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fairy dell


D and I are back from the isle of Arran, and while I’m going through my photos and readjusting my lungs to city air, I thought I’d leave this picture as placeholder. It was taken along the North-western coast of the island near the village of Lochranza, in a tiny landmark called Fairy Dell – not much more than a cut in the side of the hills, with bare rock and mossy sides, and a lush ‘valley’ posyed with primroses. I didn’t notice until I uploaded the photo that there was a tiny tiny rainbow over the burn, just there in the lower centre of the picture.  We decided that someone should come back with kitsch toadstools and carved trolls, but obviously nature decided just to go right ahead all on its own. Fabulous.



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Four years

Yesterday was the four year anniversary of this blog. I started this blog to make sense of an impossible world. Four years ago, in 2010, I was living in NYC with D, in a bedbug-ridden flat in Queens, having just emigrated from Scotland right after having been awarded a PhD in English Literature (CW) from Glasgow University and getting married. I was working as a dog walker and figuring out how to start novel number two. It was a chaotic time full of challenges – one great violent culture class in a city which can strip you down a few layers of skin, rasp metallic at you, make you invisible, in ways I had never experienced before.  I started taking pictures to see the beauty of things, because New York is, in common with London, with any grand city, like a Medusa: bearable only in mirrors, only in fragments of image and writing. I went out by greyhound bus with D to New Mexico for two weeks to find something diametric to city life, and did, and shored that for later.



We left towards the end of 2011. Back to Scotland with that novel still brewing, but with an agent for the first. I finished the second novel in Edinburgh, surrounded by cold damp stone in the Old Town, using a New Mexican landscape and the glitter of the dirty capital of capitalism to feed the novel from a distance. At the same time using photos to see my new old home, a place that felt painful and sad and uplifting and hopeful to return to, as a failed immigrant. I wrote Love Letters – the sequence of which you can read here – when I felt something harsher than love, that needed words to articulate. I started reviewing books. I got a teaching job that allowed me time to write, and which I could walk to across bridges and down streets that were calm – no more entertaining, bruising, traumatic subway rides under the East River or up from the Lower East Side. I wrote slowly, diligently. I had to let my agent go, which felt like a loss, but I have also connected to some lovely people online – writers, readers, artists, raconteurs. I did an online residency at Necessary Fiction. I felt like I was drawing lines outwards, even if I did not know where those lines were going.



And at the end of last year I was awarded a residency in Banff - more pictures, and a great deal of intensity of thought and experience, packed into five weeks in the blind-striking mountains. I worked on my third book, and I’m working on it now, trudging through the snow that the mountains dropped on it. A whiteness that has dazzled me, but when that lifts, will be like the aftermath of New York was for me. Or else I will require more time, more space for the words to form. Right now, where does this anniversary find me? Still in the process of writing through. Still trying to make sense of what I am doing, where I am on this unmappable territory. Even if the bearings I get are only slight, I am glad to be here, writing a nudge of the needle, writing a step forward in the dark, wherever it leads.



I am four years older, and all that time has been filled in so many ways, by rush, by silence, by the light of the computer screen, by doubt, by magnitude. I ask, where will I be four years from now, only asking because of a demand for symmetry. Knowing the question is an echo for a well not yet finished. I peer down into not even the darkness. Time keeps coming and here I keep it the best way I can. And I think my blog is worth writing, worth the grounding, thinking of people reading here, and the railing it gives me.



Thank you.


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Stoker review up on The Female Gaze

I wrote about this intensely disturbing but beautiful film, directed by Chan-wook Park for The Female Gaze:


But what is the significance of India’s hunger? Her descent into the underbelly of the house (her flicking of the lightshade, deliberately throwing the shadows down a long, webbed corridor) to get the ice cream she is ordered to bring back upstairs? Be patient, for this is a film that takes its time to roll out the full weight, and in the meanwhile we get all these gorgeous moments, darkness, gossamer and sunlight. All these slow moments are not for nothing – they allow time for revelation. For Uncle Charlie singling out his prey, testing her limits. But also for the viewer, and India herself to find out exactly what sort of a girl she is.




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Slow readery

The last month has seen me finish reading a total of one (1!) book, and a novella-length one at that. But! I have been reading a book so slow and murky that there was no way for me to read anything else, or to skim (which I never do anyway), a book that reads like a prose poem, and is constructed in ‘episodes’ like a TV show. That book is Beyond This Point Are Monsters by Roxanne Carter, and I suspect I will struggle to finish it by the end of this new month of ours.


But is there anything wrong in reading slow? I keep a total of my ‘Endless Reads’, a remnant from a project I started in 2012 to encourage me to read more. I would often take long breaks between books, my imagination satisfied by its stint in a fictional world to the point where I did not feel the need to read, not when there were so many other distractions around. Then laziness, inevitably, or frustration because I didn’t know which book to turn to next, amid hype and the pressures to read those classics I have not yet turned my hand to. But I had become frustrated with my inaction. I love books, love reading, so what was I doing except standing empty handed, poorer for not pushing myself?


In that first year of Endless Reads, I read forty-four books, which may not sound a lot to some people (I have seen ferocious lists of well over a hundred and fifty for some reviewers) but to me, it was too many.  I was reviewing most of the titles, either here or on PANK, and feeling so tired out, unable to fully immerse myself in the music and texture of the words, in the explorations the authors were undertaking. The year after, I read twenty-one books, and felt ashamed. But why?


I will come out now and say it: I am a slow reader. I’m dedicated, and I like to savour what I’m reading, but I just can’t knock back a book a week and live well, and appreciate the text. Books read quickly become a net and the fish of my comprehension are all very small and swim through, panicked, while the rest of me struggles, getting an idea of what is going on but not really appreciating the knots and seaweedy accouterments.


I’m always going to feel that slight ruefulness. Asking myself if one book is too few and if the other book still being read, that prose-poem circling and circling itself, is ‘above my reading level’.  But there is no one to censure me. I am subject to no law regarding how many books read make me a good literary citizen. And if I am pushed to the limit and wear myself out going further, the pleasures and challenges of reading diminish. So I grant myself permission to read slowly. To read endlessly but at a glacier’s pace if the pressure of life demands I do so. Deep channels will cut just the same as if a torrent of reading came sweeping through. I won’t suggest the ‘slow readery’ movement for everyone. But for me, now, it’s the only way I can seem to thrive.


Metaphors, metaphors. But I wonder how it is for you, if you’ve ever kept numbers – or just titles, to remind yourself of times and locations you read such-and-such? Or if you’d never keep a list, or if you religiously do, and eye the totals of others with envy or respect?



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Reading the dollhouse

Kirsty Logan's The Rental Heart and other fairytales



Yesterday was the Glasgow launch of Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart And Other Fairytales, published by Salt, a packed-out event with people sitting on the floor in some spots. Chat was led by the indefatigable Peggy Hughes, and some very interesting things were said by Kirsty on her writing process, particularly the idea of constructing a ‘dollhouse’ or a single room of a dollhouse, in the case of shorter fiction. It seems to fit her writing voice so well; lucid, compelling arrangements of tactile detail, a vivid control within the imaginative space. I was lucky enough to snag a signed copy – books ran out before the end. All in all a huge success. You can read lots of Kirsty’s stories online for a taster of the book; why not have a wee look here and here (from my tenure at Necessary Fiction). You can order the book from Salt directly here. Congratulations to one of Scotland’s up-and-coming literary stars.

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Crossed Fingers: The Lascaux 250

I’ve entered an extra-short flash fiction contest run by The Lascaux Review, and for the next few days before the judgement, you can read my entry on their site. I wrote it especially for the contest as soon as I heard about it, so regardless of how I do I produced something new, and doing so gave me a little boost in the middle of a long writing slog.


The story is a response to a beautiful piece, “East Bergholt Interior, Suffolk,” by William Savage. I went for a short about a vampish monster inspired by a silent German Expressionist Film (you can probably guess which film  - a clue: it’s the most well known horror from the era).


Here’s the story.  There are plenty more entries for your perusal here.  I’ll let you know if anything happens with it (or not) as soon as I know.

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The way it falls

ruined cottage, Rum




In a desert, a left place turns dusty, then to dust in the onslaught of the grained winds. In a marshy, Southern place, vines creep up the external walls, bright flowers grow in a place where the roof has fallen in; the whole shell heaves with new life. In the far North, a building will stay upright for a long, long time, brittle with salt, until one day the cold brings it down, beam by beam.


Here, in this temperate, damp climate, moss pads over the stones even when they are inhabited. A tree finds the highest point, the guttering, from which it will reach out its limbs. Moss and tree, nettle and fern, and kine and sheep trampling the lot, and the last window with a view of the moor, or the farm or saddest of all, the grey sea.


I’m trying to think though of habited places making this fall and staying that way, for my third work in progress. Streets and streets shunned because of turmoil and scattered ash. Familiar places, always a little scuffed at the edges, utterly turned to broken roots and hanging wire. It’s a gloomy place for the mind to live. But I’d like to do it well. Bear with me while I’m quiet here. I’m just standing in the green and the grey breathing it all in.


(In between times I escape to read and wish for a new project with more than the smell of dankness and wild blackberries. Something with voice. Music suggestions of a cheery sort are welcome, too)

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Flash up on The Toast

I’m happy to say that my short-short piece, ‘Pretty Dead Girl Takes a Break’ is up on The Toast now.


She peels back the plastic and gets out of the water, a little clumsy with her limbs not moving right and her blue-black blood slow shot through them. She hasn’t even opened her eyes yet, they’ve been closed that long she has to pry them with thick fingers, prop them open a while, practice her blinks.


Read more…


I may or may not have had lots of True Detective/Twin Peaks/Macabre dead-girls-as-props-for-man-pain thoughts of late. How about you?


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Drink plenty of water




I’ve had some time off work over the past week and a half, and I’ve been using that time to write. I’m slower than most (I think) and much of the heavy lifting is done via repeat edits. But for now I’m on a marathon, tapping out up to 1,000 words a day. This takes its toll on body and mind, but I have things I do to keep myself going. Here’s a few tips:


1. Affix the start of your writing hour at a realistic point. If you are groggy in dark winter mornings, wait until lunch. If you are hungry at lunch, wait until the afternoon. If an afternoon slump hits you – too bad. The early afternoon gets the most light, affords the most opportunities for staring out the window. After the sun goes down there is only you and the pale blue light of the computer. In other rooms, people are living night lives, drinking, talking, watching a film or curled up with a book shining with completeness and all those sharp literary turns you haven’t perfected yet. Do you want that? Don’t envy others their night. Work in the day, when you can.


2. Type lying down on a bed. V good for those who cannot afford a desk or ergonomic chair. Writing is like dreaming, in the early stages: fluid, sometimes exiting, strange and often incoherent and of little interest to others. Embrace that.


3. If you are experiencing a low motivation day: read a paragraph of a writer you admire. Be sure they found ways to procrastinate, either with or without the internet. Perhaps they were an angsty wreck of a person, or had to write seventy drafts before something was bearable. Perhaps they were good and true in all ways and you are not worthy. But whatever they were, they were human too (at least, there’s little evidence to the contrary), they got things done. Paper and ink. Screen and text. You are human and you can type. Go forth.


4. Failing that: songs are good. Or blogs. Blogs and songs and making tea in the kitchen. But remember – the day only has so many hours, and so does a life. Cycle through your stress and find the sweet point where you’re focused enough to write; a little captain of a boat going through rocky waters, but ones you know well enough to navigate with ease. See, you live on that island over there: that lighthouse, guiding the way? That’s where you live, that is you.


5. At the end of the writing day, reward yourself with something. Food is okay, but sometimes problematic for people. Alcohol – well, we all know plenty of writers who maybe should have passed on that particular reward scheme.


6. Exercise after writing. Defuse your overactive mind and build good strong heart to get you through. You can go low impact and have a wee swim. Or climb a mountain (as long as it’s not dark after you’re done. It’s better to have a view at the top, right?)


7. Don’t tell people how the writing’s going. Not in any detail. Discourage questions. This is especially true if people are only asking to be polite. They don’t need to hear your pained distress or temporary, alarming buoyancy, and you don’t need reasons to share it.


8.  Props are encouraged. A favourite mug. A pillow. A photograph of a sea snail. A cat. Although a cat is one of the more unruly props (given it has its own mind), it has the advantage of distracting fluffiness and querulous looks as and when is needed (or absolutely at the worst time, but you won’t really mind).


How do we do this? However we can, and repeatedly, until the thing is made.


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Interview on SparkLife

I’ve been interviewed for the ‘Career Wha?’ column on the Spark Notes community website, SparkLife! Here’s a bit:


What were the steps to getting to where you are today, and is there only one way in? How long did it take?

I think there is only one way to write and that’s to read your heart out, and write even when it’s terrible, and listen to the world shifting and being ugly and hard sometimes. They way you go about being a writer differs from person to person. You can keep yourself tender and raw, however difficult that might be, or you can be stern and have a vision and just crack that out, or be a storyteller and weave a star-blanket, or shape only one tiny thing, and give that tiny thing, as frugal as that might seem.

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The comments from readers are wonderful, heartwarming too. and really made my day.


In other news, a flash fiction of mine, ‘Pretty Dead Girl Takes a Break’, which was inspired by True Detective and Twin Peaks (the 25 anniversary is this year) is going to be published online. More details when it goes up.


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