Friday, May 20, 2016

Letter From America

20th May 2016

When I was growing up, my father would have Alistair Cooke's Letter From America on the radio on Sunday mornings before church. Cooke had such a distinct voice - mostly English with a hint of American. He had, after all, lived in America for decades (like myself), was an American citizen (unlike myself), and was trying to give his British listeners a taste of what it was like to live in the Good Ole USA, sometimes a bit of a tongue-in-cheek taste. Cooke's Letter From America started in the 1930's and went on until a few months before he died in 2004. He could be a bit of an old moral fuddy-duddy, but much of his assessment of Western civilisation was right on. Clearly people wanted to hear what he had to say.

Brits have a kind of curiosity for America anyway. Loud obnoxious Americans, culturally insensitive Americans, gun-wielding maniac Americans, they bemoan, but there is always there, too, something of a fascination. Perhaps it started in the war, when American servicemen stationed in Britain would frequent local hops and expose the locals to a kind of easy-going laissez-faire that most Brits weren't used to. Many was the young GI bride-to-be who fell for American charm and swagger and ended up in some American backwater for the rest of her life, drinking tea and dreaming of digestives biscuits.

My father had a fascination for Americans. When he was a boy during WWII, he would encounter them on trains and be offered a piece of gum, which to a youngster from a staid British home must have felt like a scene from one of those movies. America spelled glamour and luxury and esprit de corps. So, perhaps that's why as I grew up, he listened to Alistair Cooke who was living that dream.
Thing is, once you've lived in America for decades, or any other country that once seemed dream-like, the bubble sort of pops and you're left with a sticky kind of goo, which isn't glamorous at all. Right now in presidential primary season, that goo seems particularly offensive.

Friday, May 13, 2016


13th May 2016

My latest book Dark Matter is now out with readers. That is my process: very little research ahead of time, then more research as I write, but no one sees anything until I am finished, and finally I test the waters by sending it out to a few people whose opinion I trust.
Veil Of Time, the first in the series, was published two years ago and is still selling steadily - every so often I take a deep breath and go through Simon and Schuster's author portal (for which I have a key!) to find out how many print books and how many e-books have sold in any given week. I try not to do this too often, though, or I would make myself crazy. Crazier.
This week I have been visiting another blog, that of Bart Ehrman, well-published professor of early Christianity at Chapel Hill.  In an upcoming book (title: The Triumph of Christianity) Ehrman is asking the question of what civilisation lost when it took on Christianity, which is exciting for me, because this is the very question my series of books is asking, too.
Bart Ehrman wrote an entire book refuting Dan Brown's claims in The Da Vinci Code about early Christianity.  But, really, he and Brown occupy the same no-man's land between the scholar and the ordinary reader. Both are opening church windows and allowing a little oxygen in. For this we must put our agnosticism aside and thank god. Any god.
I am hoping he is going to do the pagans justice.
Historians tend to give paganism short shrift and see it as a kind of embarrassment that the Enlightenment eventually took care of. Hip historians take the notion of the pagan more seriously, but they still look at it through an  Enlightenment lens, before sticking it back in its dark box.
But paganism isn't something to be passed over. It wasn't dark and didn't belong to the Dark Ages. It may turn out those backward pagans had a better way of looking at things.
So, what happened when Christianity took over?
This moved in: Mother Mary meek and mild.

And this is what moved out.

The sacred feminine. And if the above image (in Gaelic known as Sheela-na-gig) offends thee, then take your Victorian spectacles off. It was the Victorians that promoted the notion of the corrupt Dark Ages to start with. To appreciate why the above image represents a female archetype and the Virgin Mary does not, you have to come at this from an entirely different place. The Christian one won't do.   

Friday, May 6, 2016

O Man!

6th May 2016

I recently  did the Huffington Post mother/daughter talk with my daughter Naomi who is a film maker in New York.
HuffPo #TalkToMe Interview - Naomi McDougall Jones and Claire McDougall
I was waxing lyrical (though not sounding it!) about the state of things, how civilization is in a (long) phase of dissolution, how the paradigm that has worked (sort of) until now is on the brink of destroying us. I feel very strongly about all of this, and yet when I go to explain it, I sound like a rabid feminist. So, let's say that I am a feminist, but not of the rabid kind. I suppose the ridiculing of feminism is part and parcel of the old paradigm, which is the men-on-top paradigm, or more specifically, the rule of male hierarchies.

I find myself in a strange position here, because I tend to feel more comfortable in the company of men, and, truth be told, I have been known to idolise one or two of them. I like men, plain and simple. Also, as I tell my very nice natured son, I am not talking about individual men in this diatribe, but about a paradigm that functions by putting little posses of them in power.
This is news to no one. The church has always functioned this way with a few choice scriptural references to abet it.
Corporations do this: only 8% of Fortune 500 top earners are are women, and even when they are, they are paid 18% less.
Hollywood does this: In recent years, 85% of films had no female directors, 80% had no female writers, 78% had no female editors and 98% had no female cinematographers.
Government does this too - women make up only 20% of that old boy network. And this is precisely why it is time for America to put a women in the president's chair, no matter what axe you have to grind about the female candidate's personality. And if you are a woman, you should make extra sure that you're not just grinding this axe because it belongs to the male paradigm to do so.

And then there is of course war. Who are the chief players in war?
Or crime?
Studies show that 75% of violent crime is committed by men.
  • Males comprise 98.0% of those arrested for forcible rape.
  • Males comprise 89.0% of those arrested for robbery.
  • Males comprise 85.0% of those arrested for burglary.

So why is it a man's world? In primitive societies, it was a woman's world. Lewis and Clark were so steeped in the patriarchal society they came from they didn't even notice that the tribes in America were matriarchal. To the frustration of the natives, the two simply disregarded the women who sat on the tribal councils.
I have just finished the last book in my Veil of Time series. I'm taking a look at how our world might look if we hadn't gone that patriarchy route. It's a question worth asking, and not because you can write me off as a feminist.
Oh, and the picture above of Malala Yousafzai is there because, despite of her Hijab, she is a thousand times more liberated than this:

Friday, April 29, 2016

You Gotta Love it!

29th April 2016

No, you don't gotta love it. American politics is not loveable at all. It is a mess, as much of American life is a mess, because of Mister Greenback, the bottom line, the stinking dollar. Hail the capitalists - here's the natural outcome. Greed. Money corrupts politics, and if you want a prime example of this, just take a look at what is going on in the grand old USA during primary season - a circus.

The first thing American politics teaches us is that once money gets involved, democracy slides down into a muddy pool called Oligarchy. That's what America is today. Demos, the people, do not govern this country. For the people by the people is just an ancient hymn pumped out on a sentimental old organ grinder. According to polls, 80% of the population wants stricter gun controls - but the NRA doesn't, so nothing happens. 73% of Americans favour more rigorous Wall street regulation, but the banks don't, so the financial industry is still underregulated.  63% of Americans think Obama has the right to elect the next supreme justice - but the Koch brothers and their Judicial Crisis Network don't, so now there's an unconstitutional gridlock.  Even the electoral system is rigged: it was only a couple of weeks ago, a Republican convention rules member said, "The media has created the perception that the voters choose the nomination." As an 18th Century American politician famously said "I don't care who does the electing as long as I get to do the nominating." Feudal Britain used to operate like this (and in truth still does.)

The second thing to notice about American politics is the involvement of religion. In which other advanced western civilisation is it mandatory for the president to go to church and pay lip service to Christian doctrine? It furthers the disingenuousness of American politics and like all religious zealotry is merely a cover for a far deeper dysfunction: in the Catholic church you have holy priests and abused children; in American politics, you have the workings of big money under the guise of establishment. It's all about sleight of hand, just exactly what a circus is by nature.

The third thing to notice about American politics is the sophistication of the electorate, or the lack thereof.  Anti-intellectualism is de rigueur in America: half the population of America is still at some level of Climate Change denial. Only Turkey matches the US in terms of those who deny evolution. American students rank 17th in reading and 33th in Maths. Again, it was in the interest of feudalism to keep the education level of the masses low. That way you can stick a Donald Trump or a Ted Cruz on the stage and you'll get applause no matter what they say. It is simply fact that Trump supporters come overwhelmingly from the less educated classes.

America's founding fathers understood the need to separate religion and state and wrote it into the Constitution. Too bad they didn't insert a clause in there about money and state. Not that the Constitution plays much part in American politics today. It's all about personality and greed. And if the two of these meet in one particular candidate, then so much the better.  Thank you, Jesus.

Friday, April 22, 2016


My blog needs a makeover.  I have done two hundred and twenty-two of these babies, and if I keep going on about writing and publishing, with a few side trips to Scottish nationalism, I'm going to run out of topics eventually. Every so often I get the creeping feeling that I have already written the same blog before, so time for a change. Those shows where they take some fifty-year old woman and turn her into a twenty-year old are kind of compulsive because who doesn't love a makeover? As long as it doesn't turn out like this:

The goal in the beginning was to track my progress through the publishing world, and I have been doing that, but things in this world are either moving at glacial speed or they are turning angel pirouettes on a dime, and I haven't seen any of those lately.
Some people's idea of a makeover is to change their name from say Walden Schleimberg III to Sequoia Sea-Breeze. Plenty of those in Aspen. But I am hoping for more than a cosmetic change by switching the name of my blog to SLOGAN.
Slogan: A war cry from the Scottish Highlands.

That's me. A slogan crying in the wilderness. Not that this blog is going to shift to the Scottish Highlands (although I wish I could.) I will still be going on about writing, especially if I have any publishing news. 
But I am more than the sum total of my writing efforts, and this blog is going to widen its net of topics. For one, being a Scot in a high-profile community like Aspen, Colorado. Next week I'm going to rant and rave about the American political process, because it drives me bananas! If no one is interested in what I think about other topics, then in the words of Donald Trump, I don't care. Maybe posterity will.  'Cos I got the eye of the tiger, and you're going to hear me roar! Yeah, just like Katy Perry. I believe she is the daughter of a minister, too. In the end, we have to scream our way out. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Give a Dog a Bone

15th April 2016

We have all gone through the thoroughly humiliating process of opening that thin envelope containing a rejection letter. If you're lucky, it starts with a few words of kindness, and then comes the inevitable "but." And the reasons for rejection always have to do with their "list." Not right for our list. Doesn't fit our list. There is no space on our list. It leaves you wondering why you want to be reduced to anyone's "list" in the first place. But take heart - I was knocking off dust on books the other day in search of some forgotten tome, when I came across a book entitled, "Pushcart's Rotten Reviews and Rejections." a funny (in retrospect) collection of the brutal rejections received by some of our most eminent literary figures and their most famous books.

Cyril Connolly once said, "As repressed sadists are supposed to become policemen or butchers, so those with irrational fear of life become publishers." Well, that's a little harsh, but some of our greatest literary works have met with the equivalent of a pitchfork to the eye. What is most surprising is the determination a lot of authors display in the face of said pitchfork. In my karate studio, there used to hang a plaque that read, "A black belt is just a white belt who didn't give up." Many of the books that made literary history did so because the author despite the odds simply wouldn't give up. I always picture the twelve publishers that turned down Harry Potter - somewhere, some furniture must bear the teeth marks of these haughty rejecters. And well they deserve their pain.
James Joyce's "Dubliners" was rejected twenty-eight times. "Gone With the Wind" received thirty-eight rejections. Of course, the prime example is "Zen Buddhism and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which was rejected a mind-boggling one hundred and twenty-one times.
I decided to look up in this book a couple of my favourite authors: Dylan Thomas, about whom Kingsley Amis wrote: "A pernicious figure, one who has helped to give Wales and welsh poetry a bad name...and done lasting harm to both." Me thinks not, Mr. Amis who wrote...mmm, I can't remember. And dear Emily received this from The Examiner over "Wuthering Heights": "Here all the faults of Jane Eyre are magnified a thousand fold, and the only that it will never be generally read." To which history says, "Ha!"

Dear Emily went to her grave with this judgement on her and never knew the reach her lovely novel would have down the ages. So, you have to hang on, and you have to believe in your vision, like a dog believes in the bone. Sink your teeth in and don't let go.

Friday, April 8, 2016

In The Toilet

8th February 2016

In my world of writing, my image is that the agents live at the top of the mountain, the publishers live in the clouds hovering but not touching the mountain, and I live at base camp, at the level of the public toilets. But, having just arrived back from Mexico, I have a renewed appreciation for the lowly toilet. The bad thing about toilets is that you have to clean them. The good thing about my particular toilet is that it isn't in Mexico. I feel that if you're going to ask your patrons to refrain from putting any toilet paper into the toilet, the bin provided right next to the toilet should not be a pedal bin. And for uptight gringos like myself, the lid should open more than a squinty inch. There should be a liner in there, too, and it should not be rusty.
But even for the uptight gringo, or especially for that abherration of humanity, sooner or later you're going to have to deal with poop. Shite, if you're a Scot. There's a lot of shite in life. As the car bumper happily reminds us: Shit happens. "Are you human," asks DH Lawrence, "and do you want me to sympathise with you for that? Let me hand you a roll of toilet paper."

I am sitting in my office writing my blog of the week under the overwhelming odor of cat pee. I tried to clean it up the moment I discovered that my male cat had emptied his, apparently oversized, bladder all over the base of my computer, but the odor lingers. Nothing says cat pee, like, well, cat pee. It has its own distinct aroma - like Channel Number 5 (personally, to my tastes, not unrelated.) I suppose I should be grateful, he didn't decide to back up, as he did the last time this urge took him, and spray the computer screen too.

No delusions of grandeur for this writer! Sitting down to pen another of my opus magni, it is not uncommon for my feet to find themselves in dog poop. My aged miniature poodle leaves me this reminder from time to time, as all shite does, that I am all too human and should get no grandiose ideas. I am not at the top of the mountain, not yet. I am down here among mortals,  unceremoniously reaching for Lawrence and his toilet paper.