Some words of mine recommending a lovely, under-publicised place in Scotland are in the Herald, alongside a few others.
Category Archives: The Now
1. Pursuing with static vigour the idea of Autumn – that is to say, ideas collected from other countries (North America, mainly). Leaves red and orange. Mist. A little bird skeleton with the wings still on. Mushrooms and toadstools. Camp fires. Slugs and black beetles under stones coming out when the rain does. My tweets accrue on the subject, while I stay indoors looking at a milk sky, trying to:
2. Write essays for the Necessary Fiction residency. Write a recap for The Female Gaze. I need to start, I stare at the blinking cursor, my head in the mountains, my hands rustling leaves. I link too much, I stand signing. I am a sign of myself.
3. Awaiting. Waiting. Which has more verve, more glamour? To await something. Waiting on something. Waiting for. This is the linguistic exploration of someone at a bus stop, looking both ways and there is nothing and the phone battery is dead and you forgot your book. No cars. A deer up ahead, ghostly on splayed foot. My white deer, I think of you. It disappears around behind the corner shop and the recycling bins.
4. All the waiting leads to omens. To rituals – checking things, expecting things. Imagined deer. But a magpie did land on my window sill however many days ago. I couldn’t see it, but knew from the rattle. When I got up to look I only caught sight on the wings, the gloss – and it landed in a rowan tree, and there is no meaning in this, of course not.
5. No writing. Writing fiction will be October. I want cold breath and a clear head for that time.
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.
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,
Do you know of any other poems concerned with the specific peacefulness of a graveyard?
My flash fiction, ‘What She Would Spend Her Money On‘ is up on the brand new Sundog Lit:
She would get huge slabs of carcass from best-beloved cattle. Smooth marbled flesh. She would hang these in a specially prepared cellar and frighten herself with their bodies and pungency in the dark. She would buy up old china tea sets, the kind so thin they seem unwell and you fear to hold them…
This flash is from my work in progress, Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts. There’s plenty of other delights over there – I know I’ll be digging in as a reward for this afternoon’s work on said ms. My story, Boy Cyclops is still story of the week on Smokelong Quarterly, if you want to read more:
I met my friend the cyclops for a drink at a downbeat cocktail bar with damp green walls and mismatched furniture. We went all sorts of places together. Today, he was buying. He’d recently come into some suspect fortune. He was playing tarot on the table nearest the aquarium.
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.
Is it the evening, or the early morning? Are you here, or heading here to meet with an old friend, someone who you need to see again over fumes of coffee and little white saucers and plates of toast? Are you even here, in this city? Is this a memory, of walking by, thinking of this other life in which you could be meeting your friend?
Is this an evening where you are alone, and the streets of the city seem impossibly full of your yearnings, impossibly indifferent to them?
Do you have the sense that you might hail that cab, get in, go somewhere?
Where would you go? Maybe you want to go sightseeing, maybe you’re heading uptown to the apartment of that friend of yours, you have a bottle of wine twisted in brown paper under your arm.
Perhaps, actually, you’re not bound by the city, by the rules of streets pressing around you. Perhaps you are heading somewhere else entirely. To a place where no cabs can go. Towards utter soundlessness:
Towards winter. You can wander the woods without feeling the cold. The light never changing. You can feel fearful. Or calm. You can walk down the promenade of trees, imagining an old road there, a lumber road, a track to an old cabin that stands on a jut of granite, with views across the snow bound valley. The dark, white pines and some mountains beyond, or some open plain, or tundra, or a city – impossibly, that same New York City, where all those people live but you, who have chosen another path, or not –
Or you might look up from your coffee in the restaurant, from your friend’s chatter. Might look out the window and see, across the road, a wooded mountain, and up high a tiny figure, looking down, who turning once, disappears into a black wood cabin. And the clatter of the busy room might then return to you, now altered.
Though either way, it was as if you never had that other, fantastical choice. That this silence, this endless city din and company, was the only way things could ever be.