Friday, 28 December 2012

Windows for Burns Night 2013 (there's just time)

Now we've, roughly speaking, survived 2012, the inspired combo of Hugh Bryden and Dave Borthwick are once again calling on living poets to help celebrate Scotland's best dead bard, Robert Burns.

Handwritten poems will fill the windows of the Globe Inn, The Coach and Horses and the Robert Burns House Museum from 14th January to 11th February, and as Mr Burns' birthday was on 24th January, there'll be plenty of time to raise a glass to his memory.  

Windows for Burns Night 2012 expanded rapidly into an international event with hundreds of poems being submitted from Scotland, Europe and the USA.  If you want to take part this year, you should write your poem in a bold black pen onto an A4 sheet of paper, scan/save as jpeg and email to by Monday 7th January.  

A ballot of Globe Inn customers selected one poem written by Kelloholm poet Kris Haddow which has been engraved on a window pane in the pub.

And here's the original, by the Man himself.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Early Christmas present! A free download of 'The Crow House' this Saturday

Another chance to read The Crow House for free via an Amazon promotion this Saturday 22 December.  

Tie a knot in your hanky or get somebody organised to remind you and then download it for nothing to your Kindle/mobile devices/humble PC by clicking here.

Lovely reviews of The Crow House are already coming in - this from a 12 year old:

"I read this on my dad's Kindle and wasn’t sure if I’d like it or not.  But it was really gripping and original.  The time travel in this book is different from other ones I’ve read because it happens unexpectedly and causes trouble for Holly and Callum.  It’s quite scary and I recommend it.”

and this one left on Amazon:

"As a child I loved books like The Owl Service and House at Green Knowe, and this is in that vein - stories where the past and present mix, with some frightening results. There is a strong female lead (always a good thing) but with a main boy character too. It is strongly rooted in a place with vivid descriptions."

Please do tell me what you thought of The Crow House, or post a review on Amazon.    Or you can find The Crow House on Facebook here.

Write Outside In

I went for a walk a couple of weekends ago: early December, the border of Herefordshire and Shropshire, a hard frost.  As I walked, I wrote, which is a habit.  (So is talking to myself, unfortunately).  And took photographs on my trusty point-and-shoot.  Later on I had an idea, which I'm thinking of as 'Write Outside In'.

I put together my walk as a series of photographs, with short poems.  If I was really clever I'd have put them through PowerPoint and converted them to video, and embedded it here.  Or something.  As it is, they're photos with poems in, but it's an attempt to record one walk, taken at one time, with the disparate imaginings and associations we carry along as baggage. Or rucksack. That's why it's Write Outside In, in this case, for a 5 mile walk near Richards Castle.

Hope you like them.  Oh, and click on the photos so they enlarge enough to read anything.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Finding Poetry at Shrewsbury Coffee House

What a friendly place Shropshire is.  Last Thursday night I found myself on the way to Poetry Night at Shrewsbury Coffee House, gathered up in person by Deb Alma, who is the Emergency Poet.  I'd already had a warm welcome on Facebook and then another one in the Coffee House as I was introduced to a whole rhyming dictionary of various poets.

Gorgeous venue - it had lights to die for, see below, and last Thursday the school coat racks that operate as a picture rail around the room were twined with twinkly little Christmas bulbs.

Also, the coffee was good.  Really very good, which is always a good portent.  Turns out Poetry Nights at the Coffee House are a kind of well-managed open mic, where 8 poets are invited to do a spot of no more than 10 minutes each.  There's an interval to buy the wonderful coffee (or bottled beer) and then more verse.  

It was all kept flowing and warm by organiser Liz Lefroy, who is a Senior Lecturer in Social Care. She's had two poetry pamphlets published, Pretending the Weather in 2011 and The Gathering in 2012, and she won the 2011 Roy Fisher Prize.  I discovered that Deborah Alma had been a runner up; she was one of the readers on Thursday (and she was good).    

I'm looking forward to the next Poetry Night.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Verse for the Salt Smugglers

I'm coming to the end of long, lovely project 'Viewpoint Voices', working with the National Scenic Areas Officer in Dumfries and Galloway.

We've taken many different groups of people, of different ages and backgrounds, up to the six viewpoints along this gloriously beautiful coast.  The youngest was 8, the eldest folk certainly in their 80s (I was too tactful to ask).  We created cinquains (like a slightly bigger haiku).  We're putting them together into video-clips of 'Viewpoint Voices', where you hear each participant read out their cinquain, set over images of the coast.  I will put them up.

I haven't often recorded anything I've written with these groups, but here's a cinquain for Gutcher's Isle, with its ruined laird's house and hall, its smugglers' bay, its legends of violent death and the threat of the excise men.

of salt we risked

at sea or sculled at night
through the stacks, our breathing shallow,

Gutcher's Isle, near Rockcliffe, in summer, admittedly.    

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

'The Crow House' is FREE this Saturday

Front cover of 'The Crow House'
Front cover of 'The Crow House'
Do help yourself to a FREE copy of The Crow House this Saturday 24 November.  You can download it for nothing to your Kindle/mobile devices/humble PC by clicking here.

Reviews appeal!  Earn my undying gratitude by posting a review on Amazon!  I gather that's what's needed to help The Crow House er, fly.

...Drifting past the table with the glass case, he was struck by both curiosity and rebellion.  He fished in the drawer for the key, and unlocked the top of the case.

This was strictly forbidden by Liddy.

Callum lifted the glass lid, and settled it carefully back as far as its hinges would allow.
The Grete Herball lay grandly in the safety of the case, not a very large book, but thick and impressively bound in high quality tooled leather, with gilt decoration.  He bent his head and sniffed appreciatively.   Then he did the banned thing, and opened the covers.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

We launch 'The Dark Farms' in Dumfries - by candlelight

'The Dark Farms', Roncadora Press 2012
Roncadora Press are about to stage (and I think that's the right word) the Dumfries launch of 'The Dark Farms' on Wednesday 28 November.

I'm looking forward to reading poems about the night skies of the Galloway Forest by candlelight in the cafe at Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries. 

The show starts at 7.30pm, free entry, and there Will Be Wine.

'The Dark Farms' will be read in a dark cafe...

Monday, 12 November 2012

The front cover of 'The Crow House'

The Crow House is my new novel for 9-12 year olds.  It's a mystery horror thriller set in Wigtown, a Georgian village by the sea - and Scotland's Book Town.  Click here to find photos and read an extract on The Crow House website. 

Time travel was never this inconvenient – or terrifying.  Holly and Callum have to cope with a dangerous old book, a witch (perhaps) and worst of all, the cold-eyed Hermetic Doctor of Wigtown: Jared Sliddery, inhabitant of The Crow House.

Hooked by the slow charms of Wigtown, I started writing The Crow House in 2005, when my eldest son was the right age.  By 2007 I had a finished first draft, which he read before getting on with growing up.  I managed to complete a second then third draft in time for my second son to read it in 2011 or so, and amid work, family, a smallholding and then a big house move involving three generations of us, I managed to thread my way through the formatting labyrinth to publish it on Kindle just in time for Halloween this year.  So - The Crow House is actually real and available from Amazon here.  
And you don't have to have a Kindle, actually - you can download it straight from Amazon to your pc.

If you do read it, and like it, then please do leave a little review or share to your FB friends.  I'd love to hear from readers.

Wigtown is full of irresistible front doors... 

Friday, 19 October 2012

On discovering Nantucket and the Angel

I found it in the public library.  Let's hear it for Britain's embattled public libraries!  I opened the book by the shelves and was gripped from the first lines of Gillian Allnutt's prologue:
'the saints set off without their woolly vests
the little saints set off into the snow
they leave behind their hagiographies
but humbly take their shoes'

Her words plunged me instantly into another space, the long ago of other kinds of purpose.  She reflects on age, other generations, spiritual life and the way it catches on objects and places.  There is humour too, in incongruity and a keen, wry, sense of the ridiculous.

This now out-of-print collection from Bloodaxe, published in 1997, was shortlisted for the TS Eliot.  Allnutt's preoccupations of secular and sacred thread the work, many poems step one from another with a linking word or thought.  The poems are close-ups, often invocations.
'Half lovely is the little morning light
in patches.
I have brought Harriet's sleeve to gather
in running stitches.'
(My heart unsettled)

The half-rhymes are characteristic, and fantastically crafted -
'There is the big yellow bucket of weed and wedding.
There on the hill are the wet stars wading.
There is Rembrandt's mother reading.'

Or from the gorgeous, intoning poem 'On hesitating to depict my grandmother' -
'Her stone's among the stones
of gentlemen within the wall, the toll
of bell, bird-chortle.
But she's flown.'

Bloodaxe do help you in a bit.  This is the 'spiritual biography of Allnutt's imagined 90 year-old 'elder ego' Nantucket, and her impact on a too-long-lingering angel Gabriel as he falls under her mad spell'.
(There's a poem where the angel takes himself off the cathedral and rolls himself a fag, and lights a candle for Nantucket's soul).

I've renewed it once already.  I'll have to find a copy.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A Move with The Crow Road

Caught in the mayhem of moving house, heartstrings still twanging for Scotland, and because I found it when finding anything in a couple of hundred brown boxes was a small marvel, I've been reading (well, re-reading - but it was a long time ago) 'The Crow Road' by the very fine Iain Banks.

The one that starts 'It was the day my grandmother exploded.'

What an extraordinary canter through a coming-of-age experience - a family so gothically packed with eccentrics, missing people, wife-beaters, runaways, atheists, poets and as it turns out, murderers.  Satisfying, of course, that it's a member of the posh end of the family who eventually turns out to have gone so thoroughly to the bad.  On the way you can't help noticing the phenomenal amount of alcohol - and more - that accompanies the revelations and (frequently) catastrophic decisions taken by our youthful protagonist.  But you have to love him, and all the many and various voices of this novel.

Still a great read, and a truly helpful distraction from the personal chaos inflicted on my family by British Telecom.  Two months and still no phone...

Friday, 28 September 2012

Launch of 'The Dark Farms'

I've been happily distracted for a couple of days creating a slideshow for my reading at Wigtown Book Festival on Wednesday 3 October when my new pamphlet from Roncadora Press, The Dark Farms, will be officially launched. 

The Dark Farms focuses on the Galloway Forest Park, its depopulated glens, shrinking agriculture and extraordinarily dark skies.  I worked on The Dark Farms for eight months during 2011, walking the Forest, talking to residents and reading old books and maps.  I also spent quite a few hours dodging 2011’s steady rain in Newton Stewart Museum, which was where I first encountered the Bull Mask, and the Necklace of Horse's Teeth.

What emerged is poetry about very remote places; saturated stones; the ghosts of sheep; the vast night skies.  I took photos of abandoned sheepfolds, farms with their windows bricked up, rotting carthorse stalls.

Award-winning publisher Roncadora Press is owned by artist Hugh Bryden, who has created a handmade ‘black book’ for The Dark Farms, complete with black edged pages, poems lit only by stars and an embossed front cover.  If so moved, you can buy it at Wigtown Book Festival and then via

The Dark Farms is  in the Main Hall in the County Buildings at 1.30pm, tickets cost £6.  Please book via the Book Festival website - click here.


Sunday, 19 August 2012

It must be in the stars...

The Bull Mask in Newton Stewart Museum

Now he sees what
the bull sees: two dim
curved worlds.
He swings his head
and now and then
a horn of daylight splinters
from the edge.

The wayward laws of serendipity have introduced me to artists Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman, who have been appointed artists in residence for the Galloway Dark Skies Park and Galloway and South Ayrshire Biosphere.

The Forest near the Buchan Burn

...We breathe in oak air, laced
with draughts of peat and the sudden
swing of a jay.

My new collection, 'The Dark Farms', published by Roncadora Press, will be launched with a reading at Wigtown Book Festival on Wednesday 3 October, as part of the Festival's Dark Skies strand.   I had a great meeting with Jo and Robbie, who are planning a variety of curious and interactive ways to introduce the Dark Skies Park to festival-goers, and we're developing a collaboration which looks really exciting.  For more click here.

I spent 8 months of 2011 walking in the Forest, exploring ruins, talking to residents, poring over old maps and books and (while dodging some of last summer's rain) delving in Newton Stewart Museum.  I became completely absorbed by this remote, roadless place where hill farming is shrinking back off the high ground, and farms are abandoned, in some cases disappearing completely, except for a placename on a map, under the commercial forest plantings that have been put in during the second half of the 20th century.  The nights are very black, and very starry, with an extraordinary lack of light pollution.

Bricked up farm at Glenhead

...I touch raw breezeblock
mortared where the panes should be.
The same for every window, every door.
In every room, the dark's walled in.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Locating the Nest through the Trambles

In Edinburgh's almost-sunshine, on the final day of the exhibition at the Royal Botanic Gardens, we finally went, hauling along our sceptical teenagers.  But do you know?  They liked it.

Locating the Nest has been a collaborative exhibition involving willow artist Lizzie Farey, artist and publisher Hugh Bryden and poet Tom Pow.  It was one of Tom's great ideas, born out of his perambulations around Europe in search of dying villages.  As Tom says in the introduction to the beautiful little book that accompanied this exhibition: "I see... that nests too concern themes of home and abandonment".

In the darkness/ darkness thickens/ the nest made whole
Tom Pow 

Unravel a nest

Think of the abandoned

Many nests
Hugh Bryden

A nest almost indiscernable
Lizzie Farey

Nest becoming crannog
Lizzy Farey

Ah.  The Trambles.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

#bookspinepoem #2. There was no stopping me.

Not a very optimistic poem.  But kinda intricate.


I'm inspired by the Scottish Book Trust's #bookspinepoetry!  What fun at Unbound. Look what a very irresponsible romance a few minutes entertaining thought by the bookcase produced last night.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Thornhill - where nicknames meet fonts over coffee

Today I nipped into lovely Thomas Tosh in Thornhill to catch a wall of fonts and dreadful puns.  'Local Types' is the creation of Hugh Bryden, which he bills as "some nicknames from Thornhill and the surrounding area, visually interpreted".  Local Types is still stuck to the wall until 14th July, and you would like it.

The dignified exterior of TT on a grey July afternoon

Local Types in all their splendour.  Excellent coffee too.

John 'Nails' Findlater: he nibbled them off

Nicknames better than carbon dating

Buy one!  They're only cheap.  Smile through your excellent coffee.

Who says life in the country is slow?

Friday, 29 June 2012

A Latecomer to Towel Day 2012 - but time is relative, we know

I have just discovered (via that excellent blog Trapped By Monsters ) that on 25th May the world was celebrating Towel Day, in honour of the late, great Douglas Adams. It was first celebrated two weeks after Adams' untimely death in 2001, and now on 25th May each year fans around the universe proudly carry a towel in his honour.

I am charmed.

My youngest has just discovered Douglas Adams, so we've been sharing The Universe of an evening.  So many wholly useful concepts.  Vogon Poetry, for example.  Who has not sat squirming through some?  The Towel itself, never a better measure of personal competence: 'There goes a frood who really knows where his towel is.'

I've always thought of this as the ultimate goal of a good feminist bringing up sons.

Towel Day in Innsbruck
Innsbruck - where Mr. Adams had the idea for the 'Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy'.  Innsbruck??

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A Wet Tuesday Lunchtime in Wigtown

In which I pottered in the drizzle, between meetings and before lunch in Reading Lasses, taking photos.  How beautiful Scotland's Booktown is.  Don't you think?

I've been a bit obsessed by it for years, and for years been writing a children's novel based there.  I've nearly finished it.  It's kind of instilled Wigtown into my bones.  Though then again, it's a Wigtown that isn't quite Wigtown.  I've got the weirdest mental map that overlays reality without any conflict at all.

One of the best things about Wigtown is its wear and tear.

What I like best about this portico is its hefty electric cable.  On the other side there's a big white rusty box that looks like a heat pump.  (To me, which may well mean it's something else).

'The pattern of the railing reflects great credit upon the taste of Mr Smith, its designer, for though not gaudy, it is both ornamental and strong.  It has eight lamp-posts at regular distance around it.'  Records of the Town Council, 23rd October 1810.
Sadly, no lamp left, just graceful ruination.

Nothing ruinous about Wigtown though.  Great lunch in Reading Lasses and I bought a book in the Old Bank Bookshop.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Rain in June

Our pond is brimming.  Well, all Britain brims, to be fair.  I am cheered by finding these pix of our hens enjoying their freedom by said pond a few days ago when there was less water in the air.

My Araucana hen

Below you see them climbing on a log to reach into the broom bush.  They really like eating the flowers.  Best of all, they jump off the ground trying to reach them.  Their thin little legs dangle for a moment below their well-frilled and matronly backsides.  My camera isn't quick enough to catch them.  They aren't always very good for the garden and we have places covered in wire mesh to give plants the slim edge of a sporting chance.  Anyone else got frisky garden hens?

Hens stealing broom flowers

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Big Lit Day in Gatehouse of Fleet

I've just been to Big Lit Day.  
It was great!  Full marks to The Bakehouse and D&G Arts Festival.  The poetry pamphlet market was friendly and full of marvellous finds, and eventually I had to stop myself buying things.  Although HappenStance were most helpfully selling pamphlets for £1 on the day, thus tempting you to buy lots.  Leonard McDermid was there with Marigold Press, with which I am much taken.  Everyone should buy 'Ten Sad Songs'. Subtlety incarnate, and a thing of beauty too.  I also succumbed to a beautiful pamphlet from Controlled Explosion Press called 'The Ruin of Poltalloch' by Graham Fulton.
Out on the street folk were happily arrested by John Hudson's installation SHED by the public gardens.  It felt very real, very poignant.
Then I went to hear Katrina Porteous read her new work 'Horse'.  It was inspired by the 3000 year old Uffington Horse in Oxfordshire.  Woven into the poem are threads connecting the nearby hill where St. George slew the dragon, and also Weyland's Smithy on the Ridgeway.  The work is intrinsically connected to a soundtrack created by Peter Zinoviev, which is based on the metallic, roaring physicality of a Cornish chain ferry.  The combination sound and voice and poem was absolutely mesmerising.  Katrina was marvellous, making the reading a drama, completely engrossing.  

Picture my disappointment then, it has not yet been published!  Publish it someone - complete with CD! I drove home, remembering too little, but with fire, chalk, hammer and hill still in the bloodstream.