Well, that’s the new session at Edinburgh Writers’ Club under way. We had a good speaker in Laura Marney from Glasgow (teaches on Glasgow University creative writing courses) and in her own words, she got us ‘juiced up’ (sounds very sexual to me but hey, that’s the difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh perhaps!) and ready to write, write, write.
Her novels have some fantastic titles: like, ‘No Wonder I Take a Drink’. I confess I’d never heard of her before she was booked for our opening tonight so have gone on Amazon to have a look, and have purchased the Kindle version of her book ‘Only Strange People Go to Church’. Obviously I have a vested interest! But I’d like to say that I don’t think I’m any stranger than my non-church-going friends. I’ll let you know what I think of the book once I’ve read it.
It’ll have to wait in a queue though as my next has to be ‘The Nineteenth Wife’ by David Eberhoff. It’s the next title on our book group programme. Something to do with polygamy in a fundamentalist Mormon community. I like the way the book group brings new writers to my attention. Anyway, even before that I have to finish ‘Narrow Dog to Carcassonne’, which I feel is beginning to drag a little. I might speed-read…
Look what just swum into my life: handed in tonight by my kind
fisherman neighbour Alan. I’m going to bake it tomorrow morning, with some lemons, for the Harvest Thanksgiving lunch after the service. A good result all round – it was going to bean salad. Not that there’s anything wrong with bean salad; but you have to love a nice fresh sparkly rainbow trout, don’t you?
I’m reading ‘Narrow Dog to Carcassonne’ by Terry Darlington; but it sounds like there aren’t many trout to be found in the murky canals cruised by the Phyllis May. Maybe further on in the book – I’ve just crossed the English Channel with them, and taken a tour round Belgium. Soon we’ll be back in France, on the Canal des Ardennes. It’s looking good. Terry and Monica and their whippet Jim have taken to life in a cigar tube, and it’s just as traumatic as you would expect it to be. Jim is a bit of a drama queen, and scrounges pork scratchings everywhere they go. I think I could survive a barging life. With a dog. Not sure about surviving in such close proximity to a husband though. Alas this isn’t a choice I have to make right now.
Today I heard not one but two sermons on the ‘lost sheep’ theme. You might think one would be plenty; but this was a special day for my friend Valerie and I couldn’t miss the chance to see her in action again. Funnily enough the first sermon was by Jim, who Valerie says taught her all she knows about preaching.
During the second service there was a bit of audience participation in which we were invited to shout out things we had lost. Afterwards I was in raucous company and one new friend said she’d been tempted to shout out ‘My virginity!’ but she restrained herself. I’d thought about shouting out ‘My job!’ but again I didn’t. Aren’t we tame? If we’re not careful we’ll let the church become boring – perish the thought.
On the ‘Found’ side of things I had three lovely surprises today: first, Lieutenant Wunderkind sent me a YouTube link to Maya Angelou performing ‘And still I rise’. See her at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqOqo50LSZ0 Then there was the lovely Valerie doing what she does best. And finally, a man I’d never met before offered to lend his considerable talent and expertise to a small (I’m joking, it’s huge) legal problem I am currently experiencing. And so, the week begins on a great note and is only going to get better…
Do you ever get bored with the mincing correctness of politics these days? I have to confess I’ve never been all that interested at the best of times, so I’m no kind of expert on these matters. However it does feel like there’s a lot of games of conkers going on in the chambers of elected members across the land.
Yesterday a friend and I visited House of the Binns, near Linlithgow – very close to home for both of us but neither of us had ever been before – it’s always the way. It was a very pleasant visit – a fine old laird’s house of the early 17th Century, full of interesting portraits and charming mismatched old china, and inhabiting a lovely spot looking down over the Firth of Forth (‘Binns’ apparently means something like ‘Bens’ – ie hills – the estate is built on two hills). It is the family home of the Dalyell family – Tam Dalyell was Labour MP for Linlithgow from 1962 to 2005. Our guide, a Grangemouth lady who has been guiding for over 15 years, was knowledgeable and entertaining, and dropped in some nice personal opinions and experiences.
We were graced by a personal appearance of Dalyell himself. Now over 80, he excused himself to check on the welfare of his bees, then shuffled off again. Among the many portraits on show, there were copies of press cartoons highlighting his political career as a ‘dogged crusader’. One of the best was of Dalyell with his teeth clamped round a woman’s ankle , handbag brandished nearby – Maggie Thatcher. Apparently he was twice suspended from the House of Commons for calling her a liar, and refusing to retract the accusation. He compared the Falklands campaign to ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’. Although a ready challenge to the conservative governments of his day, he was no less critical of New Labour, and staunchly declared himself ‘Ancient Labour’.
How exciting to come into contact with landed gentry who care about the masses. And it gets better. Tam Dalyell is married to Kathleen Wheatley, whose father, Lord Wheatley, was Labour MP for Edinburgh for many years, and established the Legal Aid system in Scotland. He was a lifelong Roman Catholic, and at his memorial service in 1988, the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a member of the Free Presbyterian Church, was disciplined by his church for attending Lord Wheatley’s service in the catholic church.
I don’t really care that much what denomination people belong to or what beliefs they profess. But I love it when people rise above the often-stifling and misguided institutions of formal religion and do the right thing. And ditto with politics. Yesterday was a refreshing blast of rebelry and I hope it hasn’t gone from public life.
You bake a cake and nobody thinks you’re a sad pathetic person who hasn’t discovered Marks and Spencers. You paint your house and the Guild of House-Painters doesn’t scorn your pitiful efforts. But you publish your own book? Vanity; self-delusion; a severe case of no-talent. Or at least that’s how it used to be. Self-publishing is not only cool now – it’s de rigeur.
Yes, the publishing industry is in trouble. I met a friend in Waterstone’s in Princes Street the other week for a coffee and as I walked up the stairs I had this feeling that I’d better enjoy it while it lasts. There’s almost a whiff of museum about a bookshop (and that’s not in itself a bad thing); you look around you and wonder if the customers are those who make tea from loose leaves rather than teabags; send hand-written letters instead of emails. It’s a very attractive notion but it’s pure nostalgia, and doomed of course.
I love my Kindle; I truly do. And I’ve got used to the different feel of it. The sense of judging my progress by looking to see what percentage, rather than page, I’ve reached. The wealth of a shelf-load of books in one slim leather-bound volume. And as for self-publishing on Kindle? I couldn’t be happier. At last I have a chance to reach readers beyond my immediate circle of friends (God bless you all), and to hear impartial feedback. I won’t get rich with my first book – but hey, there will be a second soon, and a third, and a fourth! I don’t need to wait for the mythical contract!
Here’s what Writing Magazine’s Grumpy Old Bookman (Michael Allen) has to say this month about traditional publishing contracts – quoting David Vandagriff, an experienced US media lawyer:
‘These contracts stand apart from the general run of business agreements as conscience-shocking monstrosities. They’re simply designed to screw authors and to give publishers control over their work that is far beyond what is regarded as reasonable in the rest of American business.’
And, GOB adds, the UK is no different. Traditional books could often be beautiful; but how many authors are able to make a living out of their efforts? The future is uncertain and living in a town with a vast Amazon warehouse on its edges, with all its zero-hours workers queueing at the gate, I’m not blind to the ethical challenges. But I think writers are well-served by the new accessibility of publishing, and like every other kind of worker, we’ll make of it what we will.
I’ve succumbed to the lurgy – after a lovely day out on Saturday, with cake and coffee at Pillars of Hercules in the company of a feathered friend and a non-feathered friend. Photo of one of them to the right; the other is a shy retiring bird who doesn’t pose for the camera. So, by the time I got home from church on Sunday I was somewhat under
the weather; rallied myself for more cake and coffee with another friend (never call me unsociable) then came home and got into my jammies. Have barely been out of them since; might manage today but no promises as yet.
So – it’s vinegar and honey and hot water for me. I usually prefer lemons but forgot to buy them. However cider vinegar works just fine. And a great book to finish – ‘Ghosting’ by Jennie Erdal – a fellow Fifer no less, although I hadn’t come across her before. She spent twenty years working for a prominent publisher and wrote two novels and a weekly newspaper column in his name. If I’d thought ghost-writing might be an easy way to make a living via the pen, I’d think again. She writes with great integrity about the identity issues she faced throughout those years, and their impact on her personal life. I was worried at one point that she was going to say her second marriage had fallen foul of her demanding boss. But she didn’t, and I trust it hasn’t. I’m glad to see she has now come out of his shadow, and has written her own novel which I will now look out for. I wonder what the fallout has been for the ghostee? Erdal wrote a vivid and relatively sympathetic picture of him; but I must say he’d have driven me to drink.