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reaches of the Ken basin, the bones of extinct villages protrude through bare patches of the Spruce Forestry that superseded them.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.  

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Some character research

Posted: 21/04/2017 by Alternate Celt in writing

I’m just doing a bit of background research for a character and came across this gem of a page. Traits of a Godly Wife is so abysmally typical it stood out. Aside from being loaded with virgin/ whore references, it’s riddled with man-child misogynistic fantasising in regards to how women should behave. Here’s a few delightful quotes.

A godly woman avoids any present situation that would be destructive for her future usefulness to God.

Usefulness to God sounds all a bit… Creepy? Ugh

This deceitful woman is an ugly woman because she is self-driven and wants her way. Her words and actions lead the man on a path to destruction. A beautiful woman wears heavenly beauty as God’s Word describes it.

Hmmm…..

Moms and dads, what kind of woman are you raising? A wise woman or a foolish one? Does she dress in a way that draws a young man to think about her body and its enticements or her spirit and its beauty? Does she have a holy hatred of sin? Does she use her powers to get her own way? Does she manipulate by tears, looks and whatever it takes to accomplish her ends? Is she argumentative, easily quarreling and fighting with you or her brothers and sisters?

Holy hatred of sin?????

This stuff makes me feel a bit like I am looking at a completely alien culture. I wonder if it’s because I’ve read more than one book.
And yes, for the sake of story research, I am being provocative. 

 

Lest We Forget

Posted: 26/02/2017 by Alternate Celt in poetry, political
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I wrote this for my latest TMA


Lest we forget

The poppy

In Flanders Fields it grows

Flowering for one brief day

Shedding petals on ground

Still scarlet stained

By the blood of blossoming youth
Lest we forget

We fought fascism

We fought it in trenches

On fields, streets and beaches

From bomb shelters

On radio waves and postered walls

In our living rooms and consciences

We fought fascism

And we won.
The promise of peace

The post war pact

The NHS

The Welfare State

Our safety net

Our life of civic order
Pay income tax

National insurance

Vote in the ballot box

Put in a lifetime’s 

Peaceful contribution

No more should we be,

Left alone, left behind

Prey to fear, prone to war

Torn by class, race and hate

Never again?

Lest we forget

Adagio

Posted: 16/02/2017 by Alternate Celt in poetry
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Adagio

Reflections on ‘Adagio for Strings’ by Samuel Barber


The dead season

Little black trimmed postcards

In the village shop window

Multiply as the nights draw in

As the leaves fall

The rain and wind blow

At us


Murmurs of the sickroom

The dull beat of the ticking clock

Fading flowers for the patient

Lend their decayed, bassy funk

To the sharp sterile scents

Of this hushed vigil

Lives held, not breath

While inexorably approaching

The ultimate crescendo


The final movement

That wracks body and soul

Pulls acutely on delicate heartstrings

Until they sing a bittersweet note of mourning

Enrapture us in agony

Before fading into drained silence


The muted, spent heart

Cocooned in numbness

Smothered in grief

Seems incapable of more

Yet aches reawaken in the darkness

Stage a swelling reprise to the cold night

Bringing us at last

To catharsis

Jarring, jagged

Raw

But ultimately

We breathe again


Listen to Adagio for Strings here and let me know how it compares!

Echo Dance

Posted: 04/01/2017 by Alternate Celt in writing
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I am almost finished working on my second assignment for my ou course, yay!  To celebrate I decided to post the story I wrote for the first assignment back in October.
Echo Dance
Our flat, our studio flat, is a huge empty space. Often, when I come home I call his name and it will bounce around the old red brick walls and off the huge factory windows before it finds him. Buried in his work, he’ll shout back and our voices will dance together around our home, filling empty space with life. It is our daily rite, our echo dance. We’ve known each other since college, when we built a friendship working side by side in the Dark Room. By accident one day, I found I was developing a picture on paper he had already exposed. As the image swam up from the whiteness of the paper, there was I gazing wistfully out of the rain spattered pane of my student flat window, bathed in golden afternoon sunshine, and there was he on the other side, staring back with eyes haunted by blue-bright studio light. A “self portrait of loneliness” had been the assignment.
When I showed it to him, he exclaimed delight, spent a long moment lost in the coincidental brilliance of it, then looked up at me with something new in his eyes. We said afterwards that it was fate’s intervention.
The flat came after college, after his work began to take off. We created together often, but my day job was for a fashion magazine. He worked alone at home.  We developed our echo dance to reconnect at the end of the day. It was born while our belongings were still in boxes. We drank wine and revelled in our spacious new cavern, playing the echoes with our voices and learning how to make them dance together. From there, fed on happy memories, it took no time at all to grow into our echo dance.
Work never ruled us, it was merely part of the busy flow of our lives. With weekdays swallowed by separate jobs, weekends were for travel. We roamed the country, cameras in hand, sharing and recording the world together. Ideas would bounce furiously back and forth between us as our cameras clicked and flashed. We never thought the dance could end.
The  journey that sundered us.  The peace of the evening train. I recall looking up to see him watching the flickering shadows of night stealing over the world beyond the glow of the carriage, his face pressed close to the glass so he could see past it’s reflection. I recall the intensity in his watching, the concentration as he gathered inspiration from the swiftly passing landscape. He sensed my eyes, looked back at me and smiled, then the peace was ripped apart. Screaming metal, exploding glass and for a moment my heart stopped beating. We became ragdolls, tossed carelessly around the bucking train. Then in darkness, peace returned, but the echo dance was over.
I visited him today, I whispered his name, but there was no reply. The hospital smells pinched my nose and caught in the back of my throat, making the fight against tears harder. In the ward he sits regarding his reflection in the window, one of many broken souls. He doesn’t speak, they tell me he cannot. Day after day, they lead him around like a shuffling shadow, but he does not see them. He does not see me. He can only see himself. Sometimes he gets angry and he beats his body so bruises blossom on his skin. He quiets again only when they lead him to the window. So he stares, blank and hollow. I am no longer his reflection. His dissonant soul no longer echoes mine.
Our flat, our studio flat, is a huge, empty space. When I call his name, it ricochets back to me unaccompanied, leaving me to sit here in the middle of the floor, golden sunlight bathing me as I hold myself in my loneliness. I scatter pictures on the cold, tiled floor around me. His face, frozen in a hundred different expressions; so life-like, so animated, is just an echo of the man that’s gone. I find that photograph, that piece of unintended beauty that brought us together. Two overlaid images, two different moments, but our gazes are locked none the less, as if we sense the presence of each other. Posed by fate, souls bound by the alchemy of film. It was proof of destiny in a happy accident, now it is a painful reminder of what was lost. Just the last dying echo of our dance. 

.

The sun is set, but the sky is still awash with the golden glow of her passing. The clouds are inky black and lined silver, just as the old adage goes. The moon appears in disclike wrent of cloud, a sliver of celestial magic framed with a backdrop of cosmic luminescence. Below him, Venus lingers peeking at the night. A mere pinprick of brilliance, a bank of ominous cloud dwarfs as she skims low over the dark spine of the Rhins of Kells. Beneath it all, the lies the quieted glen, smudged by swirling tendrils of mists that shroud the river. The riot of autumn colour cladding the hillsides is muted in the Gloaming, faded to soft browns. The village appears as a brief splash of colour as night creeps over it with dewy fingers. Above it, Bennan hill seems to rise, conical and sinister as Mount Doom, smeared with haze and the mirk of encroaching light.

Pearls part 2 and a wee explanation!

Posted: 16/09/2016 by Alternate Celt in Pearls, writing

Part 2 of Pearls is now up at FTP magazine, mosey on over to see what mischief Keri and Ami are up to now. 

I feel that a little bit more background to the story could be good for folk, especially anyone who might find the language a wee bit challenging to get into. No, I’m not writing a glossary, I just think that a bit of explanation might just help you persevere. Sorry, Ah’m no that kind 😉
Pearls on the Road is a Rock n Roll adventure; a wild ride across America and a dedication to the spirit of Janis Joplin. It’s two wild Glasgow women, one psychedelic car and a life changing road trip. Beginning with the theft of Janis Joplin’s porsche from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, we follow our two main characters, Keri and Ami, as they meet a wide selection of colourful people, take a large amount of psychoactive substances and burn up thousands of miles of road, all while trying to stay ahead of the Law and not go out like Thelma and Louise. The book’s plot centres around Keri, who narrates and Ami, who is Keri’s best friend and partner in crime. After they steal Janis Joplin’s Porsche, they go on the run in the car headed south to New Orleans on a pilgrimage in honour of Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat. Although sceptical at first, Keri and Ami come to believe they are on a mission to free Janis’s spirit from the car. In New Orleans, a voodoo ritual sets them off on a car chase with the Devil and a race against time to get the porsche to Stinson Beach in California where Janis’s ashes.
Keri narrates in her own voice, which is definitely Glaswegian, and certainly outspoken and confident. She believes in herself, and even though she’s aware she’s not taking the moral high ground in much of the story, she follows her instincts and her heart. Ami is also outspoken and able to articulate her beliefs with passion and  eloquence. I put a great deal of myself and my own interests into Pearls, as it’s something of a personal homage to America and Americana. Like Keri, I’ve practiced Martial Arts, gone to Metal gigs, dreamed of visiting Lestat’s New Orleans and been a singer. I was a teen of the 90’s and the music of that decade is as important to me musically as the music of the 60’s. The story is littered with references to songs I both loved or simply found appropriate to the girls in that moment. It ranges from Guns n Roses through to Painters, back via Motley Crew and then deep down into Janis’s discography. It makes a rather tasty playlist, or at least, I reckon so.
I play a little locally down here in Galloway, which keeps music part of my lifeblood, and I currently work as the Librarian in the Library where I discovered Interview with a Vampire as a teen. Other literary influences for the story are from Hunter S Thompson and Jack Kerouac, as well as great Scottish writers like Irvine Welsh and Iain Banks. I am also rather aware of a lack female authors writing in Scots and a lack of non romance adventure stories with female protagonists, so my aim when I write is to fill a bit of that gap.
I really enjoyed writing Pearls. The characters are vivid to me, and their adventure really kept me rolling along quickly as they explained it to me. Although there is a lot of darkness in the story, my aim was to write something fun and uplifting, which I believe I achieved quite well. 

Last night was Open Stage again, and it was another great night. Guitars, bouzouki, bass and lots of voice, we had a wide range of music and loads of talent to enjoy. I played, although I wasn’t really sure I was up for it. Many thanks to the wild water of life for changing my mind ;). I played Dead Flowers by the Stones and Blaze of Glory by Jon bon moving, then promptly forgot the words to Before the Dawn halfway through. Must get on top of that wee issue. 

Blaze of Glory (rough)

It’s my wonderful guitar teacher, Anne Chaurand’s classical guitar workshop and performance on Sunday, so today I’ve turned my focus on to the pieces I need for that. Among others, I’ve been polishing up Fandanguillo for that. Really looking forward to the day. Eva Popov will also be there, so it promises to be an excellent workshop. 

fandanguillo September

Audio  —  Posted: 15/09/2016 by Alternate Celt in music, Songs

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.

Burning #amwriting

Posted: 13/08/2016 by Alternate Celt in writing

I’ve been pretty busy this week, as you can see over at my other blog, but I have also managed to fit in a bit of writing. After much to-ing and fro-ing , I’m currently settled on Burn. Burn is the story of a Young woman living a hundred years from now in a world drastically changed by Global warming and technology. She is involved in a resurgent rock based counter culture, being the lead singer in a band from the floating mega-city of Cali. It might have a bit to do with how much music I’m involved with at the moment that I feel so drawn to this story. 

I am starting an open university creative writing course in October, so at that point I’m going to put aside all current projects to focus on that. I want to brush up my skills and push myself to better habits and standards. Until then I want to warm up for October with lots of writing that I can have fun with!