Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

This is something I wrote about the influence of the Glenkens has on my writing.  I feel very lucky to live somewhere with so much to give a writer!

The Land Of My Voice

I live in an old part of an old country.  The sky is wide, trimmed by low hills that are fragments of the towering mountains they used to be.  Worn and rounded by ice, wind and time, they enclose a broad glen that has sheltered thousands of years of human life.  Here, in the craggy reaches of the Ken basin, the bones of extinct villages protrude through bare patches of the Spruce Forestry that superseded them.  

Landscape has always impressed itself upon me.  As a very small child, I recall walking along a long, straight country road near my home that ended abruptly at the feet of the Campsie Fells.  The hills towered over me  in a way that made me dizzy with vertigo, a sensation I still recall quite clearly as I write.   Later, I lived in the outskirt hinterland of Paisley, in a crumbling concrete block of flats on the side of a motte-like hill.  The thin and ageing metal framed windows in the living room opened onto a broad vista of those same Campsie Fells.  The profile of The Sleeping Giant dominated the skyline, dwarfing the petty achievements of the urban sprawl that separated me from her.  On the long summer nights of the heatwave of ‘83, the sunset would paint her garments scarlett while the sky turned gold. I would perch on the sofa back to watch and daydreamed other worlds while the colours melted into night.

Later, we came to Galloway. The landscape captured me immediately.  With my collie dog, I roamed free through our glen, always seeking the summits that would grant me views in every direction.  South, the Solway coast would shimmer in the sun.  North, the rolling green fields of Ayrshire could be glimpsed on a clear day.  East, the hills tumbled slowly down to the Nith Valley and Dumfries.  West, the Rhins of Kells loomed, still clinging to winter even late into spring.

This landscape fired my eleven-year-old imagination.  I daydreamed as I walked, stocking the high hillsides with dragons, the green woods with elves and the many chattering burns with fairies.  I wandered in a fantastical world of my own, transported from my awkward, nomadic childhood.  

At my new school, we walked the hills to learn from them.  Our History teacher led us on the trail of the Killing Times, showing us the savage nature of religious struggle right beneath our feet.  She led us to the places where people had once gathered in secret to worship, where the roar of a waterfall drowned out their voices and the hills hid them from sight as they prayed. I felt their ghosts flicker at the edges of my perceptions. She led us to the place in our quiet village street where a public torturing had sparked an armed rebellion.  In the silence of my imagination, I could still hear the screams.

Myth makes a land as much as history. We followed our English teacher along the flight of Adam Forrester​. Down the main street from the Inn of Lucky Hare, to the kirkyard where he spied her dancing with witches, revellers and the devil himself.  The stormy night conjured itself in my mind, the wind echoing with Auld Nick’s wild reels on the fiddle, the air thick with smoke and brimstone, light making spectral shapes through the windows of the old kirk.  We fled then as Adam did, across the ford and up into the hills to the spot where Lucky Hare pulled the tail from Adam’s horse.  I wondered then if Robert Burns had felt the same thrill of inspiration as he reshaped the tale to the landscape of his own youth.

When you climb to the summit of one of our hills, you can see clearly the connections that criss-cross the land below.  You can follow the path of the river and see how it formed the shape and configurations of the villages and farms on it’s banks.  You can see from the patterns of the roads how they have sustained those places that remain, but you can also see the disconnected ruins of the places that died. You can see, simultaneously, how the land lies now and how it lay in the past.

The old pack road that winds down into the glen from the  seaport of Portpatrick is one of the marks left by the past.  Maintained now for tourists as the Southern Upland Way, it once brought vital trade to our glen.  I’ve stood in one of the ruined villages on it’s route. My feet planted on that old pack road, my hands on the tumbled stones of the former Inn, I pictured the drunken revellers stumbling away from the door in the moonlight, and heard horses nickering warily in the ruined stable opposite at the noise.  It’s just feet away from where the miller’s wife once hid Robert the Bruce from the English and her husband.  Somewhere in the surrounding hills hides an ancient cave that birthed a famous tale of a stubborn spider.  

That closeness to such potent history grew in me, fed my sense of ‘scottishness’, built my inner voice. As I have dug deeper into the landscape’s past, it has fed me characters that have added nuance to my inner voice. I’ve found them first as names on the pages of the books in the library, then I’ve walked their paths like my teachers taught me to do, then I’ve opened myself to their voices.

I followed the Bruce throughout our hills, stood where he watched the Battle of Glentrool unfold, slept in a bunk on a spot he once slept. I’ve followed him where countless others have too, seeking to relive the history of our country.   But I’ve followed others too, others whose paths are much less well trodden.  I followed the  Covenanter ‘Black’ James McMichael from the spot where he murdered a turncoat minister, through the landscape in which he hid from the King’s forces, to the bitter end of his life in an unmarked grave.  His passing became a secret hidden in  leather bound history books.  He was brave but reckless, a savage man with a passionate belief, a compelling character who also repelled me. His voice was harsh, his tenor righteous, his passion driven by zeal. So different from me, but yet, his voice I understood. Sometimes when I stand in front of our Town Hall and close my eyes, I can still hear the creak of the gibbet where they hung him.  I try not to imagine the rank smell that must have accompanied his corpse.

I dug deeper again into the secret histories of our glen and found the Old Wife of Bogha, a woman who fell victim to the hysteria of Witchcraft, a woman suspected on account of her literacy.  Each time we drive to our weekly shop, we pass the site of her home. In the Kirkyard, at the session house, I can pause and hear her staunchly vow her innocence, and I think I can hear scorn in her voice.  I can follow the road they took her to Kirkcudbright, I can stand outside the cell where they starved, tortured and harried her for two long years to confess to crimes I know she did not believe in.  I can close my eyes and marvel at the strength of character it took her to resist.  I can feel my heart break as she did at last, begging for death. Her voice is persistent, her suffering vivid through it, and all too easily I understand it.   

In my journal, the landscape is a main character. I’ve painted it with many colours, but none reflects it’s true darkness than a  chill  autumn  evening. One such night, I went for a walk past sunset.  The sky was still awash with the golden glow of the sun’s passing.  The clouds were inky and lined silver.  The moon appeared in a disclike wrent of cloud, a sliver of celestial magic framed against a backdrop of cosmic luminescence.  Venus lingered below, peeking at the night. A mere pinprick of brilliance, she was dwarfed by an  ominous bank of cloud as she skimmed low over the dark spine of the Rhins.  Beneath it all, lay the quieted glen, smudged by swirling tendrils of mist rising from the shrouded river.  The riot of autumn colour that cladded the hillsides was muted in the gloaming, faded to soft, indistinct browns.  The village appeared as brief splashes of white light while night crept over it with dewy fingers.  Bennan Hill rose in the background, conical and sinister as Mount Doom in the last bloody light of the set sun, its sides smeared with haze and the murk of encroaching night.  I committed​ each tone to memory, savoured the drama of this old part of this old country and imagined​ a thousand different sunsets  that have gilded these old hills before.  

Courses, blogs and music, oh my!

Posted: 06/09/2016 by Alternate Celt in Extracts, Ghàidhlig, Life, music, musings, writing
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I’ve signed myself up for two very different courses to keep me busy and growing all winter long. In my thirst for self improvement I decided I need to revisit Creative Writing from a formal perspective, so I’m doing the first level course with the OU, starting next month. I’m also revisiting Scots Gaelic with an online course with the school in Skye. Between the two of them, they will probably tax my wee brain to it’s limit, so I will likely not be posting a great deal here for a while, although there are still a few exciting wee treats to come. 

I will be serialising Pearls on the Road for FTP (fuck the patriarchy) magazine, which is a new and exciting feminist mag covering the whole world of issues and culture with a bit of pith and passion. Once the Girls are go on the site, I will post links to the parts here!

The summer has been busy, largely with music and baking, but also with life. The winter will be busy with learning. As a sop, I’m posting a new wee snippet of Burn, since that’s been my main writing project over the summer. I will be sad to put it aside as Tighe has really grown on me as a character. Looking forward to checking back in with her and her boys next year.  Anyway, here’s their first gig!



I realise, just before the lights go up on the tiny stage we’re crammed into, that I have never been so fucking terrified in my life.  I have a dozen flashbacks; black and white freeze frame vignettes; the first time Dad put me in hospital, my first time as a hooker, my first cold turkey, my first beating from Shane.  It seems like just about fucking everything, including the crash that morning, all passing by my eyes as the stage lights spark into life and none quite measures up to the fear clutching my heart and squeezing my throat closed.  Oh shit.  We cannot afford to fail.  I cannot afford to fail, because I have to get out of the bullshit life that just flashed in front of my eyes.

Light floods the stage, my throat miraculously opens and I step up to the mic.

“How the fuck are you doing, people?” I yowl, wildcat like,  as Zack makes his guitar growl  behind me, echoing me.  I feel spikey, bitchy and dangerous and I am going to make these people pay attention to me.  The crowd, noisy and more concerned with drinking than music until then, goes suddenly hushed.

“That good, huh? I’ve had a shitty day too,” I chuckle darkly at them.  Zack makes his guitar snigger then howl like he can’t decide to laugh or cry.  I feel ears prick up all around the room.  Ché comes in then, on a low, soft chugging riff  under which Emilian creeps.  Zack gets pulled down into the growing  song by them and Jason snaps to, tumbling into the beat. I hear the song solidify and I know where I am.

“We are Tighe Blackheart and the Highwaymen.  Y’all oughta know this song,”

We’d argued all the way across the North District about the song we were going to open with.  Ché had been set on Welcome to the Jungle but after the shit we’d been through there was no fucking way I could start out singing that.  Ché had been busy arguing that Axl Rose had always sounded shit on his first song when Jason chipped in with For Those About To Rock. No fucking way I’d been about to exclaim when Zack and Ché both gasped “yes!”.  I suggested a dozen other songs, all pulled out of the air, and they were looking at me skeptically when Emilian suggested Crazy Train, which won the coin toss against some other song I don’t fucking remember now.  It doesn’t even matter, because we absolutely kill that fucker and the place is jumping.  

What can I say?  We’ve got Chémistry, and it doesn’t even matter that we haven’t had time to change out of our bloodied, ripped and filthy clothes, or that we’ve been to hell and back today, once we start playing together we play like we’re fucking possessed. It’s awesome, like the best drug you can buy and the only one you can really share.  

My voice warms up, the boys loosen up and the drinks start flowing our way.  We tear through our improvised set, playing by wire.  The stage is cramped, so I spend a lot of the night back to back with Zack, or wound round him, swinging my ass like a pole dancer while his fret board is smoking.  It must have been driving him crazy, because we had barely stepped off the stage before he was dragging me off to the toilets to fuck me against a wall.  Fuck it, I was more than ready for him.  All that grinding against those tight leather trousers of his had made me slick as a river and aching for him.  It gets me like that every fucking time.

When we stepped back into the walk in closet sized dressing room the party was already in full swing.  We’ve been around the world so many times now it makes my head spin, but we’re still living the same party that started after that first gig.  It had been a baptism of fire, which we’d survived and then kicked ass. Damn fucking right we wanted to party.

#Writing

Posted: 13/05/2016 by Alternate Celt in musings, writing

Well, I’ve been so busy lately I only just realised the deadline for the Xponorth comp is by. I didn’t hear anything,  but that’s life. There’s probably 1000 would be writers for every publishing opportunity that arises.
Anyway, that little realisation reminded me I’ve not really been writing properly for a  couple of months now. Been too consumed by oatcakes and music! Ahh, c’est la vie! I reckon its past time to take stock and decide where to go next.
I’m currently working on quite a few ideas simultaneously  (yeah , I know, but I’m a butterfly). They are:
Editing Pearls On the Road (rock n roll road trip)
Writing Surviving (post apocalyptic supernatural thriller)
Writing Burn (near future fictional rock bio)
Writing The Dark Wave (sci-fi space opera with Pirates),
Writing/editing Tapestries of the Veils (epic urban/steampunk fantasy set in an alternative present day)

I could probably discuss the virtues of each project and convince myself that each in turn is the most worthy, therefore ending up right back where I started with 5 projects all demanding my attention.  The problem with that is it makes me want to throw up my hands, scream, and do something completely different again… can you tell I’ve done this before? Heh.
If I go by today’s gut feeling, I want to serialise the 2 complete Tapestries books on the website (with  a view to selling the complete books as eBooks) while getting book 3 done. Of course,  that hinges on my being able to create an interest and a demand for those stories. Realistically,  I’m not sure I can.
I’ve mused over doing the same sort of thing with most of my work, and I’ve even made a couple of abortive attempts at doing that kind of thing before. Often as a writer I find myself wondering I , in fact, I am wasting my time and effort in creating work folk don’t really want. I think that might be a common problem for aspiring writers, but it is really rather difficult to tell when so much of the creative process of writing is done in isolation.  I don’t have the money to go get my manuscripts ‘polished’ by professionals (professional whats? I’m not even sure of the trade name!), so I’m left trying to figure it all out for myself. It’s almost enough to make you want to throw in the towel,  but I’ve tried that and those sneaky little ideas whisper at you until you start writing them down so it never works!
Bleh, that’s a lot of waffle to come to the point of not getting to the point! What do I do now? Anyone got any suggestions while I go  back and sit and stare at the blankness of the proverbial  Drawing Board?

Ghàidhlig

Posted: 23/04/2016 by Alternate Celt in Ghàidhlig, music, musings

Rinn mi bliadhna de leasanan Gàidhlig, ach gu mì-fhortanach tha cuimhn ‘agam glè bheag. Is toigh leam  a ‘chànain agus tha mi a’ gràdhachadh e ceòl.Tha mi a ‘feuchainn ri fhaighinn air ais e, ge-tà, beag air bheag. An-diugh tha mi a ‘dol gu clas òrain Ghàidhlig.*

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I really wish, as a Scot who lives in an area where the language died about 200 years ago, that I could actually have written the above without resorting to Google Translate.  While it’s awesome we finally have Scots Gaelic for Google, I can’t even really tell you how accurate a translation it gave me. I  recall a few handing greetings and polite phrases, I can count to ten if I screw my eyes up and force it out of my brain, and I know the names for dozens of oddly disparate things, but that’s it.
What I don’t understand is why anyone would want to let the beauty of the language and it’s lyricism die. People still sing latin hyms, for Christ’s sake, and most of them are dirges. There’s an entire culture’s worth of myth, memory and practice  tucked away in Gaelic song, all of which are much more part of our heritage in Scotland than any Roman legacy that’s taught in scools to Scots kids.
I’m a bit too far out in the hills to get to the evening classes in Dumfries, can’t afford a trip to Skye for an intensive course, so I’m not quite sure how I’ll get to learn the language that used to echo in these very hills and glens, but I do dream of a part in bringing that back. At least I’m able to sing in it!

*I did a year of gaelic lessons,  but sadly I remember very little. I love the language and I love it’s music. I’m trying to get it back, though, little by little.  Today I am going to Gaelic song class.

CatStrand Acoustic Session

Posted: 20/04/2016 by Alternate Celt in music, musings

I know I’m not exactly the world’s greatest guitar player. I have been dabbling since my mid teens, always with an urge to write songs way beyond either my skill or patience. About a year and a half ago I started taking lessons with my next door neighbour, the awesomely talented classical guitarist Anne Chaurand. I’ve improved dramatically and I’m writing songs again, but I’m still in a sticky place betwixt ambition and skill. Luckily, I live in an area blessed by live music and I even get to play in it sometimes.
I’m nominally in charge of a monthly jam session at our local arts centre, the CatStrand, and I’ve been squawking noisily there for quite a few years and more recently playing guitar.  It’s rolling round again, as it happens on the last Sunday of every month. 
I’ve had a bit of a confidence wobble lately, again because my ambition outstrips my ability, and particularly under pressure.  The interesting thing is that this time I find myself being much more analytical about it and my analysis has led me to the simple conclusion that if I want to meet my own ambitions, then I’m just going to have to keep on working and practicing until I’m can actually play the music I want to write. It’s not like I’m looking to do anything more than feel confident singing and playing music I’d like to hear, so all I need do is work until I’m happy.
Anyway,  do feel free to join the fun on Sunday if you’re in the area! 2pm to 4pm, open to all.

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Galloway musicians Zoë Bestel, Nicola Black, Blackie and Sarah Ade at the CatStrand Acoustic Session

Editing Language and Janis

Posted: 19/04/2016 by Alternate Celt in musings, Pearls, writing

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So, I’m like so busy at work today that I’ve been doing a bit of work on the language of Pearls on the Road.  I got inspired to look at it again after hearing a bit about how the story behind the film The Martian came about, because I would love more than anything to turn Pearls into a film. It’s a road trip with a bright and colourful cast, it’s rather feminist and wild, it’s face paced and has plenty of action that ought to make for a great film.   One step at a time though!
It’s actually good that I’ve taken so long to come back to it, because I have fresh eyes and a better sense of the difference between Weegie and the rest of Scots.  I am considering serialising the edited version just to get more eyes on the text though, and self publishing hard copies of the finished thing for anyone who would like one.  The question remains whether or not this is actually a good idea.  It might have worked well for The Martian, but I’ve been told so many times that Pearls is very “niche” I can’t decide if that will inhibit any following it might get. 
Anyway, I’m not ready yet to commit to the idea, I’m just starting to iron the text out a little.  If you fancy a wee bit of a taster, though, you can find the opening of the story here.

To blog or not to blog

Posted: 02/03/2016 by Alternate Celt in musings

Or rather, to blog again. It’s been rather a long time,  but I have been writing away quietly for all that time. The question is, truthfully,  what do I wish to blog for. Mmm.

I shall ponder, and post some of my scribblings in the interim while I decide.

Some musings

Posted: 18/11/2013 by Alternate Celt in musings
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Zombies. I have written a few stories about them and I’m working on one now which has me thinking about the story telling niche they fill.  Why are they so prevalent in our modern, western culture?
Firstly, I think we identify quite easily with the feeling in these stories of being outnumbered and overwhelmed by mindless masses. I’m not saying, as some might, that I think most of the world is populated by idiots, just that it is very difficult for the average person to identify with the hundreds, maybe thousands, of unknown people they pass by every day, or those people who are so culturally different from themselves there seems to be very little common ground to identify between them. That makes for a world stuffed with unknowable strangers, who can certainly seem quite frightening.
Secondly, if there is one thing we all do seem to fear in the West, it’s the loss of our technological and cultural privileges and the idea of returning to a raw state of survival. We fear it, I think, because we are aware of it’s fragility and of the imbalance it creates in the world. How many times have we had a parent or grandparent tell us how privileged we are to be able to eat plentifully? How often have we been reminded the rest of the world is lacking what we have?
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Zombie stories combine these fears into a powerful scenario unlike any other “supernatural” fiction, and they draw us in like no other such fiction because of that. We scare ourselves to stave off complacency and keep the taste of our luxuries fresh and sweet.

Give them pleasure – the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.

Alfred Hitchcock