The direct view of the valley from where we stay used to be of the knuckles of the foothills and the higher, snow-draggled peaks behind them. Once there were villages in those foothills, terracotta-roofed, strung out like spiderwebs and glittering in the sun. And closer: rows of vines and pale cocoa-coloured fields freshly turned, and ivy-wrapped trees, the delicate, reaching blue limbs of pines, olive trees showing their silver leaves, the ample woodpile stacked on the other side of the road.
The story was written while on a residency in a beautiful house in the hills of Tuscany, and this September between the 14th-21st, I’ll be teaching a low-stress writing retreat called Write Toscana in the same place – hopefully with stunning view still very much attached. It’s mostly going to be about the enjoyment of place and the freedom to experiment in your writing (and to eat delicious local food) If you are interested in coming along – more details in the link above, and here. I’d love to see you.
As you can probably tell, the piece is inspired by Calvino. I’ve been reading his work lately, and keep thinking how I need to swoop up everything he ever did.
Currently: I am heading to London soon for a showcase of Scottish writing, then to Italy for a retreat, where I hope to get a slew of work done. It’s been slow here, on that front. But Spring is coming, and writing always gets into gear then.
The muscles of the poplar trees beat about, and the warm night is full of calls, or there is worn-hour haze, but invisible so in a darkness like this, a rain green darkness, and feet follow unseen feet across uncertain ways, between high and waving grass, spatters of mud on legs, boards, slipped shoes and sighs, until at last a light…
(my portrait by Chris Close at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, taken by D.)
Thank you to everyone who came along to events I was speaking at and to the organisers – Blackwell’s Edinburgh, the wonderful (as always) EIBF, and Amnesty International. Back to quietly writing things.
Here’s a story from Mayhem & Death in Books From Scotland’s Festival edition:
‘A room can have disorder or stains in it. But this room does not, will not. All is in order, now. Let’s take one last look, one long breath in and out. A room in a story cannot be a haunted room, unless the writer puts the ghosts in there, or the suggestion of ghosts into it.’
Tomorrow, at Blackwell’s Writers at the Fringe (Blackwell’s Edinburgh), from 6pm, with Jonathan Whitelaw, Sam McColl, Noelle Harrison and Robert J Harris (free!). Tickets here.
Friday, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (Writer’s Retreat), 6.30pm, with the excellent Camilla Grudova (£8/£6). Tickets here.
Saturday, at the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre), with Roxanne Bouchard, Gina Miller, and Gunnar Staalesen (free) tickets available in box office on the day.
At the first two I’ll be reading from recently published Mayhem & Death– at the Blackwell’s I’ll be reading a story in that collection dedicated to my father. In the third, I’m reading the words of an activist silenced in Edrogan’s Turkey.