Friday, August 18, 2017

America the Beautiful

18th August 2017

Like everyone else, I am reeling in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville last weekend. And not to kick a thing when it is down, but just saying that the white supremacy march didn't come out of nowhere. This country has a healthy contingent of reptiles, and when given the opportunity they scurry out from under their rocks. American rocks. This country, despite its renound friendly citizens with whiter than white grins, hides a  lot of dirty laundry. Last weekend, in Charlottesville, some of it was hung out on the washing line to dry.


Perhaps the problem is that when you hold yourself up as a shining city upon a hill, you are inevitably going to fall over yourself.
When my daughter was small, her teacher would have the kids stand up, place their seven-year-old hands on their sweet hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

I tried to reason with the teacher that this was mindless twaddle, but she argued that it was wholly appropriate because America was in fact the greatest country on the face of the earth. And this was at a ritzy private school in Aspen (we were on a scholarship!)  I lost the argument, because you can't use reason against an emotional position. I am slowly learning this. It's too engrained, and for reasons that have little to do with rational argument.
So, every morning in her classroom, my little daughter had to sit while the rest of the class stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I hope it didn't scar her too much. These days she's out in the world making movies about the things she believes in, so perhaps it was a valuable lesson in taking stock.
Now might be a good time for America to take a seat and do the same. On the verge of an authoritarian coup, the  destruction of the middle class, and unbound racism, it's time to get real about what America really holds to be self evident.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Great Escape

11th August 2017

If you ask me in person, I'd be loathe to admit this, but I have spent the summer catching up on four seasons of the Great British Bake-Off. It's the most watched show in Britain and its recent season final was watched on half of all TV's, more than the Oscars and the Olympics. The show is also hugely popular in America. So, what gives?
I am not a great baker. I have yet to make a successful Great British scone. I don't watch cookery shows in general, and if you gave me vouchers to eat out for every meal remaining to me on this planet, I would snap them up. I suspect I am not alone in this. So why this show is so popular remains something of a mystery. After all, there's no prize - an SNL parody had two competitors walking off the set cursing, when they found out there would be no cash for their troubles. The prize is just the  honour of winning (and the satisfaction of being British.)
The answer must lie in our current state of mayhem: political, cultural, moral. It's the day-to-dayness of the relentless injury and erosion of our souls (for want of a better term.) It's just all so wearing: the collusions and the corruption and the idiot blind chief-in-office leading the blind. It's enough to make you bolt your doors, go off the grid and commit to home-schooling.
Or you can just tune it all out by switching on the telly and watching a group of nice polite Brits crumble butter into flour and drink tea on the sly.
So, forgive me my superficiality, my need to engage in The Great British Zone-Out. (Even though I have to swallow the fact that the few token Scots in the show don't really stand a chance: Good God, Man! This is the British Bake-Off: Victoria sponges and cucumber sandwiches, what?)
Nane o' your bannocks and haggis pies here.
What's a Scottish girl to do? Could we please have The Great Scottish Bake-Off? Scots can be polite, too. Sometimes.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Escaped Cock

4th August 2017

D H Lawrence's novella The Man Who Died (originally titled The Escaped Cock) opens with a feisty rooster in the yard of a peasant, crowing as he tries to free himself from his tether. Lawrence describes the cock so minutely, his red and bronze feathers and his special fiery crow that you know he is onto much more than a random rooster. For this is the cock that has crowed three times on the day of Christ's execution. Only we don't quite know how Lawrence is going to weave that in, so we are intrigued.
And we keep on reading, because Lawrence has a way of plumbing depths with his words. Any writing instructor trying to teach the difference between merely telling and showing in writing should use Lawrence as an example. He takes you with him:
...The queer, beaky motion of the creature as it gobbled into itself the scraps of food: its glancing of the eye of life, ever alert and watchful, overweening and cautious, and the voice of its life, crowing triumph and assertion, yet strangled by a cord of circumstance. 
And you want to go with him. That is the genius of the poet.

Lawrence was never one to shy away from weighty topics, and in The Escaped Cock he is having a go at the ascetic ideals of Christianity. He takes the crucified Christ who became the icon of monasticism and has him wake up in the tomb, not quite dead.  He wanders out and eventually comes to a pagan temple overseen by a young druidess. She is yearning for the mythical lover, and he is waiting to live again. He asks his Heavenly Father, "Why did you keep this from me?" Because for Lawrence, all else falls at the alter of sex, not in a trivial way, certainly not in a pornographic way, but in so far as it is a sacred link for humanity to the spirit. That was his message.

His paintings were decried an outrage upon decency by critics "holding up hands of pious horror." The Escaped Cock created quite a ruckus when it was published in 1928, not long before he died. I imagine he was pleased. "Anything that makes 'em wriggle," he wrote, "becomes at last indispensable."
But where are the Lawrences of today? Modern literature has no message. The best lacks all conviction and the worst is filled with sentimental intensity.  There's no soul. No compass. Art these days does no deep sea diving, just sort of sits on the surface with its fishing hooks, entertaining.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Seasons of the Heart

28th July 2017

My astrological chart tells me that Jupiter, ruler of luck and abundance, is set to move into my scorpio sign, a once in a twelve year appearance that will last just over a year. I don't read a daily horoscope or anything, but I do believe our lives are effected by the pushes and pulls of the cosmos.
Perhaps this is a good time to take a backwards glance at the road behind, examining each twelve-year rotation when Jupiter stepped over the threshold of my chart.
The first time, of course, was the year I was born. Edinburgh, Scotland, was a beautiful and historic place to make my first appearance. Can't argue with that. Twelve years on, I was on the cusp between childhood and adulthood. Puberty was hovering and therewith a brewing conflict with my evangelical upbringing. There was Jesus on the one hand, and Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky) on the other.

These two icons of manhood were not really reconcilable, at least not with the way Glaser looked in his worn jeans. In the twelfth year of my existence, things were not looking good for Jesus.
At twenty-four years of age, I was more or less on the other side of that split, writing a thesis on Nietzsche and Christianity at Oxford and getting married, not to Paul Michael Glaser, but to another Paul.
By the time I reached thirty-six, I had lived in Aspen for eight years. I had given birth to two kids and a plethora of manuscripts. I was sending out samples to agents and publishers and collecting in return a mound of thin white envelopes: Dear Claire, thank you for sending us your novel, but I think we are going to pass.
Another twelve years and many more manuscripts, I finally got my agent. Jupiter was back in my sign and beating his drum. Perhaps this is the distant drummer they say you hear if you are out of step with your friends.
So, Jupiter is set to make another appearance. It may be an arbitrary division of time, but it's as good a way as any for making sense of the kaleidoscope of life. And now would be a good time for a whole new cycle. I have a hankering at this juncture to get back to the place that was my origin.

Maybe after another twelve years when Jupiter comes round to Scorpio, I will be looking back on this time in my life as a circling back. Maybe the young woman who wrote poems about kneeling in daffodils will come again to a field of Scottish bluebells and know the place for the first time.

Friday, July 21, 2017


21st July 2017

Earlier in my writing career, I had this stolid notion that writing from a third person perspective was the only true literary mode, and that all else was cheating. So, I stuck to it. Every book I wrote was from a she/he perspective. Writing from an "I" perspective seemed little more than journal writing, I would say, and was a trick to draw the reader in without having to do any real writing. It's tougher, was my argument, so it must be better. I have about five unpublished novels written this way. I wrote my first novel in the third person, but it wasn't until I changed it to two first person voices, that it really seemed to gel, and I got my agent shortly after.
I think the reason first person perspective works (for me, anyway) is not so much how it reads as how it stops the author (me) from standing back emotionally from the writing. It's more uncomfortable, but more accessible, too.

My published book Veil Of Time is written in the first person. My protagonist, Maggie Livingston, gets to tell her own story. But there still lurks a sneaking suspicion, a voice that comes in the night and whispers that I was right in the first place, that real writing is done from out there and not up close in the squeaky personal voice. Writing the second book in the series, Druid Hill,  I opted for third person narrative. It allowed me to get into more than one head. But for the final book, I climbed one more time into the skin of Maggie Livingston and told her story from the inside out. It is Maggie's Swan Song, after all, so it seemed she ought to get to sing it herself.

Still, the doubts persist: my literary heroes, for the most part, never stooped to this. Steinbeck, Emily Bronte, Lewis Grassic Gibbon. But, then, I am not without good company either: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alice Walker, Ken Kesey, Irvine Welsh, and not forgetting Emily's sister, Charlotte.
It's just that when I write my Opus Magnum, I will probably write it in the third person.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Beam Me Up!

21st July 2017

I have pointed out before the strange correlation between Gene Roddenberry's creations in Star Trek during the 1960's and 70's and real technology as it has unfolded in the interim: flip phones, medical hand-held devices, video conferencing, Blue Tooth ear pieces, to name a few.
This week in the news, we found that the Chinese have just successfully teleported photons to a satellite using a phenomenon known in physics as entanglement.

Physics, especially its theoretical branch, is slowly turning the solid world we have come to know and love on its head. Just as Gene Roddenberry foresaw.
I know people, friends even, who won't touch a book involving any such zany notions. They prefer literature that sticks with the nuts and bolts of human experience. But what if it turns out in the not-too-distant future that reality isn't what we thought it was at all, and that time isn't something moving along a solid line, but is something infinitely more flexible. What if we ourselves, as a mass of particles, could actually move backwards along that line?
Stephen Hawking doesn't like this idea. A few years ago he gathered a team to show that movement along that line was one-directional: forward, ever forward. But this meeting of the greatest minds in physics failed to prove anything of the sort. All the rules of physics, it turns out, work equally well in a backward motion as they do forwards.

We are already on the threshold of objects being beamed up to space stations through a process of what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance." As a novelist, I'll go with "spooky" physics. As a Scot, I will go with the idea that the character of Scottie can facilitate such a process. Perhaps in the end we'll discover that "spooky" is all there is. Perhaps in the end, real live Scots will discover that Scotland, and not the United Kingdom, is all there is. Perhaps then, a trilogy about a Scottish woman who manages to teleport herself through time won't seem fantastical at all.
After all, they already did it on Star Trek!

Friday, July 7, 2017

All Shall Be Well

7th July 2017

Evening wafted a cool breeze over the Colorado Rockies, as I sat outside at a picnic table with some friends discussing the debacle that is our present and what it could possibly lead to for our future. It was getting dark, the remaining light a paint brush stroke of yellow brilliance across the upper hills, a certain permutation of light you see only in Colorado. Even after so many years here, it still melts me. Its as though the day had just one more thought before it left, one more dash of wisdom. Like a rainbow in a dark sky, it says, All Shall Be well.

The English 14th C mystic Julian of Norwich is credited with this little catch-all of a chant: All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

This is what we were discussing at a table on a Colorado evening. Would all be well? Is humanity on a crash course with the worst in its nature or is the arc of our history bending ultimately upward and beyond.

One thing is for sure, human history is not progressing like a car along a straight flat road. Desperation and its twin, populism, run rife in our world. In this country we had Obama. Record numbers showed up for his inauguration, because, who could have guessed? A black president in America? A classy, educated, black man with no skeletons in the closet? And now we have a clown, a tacky, ignorant showman with the mind of a criminal. So, no, there is no straight line from the black man to the buffoon. But progress doesn't seem to walk that line anyway. Because it is a spiral, every so often it feels as though it is going backwards, and seems that we have been here before. We have Trump. We had Nixon. Surely there can be no progress there.

But ultimately, history will step in and assess this little segment on the great wheel of time. My sense is that it will not shine favourably upon these poor players who operate by fear. There is a quality to the universe which veers more towards love than fear, and the fear-mongers will ultimately be judged in terms of that quality. In the meantime, our hope hangs on a certain cast of light that bids us: fear not. All shall be well.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Dunadd And A 'That

30th June 2017

Time passes. It seems the older you get, the more life quickens its pace. My life is fast becoming one of those calendars you used to see in films with the pages peeling back and flying off into space. My life has become a flying calendar.

And as time passes, things change that you have no control over. I just heard that my beloved Dunadd Farm, the location for the Veil Of Time trilogy, is up for sale. Two hundred and twenty acres for six hundred and twenty five pounds. An absolute steal, but not one I am in a position to take advantage of. So, it will go from the hands of my childhood friend to some unknown entity who may or may not let me still go there, and and I will have to watch it fly off like I do all the pages of my life.

Here's Comgall Cottage (attached to Dunadd Farm) where my story takes place: its view of the river, the blue couch by the windows, herbs in a trough by the door. Along the way, people, things and places move in and take root in you. You hold on tightly, all the while knowing that at the same time you have to let go lightly. It's perhaps the most basic but nevertheless the hardest lesson for someone of my temperament. My instinct is to hold on, whether to homes or things or friends that have outgrown their usefulness, to memories that grind away like old machinery. Holding fast is a good characteristic for things like keeping to your path in life, but not so good when it comes to waving goodbye and turning the corner.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Good and Evil

23rd June 2017

For a long time, I took karate classes and even earned my black belt. The prevailing thought at the studio I attended was that there were simply evil elements in the world and we were arming ourselves to combat them. (I should insert here that this is how the Asian art gets filtered down in America and was not the original notion behind what is in essence a speeded-up version of Tai Chi.)
Yesterday I attended a talk given by Christian historian Elaine Pagels, who was demonstrating how the New Testament book of Revelation permeates political thinking in the West. As an example, she offered George Bush's Shock and Awe, a war cry lifted right out of those sacred pages. Other cultures don't seem to see the world in terms of this hard division between good and evil. In fact, the notion of  "satan" is a concept fairly unique to Christianity. This master of evil doesn't really appear in Judaism. But from early on, Christian soldiers were out marching in the war against him.

Millions of "heretics" died at the hands of The Inquisitors of the Holy Roman Church, and hundreds of thousands of women were burned at the stake, hung or drowned for being "satan's whores." 

Not so long ago, teachers were training students to hide under their desks in case of an attack from The Evil Empire. George Bush nominated three enemy countries the Axis of Evil. The paranoia that Satan Is Alive And Well On Planet Earth (a book making the rounds in the 1970's when I was a naive and young evangelical) persists today. Mike Pence is now railing against radical Islam as evil. 
We ought by now to understand the psychology of this trick: if our enemies are evil, then that makes us good. It is a dangerous and dishonest equation, and less than we can be. Our future and only hope lie jenseits von Gut und Boese.  Beyond concepts of Good and Evil.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Curtain Fall

16th June 2017

Given that this blog was supposed to be about tracking my progress on the publishing trail, so many of the entries deal with topics other than writing. But it's all really fodder for writing, because in the end everything gets filtered down to art. It is very hard to keep yourself focused in this chaos we are living through right now. I spend way too much time on my newsfeed. It has a sort of hypnotic effect, but not one that induces sleep. To all intents and purposes, it looks as though the western world is on a hayride to hell. The major powers of the USA and the UK swing from side to side, one minute to the right and then back to the left, as the recent general election in UK demonstrates: we'll take UKIP-driven right wing paranoia, but at this next turn, we'll take communism instead. All it reflects is a kind of desperation, the cradle, as it has been so many times in the past, for the rise of dangerous authoritarian figureheads.
Well, Donald Trump doesn't fit that bill, because he is a fool. The Russians bet badly on him. He doesn't have the smarts not to shoot himself in the foot. Theresa May is a woman at sea, trying to play the game like a man, just as Thatcher did before her.  It really makes you wonder if democracy is possible at all, when half the demos are sheep looking out for the loudest bleat.

In the meantime, in writers' limbo, I am waiting. Waiting. My agent is on the move, trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat for me and get the publishing of a certain trilogy up and running. I do have a new book in mind, but it is going to involve me going to Israel for a while, and I can't do that this year. I have tentative plans for February at Galilee next year. Part of me just wants to start writing, but then I criticised Gabaldon for writing Outlander without having gone to Scotland. The problem is, then you risk creating a caricature, and I would hate to fall into that trap. If I didn't actually go and see for myself, Galilee would in my mind turn very quickly into some version of a loch, with mist and brooding skies. So I must go.

For now, I will keep lying awake at night thinking about plot. Stories do have their own momentum. Like the story of western culture right now, the tale does keep speeding towards a conclusion. Let's just hope it's a satisfying finale.

Friday, June 9, 2017

America, The Teenager

9th June 2017

Last Saturday I attended the local high school graduation and failed, as I always make a point of doing, to stand for the national anthem. I am not an American and there are aspects of America that make me want to reach for the ipecac. Land of the free? Don't make me laugh. What about the native folks and the slave folks upon whom this "free" country was built? The greatest country in the world? You hear it from both left and right of the political spectrum, because it is ingrained at an early age when on any school day maliable little minds are taught to salute the flag.

By any measure this is not the best country in the world, and it is time for this childish delusion to be let go of.
Here are some facts.
America lies 17th in the happiness index, well surpassed by "socialist" countries.
In USA, 6 babies out of every 1,000 live births die before they reach the age of one, more than double the rate in Finland,  Japan, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Czech Republic
America ranks number 17 on worldwide economic growth, behind Ireland, Chile and Estonia.
USA stands alone as being the only developed country that does not provide universal health coverage for its citizens, and the only damn country apart from theocracies that requires a sitting president to be a practicing Christian.

There is a lot to be said for this country of America, and I wouldn't have stuck around here for long if that had not been the case. The American can-do spirit makes of it a good place to raise children and to get ahead yourself if you are motivated. But, America is a very, very young country.
It's a damn teenager, trying to find its identity, and, like any teenager it can be easily led astray. Such is the era, we are now living through. We bought into the bully-in-chief, because no people can turn their backs on reality like Americans. Denial is what we are living through, even though half of us are jumping up and down and trying to point out that the orange king has no clothes on at all.

Perhaps the first and best thing for America to do in order to grow up a little now is to admit, left and right, that America is a country among other countries, with some good, some bad, a country that is still taking baby steps, still at the beginning of the long process of trying to get it right. For the rest of the world, it is a problem, not a glory, that The United States  is "the great experiment," that this country, more than most, is still in the experimental phase.

Friday, June 2, 2017

If Music Be the Food

June 2nd 2017

This time of year in Aspen, music comes to town. The huge music tent is spiffed up, and students pour in from every corner of the earth dragging their unwieldy instruments behind them. Strings and horns fall into the disarray of a tune up, conductors tap tap their batons on podiums, and  then all comes together in a surge of harmony (or in the case of Benjamin Briton, cacophony.)

Since the dawn of human history, men and women have slipped out of speech into song. It varies, of course, from culture to culture, but the urge to music is universal. Cats meow, Dogs bark and humans sing.

There is no reason for music. It doesn't make the species fitter, but it does make the human heart bigger. The happy person hums or whistles. It is the universal language of emotion that bypasses the intellect and  drops us into the realm of "religion," I would say, if religion hadn't slipped off into...

...something else entirely.  

In 2009, Andrew Schulman, a professional musician, was in a coma in a hospital bed, and close to flat-lining.  Given little hope by the medics, his wife plugged his ears with a recording of his favourite music, St. Matthew's Passion. Within hours, his vital signs had stabilised, and within four days he was out of the hospital.
I recently sat on a weekday in the completely empty sanctuary of Riverside Church, New York, in a vast verticle shaft of light enclosed by a vaulted ceiling and stained glass. Luckily for me, the organist was aloft practicing Sunday offerings, and the entire space, both outside and inside me, seemed to pulse and swell. Sitting in churches usually brings on in me a gag reflex, but I had to give in to this, for what is such music other than the spectacle of our race straining on tiptoe?

Friday, May 26, 2017

All the President's Men

26th May 2017

I was out and about for the first of this month, and so I didn't stop to give a nod to my ancestors' pagan festival of Beltaine. But I don't want the month to evaporate without drawing attention to this time of year, because now more than ever we need to take our focus from that "piece of work" called man and reconnect instead with the female paradigm that is celebrated in this spring festival.

In my books I make a lot of these earth-centered festivals, because my goal in this series (and beyond) is to ask what we lost when we as a civilisation went the route of the male god and his incitement to go forth and conquer, particularly lands, other religions and women.

Here's a passage from our Holy Book: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

Two thousand years of this has brought us to this moment, the rise once more of populist leaders like Trump, and the re-establishment everywhere of hard-line shrines to the god of greed. Divide and conquer is once again the name of the game; the men are in charge bigtime, and with the Stockholm of all Stockholm Syndromes, there are women who make this possible. No surprise there, when you consider that even the women's suffrage movement had to contend with opposition from within its own ranks, women who had been taught their role of full submission. These women: 

It's a little known fact that when Lewis and Clarke first encountered Native American tribes, what they found were matriarchies. But coming from Christian Europe, they reconfigured all this in terms of what they knew and would have no truck with women leaders. And so the myth of the Indian Chief was born.  In actuality it was the Indian Women's council that held sway in these tribes. This "Chief" could be removed at their say if he didn't perform to their satisfaction.(CF. Iroquois Women, by Spittal.)
So at this important time of the year when we marvel at the rebirth of mother nature, let's not forget that this:

And this...

...was never the natural order of things. Now more than ever it's time to reverse the rule of male hierarchies and save both ourselves and our lovely green planet. They've had thousands of years as chiefs,  have messed things up royally, and now it's time for the council of women to move back in and fire them.

Hanta yo!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Fighting the Wind

19th May 2017

Once there was a way to get back homeward, sings Paul McCartney about the mother Mary he lost when he was just fourteen. For all of us who lost a parent before we had the chance to take our own leave, his song is an anthem to that ever-receding horizon.  Gaelic has a word for this feeling: Cianalas. Literally, it means far-looking. Pining, I suppose.
Today May 19th was my father's birthday. He was a complicated man: once violinist, eternal lover of music. Once electrician, body builder, boxer, and then orator before hundreds; once a disciple of John Wesley, in later years a student of liberal theologian Paul Tillich. He it was who loved the word Charisma, and had it in spades. A man in motion, married too young, too often moving in silent desperation, in his own far-looking sadness. Cianalas

And then he was gone, wizened by chemo-therapy, a tattered coat, a stick. Such a young man to be stretched out on a hospital bed and adminstered his last rights.  For the rest of us, the door back home was shut forever.  Off he went into his secret garden.
And then the year after he died, Naomi my first-born came, on this day, May 19th, her grandfather's birthday. Death ran the cycle and came round again into light. Naomi herself a forward-thinker and orator before thousands.

Do not go gently into that good night, says the poet, and perhaps no one ever does.  But for those of us left behind, the good night is not so good.

And yet, and yet, as in all things creative, there's another edge to this sword. Waiting at doors is fertile ground, the kind of place perhaps art needs in order to move itself forward. Perhaps this is the twilight zone writers rely upon: Cianalas. Rage, rage against the dark, and then, perhaps if life is kind, it will allow us to unearth the key to the garden and look in.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Epiphany in Brooklyn

12th May 2017

When it comes to New York City, pictures speak louder than words. Which doesn't stop me from trying to throw a few words together as I stand waiting for the Q train. About the sparrow chirping from the inside the plastic O on a McDonald's sign; about the tiny sapling sprouting from a decomposing log beside the train tracks. My instinct is to cobble these visions into lines of poetry.

Here I am scrawling lines across a pad as the Q train careens and lurches within its subterranean tunnels. And then when I glance up, I am fixed by the gaze of an hispanic baby. Suddenly all my literary efforts lack all conviction. It is the truth of that baby's unblinking black eyes that slays me.

On the way to a meeting in a tea room, I pass a church that was once surrounded by fields and lines of horse-drawn carriages, a hard-won temple to the Christian god. But time has moved on, and the once impossibly high steeple is now dwarfed by odes instead to the god of finance.

All sentiment gets deflected in these moments of urban epiphany: a tree grows in Brooklyn; a caged bird sings. A baby appears trailing clouds of glory. A church, vexed now to nightmare, slouches towards its final stoney sleep.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Intimations Of Humanity

5th May 2017

My kids are always on at me for giving money to folks sitting on the sidewalks of New York City because what if those folks just use the money to buy booze or drugs?  But here I am in New York City, and I'm at it again. A legless black man pulls himself through my subway carriage, an armless Hispanic holds up a sign with his stubs, and I am reaching for my wallet. I suppose, if I am honest, what I am doing is easing my own conscience. It weighs heavy on me that I get to come to this city and see the show Hamilton while there are people curled in fetal balls in the subway. My generosity does me more good than it probably does the poor beggar with his dissolving styrofoam cup. I suppose I can't get away from the feeling that there but for the grace of God go I.

The story goes that the author James Joyce was once walking through the university town of Oxford England with some high-minded professor, when they were accosted by a destitute man asking for money.      
"What are you going to do with it if I give you some?" Joyce asked.
The homeless man replied that he was going to buy whisky, whereupon Joyce reached into his pocket and handed him a few shillings.
As they walked away, the professor turned to the author and asked what on earth he was thinking to have helped the man towards his next drink.
Joyce answered, "He was an honest man. If he had told me he needed the money for his wife and children, I would have punched him in the nose."

Friday, April 28, 2017

Nothing To Fear But Fear

28th April 2017

How could "progressive" ever be a derogatory term? Life is progressive. Psychology has been around long enough for us to grasp the implications of being anal and regressive, to prefer stagnation over forward movement. Conservatism by this definition should be regarded as a pathology. And that's how it behaves. Look at Trump's inaugural speech: project fear on steroids; the sky is falling and only the wall of all walls will stop it.
In Scotland we know all too much about such walls. This kind of block in the way of reflective thinking convinced older Scots during the last referendum to deny their country the chance to govern itself. It took to heart the colonial imperative for natives to stay down in their lowly box. Scotland, so the wall-grafitti reads, was "too wee, too poor, too stupid."

Fear as a state tool is effective because it has a swift conduit into inner fear. In this civilisation, still heavy in the aftermath of a religion that ruled by fear, it is all too easy for the masters to pull that trigger. It's what Theresa May is up to with her snap election. It's the path religious conservatives now ruling America have taken against all reason. It is anti-fact, and therein lies its regression and grand cynicism.
But we should be wise by now to the fearmongers. Fear gave us Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, Brexit England, Trump - you get the fear going and then you offer a solution. You can't govern yourselves, it says, so let me do it for you.
The challenge is to break through that wall. Resist. Pull out a brick or two and discover that, far from doom, there's sun and fresh air on the other side.

A wise American president once told us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Why? Because fear cripples, erodes your ability to move and eventually turns you to stone. Fear makes of us easy ornaments to store in a box. Trump, Theresa May, the conservatives, all the fearmongers of history, are counting on you staying down.
Empires rise, but it is because of the fearless that empires fall.

Friday, April 21, 2017


21st April 2017

With bombs dropping in the Middle East, a crazy man in the Oval Office, and a Tory government trying to run England into the ground while it hangs on to its cash flow from Scotland, you have to do something to save your sanity. Here's what I do, and what writers across the millenia have done: I turn to nature.  Wordsworth found this holding centre in a host of golden daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze. A poet could not but be gay in such a jocund company.

I am reading a book on cosmology, specifically theories of what came before the Big Bang. Apparently before there was something, there was the Planck Era, in which there was no light, no atoms, not time, nothing that we might think of as this world in which we live. Apparently there was just Max Planck, and chaos. So when everything in your life seems to be dissolving into chaos, it helps to go to the most fine-tuned our cosmos has to offer: fluttering daffodils and fields of gold. We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky as we lie in fields of gold. 

The turning earth spins on, and once more we are in Spring. Life is erupting. Even though the Theory of Evolution goes a long way in explaining how our world has evolved, one thing it doesn't answer is why it does. What is this rabid urge? Why the flower breaking through concrete, why the birds on their vast migrations, why life at all? Perhaps we'll never know, but it surely relects itself in the human drive to create order out of chaos, in the poet's need to reach beyond the ordinary and create something out of nothing.
At our human best we follow the poet out of our causes, our tragedies, the inevitable catastrophes, and give ourselves over to an evening full of the linnets' wings. It's the life-urge. Cosmos out of chaos, and some writers just know how to make it sing.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
                     – W.B. Yeats

Friday, April 14, 2017

Veil Of Time Update

14th April 2017

My original intent in creating this blog was to keep readers up to speed on current and subsequent developments in the publishing of my book Veil Of Time. It has been three years since that book was published by Simon and Schuster in 2014 (the same year Scotland failed to vote for independence!) In the meantime, the world has fallen into mayhem, and so this blog has often veered into the state not only of this union but the one over the pond in the British Isles. Brexit has come to Britain, and Trump is running crazy in the halls of The White House.
The publishing industry, as we all know, creeps along at snail's pace. Since the time I first started sending my writing out to agents and publishers, I have gone from being a relatively young woman to middle age and then some. I have raised three children and seen them all take off into careers of their own. Here I am, still turning up at my desk in the mornings, still casting fleeting glances out the window as the seasons take me from snowscape to spring to sweltering summer and back again.

While I have been waiting, I have written a sequel to Veil Of Time, and then a sequel to the sequel, and now I have a trilogy. This venture started out as a simple tale of an iron age fort in Scotland called Dunadd, and became a kind of utopia about how this land would look if Christianity had never made the inroads it did, and had instead stayed local to Rome. Last autumn, after my agent had read the third part of the trilogy, Iona,  he sent me a page of notes, and I spent a good few months revising it. He gave that new version to a group of readers, and then sent me a smaller page of notes, "some tweaks."
So, I've tweaked it. Yesterday, I went through full blown panic when it looked as though my computer had saved none of the changes, but then I recovered (because it had), and now I'm ready to send the final version back to him. He has plans for the trilogy, which I am not at liberty to divulge here, but if his strategy works, then my star will be on the rise again.

Hopefully before I take to a wheel chair, my backlog of about eight other novels will also be published, and then I wonder if I will dust myself off and retreat from this soul-crushing dance of the artist. Probably not. I am already lying awake at night mulling over something new, such a great notion! But just that one, and then I'll retire my tap shoes for good. Ha!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Art and The Beast

7th April 2017

One of the areas of American culture that Donald The Chimp is frog marching to his guillotine is the arts. No surprise there. He would take the media there, too, if he could do it in the dark.  Thankfully, the Fourth Estate is somewhat protected by the tradition of free speech in this country. Okay, then, he says, watch this, and draws his scrawl of a signature across a bill defunding the arts.
But the arts are part of the Fourth Estate, part of the check and balance that a democracy is supposed to rest upon. Taking away Sesame Street is one thing, but squeezing artistic expression amounts to an impingement on free speech.  Unless, that is, it used as propaganda like we saw in fascist Italy or Hitler's Germany.

Hermann Hesse saw art as the "universalising mirror." It is for this reason that totalitarian leaders are scared of the arts. They notoriously lock up writers, send them off to freeze in Siberia like Solzhenitsyn. They ban them and burn them, because they see themselves reflected in their art and they don't like the unflattering image.

In America, you can't lock up artists, and thank God for it. But apparently you can starve them out. And that's what Trump is trying to do by defunding four central arts programs, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He wouldn't mind funding state news like Fox, but he doesn't want anyone pointing their finger at the emperor's clothes in which he struts.
You can't ultimately suppress art, though. You can't stop story-tellers telling it like it is. The truth will out, and that's the job of art in all its branches. Art speaks, is classless, and allows for the gates to the third estate, We the people, to open, as they did during the French Revolution, as they have done in every revolution.

It's what we're seeing in America now with the women's marches, airport protests, town hall meetings - the failure of the HealthCare Bill. And that's the threat to leaders like Trump or Putin who are pushing their own narrative.  You can't hold us back, though, Mr. President. The artists will hold up the mirror, and like Belle in the fairytale will show us the beast.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Another Year of the Tattoo

31st March 2017

While American politics implode, let's talk about Scottish politics, which is infinitely more enlightening. This week, Scotland has resumed its march towards independence and vowed to hold another referendum. This little corner of the world, this little David with its sling is marching out once more to conquer Goliath. This time the odds are better. It has Europe on its side, and this time the Goliath dragon is not even trying to hide the foam drooling from its mouth. The language of Brexit is mean and nasty, if not delusional. Empires rise and empires fall, but when they go down, it's an ugly spectacle. Theresa May struts around naked, her hand in the hand of the Donald, trying to make out her robes, like his, are of the finest manufacture.

Well, looks like another year of the tattoo is coming for me - where will I put this one? In the run-up to the last referendum I had a Pictish V-Rod and Crescent tattooed on my forearm. Perhaps this time I'll put a Celtic knot on my ankle.

Scotland, land of my birth, you had better go for it this time, before I start looking like a circus act.
But Scotland, above all, stay dignified. I know it's hard not to fling shite back at those who are determined to cover you in it, but hold fast. History is on our side. Barack Obama, America's number one class act, had the good sense to sit back while his opposition self-combusted (I think, on a beach somewhere, he's doing just that. "Donald who?")

I know Scots love to hate Braveheart, but there's a handy image in that film.

Whether you love or despise Mel Gibson's portrayal of your history, take this much from it: don't sink in the face of the force that is being unleashed against you in ProjectFear2.
Scotland, "Hold! Hold!"

Friday, March 24, 2017

Trumped Out

24th March 2017

I am weary of Donald Trump's face, aren't you? Every time you go to any social media forum, there he is, and the thought is never far away from my mind that Scotland spawned this face and the monstrous human being behind it. The McLeod cousins on the remote Isle of Lewis from which his mother hailed are surely weeping and wailing. I'm weeping and wailing and I have no genetic connection to the man. I hope. Mrs Trump, you surely did a bad job with this son of yours.

Mmm. Stornaway? Really?
I hope in the future, psychologists interested in the phenomenon that has come to  be the 45th president of the United States will take a closer look at Mary and Fred Trump, just as they study the environment that gave rise to a Mussolini or a Hitler. How did any individual get so far from basic human values?
I am also weary of the sound of Trump's voice. I am compelled to hit "Mute," not out of principal, but just because I literally can't take listening to him. But then I am stuck watching his hand gestures in silence, and I can't stand that even more.

I am well and trully trumped out.
Hopefully the citizens of this country are, too. Hopefully this federal investigation will uncover the source of the mess and they will realise that mere impeachment is not the answer. Handing the presidency to Hilary Clinton who was robbed of it in the first place, will be the only thing to serve justice here. Not only Trump should pay, but the Republican establishment so anxious to push their agenda and bury their collective head in the sand. You don't get to slither Mike Pence in, just as you don't get to instate Neil Gorsuch. This alone is basic and human and self-evident, and I still have this optimistic if not unrealistic belief that maybe it will carry the day.

As a foreigner on these shores, I am waiting to see if the American constitution is really as rigorous and wise as everyone has always told me it is. If it is, then maybe in good biblical fashion it will have to pluck out the eye that hath offended thee.