Category Archives: 2012

Joy and good cheer

To everyone who celebrates Christmas, I hope you have,  as the heading suggests, joy and good cheer (in whatever ways that manifests).

 

To those who don’t – hope you have a relaxing day off.

 

To those in the Northern Hemisphere – here’s something to help you stay toasty:

 

(source: fire gifs, Tumblr)

 

To all in the Southern hemisphere (including my friend C right now): hope you can have a barbie on the beach or cocktails on the veranda. I’m jealous and not jealous. It’s cosy up here.

 

Finally, here’s a melancholy Christmas song from Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter, Laurie Cameron (you can see her Tumblr here, and download some of her songs free there):

 

 

I’ll be back in a few days with a summary of my Endless Reads 2012 Project – highlighting the books that I’ve really loved over the past year, and looking forward to 2013. Till then, it’s Christmas music, walking about in the rain for the last few gifts, wrapping paper storms, carols and family and friends and goose and roasted potatoes.

 

Last last thing – thank you for reading, as always, friends and strangers.

 

(source: Snow gifs, Tumblr)

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A spot of warmth

delicacy

 

D, A and I went to the Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect world (which has more than butterflies and insects to see). The hothouse atmosphere of the centre was in contrast to the low, churning gloomy skies outside. A bit of greenery and life on a dreich day. I hope you enjoy the pictures – they were shot on my camera phone, since my old digital camera has gone missing somewhere in my flat (hunted everywhere to no avail). Warning: beastie heavy.

 

steamy

 

a Swallowtail, I think

 

waterfall

 

Tree Nymph

 

All ready for Christmas

All ready for Christmas

 

Across the pond

 

 

Bearded lizard, Troy

 

Saladfingers at rest

 

Me too, Saladfingers (the iguana’s name is excellent). He turned a bit livelier at feeding time –

 

He preferred the chilis - spat the carrots out like a naughty toddler.

 

Unseen here are the quails of various colours who run about underfoot peeping, the lazily drifting koi and cichlids who live in the ponds, and the leafcutter ants who follow ropes strung up overhead. It’s a small place, but very delightful. D took some video of the birds, so I might post that later, if it’s turned out well.

 

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Looking for Dr Livingstone + interview news

Edinburgh cityscape

 

Today D and I made our way back to the National Museum of Scotland with the aim of walking through the exhibit on Dr David Livingstone, explorer, missionary and abolitionist. True to his reputation, he was a little hard to find. The exhibit was tucked away on the third floor of the new part of the museum. It was interesting, if a bit piecemeal.

 

Livingstone was born into a cotton mill worker family, and worked at the mill from the age of 10. An exceedingly bright boy, he was taught to read and write, then taught himself Latin. He saved up enough money to go to University in Glasgow, but to save a penny on the cart fare, had to make his way on foot up the river clyde from Blantyre every morning. Good training for his later rambles around Malawi and southern Africa. There was a video, filmed in Malawi, talking to residents there in the Malawian town of Blantyre – they seemed happy with his legacy there, of his pacts with local tribe leaders to end the East African-Indian Ocean slave trade.

 

But I am suspicious of heroes, particularly of strong men of the British Empire who, regardless of whether they were doing good themselves, went into ‘the dark continent’ with the aim of opening it up to Europe.  There wasn’t a lot of analysis, and only one dissenting voice was lightly mentioned, that of John Kirk, the botanist who traveled on one of Livingstone’s expeditions. Livingstone was, it seemed, a hard leader. And then there was that famous meeting with Stanley, where the presumed Dr Livingstone refused to come back to Britain, and later died in a village in Malawi of a nasty combination of Malaria and Dysentery.

 

Well, whoever he was (D wants to read his journals now), we saw his little navy cap and his nice sketch of a fish from Lake Malawai.

 

I enjoy visiting the museum, which has free entry, and it’s a good thing too. Coming in the new year, after I’ve finished this second ms (May at the latest, I hope), I will be going there a lot. And to the grand Central Library on George IV bridge. Research for novel number 3. It is going to be about a strong, egotistic leader and her followers, and set in the wastes of Edinburgh. I’ll not reveal too much more before I have an outline in place. As you can see from the picture above, there’s a certain atmosphere to the city in winter – a soft harshness – which I want to learn and replicate for my postapocalyptic version.  Anyway, that’s enough for now.

 

The other piece of news I have is that Smokelong Quarterly is coming out next week. In it will be my Edinburgh-based flash, ‘Boy Cyclops’, and an interview with me (first ever interview!), facilitated by the excellent writer Casey Hannan. (Casey’s book, Mother Ghost, is available on pre-order from Tiny Hardcore Press. His writing is really beautiful and weird and compelling, and I’ll be picking it up when I can).  When Smokelong goes live I’ll link to it here, and you will have lots to read, should you wish.

 

Finally! Don’t forget to submit your photograph for my competition! The deadline is the 31st of this month.

 

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Filed under 2012, Edinburgh

Endless Reads Review: 1Q84

 

Weight without heft

 

I have reached the end of nearly a thousand pages of Murakami’s three-volume work and have sat letting my thoughts marinade for a while and finally, finally, I think I’m ready to write about it and move on.

 

Was it a slog? Was it an intellectually-challenging book which kept me furrowing my brow over the complexities and playfulness of language? No.

 

Was it a total piece of fluff – I’m inclined to say yes, but others might disagree with me.

 

I described 1Q84 a few posts ago as a big souffle with jelly beans in it, and I still hold that view. Souffles are notoriously difficult, and Murakami does not quite pull this one off, though it almost looks as if he might. There are little bits of egg in the mix, little doughy bits of flour. So, the plot of the novel is too long for me to delve into here, and further, recounting it would probably just make reading it unnecessary – it’s one of those ‘the story is the story’ pieces. But for me, the twists and turns of plot felt mostly arbitrary – a few threads the author had chosen to weave together, to no discernible purpose.

 

In the end, most of the main tensions of the novel are not so much not resolved (which can be tantalising, leaving room for the reader to go exploring on their own) as dropped. Main characters wander off, the mystery is explained away as fiction, the ‘Little People’  – the sinister multiverse-shifting baddies of the novel, and the novel within the novel – snuffed out with no satisfying, or even unsatisfying encounter. ‘oh well, it was all an alternative reality’ doesn’t add much. If the language had been exciting, that might have helped paper over the cracks. But it was fairly straightforward, even turgid at times.

 

Also of note: number of references to the breasts of female characters, either from themselves (worrying about size) or from male observers thinking how perfect they are (uh huh). It started to wash over me after a while, because it happened so frequently. Other motifs: what people are wearing, each step of how they cook their dinners, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cruel cult, the magic of hand-holding, Oedipal fantasy stuff that was poorly developed.

 

Despite these irritations, 1Q84 is fun and engaging, and mostly hurries on at a good pace. It’s as easy to read as pringles and jaffa cakes are to eat, and about as remarkable, for all its superficial colourfulness and weight. Some of the chapters which follow Tengo (the male lead character) and his strained relationship with the man who may or may not be his father, are quite moving, as are those in which Aomame (the female lead character) meets with a wealthy but lonely and vengeful dowager (another of the bit-players who disappears off the map). I think 1Q84, at its heart, is  an Ideal Romance, and Ideal Romances, as you may know, are inherently static. They merely give the appearance of action – of separation, risk, danger, excitement. At their centre they hold steady around a solid, immutable love. If you know that, going in, perhaps you’ll be happier to excuse all that stuff whizzing round your head.

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Filed under 2012, Endless Reads 2012

Numb fingers type faster

 

Today was one of those high, blue, fine-threaded days that brought a frost, and which means that my flat, a tenement from the thirties, is cold inside. We have heating, but it’s on a pretty poor gas system and we recently discovered that it was squeezing D’s lungs. A space heater will have to do us, when we feel lux enough to use it. The low today is only minus 2 celsius, so it’s not great trial. It just feels a little Dickensian to be wrapped in – okay – snuggies and blankets, with cold noses and fingers that bend a little unwillingly.

 

But I’m not here to complain. I’m here to express my gratitude to all of the people who have been visiting this blog recently and who have started following me on twitter. To the people who retweeted my story from yesterday, and who contacted me directly about it. Thank you! I think every writer craves an audience, and feels that when he or she has made a connection with a reader that that is something really uplifting.  I cannot explain this comfort, except that all writing is a form of communication, an attempt to lay out in textures and black marks something important to them. A story that burns through the finger tips. That wants, as Sundog Lit say, to burn the retinas. To light someone else up in the ways that they can and are able be. A less-than-perfect cross between song and chatter, physical sculpture and neon and flame.

 

 

It’s a dark time of the year, as I have said. Cold, blue, low lit. Writing is more important than ever, it feels. Reading, huddling round a book or bringing one clumsily, bittily, into being. I will have more time, now that my work, sadly, is cutting back my hours in the winter slump. The pictures above are from one of the distractions of the season: the Christmas Market on Princess Street. Outside of the picture are little huts strung with lights and tinsel, selling overpriced decorations and German snacks and hot mulled wine with schnapps. I’m thinking of setting up my own stand – selling a poem. Selling a photograph of this city. I won’t, because I’m truly not business minded, but the idea of doing it makes me smile. The possibility of physically handing my art over to someone as we both shiver and clap our hands at the chill.

 

There are ways to speak and ways to see on these cold days. If it’s warm where you are, perhaps summer, I am envious, but not. How are you managing though, wherever you are?

 

And thank you, as ever, for reading here.

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Filed under 2012, consolations of reading, consolations of writing, The Now

Down among the mossy stone

 

Edinburgh is it seems a city of cemeteries, best visited as I said in Monday’s post, on days like this. When the water droplets seem to condense from the air around you, and umbrellas are nearly useless.

 

 

I can tinker with the filters, bring out the richness that my camera cannot catch, or leave it out. The dark sodden colours of stone and moss can speak for themselves.

 

 

At other times, I try to get the vibrancy of dying leaves in low light, and with a flick of the camera phone, sometimes fail and sometimes succeed. Compare these two images, the first with a filter, the second, of the graves below the tree, without any manipulation:

 

 

and

 

 

This one, unfiltered, shows a close up of those strange physallis-like flowerheads. I wanted to pull one off and pocket it and take it home. But who knows what might come crying round at my window in the night, to claim it back again?

 

 

In this lower graveyard, the stones are green and black, from moss and smoke. The ground is black too, under the leaves and the grass. Churned by the rain and my unsteady feet.

 

 

This is an old burial ground: as I said there has been a church on the site since at best guess the 850s AD. Twelve centuries of worship. Were there graves in those early days here? I imagine so. No visible sign remains. I found some stones that I thought looked to date from the sixteen hundreds, with angelheads with wings and mason signs. The record online might be able to let you know, if you are interested.

 

 

 

 

I explored only about half of the graveyard – the cold dampness nipping at me. Another time, definitely.

 

 

Up by the church, I saw people sitting apart on the steps, eating their lunches. Business people, it looked like, though the rain was as I said a miserable and constant drizzle. It seemed to make no difference, and I had seen people there from the upper graveyard in similar dreichness. I decided not to bother them with my photography. But you can imagine the hunched bodies on the damp steps, pushing wet sandwiches into their mouths. Seeking peacefulness, down here hidden away from the main road and the openness of the gardens.

 

 

Though it’s been a long time since anyone could say this part of Edinburgh was rural, I’m going to sign off with the open verse of ‘Elgy Written in a Country Churchyard‘ by Thomas Gray, suggested (and quoted down the phone) by my father.

 

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,

The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

 

 

Do you know of any other poems concerned with the specific peacefulness of a graveyard?

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Filed under 2012, Edinburgh, Photograph, The Now

The sand adjusting underfoot

 

 

Think of the sea, a long way out from where you are. Think of the exact number of footsteps it would take to get you to a place where you wouldn’t see someone for an hour or more. Think of the memories you take with you every step. How do you imagine these memories? A bundle of sticks, a miasma? A cluster of people calling and chattering in your head?

 

Or are they a set of pictures, creased at the edges, or faded from the years. Is there a feeling that goes with a photograph, something innate, or do we bring everything, and make the image contain?

 

I try to think beyond the image. I try to layer and organise and bind. Or, I’m going to try. Today was adrift and small fingered.  That’s all right. We don’t always have the strength for every day to mean something more. And luckily granted peaceful days we should take them where we can. A day without any sadness, outside or in, is a good day. I’ll write tomorrow, or I’ll wait a little more. I’m standing watching the tide with a rock in my hand, waiting to break the silver with it. One skill I have managed to acquire with writing is the ability to know when to write and when to wait. When to make cakes and take walks and sit on the sofa, resting. Worrying, now I do that all the time, but I’m trying not to, just for the change in the air.

I shall throw words at the sea another day.

Tomorrow, tomorrow.

 

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Filed under 2012, art, Edinburgh