Category Archives: Edinburgh

The Inciting Incident

chris close photo

(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.’

read the full thing here.


Small sidenote: If you’ve read Mayhem & Death and have opinions on it, please consider leaving a review somewhere to help others make up their mind on whether or not to take a chance on it. If you have a Goodreads account the book can be found here.

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Filed under 404 Ink, Edinburgh, Uncategorized

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

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:






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?


Filed under 2012, Edinburgh, Photograph, The Now

The smallness of what we can gather


Do you have a quote you can bring to mind, or have found recently – I won’t ask for a favourite – but something that you find incredibly precise or beautiful in its attention to language? Or where the ideas stir you and seem the best articulation of something you’d perhaps never thought to think?


I want to quote here from Heroines. Specifically, towards the close of the book, where she utters part rallying cry, part acknowledgement to the community of writers online, part kick, part song to being thin skinned and writing despite lack of recognition.


I want just to say, I felt it all.



“I’m tired of trying to hurl my girl-body against the great unfeeling fortress of academia and old-guard literary publishing”


“In a way this subculture of literary blogs, fluid, amorphous, non-hierarchical, functions as a community of solidarity, privately and publically – fighting against feelings of illegitimacy and invisibility, of feeling like ghosts in the physical world”


“We cannot wait around to be discovered. If you can’t write masterpieces, why write? the doctors said to Zelda [Fitzgerald].”


I would quote it all. I can’t. But I think of light, when I put this down.

How the internet is light broken up and reformed, broadcast in pixels, in beams. How the internet is a trembling net of light across the world.  Marvel. How words on the internet and in books are tiny darknesses printed on white. Of the smallness of words that have traveled a long way, visible, invisible, here and now, gone, shared. And I am thankful for how much good writing there is still left to transmit and cheer, from one place to another.


Filed under Edinburgh

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

Light images


Walking through the dapples and the falling drab pieces of leaf, and the wind gently against your face and around you, and the murmur of passers by, and a haze in the distance, scuffing the church steeples and making them unreal.



And how this is another year, and how this is another autumn, and you would wish to stand at a bonfire, in the dark, looking at the constellations and the smoke reaching out futilely to them. And how the stars are not as they seem but immense and near ageless, scattered more miles away than you or anyone you love  could live to travel through.  And that you will for as long as you live be here, never more than 40,000 feet closer to them.



But that, regardless of any passing facts and wishes, this is what you have – a pile of leaves in shade and cold sun, and that anyone who thinks this is nothing, that this is somehow too frugal, needs to look again. There’s nothing romantic in it. It is romantic like a stone is romantic, like a branch. But it is your shadow, right now, passing over the leaves. It is your breath and the wind and your murmurs and others with lives that are right now, briefly, intersecting.


Filed under 2012, celebration, Edinburgh, Scotland, The Now

Boy Cyclops up at SmokeLong


Here’s my story, of an encounter with a cyclops – featuring: Salisbury Crags, The Central Library, The Cowgate, and a pub suspiciously resembling Under The Stairs just off Candlemaker Row. In other words, a very Edinburgh-based piece. I’m also being interviewed on the story by the excellent Casey Hannan. This interview will be up in SmokeLong’s December Quarterly edition.


In some other good news, Sundog Lit will be publishing a flash of mine ‘What She Would Spend Her Money On’ , and  3:AM Magazine will publish ‘Tennessee Stop’ – both from my current work in progress, Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts. I’ll let you know when they’re live.


Filed under Edinburgh

A fortnight’s time



…I will be packing my bag for the sleeper train to London. And between now and then? I will be imminently distracted, because I will be carrying with me my hopes and anxieties, like giant marshmallows.


I am planning what clothes to wear. I am planning what sights to see when I’m down. I’m staring at my current ms, the first fifty pages of which I gave to my agent a while ago. I’m beginning to reach the end of the novel, and can almost touch the edges of it if I unfocus my eyes and reach out. I’m thinking of my first ms, Kilea, which, I hope, I hope, there will be news about.


I’m thinking of how I’ll meet my good friends in the city. Of dinner and tea and wine and good cheer. I’m thinking of how I will record the journey – how many more photos I will take this time than I did in the winter earlier this year. I’m thinking of the speeding fields, the grind of the train’s wheels on the track, rocking me and my shored up self to sleep. I’m thinking of standing on the platform, saying goodbye to D, saying hello (or walking home to meet him, because I will be early returning). I’m thinking of paintings on a gallery wall. Of statuary and modern installations. I’m thinking of London in the rain, or in the cold sun. A cup of tea I shall drink by myself in Euston station, or hold in my hands, walking, dawdling, through streets filled with people with their heads bent low or looking up to catch my eye or glance away. The whole trip one great anticipatory swirl, in other words.


My heart is swollen and my head dizzy. I visit many of your blogs, and find my fingers mute. My hopes get in the way. My writing is my all right now. Whatever happens, two weeks from now.


Filed under Edinburgh

Dream logic


How does time pass in dreams? How has the month of September gone for you? Slow or fast. Some impossible mixture of sluggishly quick. In dreams you are mute – every voice you ever use only ever spoken in your head. Nothing you can do in dreams affects the world in any stable, lasting way. You can yell as loudly as you want and no one in the street is any the wiser. Are there any people out there? A gale blows leaves through the dream, scattering any traveler, bustling them out of sight. Pressing the leaves on a slicked black pavement as in a precious Victorian scrapbook. They say you cannot write or read in dreams, but I know this is not so. A single word, here or there, blurring as you look at it. A leaf, peeling at the corners, you suddenly know to lift and see the message in the skeleton veins, held up to a golden light. The colours are rich or not in dreams. Movements barely recorded. That’s September.


Or, rather, a little better on the writing front, though I have been fighting off a lingering illness, a cold that never burgeons. The second novel progresses, the world doesn’t turn in the old ways – the equinox hit, and now it’s so dark in the mornings it’s like walking to work still in the haar of a dream.


Where are you, October, I now ask. Plaintive for some day to be full awake to me, and I to it.


Filed under Edinburgh, Scotland, The Now

Being here


Walking home from work the other day across North Bridge I saw the sun gleaming on the roof of Waverley train station, and the castle on the hill silhouetted against that sky, and the spire of the Scott Monument to the right. Walter Scott, who I’ve never read, wrote the Waverley novels after which the station is named. Shall I read them, ever, I ask myself. So many more books. Such a profusion.


I’ve recently thought to add Ford Madox Ford to the list, after the wonderful (if mumbly) production of Parade’s End. If you haven’t watched it or had the chance to yet, I recommend you seek it out. Not something I’d ever really go for – a landowning Tory statistician trying to live honourably by his philandering wife, despite falling in love with a much more wholesome suffragette and facing the dismantling horrors of World War One. But it’s one of those rare examples of lush BBC drama brought convincingly to life with excellent actors. Little scene-chewing here, just subtle hand movements and flashing eyes and rich draping fabrics coupled with oddly stagey set pieces. Tom Stoppard wrote the script and apparently this is something of an achievement, given the source material’s anti-narrative, Modernist style. Which makes me want to read it all the more. That and FMF encouraged Jean Rhys (after or before their affair, I’m not sure). How does the one feed into and complicate the other?


So that’s the week, the last few weeks. Watching this drama of restraint and farce and dizzying luxury. Waiting and working and reading. And being disappointed and carrying my bags and planning. And being anxious about the future of my first book and my current manuscript. Taking long breaths out, stretching my arms in front of me and behind. Creeping inch by inch across the pages and hours. Do I make progress, or do I just hope I do?Time progresses, regardless. The sun burnishes the panels of glass and blackens the old stone buildings, the clouds in the sky arrange themselves like silks and wool. And it is beautiful, and I despite it all, have time to notice.

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Filed under 2012, Edinburgh, North Bridge, Scotland, The Now