Wednesday, 29 July 2009

On the Bog

I'm not sure if I need to clarify this for my North American readers (apologies if you already use this word) but here in the UK one of the euphemisms we have for the toilet is "the bog". Where this comes from I wouldn't like to speculate. Well, actually I would. For what it's worth I'm thinking that our ancestors denuded our forests thousands of years ago, effectively turning many of them into bogs. Ergo, we didn't go into the woods to take a dump, we went into the bog. Makes sense, non?

Where am I going with this, I hear you ask. Let me answer...I received a letter today from the Shetlands Islands Council. They have chosen two of my poems, Within Reach and Eisenhower's Mother for their Bards in the Bog project.

The poems will be posted in toilets around Shetland for the next three months, and on the Shetland Library website. For a wee look go to

How cool is that? Spend a penny (another euphemism - this time for taking a piss. We Brits love to discuss our bodily functions, but only in the most inoffensive of ways) and you get to read my poems. Beats reading a shitty tabloid. See what I did there?

And no, the "poem" above is not one of mine.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Impressions from Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2009

...favourite sessions? George Pelecanos, David Simon. George was on his own Saturday morning in conversation with Simon Kernick. Not only is George a talented writer but he comes across as a good guy. His latest novel (which I reviewed for The Way Home, has fathers and sons at the heart of it. When he started to talk about his own father, he had to pause before his emotions got the better of him. Bless. Not a dry eye.

A surreal moment followed. I was in the bar at lunch time (drinking water, aye right) and reading one of George’s books. I looked up and there he was just in front of me with some mates.

After a half hour’s debate with myself I approached him for a signature and then did the whole flustered fan thing. Spot the numpty whose tongue has swollen in his mouth and all he can do is mumble “signature, please”. And here was me thinking I’d gotten over that kind of behaviour. Eventually I managed to string a sentence together and George told me how much he’d enjoyed visiting Glasgow (he recognised the accent) and the whisky gantry at Malmaison. Talented and with good taste, what can I say?

The session with George and David Simon was on the next day and was about their experiences on The Wire. Fascinating. I’m only on series 2 and they mentioned a character’s death in series 3. Someone I like. I’m gutted and trying not to show it. Here they talked about pleasing the viewer or being true to the story. A good lesson for wannabe screenwriters. In fact, the programme itself is. The attention to detail, the depth of the characterisation, the dialogue etc etc etc.

...Laura Lippman (Mrs David Simon) has an impressive ability to do press-ups while reciting the entire Marx Brothers’ movie list. The circumstances under which this became apparent are frankly, none of your beeswax.

....Chris at Crimesquad says he doesn’t watch The Wire. He pretended to be all offended at the language saying that nobody ever heard the word motherfucker on Miss Marple.

....Daniel Depp’s, Johnny’s brother is a crime writer. He was on stage talking about his new book. I’m betting he looks in the mirror every morning and shouts, “Bastard”. And I would only be a total bitch if I explained why. So this is me zipping my lips and throwing away the key. You had to be there.

...meeting up with the gang at was fantastic. Getting a press pass because of my work with them was also pretty cool. I enjoyed pulling it from my pocket and flashing it at, well everyone really.

...mingling and having blethers with the likes of Denise Mina and Caro Ramsay. Great writers and good people.

...the Saturday night quiz show was a laugh. The Crimesquad Squad came up with a respectable score. What let us down was the series of questions on pets in crime fiction, cos really, who gives a fuck?

...the session run by Simon Brett with a panel including Roger (RJ) Ellory and Christopher Brookmyre was another highlight. The panel were given an opporchancity to vent their collective spleen on issues that arose in crime fiction, like clichés etc. Simon was very naughty and tried to get the panel to mention those writers who annoyed them. To a man/ woman the panel refused to diss their fellow professionals. Good on ‘em, I say. There’s enough of that going on out there.

This brings me on to my Fanny of the Week Award which goes to David Cameron, Politician (ish) who noted to a reporter that he was going on holiday and taking a “really trashy novel”. Speculation was that said piece of “trash” was Patricia Cornwell’s latest. Cameron keeps a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s novels on his desk in Westminster apparently. Wot a fanny.

BTW, RJ Ellory is about to be launched in the States, so anyone reading this from that side of the pond, give yourself a treat and buy any of his books you can get your hands on.

Favourite stories/ comments from this session? Roger talking about a writer who’d been asked to provide a comment for the blurb on another writer’s new book. This new book writer had slagged off the other guy for years, but he was a big seller and his name on the cover of his first novel would help, so new book guy swallowed his pride and asked for a cover commendation. Revenge, however smells of violet and is as sweet as pie. The comment from slagged-off writer guy? “Of all the books I’ve read this year, this is one of them.”

Chris Brookmyre talking about the superior attitude of “literary” writers. He said that often when he is on a panel at a book event and one of these writers gets all precious about WRITING, he is filled with awe. As in - “Awefurfucksake, get your head out your arse.”

Love it.

...overhearing an English couple (just before a 9am session – what’s that all about?) talking about a Scottish crime writer they’d met who was a teetotal vegetarian. A teetotal Scotsman, questioned the wife in a shocked soprano. Have you ever met a teetotal Scotsman? We don’t all conform to the cliché, I slurred huffily while spraying a mouthful of Stella Artois all over her face. Well, it was 9 PM somewhere in the world, right?

...talking to an inebriated Irish writer (a Dubliner more than happy to conform to his own set of clichés) at the bar on Saturday night about Glasgow Celtic and the one and only time he took his wife to see the ‘tic. It was at Tynecastle in Edinburgh and behind him a group of fans had climbed on to the top of a wall and were pissing over the other side. Needless to say his missus was in no rush to get back. He looked right past me the next morning and had no clue he’d even been talking to me – and there was me thinking we’d bonded. Bastard.

BTW, please don’t be thinking we did nothing but booze all weekend. Two bar staff at any one time serving hundreds of thirsty crime readers and writers at the bar? Don’t think so.

...meeting a commissioning editor from one of the big publishing houses who has had my novels for a year now. She apologised for half an hour and then told me she was still very much interested in my work. She was very impressed and felt I was an accomplished writer. The compliments were welcome, but amount to less than a hill of beans until an answer is forthcoming. She was lovely though. Someone I could work with. Her issue is the amount of Scottish based fiction they are about to release over the coming year. Not the first time my nationality has led to a London publisher thinking twice. Whassat all about? Is Scottish Crime Fiction a genre into itself and nobody told me? Basically, the book is good enough, but I need to emigrate. Not going to happen. Still, there IS hope. Watch this space.

...meeting a commissioning editor from another large publishing house who Roger Ellory did a good job on of selling my virtues (as a writer, cheeky) at 3am. Happily, the next day at noon this editor still remembered me and is keen to read my stuff. Watch this space as well.

So this is me feeling cautiously optimistic. This is my year, right?

Thursday, 23 July 2009

This picture has nothing to do with what follows, I just liked it

This is me covered in excitement. Whassat look like? Lots of body hair, but like, invisible. Doh.

The reason for this unreasonable excitement? I’m off first thing tomorrow to the Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate.


Some of the papers refer to it as a Crime Festival which is another thing entirely. Brings to mind a requirement for the local police force to temporarily increase their numbers and suspend all leave.

No. It’s Crime Writing and some of the world’s top crime writing talent will be in attendance. Guys n’ gals like Lee Child, George Pelecanos, Val McDermid, R J Ellory, Denise Mina etc etc etc. On the Sunday the guy who wrote The Wire, David Simon will be taking the stage. How cool is that?

I was thinking about taking my laptop away with me and blogging/ twattering (yes, I know I’ve misspelt it, but I’m trying to start a new fashion. Think it will catch on?) about the event while I’m there. Cannae be arsed though. I just wanna take in the vibe, man and hang out with the big names. And hope that some of their success rubs off on me.

Anyway, there I was on the way home from the office daydreaming about meeting the publisher of my dreams and I accidentally tripped and fell into a Chinese takeaway place. Nobody got hurt, thankfully, but seeing as I was there I ordered some of that sweet and sour stuff. It would have been rude not to.

Again I would like to add that I am a man of balance. Regular readers of this blog will know I like to lead a balanced lifestyle. And no, that does not mean a doughnut in each hand. So later (much later) I headed off to the gym.

Strictly entre nous...something that happened on the way home has me worried. Really worried. The radio was on and the song In for the Kill by La Roux was playing. OK, the lead singer might be a nice girl, but jeez does she have an annoying voice. The last time I heard that kinda voice it was the local church choir and some wee lassie was singing Adeste Fideles like she was auditioning for the “Worst” outtakes on The X Factor.

For anyone who doesn't know it the song has an 80's retro feel with said caterwhauling over a synthesiser tune type thing. Why anyone would want to go for a retro on the 80's - the decade that music forgot - beats me.

So there’s me shouting at the radio – can you no get someone who can sing, and getting louder as the sentence finished (what's that all about?) when it struck me. I’m becoming my father.


Thinking about it ...our generation grew up with pop music so (I think) popular music feels much more inclusive. It’s a big old smorgasbord of influences where anything goes and anyone can dip into it, or come and stay for a few weeks. My Dad and his peers were used to Perry Como, Sinatra and Andy Whatsisname. Nice wee songs that told a story, where each word was enunciated with care and where the singers wore cardigans and sat on rocking chairs. The most controversial it got was when somebody whipped out a pipe and started smoking. When Pops was faced with glam-rock, punk, heavy rock etc ... it must have seemed like somebody had popped a hallucinogen in his tea (strong, two sugars) and melted an ekky over his toast.

Back in the day (here in the UK) Top of the Pops was required viewing. While the “pop star” was doing their thing, the old fella would be sitting in his chair giving it... cannae even work out what they’re singing. Then he’d mutter under his breath...what a buncha poofs.
...awfurfucksake, would you look at that? that man wearing fecking make-up? Buncha poofs.
...that fella’s trousers are so tight I can tell he’s been circumcised. Poof.

And then he’d carry on watching, making no effort to turn the TV off. Car-crash TV long before the term was coined.

Thing is, the Pops I am talking about would have been younger than I am now. And as things stand I am totally down with the kids. Kinda. Times they are a’changin’.

Other ways that I am becoming my father? Eeesh, I’m not admitting to anything else. In any case everybody suffers from wind and has hair growing out of their earlobes. Right?

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Cakes n Cricket

Something weird happened at work today. It was someone’s birthday and as is customary the birthday girl bought some cakes – lemon cupcakes yum (you don’t look a day over 21, D). So, the desktop was looking like a bakery and I’m standing there chatting to someone...picking at a bunch of grapes.


I actually ate the grapes and didn’t give the cakes a second thought. AAAAAAAARGH. What is going ON?

In order to offer some balance back into my diet, I a) rushed to the nearest loo and washed my mouth out with soap and then b) drove straight to KFC for a 3 piece Colonel’s meal.

(the England team experience the pain of not beating the Aussies at Lords for 75 years)

Caught a little cricket on TV the other day. Something or other called The Ashes. Andrew Flintoff, sorry England versus Australia. We Scots don’t really do cricket. We’re way too busy running up and down the hills in kilts, chasing haggis and shouting “Och aye, the noo” on a continuous loop.( It’s tiring, but fun and allows us to burn off all that deep-fried food.)

I only watched for like a minute before the yawns threatened to dislocate my jaw. But that was long enough for new information to reach me and it struck me that only the English would have a sport where a break in play was denoted by the word “Tea”.

It occurred to me that if the Scots had come up with this game the break would have been known as “Whisky” . Much more civilised methinks. And you wouldn’t have to eat those pesky cucumber sandwiches with a dram.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Apache Blessing


A good friend and fellow Makar Press Poet, Rowena M Love recently got married on a sun-drenched Isle of Skye (I know. Sun on Skye!). As part of her marriage ceremony with Mark they had the celebrant read out this Blessing of the Apaches. Which I thought I should share with you.

Many congratulations, Rowena and Mark and may the sunshine never stop.

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be
shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you
will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness,
for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you
are two persons, but there is only one life before you.
May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead
and through all the years, May happiness be your
companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth.

Treat yourselves and each other with respect,
and remind yourselves often of what brought you together.
Give the highest priority to the tenderness,
gentleness and kindness that your connection deserves.
When frustration,difficulties and fear assail
your relationship—as they threaten all relationships
at one time or another—remember to focus on what is right
between you, not only the part which seems wrong.
In this way, you can ride out the storms when clouds
hide the face of the sun in your lives -
remembering that even if you lose sight of it for a moment,
the sun is still there. And if each
of you takes responsibility
for the quality of your life together,
it will be marked by abundance and delight.

Good, innit? You can never have enough romance in your life and regardless of whether you are just starting out with your partner or you’ve been together for yonks there is much worth considering in this piece of timeless wisdom.

Now, go and get jiggy.

(FYI – the photo is of Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction. Ignore the “supersitition” bit here. I wanted a photo that went with the post and this was the best I could come up with. Apparently the Indians who lived in this area thought the mountains sacred, hence Superstition Mountain. So we could stay with the word “Sacred” as being pertinent to this post, no?

Oh - and ignore the giant cactus giving the V-sign in the forefront. Alternatively you could go with the victory inherent in this. Eeesh, I foken think to much.

The mountain - he says changing the subject - was known to the Pimas as "Ka-Katack-Tami" meaning "Crooked-top Mountain. So there you go. Do I not push the envelope in terms of keeping you guys informed?)

Saturday, 18 July 2009

True Blood

(Sookie gets her mitts on Bill, the Vampire)

Saw an Undertaker today. Don’t worry, nobody died. (Well at least, no-one I know.) He was walking across the road as I passed the other way...and this guy was freakishly suitable for the job. It looked like he was straight out of central casting. Even without the sombre suit you could tell he was in the life...of dealing with death.

White hair, a jaw that could shovel snow and a complexion that suggests putty tainted by jaundice.

He trembled a smile in my direction as I passed him and I swear I heard a choir, violins and crows. Somewhere in the distance a Rottweiler barked.

I’m still shivering

Talking about spooky things, I watched the first episode of True Blood. You should check it out. It gets the Best Vampire Programme since Buffy/ Angel Award. It is written by Alan Ball. Not the old footballer, but the screenwriting genius who came up with Six Feet Under and it’s streets ahead of what we get fed on UKTV.

Based on the novels of Charlaine Harris and set in a steamy Louisiana, it’s brilliant, sexy and should wash it’s mouth out with soap. All of the main characters are gorgeous, fit and potty-mouthed. Except the one called Sookie. For real. Sookie’s not too shabby on the looks but she’s the one character always giving the rest a row for using profanities.

Apart from a dislike for coarse language Sookie (for real) is psychic. She can hear you think. She also has a major thing for a new vampire who just rode into town. Well, he didn’t ride in. He just kind of appeared. I‘m thinking Sookie would like to get her hands on his boabie. And in the world of True Blood this is possible. Vampires are real people too, y’know – with civil rights, synthetic blood and a neat line in smouldering.

Sookie’s best pal is a gorgeous, fit and STROPPY. She don’t hold with stoopid and she’ll waste no time in telling you.

Sookie’s brother is handsome, fit and a mad shagger. But now he’s got himself into trouble. The last lady he was showing a good time was murdered. But not before she secretly filmed him giving her a good time. The po-leece now have a copy of this film.

Sookie’s boss is handsome, fit and besotted with Sookie. Which just isn’t going to end well. Give it up, dude. She’s after the bloodsucker.

The only characters in the cast who have been assaulted with the ugly stick are the odd peripheral character and the bad guys – a married couple who deal in drugs and vampire blood – and who are out to get Sookie, because she stood up to them and saved Bill the Vampire from getting the blood drained out of his veins in the carpark. Silver comes in very handy when you need to restrain your vampire, dontcha know.

It’s on FX – the satellite channel where they hid The Wire for yonks – but it’s due to appear on Channel 4 in the autumn. So watch it now and you can brag to your pals later in the year when they are just catching up with its genius.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Buy a book today!

The crime novels I read are all reviewed on, but I thought I’d give a mention to some of the excellent books I’ve read recently that don’t come under their remit. Go buy one. Try a real bookshop, not Tesco or Asda. Don’t get me started on supermarkets selling books.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
- Young fella crashes his car. His car bursts into flames. He suffers badly. We’re talking hideous burns -oh – leaving him like a gargoyle (geddit?). Woman comes to visit him in hospital. She says she has visited him through the centuries each time he gets burned. She says they were once lovers in medieval Germany. He says WTF, lady? Fascinating, imaginative, compelling, loved it.

Assegai by Wilbur Smith
- Africa in the early 20th Century. Romance/ wild animals/ history/ wild animals/ some more romance. Typical Smith. A great read.

The Man In My Basement by Walter Mosely
- A guy whose life is going nowhere takes in a lodger. The lodger is willing to pay wads of cash to stay in the basement (where did they get that title?) under some VERY strange rules of his own devising. Now if I let you know that the house owner is black and the lodger is white, that gives the story a whole different dynamic, innit? Very clever, provocative... a story about power granted willingly but accepted with difficulty.

Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman
– shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction – which made me think twice about buying it because I don’t hold with exclusive awards - don’t get me started. But I’m glad I ignored this compulsion. This is a true story set in Alabama, 1931. A posse of white men stop a freight train and arrest nine black youths for the fuck of it. Two girls alight from their carriage and are convinced to accuse the black boys of rape. They get caught up in the attention and oblige. The boys are convicted and given a date to be sent to the electric chair. America is divided and the subsequent court case became the kickstart to the civil right’s movement. Beautifully written and painful to read. An important book. Oh, and by the way there are times when people really suck.

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave
- this is about a young girl who escapes a terrible situation in her native Nigeria only to be caught up in a British detention centre. She escapes with tragic consequences. If you are not affected by this book then you should just carve out your heart with a butter knife ‘cos you clearly don’t need it. Nuff said.

City of Thieves by David Benioff
– during the siege of Leningrad a teenager called Lev is caught looting, which is pretty much understandable when you’ve had nothing to eat for days apart from grass and shoe leather. Except the army see looting as grounds for an on- the- spot execution. Lev, doesn’t get shot but is sent on a quest with another guy the soldiers don’t want to waste a bullet on - to find a dozen eggs. The army commander is about to marry off his daughter and his wife wants to bake a cake. Only it seems that all the hens in Leningrad are dead (along with the cats/ dogs/ horses) So, Lev has a mission if he wants to save his life. You could make the mistake of thinking the search for eggs trivialises the situation – au contraire – it highlights the have’s with the have nothing and on the verge of cannabalism. Loved it. Compelling, humourous and pacy story-telling.

Killing Johnny Fry by Walter Mosely
– a second for Mosely on this list. I love his stuff. The main character , Cordell is stuck in a rut. He is forced out of said rut when he comes home from work one night to find his girlfriend (ahem, how can I say this politely?) taking it up the ass from Johnny Fry. His reaction surprises him, to say the least. He ‘s thinking murder, but he can’t settle on the actual act because his libido is running riot. This man has got serious wood. Mosely does great dialogue and great characters and he does the sex stuff pretty well too. If this was a movie and filmed accurately it would be rated XXX. Suffice to say, one of your hands might be busy while you read this. SIDEBAR – this will undoubtedly shock some people who read about gruesome murders, decapitations, dismemberment etc etc without raising an eyebrow. Whassat all about? Blood and gore you can take by the bucket but an act of lust leaves you scandalised?

Nocturne in Chrome and Sunset Yellow by Tobias Hill.
This is a book of poetry rather than a novel. The blurb says it is a “book-length love song to the fabulousness and ragged beauty of Hill’s native London.” I say, surely the copy-writer could have come up with a better word than “fabulousness”. That aside, quality stuff on offer here.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell.
Since her father left, Ree has been forced to look after her mother and her two brothers. She finds out her father has put their house up for bail – bastard – and that the house will be sold from under them if the shit, I mean her father doesn’t turn up in court. Ree needs to find her old man, and pretty fast. Ok – I’m going to wax lyrical for a mo. This guy can write up a storm. Every page is a delight. Deserves a HUGE audience. And in the blurb, Daniel has a kickass beard. Buy it. Or I’ll come and post dog-poo through your letterbox.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Containing Nuts

Today I am assisting the BBC as they promote information on public health. In their efforts to provide an excellent public service they offer all sorts of information on their website. News, opinion, information, education etc etc.

I read a piece of info on their site this morning that I just HAVE to share with you. It really is ground-breaking! News that will put many minds across the world at rest.

Here it is.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Take a deep breath. And exhale slowly...and as you read this remember that it came from the BBC. That is -for the avoidance of doubt - the British Broadcasting Corporation.

And I quote...

Testicular Cancer does not occur in women.

Wow. Unbefuckinglievable.

It’s so good you need to read it twice.

Testicular Cancer does not occur in women.

Holy scrotum, Batman.

As I read it this morning I heard a noise across the world. Like a soft exhalation. Female hypochondriacs all over the world breathing a sigh of relief ‘cos they have one less thing to worry about. ..

...they are never, ever gonna get cancer in their testiculars. I know. Good innit?

Now we just need to get cracking on the research that will prove once and for all that men with a droopy labia are not more prone to hayfever.

Saturday, 11 July 2009


Never thought I'd see myself doing this...but wanna see some of the snaps I took on holiday?

A tree, but not as we know it. Do you see the alligator in the wood? The alien species that has come down to watch over us...until the right moment Before it strikes and asks for 10%. Guess what I was watching last night?

I'm liking this one. Note the composition. Note how the trees frame the epic skies. Note how the small yellow sail (man made)acts as a counterpoint to the scale of nature. Note how full of shit I am.

There's something about this tree. What is it with me and trees?

This was taken at the pen that contained the Amur Tigers at the Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig. Note how I skilfully caught the reflection of the people staring at the tigers and how they in turn become the exhibit. The tiger becomes hidden. The more we strain to see it, the more difficult it becomes to see. Like breathing, the more you focus on it the harder it becomes. The tiger becomes your breath and mists on the glass. Gawd, I am SO full of shit I should be locked up. But just for a moment you were going for it, right?

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Prunes and tigers

Today, I’m like a prune. I have wrinkles on my wrinkles. I took son for a swim at a Leisure Centre at the McDonald Highland Resort in Aviemore. The cost for non-residents was £15. I explained to the receptionist that I only wanted a swim, not to take out membership. Her smile was frayed with impatience. Then, “There’s a wave machine.” She made a token effort to sell it to me and then raised an eyebrow that articulated exactly what was going on in her mind – “like I could give a shit, you wanker.”

My son was hopping up and down in anticipation of a dip. I handed over the cash and asked the receptionist if they provided staff with masks along with the uniform. She didn’t hear me. Probably because I’m a feartie and only asked it in my own head.

I was determined that we should get our money’s worth and we were in the water for ages. The wave machine was great fun and there was a slide that the wee fella pronounced the best he’d ever been on. Two hours later - the prune effect was achieved.

Yesterday was awesome. We went to the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig. They specialise in animals that are suited to the weather conditions locally and those whose numbers are in decline. Indeed many of the animals in situ are either extinct or approaching extinction in the wild. There are yaks, european bison, red panda, eagle owls, lynx, beaver, reindeer and loads more.

There is an area where you are able to get out of your car and walk about to look at the animals. There is also a stretch that you drive through and this is where many of the grazers are given space to roam. Driving through the main reserve we passed the Bactrian Camels, the Yaks, European Bison, red deer... and then we parked by the roadside to watch a small group of Przewalski’s Horses.
They are strikingly similar to the horses depicted in European neolithic cave paintings. Fossil evidence in Scotland indicates that wild horses survived here up to 3000 years ago but after the last Ice Age, the horses’ range became smaller and smaller until its last wild population was in Mongolia.
The Przewalski is presently being reintroduced to two main sites in Mongolia and they have re-established themselves well. Przewalski’s horses differ from domestic horses in a number of ways. Their skull is heavier and they have a thicker jaw as well as an upright black mane and no forelock. They are stocky with relatively short legs and a yellowish brown coat with black lower legs and a black tail. Just in case you were wondering.
And we can testify that they are also nosey feckers. We had the window down so I could try and take some photographs. One of the horses took this as an invitation to have a wee look at us – splendid specimens I could hear him say. I managed to get the window up just before it had a nibble at the wee fella’s hair. I have the horse saliva staining the length of my car window to prove it.

Headline act at Kincraig is undoubtedly the Amur tiger pair and their 3 cubs. They used to be known as Siberian tigers but apparently their numbers have retreated to a smaller area of the region; you guessed it, known as Amur. These are the largest tigers on the planet and to be mere feet (through thick glass) from ma and pa while the cubs (born on the 11th May this year) clambered all over each other was a thrill and a privilege. Pa Tiger was HUGE. Awesome is a word that is over used nowadays, but in terms of being able to watch these tigers so closely it is absolutely appropriate.

The WWF website says - In the 1940s the Amur tiger was on the brink of extinction, with no more than 40 tigers remaining in the wild. Thanks to vigorous anti-poaching and other conservation efforts by the Russians with support from many partners, including WWF, the Amur tiger population recovered and has remained stable throughout the last decade or so.

But poaching of tigers and its prey, increased logging and construction of roads, forest fires and inadequate law enforcement are threats that affect the survival of the species.

Another delight was the troupe of Snow Monkeys who have recently arrived. They were the most physically active attraction on the park and contentedly carried on with their lives in full view of the hairless bipeds on the other side of the viewing glass. Could’ve watched them for hours.

The wee fella was trying to work out the gender of several of the monkeys walking past. One large male turned away from us to present a close-up view of his hairless pink arse and a large pair of equally pink and hairless cojones...and this is why actors are always saying your should never work with kids or animals...
- Well he’ son began to say with the voice of a TV announcer.
- Don’t go there, I said quietly, trying to head him off at the pass.
- He’s definitely male, announced my son to the crowd around us.
- Yes and just leave it at that. I spoke quietly.
- ‘Cos I can see his big pink balls.
I should just have given in to the inevitable.

Oh – and for the record, two hours writing time yesterday and 1.5 today.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Holiday Stuff

It is now day 2 of my staycation and I am happy to report that I have indeed stayed in touch with my current novel. That’s 2 hours yesterday and 2 hours today. Woop, woop.

What else has happened during my Highland holiday? Yesterday was 23c and sunny/ cloudy. Today is 13c and raining sporrans and claymores. Where other than in Scotland can you get a summer weather variation like that? One blessing provided by the rain is that the pollen count is a good deal lower and I am able to move about today without feeling that the only way to stop the itching is to gouge out my eyes with my thumbs.

Other impressions of the holiday so far? Yesterday we were at the Osprey Centre at Loch Garten. They have a small building sited about 500 metres (actually it could be 600, 700, 1000 or even 1005 I have no clue and didn’t bother to ask, ok?) from the bird’s nest. The birds have some hatchlings and there is a CCTV trained on it (at last, a good use for one of these things) with live feed streamed onto a bank of TVs for the two-legged to watch. There are also a number of binoculars available for you to have a gander yourself. When I walked in to the centre the first thing that struck me was that the place had an almost reverential hush. Although it was full of people, they were all speaking to each other as if they were in a church or a library. Made me want to walk up and down the place doing a John Cleese walk while singing Waltzing Matilda. I settled for telling my son loudly TO COME AND LOOK AT THE BIG BIRDIES. To which, his reply was, you’re weird.

Red squirrels are being displaced all over Britain by those loutish, large, loud and greedy grey ones and lo it came to pass that a wee red one was sat right in the middle of the path to the car park. Around twenty humans stood at either side, afraid to move forward. We pointed cameras and spoke (again) in hushed tones. The wee red squirrel was completely oblivious to the giants that surrounded it, while he poked at a seed/nut/piece of crap on the ground. We humans were like cars lined up at either side of a level crossing. Eventually, with a swish of its big red tail the squirrel decided it had messed with our heads long enough and ran up the nearest tree. Where I like to think it had a right good giggle to itself.

BTW, the photo here for all of the common sense challenged is of a BLACK squirrel, courtesy of a Canadian chum. Apparently black ones are all the rage over there. See, I told you, Canadians are the nicest people.

Monday, and we popped in to Inverness ‘cos the wee fella had some holiday money and it was BURNING a hole in his pocket. He HAD to spend it. Oh – and I confess I went in to a bookshop and bought a book. I know, I know after I said I wouldn’t, but it was so lonely sitting there, on the shelf with all the others and I just had to pick it up and take it to the till and pay for it. For penance, I wrote 500 words when I got back to my lodgings.

I’m liking the new visitor centre at Culloden. On the way back from Inverness I managed to fit in some proper tourist behaviour with a wee detour to see it. My son asked who were the goodies and who were the baddies. Weeeeeeel, says I, glad you asked. I can now do my dad thing and try and educate you. See what I do to bring history alive for you? The Hanoverians had the British crown and the Stuarts wanted it back. So, Bonnie Prince Charlie sailed in to Scotland to try and raise an army against the government...but who were the goodies and who were the baddies, asked the wee man. ‘Sno as simple as that, son. His eyes glazed over until twenty minutes later he read a sign on the wall saying that although the battle lasted less than an hour it was actually extremely bloody.

If you ever have the chance to walk across the battleground itself – we didn’t today, it was still chucking it down – you’ll find it is an eerie kind of place. Muted. I was thinking of all the men who died there and wondering how silent the place would have been after the battle had ended and the dying had died - and how that sense of everything being a little more dim still shrouded the place centuries later. On the way out of the car park, my ipod was on shuffle and “chose” to play Fragile by Sting. “On and on/ the rain must fall/like tears from the sky/ like tears from the sky”. Can ipods on shuffle sense your mood, I wondered? In my head I put forward this theory that I have a sentient music machine. Until the next song totally disproved it – Marvin Gaye singing, the world is like a great big onion. Which, in case you don’t know goes like this...the world is like a great big onion, but with music and stuff.

Anyway – I have a book to read. See ya.

Friday, 3 July 2009

On Staycation

I’m having a “staycation” for the first week of my holiday this year. Like all words that become too popular this word annoys the feck out of me, but as a descriptive term it works.

And I had all these writing plans while I was off work. I was SO full of good intentions. As it happens, I am so full of shit. The weather was awesome for the main part of the week, so who could lock themselves on to their computer? And I had all those books to review for the website. And...and...and...

And this book isn’t going to write itself. Dammit.

So on week two of my vacation - the part that is not a staycation - when I head up to the Scottish Highlands, I have a plan. My son is not a morning person - frankly, he’s been a teenager in waiting since he was about 4. For the greater part of the day he is charm itself, but in the mornings ... Not So Good.

By the way, any prospective burglars out there. Don’t waste your time. Apart from having to tidy up before you find anything of value, I have a watchdog neighbour. She’s lovely but does “withering” very well and has the local police station on speed dial.

The plan for the awaycation is this...I set my alarm for 7 each morning. Write for a couple of hours by which my son will be stirring like some bear coming out of hibernation. I’ll feed him berries an’ shit like that and plank him in front of his Play Station for another few hours. Then lunch. Then we go out and take in the sights for a few hours.

In case you think I’m a crap parent, this suits him perfectly. He gets to sleep as long as he likes. He gets to play his games. He then gets to visit places on fast forward – just as he likes it. Everyone’s a winner.

Another part of this cunning plan is not to take any books with me. I know, I know, it will kill me. This is me gnawing on my knuckles at the very thought. No books. It’s like fish without chips; KFC without chicken; a romantic comedy without cheese.

I can do it.

Another distraction is of course, continued contributions to this blog. The plan here is to see how it goes, ‘cos the blogs don’t really take up that much of my time. Noooo, I hear you protest, they appear so carefully constructed and perfectly worded that they must take HOURS.

There maybe the odd post. So don’t stray too far. I don’t want to lose y’all. Sob. Missing you already.

Other questions have been pushing themselves round my head this morning. Like, where did the sun go? Who sent all this rain? (It’s like a freaking tropical storm.) And who has been wearing all my clothes and leaving them in the wash basket? Since I’ve been on my staycation (is it annoying you yet?) I’ve worn nothing but shorts, t-shirts and sandals. Yet I have a washing full of socks, shirts, jeans, jumpers etc etc. Frankly, I’m sick of it. Heretofore, from hereonin and going forward the plan is just to go about naked while I’m in the house. Think of the planet. I’m saving on water and on the soapy stuff. Besides the only people who ever come to my door are my son, the postman and door to door salesmen. My son has seen it all before, for the postie I’ll cover up with a towel and the salesmen deserve everything they get.

I have this trick I do. I call it The Lassoo.

Speak soon, Peeps.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Brown Balls

I have a head like a malteser. After four days of dragging the wee fella up and down the Ayrshire coast in the sunshine, my bald napper has gone a deep brown. The rest of me however, has only edged from enamel-white to vanilla. If you can think of a suitable simile for what this apparition might resemble let me know.

I digress, as is my wont I hear you say. Sue me, is my reply.

See. I can have a conversation all to myself. Any similes for that one?

Talking about having a conversation to yourself – yes we were, keep up - one of my American bloggy friends intrigued me the other day with one of her posts.
Marley talked about how one such version of this ongoing conversation can be quite harmful to a writer. How those internal voices inhibit our writing and stop us from getting on with the work.

We all know this isn’t particular just to writers, don’t we? How many time have you been on the verge of an action and that little voice has pipped in just at the right/ wrong time. The things your internal critic might say can range from...
- Man, that sucks. What are you thinking about?
- Go watch telly, you don’t have to expose yourself to the possibility of failure while doing that.
- Dude, you are basically just crap. Go find a cave and hide.

You can bet your sweet life any entrepreneurs out there don’t allow this voice to stop them getting on.

In this blog Marley opined that she doubted if her poet friend (moi) would allow this voice to interrupt his creative endeavours - I had to consider this for more than a moment. Do I? I certainly used to. What changed?

It’s how you train the internal voice to phrase the question.

I used to walk into Waterstones and think, Holy Book Covers, Batman look at the number of books in here. How the fuck am I going to get published when all of these writers are vying for publishers attentions?
Now I walk in Waterstones and think, Holy Crime Section, Batman, if these guys can get published so can I.

I used to send out poems for publication while thinking, who wants to hear what I have to say? Who’s going to be interested in my sad wee efforts at poetry?

Now I send it off, or read it at public events while thinking that my opinion; my work is as valid as anyone else’s.

I trained my brain to re-frame the question in a way that I would seek positive results. I didn’t arrive at this thought process overnight. It took some work. The first thing I had to work on was “the work”. If I’m going to be sending out work or reading it at public venues it has to be the best I can make it. So I worked on my craft, attended workshops/ conferences; read books on the subject and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. And then wrote some more.

What was key in this process was assessing where I was along the way. Were my poems being received well by the magazines I sent them to? BTW, I remember my first submission to a poetry mag as if it was yesterday. The poems came back with a comment that my subject matter bodes well for the future, but at times my choice of words were clichéd and too everyday. I was fecking furious. Who the feck was he to say this to me? A friend pointed out that most people just get their poems returned without comment. What did this mean, I asked myself? A Good Question. That somewhere there was merit, I just had to dig it out. It was only a while – a long while later I could see that this guy had given me excellent guidance.

The next part in the process was finding someone whose opinion I valued and who was willing to read and give constructive feedback on a regular basis. A First Reader. The crucial part in this process is listening to the feedback – I mean listening to, and considering the feedback while ignoring the whimpering little worm of your ego that is squirming on the skewer of your FR’s opinion - and that ain’t easy. The trick here is to separate the work from the ego. The feedback is ALL about the work. ONLY about the work. The ego should only be allowed access once the poem is accepted for publication and then it can do cartwheels in a tutu. But not in front of my neighbours. Again. And if you decide to ignore the feedback be sure that you’re doing so because you disagree, not because your little ego is hurt and you need to ignore the FR to make yourself feel better. As Stephen King says in On Writing if you hear yourself saying, “yes, but...” to such feedback then really you are trying to defend the indefensible. This is surely a time when you should STFU and take the feedback on the chin.

Next in the process is listening to this horrible little internal chatterbox and asking yourself if what it is saying is valid. If it is voicing a “belief” that is limiting then you should find a way to re-frame the question/ statement as I showed you earlier.
More examples...

Why am I such a failure? Could be changed to ...What will get me what I want?
Why aren’t I better at this? Could be changed to ...What can I do to improve?

Asking yourself the right questions will send the boys and girls in the boiler room (your sub-conscious) off looking for a solution, instead of focusing on the problem. Repeat those last few words a hundred times...looking for a solution, instead of focusing on the problem.

Eeesh, I’m coming over all Life Coach here and that wasn’t my intention with this blog. Still. Its’ relevant. And valid. Do with it what you will. Make the changes, or print this off and wipe your arse with it.

Did I say I had a head like a malteser?