Monday, November 26, 2012

Far From the Madding Crowd

26th November 2012

Late with this blog, but now my running over the globe is done for a while. Still, my internal monologue hasn't caught up with me, and my thoughts are still flying all over the place, yielding no place to settle.
So, now is as good a time as any to post a paragraph from "Veil of Time." If my publisher would let me, I could post a paragraph a week and let out my novel sowly like a fishing line, Dickens-style. But I have been promised I can post an entire chapter further down the editing line. So stay posted.
This passage is from page 2 of the novel. We have established Maggie Livingstone as the protagonist, and the fact that she has recently left her husband, Oliver Griggs, back in the city of Glasgow and moved to a cottage far from the madding crowd.

"What is this place called Dunadd? It is shades of green and all covered with bracken; it smells of moss and rain pouring for days on end. It is grey stone walls and cloud and bog and black slugs. It is sea and seagull cry, and the rough call of the pheasant. It is all these things and it is not that far from Glasgow, if you are a crow. If you are a bird, you fly high over a treeless mountain pass, over waterfalls and fingers of sea lochs that take a person in a car three hours to drive. Dunadd is a great rock rising out of a wide valley that runs from the hills that encircle it down to the sea at Crinan. It’s not the place it once was, when Crinan was Scotland’s main port, and wine and spices, jewelry and slaves were brought to Dunadd to be traded.
Mornings in my little cottage beneath Dunadd are so quiet now; the clouds are low and drizzling. Glasgow, where I lived another life with a husband and children, has no currency here. My children, who look at me from their picture frames when I awake, are not known here. Neither is Oliver Griggs of the University of Glasgow. Not even Margaret Griggs is known here, because I have unearthed the old Maggie Livingstone of childhood and pasted it over the Margaret I had become." 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Literary Scaffolding

9th November 2012

I came back to the United Sates with a heightened sense of place. Scottish place.  If there is to be a sequel to "Veil of Time," it's going to have to take place in the grounds of what is now Scone (SKOON) Palace in Perthshire. There was once a village called Scone here, but the overlords didn't like having plebs alongside their Cedars of Lebanons and peacocks, so when they built the palace in the early 1800's, they dismantled the village and reinvented it into the "New Scone" village of today, about two miles to the east. Of course, not a word was mentioned about plebs and their unsavoury lives; it was all couched in terms of progress (isn't it always?) and good will to common man. All that's left of the village is the Mercat Cross (Market Cross) where the plebians would gather and hold court.
But I wandered around the place where the village once stood, around the graveyard where they buried their dead (even "progress" recognises certain limits.) I took in Moot Hill where, once the center of the Celtic World had moved here from Dunadd, the Scottish kings were crowned (most notably Robert the Bruce, if you'll remember your Braveheart.) So, this area is replete with voices, and I want to go even further back than The Bruce and discover it in its heyday as a Pictish centre, and, for my purposes, the religious (read Druid) capital of old Alba.
I'm doing this in case a sequel is forthcoming, and so far I don't know if it is. But the first step was to get a sense of the place, and that's what I got, peacocks notwithstanding. I can't bring to mind an author I admire who doesn't start here: Bronte in Yorkshire, Lawrence in Nottinghamshire, Steinbeck in Monterey, Galvin in Wyoming, Lewis Grassic Gibbon in north east Scotland.
While I was in Scotland, I drove past a house where my family had once lived in a nice park area of Glasgow. When you're a child, you don't just live in a place, you absorb it and it takes up residence in you alongside other influencing features such as parents, syblings and friends. It beomes forged in the smithy of your soul (James Joyce in Dublin, let us not forget) into the armiture that your sensiblity will rest upon. Streets, signs, landscapes, a people.
Of course, Scone in Perthshire doesn't sing in my soul like Dunadd in Argyll, just because I came to it late. But it is humming. Just like the much-photographed Stones of Callanish on the Isle of Lewis, which I've only visited once. For a writer, if you get a humming place, the rest should be history. I'm waiting to see if this one is.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bronte Fire

The Bronte museum. In Haworth, Yorkshire, is maybe my favourite museum - partly, I think, because it is housed in the actual Parsonage where the Bronte's lived all that time ago in the 1800's. So the couch, on which Emily uttered her famous last words "I shall see a doctor now," is still in the front parlor, and the father's bowler hat still rests on the table beside his chair. There is no touching, of course - the single most thing I dislike about museums. I want to touch so badly, I find myself sizing up the thickness of the glass, the paces it would take for the curator to get to me from his post at the door. Wherever possible, I can't help but ignore the "Please do not touch," signs - there's too much at stake. Being there turns me into a medium who needs to wrest what she can from the objects: vibes, a sense of the people who long ago touched them.  Emily's painting set is just the way she left it, with a depression in the block of black ink that she made with her paint brush. I look out at the rolling hills she saw from her window, and I am Kathy listening through the wind for Heathcliffe. It all comes rushing in, down to the weak limbs that come from her last consumptive days.  Houses, objects, once owned, I firmly believe, absorb a sort of psychic energy. It's there for the tapping, and it is one of the reasons I keep going back to Haworth to find the Brontes.
The other museum I went to this week, "The Burns Experience," celebrates the life of out great national bard, Robert Burns, author of "Auld Lang Syne," sung by all on New Year's Eve, but understood only by a few. Oddly enough, there's not that much to experience at The Michael Jackson Experience, sorry, The Burns Experience. It is just trying too hard, with verses writ large on the walls and on the glass cases wherein lie the letters you are trying to read unsuccessfully. The constantly running tapes of readings and songs squeezes out what might otherwise have been gleaned from his walking stick or his jacket (I reached past the sign and closed my fingers around the edge of his desk.)
I'm sure he's there somewhere, waiting to get a look in, but he's more present in the "neeps and haggis" in the restaurant than in the spirit of the place.
It is important, I think, to look back and bring these greats from the past into our company. They represent a pinnacle of achievement for our race and wait to provide stepping stones for us to go further, or at least step along with them. I like to think they take an interest in us. That's why I take the opportunity to wander around the parsonage in Haworth waiting for something to catch a spark, a little flame once harbored in the hands of those sisters, a little something to light my way.