Friday, December 14, 2018

Ho Ho Ho

14th December 2018

To an already fatigued population this year, Christmas might seem like just another demand.  When some of my friends grumble about the whole Christmas season, I empathise to a degree. But I have to remind myself and them, that in this crazy world of self-importance and serial abuse of one kind or another, isn't it fitting just to take a day out and think of others? Even if your relative sends you another pair of socks or another necklace you would never wear, some substantial part of the planet for a brief moment every year turns its gaze outward and thinks of someone else.

Christmas, for me, and for many others, is not a sentimental story of how a baby Christ came in a manger to save a sinful "Wretch like me." It is, as Scrooge learned during his night visits from Christmas ghosts, a liberating truce in the mind-warping, grabbing and self-serving that has become our world.

It allows us, however fleetingly, a sense of magic.  Children get this, because children are more in touch with where they came from - their hearts are naturally open (at least until we, often unwittingly, close them.) We would be much better humans, our planet would be much better off, if, instead of scoffing, we rekindled the natural wonder we had as children.

Let Christmas alone, I say. There is much that is very good in it. Yuletide was, of course, before it had anything to do with Christianity, a celebration of the Winter Solstice, when the dark night of winter started to turn back towards the light. If we weren't coddled in our central heating, and kept awake at all hours by electric light, we would appreciate that much more. This planet still has a lot of turning towards the light to do. We are living through a very dark period in human history. So, let's put up our Christmas trees in wonder, with our eyes wide open for that pale thin ray of hope on the horizon.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Writing Wings

30th November 2018

I have written a novel about Jesus, or Yeshua as he was known in his native Aramaic.  I wrote it, I suppose, to answer a question in my own mind about what this man meant within his own particular historical circumstances and what he might have thought if he could have looked forward into the way Christianity would leave its mark on history. On the whole, it is an inglorious past. That's my opinion, and not one I am expecting all that much support for, especially in the USA, with its 70% of church goers. In my native country and in England, people will not care about that. Only 14% of its inhabitants identify as practicing Christians. As former Arch Bishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said four years ago, the countries that go to make up the United Kingdom are part of a "post-Christian society."

Now I have sent my novel out  to a first round of readers and must wait. This is a very difficult time for any author. In her hopes and dreams, everyone who reads the first page is going to stay up all night until they close the book on its last. Everyone is going to be bowled over, and publishing offers are going to start swirling down out of the ether. Her name will be submitted for the Noble Prize. Authors are very good on this imaginative front, which is why they are authors in the first place.

The reality is that some readers will like that first draft, some of them even a lot, but some won't seem all that enthusiastic. Nothing lives up to expectations, and while the comments come trickling back in, the author is plunged into a no-man's land, unable at this point to work on the revision, and sinking deeper into the quicksand of that glorious imagination slowly turning against him. These months of slog, these flights of optimism, have all been for nothing, he says to himself. He brought the best of what he had to the forum and now he is being pushed to the back of the crowd.

But there's another quality authors have, and its called buoyancy. Without this guilelesssness, a certain floatability, the daunting journey of writing a book would never have been completed in the first place. People who keep going despite all odds, especially in the arts, aren't subject to the same specific gravity. So they don't stay out on that limb for very long. They stand up,  check their parachutes and take another leap.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Composting in the Era of Trump

9th November 2018

It was my birthday the day after the election, and I figured I had won a pretty nice present in the Democrats taking back the House of Representatives, so I was planning a day of smug relaxation. History had other plans, because Donald Trump started another snowball rolling that day by firing his Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was standing in the way of him controlling the scope of the Special Council's investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. As it turned out, my birthday celebrations gave way to the slow background roll of a Saturday Night massacre. Even over a dinner of sumptuous liver in my favourite French restaurant, I was checking in with the news to see whose head would be next on the chopping block. History was being made, and I couldn't pull myself away.

Mark Twain famously quipped that while history doesn't repeat itself, it very often rhymes. Another historian yesterday announced that the Tump scandal is ten times worse than the Nixon one. Here you have a sleazy actor not only trying to eliminate his tracks, but actually conspiring with a hostile foreign government in a coup against America. And now we have a president in a panic, shooting from the hip, backing off into the bar and hiding behind the piano.

American politics at very best is a crazy arena.  Once it opened the door to big money, how could it go any other route than down the sinkhole of corruption? The antics of American politics goes largely unchecked, hence we have gerrymandering in plain sight, and voter surpression, two of the strategies that the Republican party has come to depend upon. Their aging voters cannot any more deliver victory for this backward-looking, nay backward in and of itself, political agenda.

Young people in America, like young people in Scotland, and actually all over the world, who have education and a web-wide global community at their fingertips, will not support the politics of old white guys. Their day is done, and in the future, not even their corrupt tactics will be able to hold off the tidal wave of progression (I don't say progressives on purpose because even they themselves can exhibit prejudice and blinkered optics.)
The wave that is coming will change our world, and it is neither blue nor red, but simply fresh. I have hope that the young will turn the world around, and when they do, these players we have to suffer through now will be rotting on the garbage heap of history. The Mitch McConnells and the Donald Trumps and the Lindsay Grahams and the Paul Ryans are going to create such a stink, but in the long run, some pretty impressive fertiliser.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Edinburgh March

26th October 2018

I like to put my money where my mouth is, so I bought a ticket to Scotland to walk in the march for independence earlier this month.

My unionist relatives asked me on the way out the door to the march if we were expecting 300 participants. Many more than that, I responded, but frankly I was a little nervous. I didn't know.  When I joined the marchers just below Edinburgh Castle, it was immediately apparent that this was a huge rally. Later that night, the police report stated that it had amounted to upwards of one hundred thousand marchers.  The BBC reported that same night it had been only twenty thousand. So, ye, who think the BBC is the epitome of good taste, and will sit for hours (like me) sighing in front of good programming like Planet Earth, just remember the political work the BBC does in the interest of the Westminster (London) government.  The British Broadcasting Corporation and The British Establishment go hand in glove. For the most part in your daily viewing habits, that doesn't matter. But it does matter when a respected TV station acts as a propaganda machine, which the BBC is all too willing to do.

And then there were the small number, maybe ten or fifteen, unionists along our march down the Royal Mile with a loudspeaker jarring what was otherwise a very peaceful and happy occasion. I told those I was marching with that tomorrow we could expect those few union jacks to be the cover picture on the newspapers. And sure enough.  Despite the tens of thousands of Scottish flags, the cover of the Daily Record showed equal representation.

Mainstream UK media in general has lost touch with the truth. It seems to be a growing trend in the West. Donald  Trump once quipped that it doesn't matter if you tell a lie, you just have to keep saying it and people will eventually take it as the truth. His whole platform looks like this. It's why he fits so neatly into the sinister agenda of  the GOP.
Of course, the British Empire has a whole history of lying, and that's how empires are built. You move among the natives of the New World, trying hard to pose as honest dealers, and then when they turn around to trade you their Wampum beads, you stab them in the back. You do that all over the world and you gain the biggest empire the world has ever seen.
So, nothing new here.
Scotland has but one newspaper that supports Scottish Independence. The National. A large portion of the other 164, and all the major Scottish newspapers, are published by companies based in London. Guess whose side they are on?  The media, has become, as Iain MacWhirter has said, more than a reporter of news and is in fact these days a cultural curator.
So before a referendum on Scottish Independence, it can easily whip up vulnerable sections of the Scottish public, like the old age pensioners who were informed that voting for independence would put their pensions in jeopardy. Now that independence has come to the fore again, they are up to the same tricks.  Fear is the biggest weapon  any dishonest government has in its arsenal.

But be not fearful, my fellow Scots. Don't be taken in. We have in Scotland always stumped for truth over pretension and lies. It is a national characteristic. Some will always be duped, and there are still many among us who are holding fast to the colonial lie that sticking close to the powers that be is our only path to survival. It has worked well in the past, but we have been bitten once too many times.   It is time to stand tall on our five million pairs of feet and realise we have a voice that neither the colonialists nor the media can silence. As Scots looking for a fairer and more supportive Scotland, we  are much much better than that.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Ladies, No Talking, Please!

There is of course a direct correlation between democracy and the status of women in any given society. So it should come as no surprise that in a country such as the USA that is, and has usually been, run by a minority group of older white men, women are not only badly represented, but are actually in danger. According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, America is the tenth most dangerous place in the world for women, with only places like Syria, Yemen and Somalia ahead of it. S, if your hormones run along a differential between oestrogen and progesterone instead of being defined by testosterone, America, according to the best statistics, is just a dangerous place for you to live.

This is the backdrop for the spectacle that has been dancing all around our living rooms for the last few weeks in the nomination and then investigation and then confirmation and then congratulatory slap on the back from the old guys for supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Despite evidence from several women and his former room-mates that this is not the kind of honourable person that is supposed to sit on the supreme court, the Republican senators chose to turn a blind eye and confirm him anyway.  Before the final act played out, I absconded to Scotland, where, much to my dismay, the same spectacle, courtesy of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was doing its dance all over my native country too.

Brett Kavanaugh and his dance with the white-haired men of America is not anything new. It is  simply the most recent iteration of a tedious two-step that is really a one-step in which women are consigned to seats along the wall and the dance continues without them.
Anita Hill sits there, as do any number of overlooked female personages of note. It is not for no reason that the term "wall flower" connotes the feminine sex. Now Dr. Blasey Ford sits there too, sipping her punch, which we hope has not been spiked, not talking, because that apparently is not allowed. We are silent wall flowers in this dance. We have been silenced.
But, Ladies, the good news is that these jokers and waltzers, these wizened emperors-with-no-clothes  perning in their gyre, are old. Their dance is wearing thin. We must bide our time. The passage of history is in our favour, and when it curves back towards us, we will dust ourselves off, clear out the dead bodies, and we will perne in our own gyre and be the singing masters of our own souls.  

Friday, September 21, 2018

Holding Out For Hope

21st September 2018

According to the Buddha, all of life is suffering, and the world seems to want to drive that point home right now. Democracies are giving way to autocracies, governments look more and more corrupt; the poor seem to get poorer and the rich get richer. There's Trump, the world's current emperor with no clothes, and he's not even the worst you can say about the USA - he's simply the fool being used by a highly corrupt party that has very little sense of the good, and a whole lot of allegiance to what is most expedient to its own survival. There's horrible racism and misogyny and just plain inhumanity, and that's still within the fifty states.
In addition, you have Russia using insidious means to expand its influence and its borders; and throughout Europe we are seeing the rise of authoritarian regimes. In England there's Theresa May and her party about to lead not only England off a cliff with Brexit, but Scotland, too, which expressly voted for this not to happen. The world over, we are witnessing vestiges of imperial power still wielding its ugly sword in the faces of those who would dare to oppose it.

Nothing in the world seems very stable at the moment, and it has you glued like a maniac  to your online news or your twitter feed.  It keeps you awake at night, because, perhaps the Buddha was right after all, and the whole turning globe we live upon is just a mess and complete mayhem.

                                    Image result for society dissolves into mayhem

But not so fast. Though it doesn't make for urgent headlines, not all the news is bad. Despite the gloom that the autocrats in power like to feed to their minions, things have been on the uptick in the world for quite a while now. I'm going to list a few of  these things here, because every time I come across them, I'm able to catch a breath and actually enjoy the process of being human for a while.
Here's how the world is improving:
1) The incidence of war and people dying of war in the world is at an all-time low. Violence of all kinds in the world is down.
2) Death rates are falling globally. Better sanitation and advances in medicine translate into longer life-expectancy.
3) Infant mortality rates are down 15% in the last decade.
4) Maternal mortality has halved since 1990
5) The rate of global illiteracy has gone from near one hundred percent in the year 1800 to under fifteen percent in our time.
6) 721 million fewer people live in extreme poverty now compared to the year 1981

So, smile and be happy. The world isn't actually falling apart. In many ways, it is just starting to bring itself together.Image result for children being happy

Friday, September 7, 2018

Hooks 'n Agents 'n Things.

7th September 2018

For those people who read this blog to keep abreast of my book(s), I have some news: the last time I talked to my agent at  the beginning of this year, I had already begun my latest book, and I was feeling like I just wanted to clear the runway for it, by getting at least the last two unpublished parts of my Veil Of Time trilogy (Druid Hill and Iona) out into the world. After four plus years, Veil Of Time continues to sell, and I continue to get requests for the sequels, causing the original publisher Simon and Schuster to want to hang on to it for the time being.  My agent has taken the other books out to publishers, most recently in Scotland, but the upshot is that no publisher wants to take on two parts of a trilogy. So, I have been in a bind over it, and I told him a week or two ago I would rather just go straight to Amazon and publish there under an agreement my agency, Aevitas, has with them, rather than have these books gathering proverbial dust on my virtual shelf.

So, he has sent me the templates for book covers, and that's where that stands. He told me he has also sent out to Scottish publishers another of my books, Hazel and the Chessmen, about the theft of the Lewis Chessmen from the British Museum by a raggedy bunch of Scottish Nationals. All good. Movement has been detected.

In the beginning, when I was in my late twenties, my goal was to write five novels, so that if one of them hit the big time, I would have four others in reserve to come out in quick succession. By now, I have nine novels, quite apart from the one that is burning a hole in my head and heart, this new one, entitled, "The Second Coming."

No one can fault me for lack of persistence. I have long since put in my thousand hours. Ironically, my actual published book is probably not the most well written of my canon. But it has a hook. Being a heist, Hazel and the Chessman also has a hook.

But I have written other novels that are not bright and shiny for the gatekeepers of the publishing world - for one, my story about the Mustang. Everyone who reads it cries, but a horse story these days is not what a horse story was in Steinbeck's day. What, no sex? What, no high speed chases? What no mule with questionable gender?
Every book for the aspiring writer is going to be her next big thing. This new book doesn't have so much a hook as a whole lot of controversy. I didn't write it to dangle anything like a hook. I wrote it to answer a question in my own head. Maybe this time, that will be enough.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Truth Comes Out

24th August 2018

"In a time of universal deceit, " wrote George Orwell, "telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

I have changed my mind on the role of politics in literature, though it is a razor thin path to tread and the razor in question runs along the issue of propaganda. The truth has to be spoken not by design but because it comes gushing out of the collective consciousness. The artist is the valve.

It is precisely the pressure-cooker times in which we live that has shifted my opinion on this. As I watch Donald Trump try to shut down the avenues of free speech, as I bear witness to the lack of any independent voice in the Scottish newspapers and TV,  I see that it is up to the artists to take up the cause. They are the last hope in the face of universal deceit. Donald Trump recently tried to convince his base that they should rely on no news outlets but himself, that they should not believe what their eyes and ears are telling them; and Trump's right-hand man, Rudy Giuliani, tried to make the case this last week that the truth is not the truth.
It was a 1918 US senator who said famously that the first casualty of war is truth. These days, wars have gone cyber on us. They are the wars of hacking and misinformation.  Truth in the Trump era is already on the ground and gasping;  truth was put on hold, too, when British prime minister met with Sony CEO in the run-up to the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 to ask him not to run the series Outlander in Scotland until after  the referendum, even though it would be available everywhere else.

The good news is, that suppression only works for so long. As Shakespeare famously suggested, "The truth will out." Freud had a thing or two to say on this issue, too.
In eras when the truth has been successfully sat upon, when even the valves of art have been stopped, you eventually get revolution. So let's all be revolutionaries. In this era of untruth, let us speak it. As writers and visual and vocal artists, let us not shirk in our responsibility to what is so.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Too Late, Baby

10th August 2018

The more you learn about Trump and Russia and the Koch Brothers, and the ultra right wing effort to populate the justice system with its own kind, the more people like me (who have the happy alternative) decide it's time to pack up and go home. I can't join in America bewailing its lost democracy, because it has been an oligarchy-sliding-into-autocracy for a very long time. The right wing has slowly been occupying territory until a full 40% of the American populace is living on what John Stewart calls "Bullshit Mountain."

People from back home in the old country ask me where the moderate conservatives in this country are, and I have no answer, because they are doing a very good job of camouflaging themselves against  the wallpaper of the Grand Old Party.  I have never been a supporter of the GOP, but it is apparent even to me that its founders, or even only going as far back as Reagan (who was president when I first put foot on these shores) must be rolling in their  graves.
This apparition calling itself the Republican Party today is a collection of greedy and corrupt white Ol' Boys making a grab at the only thing they consider to have any worth - certainly not country, or moral ground, just the accumulation of filthy lucre. The corruption runs so deep, that unless our friend Mr. Robert Mueller has a magic wand in his bag of tricks, the indictments of the key players is not going to make a particle of difference. The Supreme Court, which is supposed to be the level-headed and wise tier of government is stacked to the point that it would give Vladimir Putin a free pass if he asked Trump to get him one.
I was hopeful until I began to understand just  how wide this network of greed and power-grab has spread,  and now I think there is no hope, and better to go back to Scotland where there is at least the chance that we might have a society in which justice has some meaning. Of course, Scotland, living in the shadow of the British Empire, isn't there yet, and really I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Brexit disaster, fueled and fed by another arm of this worldwide coup of greedy white guys, might in the end overwhelm our hope just as it has done the better angels of this country.

From time to time, I pull up videos of Barack Obama, like an orphan who is stuck with the evil aunt might conjure images of its mother. This displacement from value has come at us so forcefully that the deranged individual currently occupying the White House has over time even taken on a sort of normality. This is the new but deeply pathologicl normal, with an entire political party and a whole Christian faction enabling it.
I don't hold out much hope for America. I was hoping the constitution would win out, but these nefarious money-grabbers are weaseling into even that: the Koch brothers, while everyone is busy  being outraged by the behavour of the Clown-in-chief, is quietly working towards rescinding the 17th amendment, which handed the power to elect state representatives to the people. And they'll probably get it. Because nothing speaks louder in this country than the dollar bill.
       Authoritarian USA married to authoritarian Russia and in alliance with any number of smaller authoritarian countries will change the complexion of our world. The notion of a Free World will just be a memory we take out and brush off from time to time, like pictures of a dead mother. Like videos of Barack Obama.

Friday, July 27, 2018


27th July 2018

Aspen, in the summer, hosts the famous Aspen Musical Festival in its huge permanent tent with state-of-the-art acoustics and comfortable cushioned seats.

The wind gently rustles through, and even when it rains, it simply seems to add percussion to the music floating out all around you from the stage. Many famous musicians and many many talented students fill Aspen all summer, and it is a boon to be able to participate.

On Sunday, I went along to hear Augustin Hadelich play Mendelssohn's violin concerto, so I took my seat very close to the stage, not wanting to miss any nuance of his performance. While the orchestra filed in, we had time to skim through the notes: the first piece, which I won't name, was just recently commissioned and this would be its American debut. I know I'm going to sound like an old fogey, but I wasn't optimistic.
The orchestra was in its last cacophonist moments as the conductor walked onto the stage. The concertmaster shook his hand, and gave the tuning A. Everyone played an A. Everyone was in tune. And then for some reason the orchestra went back to the beginning and started a ferocious cacophony of tuning up and practicing again.
You know where I am going with this: No, they weren't tuning up, but that's what this modern ten minute piece sounded like. Cacophony. So, call me old fashioned, but art to me has to contain a certain beauty, a certain coherence and a certain resonance with a higher consciousness.
If this modern piece reflected the state of our collective consciousness, then I don't hold out much hope for humanity. Of course, it's hard to have any hope, living through these times of war, thuggish leadership and inhumane practices.
The saving grace of the piece was that it was short. It finished to lackluster and off-beat clapping.
And then Hadelich came on,  launched into his violin concerto, and all was right again with the world.

It's not that Mendelssohn suffered no pain in his life: he composed like a maniac from the age of nine. Grief from the loss of his beloved sister Fanny sent him into ill health, and he died from a ruptured blood vessel at the early age of thirty-eight. And it's not like the violinist Hadelich has had it easy: at the age of fifteen, he was severely burned in a family fire, was airlifted to Germany for recovery, but it wasn't clear he would ever be able to play the violin again.
The point is, you can have cacophany going on in your life without having to spew it out into the world. You can take pain and create beauty, and that, it seems to me, is what the modern composers are missing.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Out Of The Fire

13th July 2018

There are thousands of acres of wildfire burning about ten miles down the road from where I live. You stand on your doorstep, and it smells like hell burning.
Everything is fine in your world until suddenly it isn't, and I kind of like the fact that even in this world of men (I choose my words carefully) nature will always have the last word. It would only take a sun flare-up, and all our little handheld computers with all the information we have stored on them will disintegrate in a little puff of smoke. Mankind could go the same way, and without us the earth would quite merrily keep on spinning, even changing its axis from time to time; the Milky Way would keep on hurtling through space.

We go through life with a magnifying glass trained on the facts of our lives, even though the facts of our lives hardly have any significance at all. We plow through life ignoring the destination, thinking that our foot on the pedal is of utmost significance. It ain't. The sign posts are pointing the way to dusty death, and we are but poor players.

That's the fact, but also the glory. In the grand scheme of things, the fact that I lost my lovely little cat this past week, the idiocy of Donald Trump, the corruption of Brexit, the fire burning ten miles down the road, the silly human race running around beating its chest, its churches and sepulchers, the altars to all it holds dear, are imperceptible flashes in a great cosmic frying pan.
That's all.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Small Countries For World Peace

29th June 2018

I have received a lot of flack in the face of my push for Scottish independence.The argument goes that, the world needs to pull together rather than splintering off into smaller parts. Surely in the face of global chaos, my opponents argue, we should be calling for unity.

But this is definitely one of those cases of perspective, like those drawings that you can look at in two completely different ways:

Are you looking at a duck or a rabbit?

In the case of Scottish Independence, as in the case of Indian Independence (1947) or Norwegian Independence (1905) or even American Independence,(1776)  you have to look at the picture in a different way.  What changes your perspective here is  history. No one would argue that America would have been "Better Together" with Britain, or that Iceland (1944), which is doing very nicely governing itself, should have stayed tethered to  Denmark. Or for an example closer to home, Ireland (1921) the fastest growing economy in Europe, should have remained in the UK. In all these cases, history has proven that the country in question does very well on its own, and so it will be with Scotland. In fact, Scotland, without its revenue draining off to the south, will do better than most, because it is a resource-rich country with many innovative minds as a sort national characteristic ( think, penicillin, steam engine, television, telephone, road Tarmac, bicycle, insulin, telegraphs....the list goes on)

Of all the 62 countries that have sought separation from Britain alone, not one has asked to be allowed back in. The story of these smaller independent countries (not counting USA anymore, since it became its own empire-building conglomerate) is that they settle into secure little nations with low crime, low unemployment, that look after their people and don't go around causing any harm to other countries. From this perspective, you could look at the quest  for independence as a stride towards world peace, and the more smaller countries you can make out of large conglomerates like USA and USSR and The British Empire, the better things will be for everyone. You could look at Scottish independence as a rabbit and not a quacking duck. The choice is yours.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Trump Dis-ease

Friday, 22nd June, 2018

The words of Scottish poet Robert Burns keep going through my head these days: When I sleep I dream, and when I wake I'm eerie. Sleep I can't get nane. (eerie = haunted; nane = none)...but it's not "for thinking on my deary," it's because there is just a certain sense of global malaise these days.  The whole kit and caboodle seems to be swinging into far stage right .The inhumanity that humanity - I will say, predominantly men - periodically sink into has become the the Soup du Jour.
Deepak Chopra, Indian guru and normally the "Don't worry, be happy," guy, put out this tweet yesterday:
          "We are in the midst of global insanity. Climate change, eco destruction, war, terrorism, economic injustice, cruelty to children.  Gangsters as global leaders are risking our survival. Donald Trump, Putin, Kim Jong Un could be the last presidents before extinction."
The problem is: insanity has become the norm, and news of more insanity just brushes off us like dandruff. Suicide is at a 30-year high, and depression is rampant, because, I think, of a feeling of sheer hopelessness. In America, the ruling GOP is a criminal organisation, stopping short of nothing to force its agenda and line the pockets of their high priests, while licking the boots of the "useful idiot" at the top. A similar programme is operating in England. Fascism has rolled into town, like a a big abusive circus act, and the emperor is parading with no clothes on. Trump isn't the only emperor -  last week England's Tory government tried to swipe Scotland's parliament out from under it.

I'm going to march in Denver on 30th June. Trump just rescinded his party's practice of separating tiny children from their parents at the border - we have all heard the chilling crying on audiotape and the pictures that belong to some kind of Nazi regime.

 But the feeling of outrage is more general than that. It's sort of a last ditch cry of values - it's a desperate attempt to hold up your concentration camp tattoo in the face of a holocaust-denier.
I don't know about anyone else, but sleep, I can't get nane. So, I'll march shoulder to shoulder with the still-sane among us. I'm not sure it will do any good, but it might ease the eerie of this nightmare.

Friday, June 8, 2018

5 Writing Tips

8th June 2018

I am currently writing my tenth novel, and I think through all these journeys up Mount Writerslog, I have gleaned a thing or two about the process,.
I am going to share a few of them with you.
In no particular order:

1) Decide if you have anything to say: I run into too many people who tell me, "I'm sure I have a novel in me somewhere, I just don't have the time." If it means that little to you, then maybe you should think of doing something else. Silvia Plath would write in the morning while it was still dark and her children were still asleep. The universe isn't going to serve this up on a platter. You have to carve a path through it.

2) Make a routine: If you leave it loosey-goosey and you get to the writing when you can, you won't get to it. Life will always throw things up to fill that space. Set your time, as though you were showing up for a job in an office, and put your bum in the seat at the appointed time. Brains like to figure out patterns, so if you do the same thing everyday at the same time, it will be there waiting for you. I like mornings, and most writers do, but there are plenty of writers who burn their candle through the night.

3) Leave your editor-self at your office door. Most of writing is re-writing, as the saying goes, but that annoying little voice on your shoulder that tells you you're not up to it, is not a friend. Have the courage to turn off the voice for the duration of the session. If you're addicted to it, you can pick it up again on your way out.

4) Don't be rigid. The way I write is very different from the way many writers do it. I listen in wonder at writers who, before they have written a sentence, have mapped out their entire novel, every plot point, every hair that falls from their hero's head. I cannot even figure out writers who know the ending before they have started the beginning. I start out with ideas about characters, almost never about plots, and that has its pitfalls, because the text then can seem to meander. But the other side of the coin is that, if you don't listen attentively to where characters want to go, you're going to end up with a narrative that can feel a little stultified.

5) Don't stop until you're finished. At least with the first draft. For many years, I attended a writer's group, and every so often someone would come in with the beginning of a novel that they would pass around and we would read. Often what these people would want to know is, as one of them said, "Is it good enough? Should I continue?" If you need that kind of affirmation, the answer is probably No. Writing a novel is intensely personal and takes a huge amount of effort. Words of flattery are not going to sustain you through it. Just put your head down and keep writing until you've finished saying what you set out to say. Then you can listen to a few favoured voices and go back and do  it all over again.

Friday, June 1, 2018


June 1st 2018

     The measure of my life these days is how many pages of writing I turn out. I have been on a quiet five-day retreat, and though the routines continue (I get up, take joy over a cup of tea, wash clothes, make food, walk the dogs), the countable currency is none of that but what the creative right side of my brain produces in the span of a few hours every morning. I write, therefore I am. Scribo ergo sum.
     Other people have different measures: a fireman is fulfilled if he can pull a child from a burning building; a good day for a minister is the conversion of some soul to his faith; if you're Pharrell Williams, it's when you feel like a room without a roof.

      Greeks defined happiness as the joy we feel moving towards our potential. Good definition, I  think because it lifts us above the mere trigger-happiness of accumulation of wealth or things or fame. It makes of it a quality of what we do rather than something to be pursued in its own right.  "There is no way to happiness," says Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh. "Happiness is the way."
The irony is that even though we know that things and bank notes don't make us happy, we still go after them as though they did. We still buy the scratch lotto tickets ; we still dream of a tomorrow on the side of a pool drinking Martinis; we still think about moving to a better house.
        "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that," wrote poet William Butler Yeats. "It is simply growth. We are happy when we are growing."

       So, maybe that's what it means for me to be at my desk pushing words while the garden is emerging from its night cover of dark - I am attempting to grow into my potential. It is a sort of giving birth to myself: it involves pangs and fearful anticipation. It comes out at the end of a scream. It hurts and it is wonderful. And just now and then it is also handsome. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Sweet Lovers Love the Spring

25th May 2018

Hey nonny, nonny.
Much ado about the Royal Wedding this week. England's royal family finally allowed one of their number to marry, not only an American and divorcee but someone of somewhat African heritage. It took a long time for them to see their way clear in this, through the disasters of King Edward and Mrs. Simpson, and Princess Margaret and her desired beau, Captain Peter Townsend, and then Prince Charles and Diana Spencer (possibly the only really nice royal.) When Diana died so tragically, I don't care what side of the royalty fence you hang your cap, your heart had to go out to those boys, particularly little Harry being made to parade behind his mother's coffin. So, as a mother and someone with a heart (perhaps overactive at times) I am glad little Harry, now grown-up Harry, found someone to love and be loved by, because whatever else royalty stands for, love and being loved is not one of them.

And yet support for the English monarchy remains incredibly high at 68%, and even 62% among 18-24 year-olds.
The Brits, after all, cling to their icons. I go back home, and even after all these years away, I am completely in tune with  references to Terry Wogan, Cliff Richard, Lenny Henry - people whose heyday you would have to reach far back into the past to locate. This is the land of Coronation Street, for goodness sake, a soap opera that has been  running for close to sixty years! That theme music, and the one for Doctor Who, are indelibly set in my childhood, as they are for millions of people who grew up within the countries that make up the Isles of Britain.

So, good luck getting rid of the English monarchy any time soon. The recent series, The Crown, about the long reign of Queen Elizabeth 2nd, gives us renewed insight into this dysfunctional (at any emotional level) monarch and her love-starved children, and yet figurehead monarchy is a question of identity. In this world of political chaos, we need our icons like we need life rafts, as something to hold on to.
I don't begrudge Harry his princess. Poor little boy born onto a stage of bereft players, who just wants to be loved. But the institution itself is as outdated as the feudal system it heads. What's more, a Britain on the brink of Brexit can ill afford its extravagance.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Windigo Psychosis

11th May 2018

Six days ago, Scots for Independence staged a march through the streets of Glasgow. It took thirty minutes to pass from one end to the next. It was somewhere close to ninety thousand people strong. But in the Union-owned Scottish papers, it was only around twenty thousand. In the unionist-owned Scottish papers, the march didn't look like this:

It looked like this: 

I am reading a book right now entitled Columbus and Other Cannibals, by Frank Forbes, which is about the machinations of empire, or as he puts it, the psychosis of empire. It is what the native American peoples have called in their various languages, Windigo, a kind of consumerism of madness. Windigo psychosis doesn't stop at commodities, but pulls into its maw any peoples in its path. Having no soul itself, it wipes out the soul of others and claims it was never there in the first place. It has many faces, but the result is always the same: it denies the right of others to be.
This is the kind of consumerism Spain is currently exercising over Catalonia.

    Just as Britain exercised it over India:

And it is the same exercise of Windigo psychosis the English government has always imposed on what it regards as its satellites. India was one, Ireland was another, and Scotland is perhaps the last in its constellation. If the history of civilisation is the development of a psychotic consumerism, then perhaps the only hope is to call it out for what it is. That is what the Catalonians are doing now, and for which they are being jailed. This is what it means for ninety thousand Scots to band together and walk through the streets of Glasgow.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Writing as a Forest

27th April 2018

Always in the back of my mind looms Emily Bronte standing at her window looking out over the Yorkshire moors. Her only published book "Wuthering Heights" is behind her, panned of course by the critics. She is dying, coughing out her last from consumption, days from delivering her immortal words, "I will see the doctor now." And yet running through her mind are the revisions she would make to her book if only she could go back and tinker.
Tinkering is the habit of choice with writers, like a nervous tick, like an itchy hand reaching for a cigarette or a boozer dreaming of a glass in his hand. I had written over a hundred pages on my current project, when I gave in to the "tinker" call and went back to read my emerging book from the beginning. Oh, and I took the editor parrot with me on my shoulder, not the one who offers sound advice, but the one that tells you you're not up to the job.
I started switching words and phrases. This line over here would have so much more punch if I cut and pasted it over there. The talents of computers to move things around is actually a curse. In the old days, you'd have to get the damned manuscript typed all over again. Now, you just snip and move it down there at the end of the paragraph, and if you don't like the result, you can move it somewhere else. Hey Presto!

After all, writing is re-writing, so away you go with the scissors and the bottle of glue.
But it's too soon. Way too soon. Only about a quarter of the way through the wood, still trying to navigate with my flashlight, here I go running back to count the trees. This is one instance when you really should see the forest and not the trees.
Revisions can wait, and should wait, until you've made that initial raw cut.

It might not, and probably won't look good at this point. Give yourself a break. Michelangelo didn't pull his David out of the rock on the first cut.  Everything is fixable. Don't be insecure - it won't serve you well at this juncture. You have something to say, so hold onto that. The David in your mind can indeed be wrought out of something as unbending as rock. But for now keep that flashlight facing forward. Get to the other side of the forest and then, and only then, turn around and look along the path you have come.

Friday, April 20, 2018

For Good

20th April 2018

Apart from showing up at my desk every morning these days for a writing session in the interests of turning out a new book, I am following the news cycle like a maniac. I just have to believe that good eventually wins the day, that right causes do prevail, and so my eyes are glued to every development in this "forest fire" of a presidency to see if water is going to eventually put it out.

I have a dog in this fight, which is my belief in a moral universe, not a universe that adheres to the laws of Moses, but just a sense that all our striving and fighting for causes is heading us in a good direction, that there is such a thing as "the good" at all.
People argue with me, the secular humanists, the new atheists, claiming that, No, there is nothing good or bad except that we make it so. Thank you, Will, from four centuries ago - I do know it applies for the most part: you can cross yourself all you like and go to church and join the moral majority, but it's only because you were told to.
But if you push people like Sam Harris, or Yuval Harari, there would be some thing they would have to admit was just good in and of itself. Yuval Harari cares a great deal about gay and animal rights - would he want to say that the good in those things is just a figment of his imagination? No, some things, maybe only one or two things, we hold to be self evident  - that all men, for instance, are created equal; that beings who are loved move in a more positive direction than those who are not.  I don't know where in the universe lies the value that makes those truths the case, and always the case, but, contrary to the secular humanists, we have come to know very very little about "the universe."

Scientists can attest to 4% of the universe being atomic and thereby perceptible. But the rest is divided between dark matter and dark energy, and no one, not even Sam Harris - God, I loathe the arrogance of these people! - knows what that is or could possibly be. It might be God for all they know. I'm not going to go that far, but I think there is a moral value in this space/time continuum we inhabit a teeny weeny corner of.  Some things, though not much, are just self-evident. Gravity, for instance - science hasn't figured out what it is, though we can recognise its effect in space/time events.  Sam Harris is married and has children. Does he love them? Where does that love reside? In the grey matter between his ears? Really? No surgeon has ever found it there?
I suppose I am a Taoist in the end, because I believe that the universe flows in a certain direction and you can either go with the flow or resist it. I hope it is in the flow of things that the corrupt inner circle of a corrupt government will finally implode. I don't need God for that hope. I just need it to be self-evident. And for this reason, I am hanging on the news for dear life, waiting for the sun to come out over the hill.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Building Writing Muscle

13th April 2018

I have lately been helping a person I have known for many years who has just now decided to learn how to write. It is taking me back to a time in my life, when, done with academic writing, I was trying to embark on something more creative. I just didn't know where to begin. In those days, the flow that ended up in my pen (when they were a thing!) began in my brain. The pathway of heart to page hadn't opened up yet. It was like a blocked fallopian tube - no matter how much sex you have, you just can't make it amount to a conception. So I have sympathy with my friend, but these days after decades of literary writing, I am like the aged ballerina with a beginner ballerina class, not able to understand how these little fledglings can't get up on point. In both cases, it is a question of muscle, and muscle doesn't just happen, you have to build it.

But not that much muscle. Just enough to get the blood flowing through that fallopian tube.
This is not just true in writing but in any venture. If I were asked to sing a solo on a stage, I would be mortified. In my life, I have only sung with others, usually with my son who happens to be a more than competent guitarist. I just don't believe I can do it, and so I would have not just one editor, but a  roomful of critics sitting on my shoulder.

What I am discovering in teaching writing to this person is that the first obstacle is to silence your resident critic, the editor's voice that says you're not up to the task. You have to manually take this voice out, get rid of the judge altogether. Don't worry, that voice is always going to start talking again whenever you let it. But carve out a little space, a vacuum in which the voice cannot be heard, and then just as an exercise start by transliterating any thought that pops into your head, no matter how inane or stupid. Remember, you are just trying to flex that muscle a little.  Imagine if someone gave you the task of writing down all the dialogue in a movie, except that the movie is you.
 If, like Our Lady of the Biceps above, your goal is to pick up a dumbbell, it makes sense to stretch the muscle a little first. Start out by picking up something that weighs nothing at all and build up to the weighty stuff.  At the beginning, you just want to get the writing muscle moving, and then later you can start managing the content.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Up And Running

6th April 2018

I am writing again. I have made the announcement to friends and family that my mornings are blocked off for the foreseeable future. Don't call. Don't ask to go out on a walk. Don't invite me  out for coffee. I won't answer.  I recently got a new computer which is connected to the interent, a new thing for me and one which is helpful insofar as when I have a research question, I have immdediate access to the answer (what did we ever do before the internet - was all this information at the library?) But the problem is, I have email access, too, and also that dark dark hole called Twitter. I have yet to come up with a stratgey for Twitter - it's like the hypnotic effect of the voice from beyond, drawing me like in a horror film sleep-walking towards the edge of a cliff. The hypnosis puts your fingers into automatic pilot: just one more scroll up, and the reward will present itself.

So, no email, no twitter, while I'm working. Just that sideways stare at the carpet beneath my feet, that pause that makes you look to the observer as though you are doing nothing at all. It makes you susceptible to the question: so how many pages have you actually written? It's the writer zone that stops the pendulum and steps into the timeless, the creative flow that is not ecstatic, but deathly quiet. That's where the writer or any artist must go, and, I suspect, that's why you have to take yourself bodily, pry your fingers off the latest newscast or any other procrastination that is so much easier than stepping into the waiting room of the creative process.

But it's answering the call that makes of the writer an artist - it is both the sentence and the great reward. It is the monitoring device around your ankle that for the entire period of the writing, however long it takes, is on and buzzing and and is designed to make escape impossible.
I'm not complaining, and I do not mean to romanticise it. I am in the process of it now, so give me my mornings. I may look as though I am doing nothing. But leave me be. 

Friday, March 30, 2018


30th March 2018

I was rifling through a stack of my work inch-thick in dust the other day, when I came upon a series of short stories I once wrote as an attempt to put a narrative behind the lovely images of certain poems, like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I was trying to capture the feel of the poem in more of a story form. A local producer for public radio took each of these works and recreated them on air with actors and music and sound-effects. It was called "Aspen Stage on the Air." It was twenty-odd years ago, and the producer has long since shuffled off his mortal coil,
I was younger at the time and not yet a published writer. In fact, reading through the pieces, I am struck by my energy and unabashed enthusiasm, unworn by the uphill trudge that the writing life has proven to be since.
One of these pieces, the lengthiest, wove a story around Dylan Thomas's poem, "Fern Hill;" the shortest of the collection, taken from WB Yeats' "Song of Wandering Aengus," was my attempt to redo it from a woman's perspective. I am going to reprint it here, because it shows me in my first flush, with an ardency that has probably and regrettably become jaded over the years.


                                  (Based on Yeats' s "Song of Wandering Aengus")

     I went out to the hazelwood because a fire was in my head. Because sleep could not claim me, I ran like the wild night, dark like the deepest pit of me, ran because behind me the open windows snarled at me, the sleeping house tore at me, the man, the child, wailed for me. 
     I went out to the hazelwood because there was no hope for me except where leaves awoke to me, the sap ran down and danced to me. And so I ran through the shades of garden, the cut grass, the swing immobile as a frozen smile, to the moss-thick wall and the black earth seething with wheat and life. I ran till the smell of walls bled back and the wind drove its hands through my hair.
     The crickets awoke in droves, the stars bellowed and moaned in my dress, and I lowed like the cows tongue-tangled, greened and foamed in the deep-sea grass, ran with the scream of feet, numb as a clod, till the house retreated to a stop.  
     As the spinning sky lifted off and the sides of the world came down, I stopped by a steam where Rowans grew and the berries sang in the breeze. The moon was laughing, its head tilted back, laughing till it made me smile, for the folly of life crammed in moats and walls, for the death of the dance in the stall. 
     I broke a wand from a hazel bush, crushed berries in my hand, and talked to the fish till the sun went down, and Undine, the nymph, drew me in by the hand. Her song was cool as rivulets, her breath ice on my brow, her fingers warm on my loveliness cut deep in the marrow bone. 
     Laughter danced on her tilted head, like the tilted moon at my head. 
     She said, "Tie a sting to the hazel wand, then fix a berry to a thread."
     I dropped my line in the singing steam, hoping for a fish, but a man climbed out, Aengus by name, water the cloth on his skin.   
     White moths flickered by his face while moth-like stars blinked out, and I a waif in a nightdress fell like a leaf to the ground.  Only the moon, the unclouded moon, stayed out to watch the play of lips that warmed from kiss to kiss, of heaving blood and flesh on flesh.  He smelled of blossom and deep dank earth, he smiled as he lapped my breast, for the milk of the child ran into his mouth, and my heart played drums in my dress.
     Among the hazel trees we ran, and kissed and touched and fell and ran, all milky run and failing breath, and the drum and the drum and the drum.
     The morning rose easily like a touch of paint on the hill, and I did not see, as he blazed in the dawn,that only his shadow now ran with me. By the time the sun poured soft on the land, only his voice could I hear. Sweet Aengus vanished in the brightening air, and the morning full of wings.
     Though I am old now, a brick for a heart, skin weathered and curled, I wander still through hill and vale and turn my back on the world. My eyes turned in, I do not see the hazel wood turned brown; with stick and berry I wait by the stream for Undine to come around. I wait, though the world may cough its last, I wait for the sound of the moon, for I will find where he is gone, and he will reach again for my hand. 
      And there on the bank in my old crone's cloak, my breast will run with the man. And we will walk in dappled grass, though I am old like a stump, and pluck till time and times are done the silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun.