Millennial, hoping to bring something of the spark of the place into Aida’s memories, to wind the ivy and the smell of salt air around her (inland, American) loneliness.


Filed under Planning, The Millenial, The Now

Quick Shot

This will have to be a shorter post than anticipated (internet costs are mounting by the minute

St Mawes across the bay

Today we revisited St Mawes, where I bought a pamphlet on the local history of the town, which cheerfully records who fell off the quay and drowned, the local troubles with alcohol following the beer laws – which led to any small house aside from those occupied by officers of the sheriff being able to hold a pub licence  - and his best guesses at where the local pubs could have been located. Slight bias there, but it is a charming and useful insight into the area.

Attempts to reach this intriguing, building, opposite St Mawes on the edge of a secondary promontory, proved fruitless – involving some driving that led us into a farmer’s field and later got us stuck, very slightly, on another mud track – something to do with D’s knee accidentally nudging the parking break button on our hired car, locking the back wheels (and not, thank goodness, because we had mangled the back axle).

So, for now, I will now dramatically sign off to resume this thread either on Christmas Eve or after if time hurries on too swiftly -



Filed under The Millenial, The Now

Seaward, the high cliffs and the low coves

a field near Falmouth

Today was all about seeking out a good setting for the Heligan-esq home of Aida Helyer (Hellyer with the extra L derived from the Cornish language for either a slater, as in one who puts slates on a roof, or a hunter). I think I may have found it. But! I have to return tomorrow for better pictures to post, since we flew through the village.

I am tired, windburnt, tucked in at a convenient travelodge in St Austell – but most of all glad of another productive day, having determined that the battered Atlantic coast around Land’s End is not exactly the right place for Aida. She has more in kind with the more sheltered, greener, channel-facing coast, the rural villages and estates around the creek-cut peninsulas around Falmouth to St Austell.

Here are some of the inspiring sights of that sort of area that kept us going throughout a long day (yesterday and today) in the saddle.

Surfers staring out at the waves, Porthluney bay

Down in Porthcurnoe Village...

...and high above (the mysterious couple of the first picture would be looking out over the harbour, with that gorgeous beach - actually one of two - to their left)

The tidal island of St Michaels Mount, near Penzance, enjoying some luxury lighting effects

Some views swept all stresses away by their beauty, while others, hidden in the nooks and coves, were little joys in their own way.

The Lamorna Wink pub, in Lamorna.

That’s a picture of a Cornish fisherman, not a pirate – although it can be hard to tell the difference as the stereotypical accent is more or less the same.

Mousehole, pronounced 'Mowzel'. Other Cornish name highlights included Bugle, Goonhilly, Grampound, Probus, and Paul (a village)

The Merry Maidens, near Land's End.

Throughout Cornwall, there are ancient Celtic Crosses (Cornwall being a part of the Celtic nations which includes Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and sometimes Galicia and Asturias in Northern Spain) positioned along the ancient roads. Here was something a little more unusual – a full, Neolithic standing stone circle.

Handily, a local, possessing local insights, was out walking his slightly angry dog. He told me of the legend behind the name, that a group of women caught dancing and making merry on the Sabbath were turned to stone as punishment. Further along, two 10 feet high stones are called the Pipers – similarly afflicted because of their lack of respect of the day of rest. There was also a barrow, a burial mound covered in stones, right by the side of the road, though we couldn’t stop as the point at which we were at was on one of the (unfortunately common) single-track roads with hedgerows on either side, and blind turns not too far off.  I will have to try to get a picture of one of the crosses too, all lichened and worn from age, though only if we can find a place where neither the car nor ourselves are in any danger.

St Mawes Castle, guarding the setting of the sun over the sea

And this last picture was taken above the village of St Mawes, the village I hope to place Aida, more or less.  A taster, hopefully, of what tomorrow’s catch will be.


Filed under Planning, The Millenial, The Now

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Today, the weather favoured us, and D and I were able to go for a visit to the gardens of Heligan, for me a revisiting of an affecting, beautiful place I’d last been to as a teenager.

An apple-tree walk. A new picture made old, to reflect the quality of the gardens themselves...

Heligan’s gardens, east of Truro, south of St Austell, really were once lost.  The gardeners were called away by World War One — most never to return — and the gardens fell into decline, only to be rediscovered just over twenty years ago. Restoration has been an immense act of reclaiming, wrestling, the old walls, beds, greenhouses and layouts from the overgrown mess of itself. Archival layout plans that remained, consulted. Old tree labels have been uncovered with metal detectors, telling of heritage species; worcesterberry, quince, medlar.

The walled garden calling you in

Throughout the park, there are lengthy signs explaining what what done, what lost, what choices had to be made. How much the restorers thought of the adventurer who went to a remote part of Tibet to bring back cuttings of rhododendrons never seen in Europe before. Or the young men — names recorded in ledgers and on the walls of the ‘thunder box’ toilet — who went on to the trenches, to have their names carved in the war memorial of the villages they left.

water in a pool in the walled gardens

The vinery, the original vines struggling on among the shards of broken glass when they were rediscovered

The variety of horticulture, the inventiveness of the old workers and owners, is amazing – in the Victorian and Edwardian era, they were constructing boilers to heat the fig-house, using an underfloor manure system to maintain a pit where pineapples grew (and grow now again, under foggy glass), and hauling rock to set up a ‘ravine’, meant to echo the climate and flora of an alpine gully.

The birdbath and Sundial garden - with pet graveyard dating to at least the 1870s.

I took a ludicrous number of photographs. But as lovely and sad as Heligan is, as much as I love how it has been recovered, and continues to be in a state of faded elegance, why did I go and search it out on my research trip? It is because I hope to create a believable home for Aida, the daughter of an aristocratic family whose fortunes declined, and rose again with the new money brought in by her mother’s art.

Dovecote full of sleepy, cautious residents

Interior of an old tool shed, full of rakes and lawn-flattening instruments and other mysterious implements

I think of her wandering the flowerbeds in a walled garden where the bricks are heavily lichened, tumbling in on themselves. I think of her picking over interesting pieces of coloured glass in the Victorian bottle-midden that Heligan also has. Of feeding geese, working in the greenhouses, clipping off fruit, speaking to no one for days.

The privately-owned Heligan house, inaccessible, glimpsed over a collapsed wall and a stream that ran down an old entrance way

I try to think of the politics, ideals, conflicts of a rich, ancient family gone to seed. The grass, camellia, manure, standing-water scent of their estate. All background, and I don’t know how much will make it in to The Millennial, since Aida has so thoroughly rejected it. Since the modern world has left these sorts of places mostly as verdant monuments to their  irrelevance.

But I am glad to have seen Heligan again, and know that it will affect the novel in one way or another, like fig roots anchoring themselves over cracked flagstones, or just the wisp of plant-breath under glass.


*updated to add more photographs, I couldn’t help myself*


Filed under The Millenial, The Now