Sunday, 29 March 2009

Paws for thought

"Time spent with cats is never wasted"
Sigmund Freud
What a lovely weekend I have had. I feel so relaxed and I think it's partly due to having been in the company of Tommy and Charlie (Chaz for short). These two beauties belong to my sister (well, I say 'belong' but really, cats are such free spirits they transcend ownership).
Tommy is the black one and Chaz is black and white. Both are very handsome, I'm sure you'll agree.
They are lovely boys, very gentle and entertaining. They have had a very calming effect on me. I feel like I have had my 'feline' battery recharged!
I absolutely LOVE cats and I know that one day I will be surrounded by them just like one of the characters in my novel. Alas - the time is just not quite right to make that commitment again. I had my old cat Bonnie for nearly 17 years and it is so difficult to say goodbye to a faithful, furry friend. I will just have to make sure I make plenty of visits to see my fluffy nephews!
Thankyou Sandra for a brilliant weekend x

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Sum of All Fears

In recent weeks I have noticed a frightening development in my mothering skills. Suddenly I find myself saying things that I always promised myself I would never say to my offspring - "Do you think I'm made of money?", "I don't care what anyone else does - YOU'RE NOT DOING IT!" and "because I said so" (to name just a few). The one that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck more than any other is "we all have to do things we don't want to do!"
But it's true!

Today I find myself doing absolutely anything other than what I really need to be doing - which is studying for an imminent exam in Mathematics. Now, bearing in mind that I failed 'O' Grade Maths twice at school is it any wonder that every time I open the textbook and see the array of graphs and formulas, equations and rules that I come out in a cold sweat? Not only am I convinced I have discalculalia (the numerical equivalent of dyslexia) my heart is SO NOT IN THIS! What I really want to be doing is working on my next novel (or watching "Loose Woman" with a cuppa..) so it pains me to have to sit and try to make sense of something which feels like an uphill struggle for my brain.
But -it has to be done in order for me to pursue my ambition to become a teacher. So yes, "sometimes we all have to do things we don't want to do" - it's a tough lesson but one that will prepare my wee boy for a lifetime of having to tackle horrible tasks (albeit reluctantly). In the words of one of my favourite authors, Mark Twain - - "Do something every day that you don't want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain"

There is a Yiddish Proverb which goes like this:
"If you don't want to do something, one excuse is as good as another".
I guess what this means is why bother conjuring up loads of different excuses for not doing something when we have already made the decision not to do it? During the last few weeks I have never had a tidier cutlery drawer or a more organised bathroom cabinet. Nor has my CD collection ever been so alphabeticalised! I have been quite inventive in my excuses not to have to sit down and learn about transposition of formula! I have created something to do (anything to do) other than the one thing I know needs to be done with urgent priority. What I really should do at times like these is just write some of my novel. At least then I would be doing the one thing I actually want to do. My knives and forks really don't need to be put in order of ascending size - this is just a delaying tactic. So the next time I speak those dreaded words to my son, words which used to induce a week long sulk from me as a teenager, I really should listen to my own advice and just get on with it!
Right I'm off to tackle quadratic functions and trigonometric identities (or maybe my windows could do with a clean?.... )

Exciting development!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Grow to be the best

I read this story in a newspaper at the weekend and thought I would share it with you -
"A good friend of mine went through deep emotional experiences during his life and when I asked him how he coped he said he always thought back to his first job, when he was training to become a gardener. He was told to grow some seedlings in six trays, so he placed them in sunlight and the plants flourished until something strange happened.
His boss told him to move the plants to a dark cellar and allow them to wane. When they were almost dead he was asked to bring them back out into the sunlight and watch them carefully. This exercise, he was told, was to help the plants become extra strong. After the experience of nearly dying they would fight for existence and grow to be the best they could"
That message is a powerful one and a great lesson to us all. Whatever happens in life and however sad our experiences might be they can strengthen us and make us better people - more able to fulfil our purpose in life.

Monday, 23 March 2009

The Living Years

I've been thinking all day about some sad news I heard at the weekend. Someone I used to be close to lost his father yesterday and it has really made me consider a few things. Why do we all take our loved ones for granted? Why is it that we always wait until it's too late to say the things we want to say?
This moving song was written from the perspective of a son who had a conflicted relationship with his Dad. After his father dies, he discovers that they had a much stronger bond than he ever realised, and regrets not saying more while he was alive. It's called 'The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics.
"Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door
I know that I'm a prisoner
To all my father held so dear
I know that I'm a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him
in the living years
Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I'm afraid that's all we've got
You say you just don't see it
He says it's perfect sense
You just can't get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defence
Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It's too late when we die
To admit we don't see eye to eye
I wasn't there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn't get to tell him
All the things I had to say
I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo
In my baby's new born tears
I just wish I could have told him
in the living years"

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Mother's Day

A Sonnet for My Incomparable Mother
I often contemplate my childhood, Mum.
I am a mother now, and so I know
Hard work is mixed together with the fun;
You learned that when you raised me long ago.
I think of all the things you gave to me:
Sacrifice, devotion, love and tears,
Your heart, your mind, your energy and soul-
-All these you spent on me throughout the years.
You loved me with a never-failing love
You gave me strength and sweet security,
And then you did the hardest thing of all:
You let me separate and set me free.
Every day, I try my best to be
A mother like the mum you were to me.
By Joanna Fuchs

Portrait - Mother and Son by Roy C. Gamble
Happy Mother's Day to all you mummies out there.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

My first event!

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face... The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it... You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do"
Eleanor Roosevelt

When Keith (Strident Publishing) informed me at the beginning of this year that he would like me to present "Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket" to one hundred Primary 6/7 children and their teachers as part of the Craigmillar Book Festival I could barely control my nerves. I had never done anything like it before and I started to doubt my capabilities. By the time I got to the Gaff theatre in Craigmillar yesterday morning I was on the verge of jumping back in my car and driving away like something out of Starsky and Hutch! But I didn't.. I looked fear in the face, took a deep breath and threw myself into the experience. I can only equate it with sitting on the edge of an open aeroplane waiting to jump out. Keith was there for moral support and boy, was I glad!
As the children from the four cluster schools in Craigmillar (Niddrie Mill, St Francis, Newcraighall and Castleview Primaries) started to pour into the theatre I was in a dreamlike state thinking "Is this actually happening, or am I going to wake up any second?!"
The first words to escape my mouth are now a blur - I genuinely cannot remember what I said - but after a few minutes the nerves melted away and I actually started to enjoy myself. How amazing is that! The best bit was reading an excerpt from the book - I read an exciting part from Chapter 10. No-one other than me and the Strident team have ever heard or read the story before so this was another goosebump moment for me...
The children were amazing. They sat perfectly and listened intently for a whole hour and really made me feel relaxed. Thanks guys (your teachers should be really proud of you all). When it came time for questions and answers I was really impressed by some of the original and interesting questions that were asked. At the end, Philip Hughes asked me to pose for some photos and I had to climb up the centre steps to the top of the theatre. It felt like I was on "Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway"! Come on down!!
I am really looking forward to reading the 'Magic Door Competition' entries when they arrive. I hope you children took on board the top tips I shared with you but most of all I hope you felt inspired to put pen to paper when you got back to school! I really want to thank you all again for being the first ever people to hear about my book. That makes you really special in my eyes and I will never forget you. I can't wait to see you all again when "Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket" comes out in August. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A Walk Down Memory Lane

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered"
Nelson Mandela

I visited Niddrie Mill Primary School today for the first time in 10 years. Alot has changed since I worked there all those years ago. In fact it's not even the same building - the place is unrecognisable. Niddrie Mill and St Francis Primary schools have merged and now share this incredible building which opened last year. It's absolutely huge and I started to wonder whether it might be a good idea to drop some crumbs along the way to help me find my way out! The reception area is like an airport! It's a beautiful school - all fresh and new and airy. But I kind of felt sad not to be visiting the old building down the road which is where I worked as a Nursery Nurse for many years. There were a few familiar faces there today to remind me of this time - Rosemary, Fay, Madeleine, Linda, Elaine, Heather and Sandra. It felt like I had just spoken to them yesterday. Good to see you again girls and thanks for making me feel so welcome!
I also recognised some of the children in P7 who were in buggies the last time I saw them. It was good to hear what their big brothers and sisters are up to now. How old did I feel when I heard that some of my first Primary One class now have babies of their own!?
The building might have changed but the 'feel' of the school remains. It was lunchtime when I was leaving and there was the usual throng of lively kids to bring back some happy memories. I almost felt like rolling my sleeves up and mucking in!
I never quite got closure on leaving Niddrie Mill. In the Summer of 1999 an unexpected job opportunity arose and this meant I officially resigned from Niddrie Mill during the summer holidays that year. I was absolutely devastated to have to leave my job but at the time it felt like I had very little choice. I needed security. At least I was spared having to go through the heartbreaking goodbyes that come with leaving a much loved job. I know that if circumstances had been different and I had been offered a secure and permanent contract at Niddrie Mill I would never have left. I had never felt so at home anywhere and during my time there I made so many good friends who taught me so much. But looking back with the luxury of hindsight I know it was the right time to leave - I just needed that shove to force me out of my comfort zone. Even though my path led me to a job I hated ( that's another story..) everything turned out for the best in the end.
I have achieved so much in the last ten years. It has not always been easy (in fact it's never been easy) but I know that working at Niddrie Mill Primary will always be one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done. I felt quite emotional today. I still really miss it. I'll always look back at my time there with fond thoughts and I will never forget the brilliant staff and children who I met along the way - not only for preparing me for just about anything but also for paving the way into the career I have now chosen to follow.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

A Forgotten Masterpiece

Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him(sic)
Maya Angelou (American Poet, b.1928)
This is one of the very first novels I remember reading. In fact I read the entire book in one day when I was off school ill. Couldn't put it down. And I also remember how it inspired me to write my own story about a family of Hedgehogs who had to find a new home after the Combine Harvester destroys their house. I was eight.
Sadly, there are many parents who have replaced books with TV. But just think - if children are so entertained by two letters, just how amazed are they going to be with twenty six!? Kids need time to read, to explore all the delights of the written word - old, new, fiction, non-fiction. Let them discover the joys of forgotten masterpieces - you never know, it might just inspire them...

Monday, 16 March 2009

My manuscript

My friend Caroline is using the story of my journey into writing as part of a college project. We have had a lot of fun taking photos - I can't remember ever laughing so much! I really like this one of my printed manuscript with my heart locket draped over it. It looks just like the half heart locket in the story (except my one is silver and Bree's is gold).

Seeing the pages of my story coming out of the printer really hit home how much hard work has gone into this. It's a bulky piece of work - and this is the edited version! It was so fantastic to see it all down in print - a real goosebump moment. I can't imagine how I am going to feel when I see the completed version with a front cover!

Silver locket by Julie Hyslop -

Friday, 13 March 2009

Remembering Dunblane

A Dedication: To A Snow Drop

"Easy, the stream flows off the ben
A down the dyke-run, tae the glen.
The fallen grass is solemn, bare:
Alang the head-rig strolls the hare -
Unnoticed, thru the misty morn
Past the oak an' hardy thorn;
At the water, she sniffs the air -
She knows the scent and lingers there.
Returning foliage, comes in sight
Like children bathed in crystal light.
The snowdrops stand, firm an' brave
While Summer lays in Autumn's grave.
Are milk-white petals Winter's dress?
Is innocence a shield tae press?
What wind, what snaw, what wildest gale
Does blast your limpid cheeks sae pale?
Wee snowdrop - ye gentle flow'r
In a' great Nature's glory bower,
Ye stand apart, when nought else charms:
Like babes ripped from their mother's arms,
Ye fold and fall at Winter's close
Withstanding a' that Winter throws:
Spring's harbinger, wi' dewy tear
Ye mind me o' our children dear"
Patrick Scott Hogg

Thursday, 12 March 2009

To My Sleeping Boy

"Young Night-Thought"

by Robert Louis Stevenson

"All night long and every night,
When my mama puts out the light,
I see the people marching by,
As plain as day before my eye.
Armies and emperor and kings,
All carrying different kinds of things,
And marching in so grand a way,
You never saw the like by day.
So fine a show was never seen
At the great circus on the green;
For every kind of beast and man
Is marching in that caravan.
As first they move a little slow,
But still the faster on they go,
And still beside me close I keep
Until we reach the town of Sleep"
Find out more about Robert Louis Stevenson at:

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A Spring Plea

Dear parents at the school gate,

Please don't allow your children to stamp deliberately on the beautiful crocuses poking through the earth. They are just minding their own business, struggling against the elements - the last thing they need is a giant trainer landing on them. Thankyou.

First Crocus
by Christine Klocek-Lim

This morning, flowers cracked open the earth’s brown shell.

Spring leaves spilled everywhere

though winter’s stern hand could come down again at any moment

to break the delicate yolk of a new bloom.

The crocus don’t see this as they chatter beneath a cheerful petal of spring sky.

They ignore the air’s brisk arm as they peer at their fresh stems,

step on the leftover fragments of old leaves.

When the night wind twists them to pieces,they will die like this:

laughing, tossing their brilliant heads in the bitter air.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

On the dotted line

I sent my publishing contract off yesterday (recorded delivery, of course!). It should have arrived at the Strident office in this morning's post. I understood about one word in ten. Fifteen A4 pages filled with lots of very long sentences and words that I would never dream of using in everyday conversation - hereto, hereinafter, thereof.
I got some wonderful advice and support from a person called Elizabeth at The Society of Authors (who I am now a fully fledged member of!) and she did her best to explain what it all meant in plain English. So in the end I felt reassured that it was alright that I didn't really understand what it all meant (!) I tried not to let the mild confusion overshadow the excitement. This is a big occasion after all. I am now legally and contractually obligated to consider myself an author.
Caroline took a photograph of me signing the contract for prosperity. I really wanted a friend to witness the moment - it just didn't feel right that I should be on my own when I signed on the dotted line. Unfortunately it was 11 o'clock in the morning and both Caroline and I reluctantly agreed that to open the bottle of Champagne (which has been chilling in my fridge for months now!) might be just a step too far. So we had a celebratory cup of tea instead. Rock on!!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Happy Birthday Barbie!

Seeing as you are unlikely to see a picture of Barbie as she would really look at 50, I thought I would paste one here for you to look at. I think she looks great. Let yourself grow old gracefully Barbie!
On the way to school this morning there was a discussion on the radio about Barbie. Did you know that if she were a real person she would be 5' 9" tall, weigh 110 pounds (this is 7 and a half stone - a BMI of 16.24 which would fit the criteria for anorexia) have a 39 inch bust, 18 inch waist and 33 inch hips? It's a fact that she would actually fall over due to her inability to support herself. This led me to some serious consideration of available role models for young girls to aspire to.

Girls in the age group spanning 9-13 (which incidentally is the target audience for my forthcoming novel "Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket", but we'll get to that in a minute..) are searching for the self they will one day become. Role models are there to help them establish which values and which lifestyle they will eventually have as part of their own identity. Writers and toy manufacturers have a tremendous amount of influence on young people and therefore a moral obligation to get it right. I had a think and here are a few female characters I think hit the spot -

Dora the Explorer - She's smart, speaks two languages, goes on adventures and gets herself out of scrapes. She's kind to animals and her family. She wears shorts and a t-shirt and isn't constantly twirling her hair. Love her.
Wendy from Bob the Builder - Persistently billed as Bob's 'business partner' just so we don't get the wrong idea. Wendy is a capable, hard-working woman who knows how to use her tool kit and make stuff.
Princess Fiona from Shrek - A princess who isn't conventionally pretty - she's a green ogre by the end of Shrek I - and a girl who can not only rescue herself but the prince too. A feminist icon?

Lisa Simpson - The brainiest child in a family of five, Lisa is fairly well rounded as far as cartoon characters go. She is an idealist who loves science and the saxophone and has an eccentric, if lovable family to contend with. She is an excellent role model for young women because she isn't ever afraid to blaze her own path, and she does it all without ever pulling down her shorts.

As a young girl I was constantly on the lookout for female characters I could relate to. I'm afraid to say that in the 1970's and 80's we didn't quite have the same range of positive role models as we do nowadays. I hated all those weedy princesses, who were quite frankly pathetic - sitting around all day brushing their hair and waiting for their handsome prince to rescue them - ha! how delusional were they?
It seemed curious to me that a lot of the fictional girls I thought were worthwhile had boy's names - Jo in Little Women and George in the Famous Five. Nancy Drew was the only girl I remember thinking "that's what I want to be". She stood up for herself and spoke her mind. Nancy was a feisty heroine who drew on her intelligence and independence and who faced danger because she was confident in her ability to conquer it. Perhaps all these traits are what have allowed Ms Drew to stand the test of time, as she is as popular today as she was back then. Despite my niece coming from a generation raised on Bratz ("Oh.My.God - I am like SO not going there" spoken in a dumb American accent for full effect..) and High School Musical I hope she will pick up at least one Nancy Drew novel during her childhood. And of course, she'll always have her Auntie Hazel's novel on the shelf. I always knew my book would have a gutsy, resourceful, intelligent female character in it (I actually ended up with two, but then it is about time the tables were turned) Bree McCready has all the insecurities that any 12 year old girl might have. She doesn't always feel like she fits in and despite being clever and good at swimming nobody ever seems to notice this. But she is strong and intelligent and during her adventures she discovers strengths and traits that she didn't know were there. She meets a new friend, Honey - an equally feisty, clever and funny girl who is simply not interested in fitting in with the norm.
So if all else fails at least I will have provided a couple of positive role models for my young niece to look up to as she grows up. Better that she aspires to be someone like Bree McCready than a doll who, if she were human would have to walk on all fours due to her proportions. Happy Birthday Barbie, you don't look a day over 20!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

A crazy language

While playing a word game with my wee boy this morning it struck me just how bloomin' difficult the English language is to learn! He was thinking of words beginning with the letter R and when he said "wrong" I had to correct him. Of course he questioned why a word would have a letter at the beginning that "didn't even matter" but I just couldn't think of a simple way of explaining this rule. The problem is that the English language isn't simple. Why do we have words that contain letters you don't say? There are so many rules, inconsistencies and illogical spelling rules. If the plural of tooth is teeth then why is the plural of booth not beeth? If the plural of dog is dogs then why is the plural of mouse not mouses and why is the plural of sheep still sheep?! Why, if I buy a pair of trousers do I leave the shop with just one garment? Why is phonetic not spelled phonetically and why on earth is there an 's' in lisp?! Then there are all the words which are pronounced alike but differ in spelling and meaning - Ate/Eight, Ball/Bawl, Bread/Bread, Chews/Choose, Cell/Sell - See if you can think of some more - there are hundreds!
It struck me this morning while playing this simple word game just what a mountain there is for my son to climb before he masters the English language. In fact, do we ever master it? At the age of 37 and with an abundance of qualifications under my belt, I still make mistakes for heaven's sake! I once read that it takes, on average 7 years to learn the English language but I think this must refer to speaking it fluently, not writing it. There is a huge difference.
Language is like the air we breathe. We cannot escape from it, it's all around us, crucial to our survival and yet we take it for granted. It's not until you analyse its complexities that you appreciate just how difficult and complicated it is. I think this poem is great.

"When the English tongue we speak
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it's true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe
Think of hose, dose, and lose
And think of goose and yet with choose
Think of comb, tomb and bomb
Doll and roll or home and some
Since pay is rhymed with say
Why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food and good
Mould is not pronounced like could
Wherefore done, but gone and lone -Is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me
Sound and letters don't agree"
With the rise in text messaging, a new form of English spelling has evolved, one littered with numbers and abbreviations - "R U OK?" "C U L8R" This new style of writing has sent shockwaves through teaching staff who worry that we will end up with an entire generation who may never learn to read and write properly. At the risk of sounding like an old biddy trying to be 'cool' I really like this new text language (although I simply can't bring myself to use it - far too stuck in my old ways I'm afraid). I think it's rebellious and creative and quite frankly very clever. This "generation text" resembles English spelling but replaces the silent, redundant or excessive letters with phonetic symbols. This in turn gives a truer reflection of English pronunciation. At least the reader always knows exactly what's been written! - no superfluous silent letters that "don't matter", no misleading spellings to trip us up, no ambiguous pronunciations. What I think makes it so clever is that the text messager has two bodies of knowledge in their head: the standard spelling surface forms, learnt at school and the underlying pronunciations of our language, which were learnt as a child. In order for the reader to understand what has been written, the writer must combine both of those knowledge bases in crafting the new spelling. Their text spelling resembles English spelling but replaces the silent, redundant, or excessive letters with phonetic symbols. Way to go, youth of today!
P.S Thanks Neil for this link:

Friday, 6 March 2009

Wise words

I was chatting with an old friend, Dorothy the other day (she's 74) and I was telling her that whilst having my book accepted for publication has been a truly wonderful experience it can at times feel very scary. Success can rock your foundations, changing your perspective and turning your world upside down - especially if you have grown accustomed to failure and struggle. So many questions whirl around inside my head on a daily basis. Now I've accomplished my dream what's left for me? What if I don't feel satisfied or content once I've reached my goal. Do I deserve this success and what if I make lots of mistakes or let people down? There's the worry that I won't be able to sustain this level of hard work and the question of whether I will be able to cope with demands and being the centre of attention. I joked with Dorothy that the irony of this situation was that I always wanted to be a writer so that I could spend my life locked away in my wee cottage surrounded with my many cats living a reclusive life! I always visualised myself as one of the characters in "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket" - a rather eccentric wee woman with a shock of white hair and a bicycle with a basket at the front! I hadn't really considered that I might meet so many interesting and inspiring people along the way or that I might attend book signings or (heaven forbid) stand alone on a stage promoting my book. All these opportunities are incredible and I am so excited about what's ahead of me but yes, I admit I am absolutely terrified. Dorothy said something which struck a chord - "You can't be brave unless you're frightened" - and this is true. This whole adventure is new to me and there are times I can't believe all these great things are happening. But this has been good for me. It has pushed my into doing things I would never ordinarily have chosen to do. It has taken me out of my comfort zone, brought out the best in me and allowed me to spread my wings in a way I never thought possible. Sometimes we need a shove in the right direction. Of course there are always going to be people who are better than me and there will undoubtedly be some who hate what I've written. Yes, there will be times when I feel overwhelmed and there is always a chance that everything might self-destruct at any moment. But as Dorothy reminded me - what would it all have been about if I hadn't at least enjoyed the moment? What is life about if we can't relish the wonderful moments because we're so hung up on what might go wrong? Sometimes you have to move on no matter how terrifying that feels. In the words of Winston Churchill - "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts"

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Many moons ago

I came across a couple of old photographs while I was browsing through an album to help Caroline with a project for college. Apologies for the shocking outfits - although this was the fashion then (or maybe not..)
The first one was taken around 1982/83. I know this because the TV series FAME was big at the time and absolutely everybody had a Ra-Ra skirt. This shiny blue satin one was made by a family friend. My sister and I had matching ones and we wore them with legwarmers! We thought we were so cool!
The second photo was taken slightly earlier - around 1979/80 - the TV programme in the background is Swap Shop for anyone old enough to remember! Despite wearing brown corduroy dungarees and a knitted sweater I was very happy in this photo. I can remember it being taken and giggling when our cat Suzie kept chasing the pencil while I wrote. I often sat on the floor, leaning on a big book and scribbling down stories (this book was best for leaning on - the Guinness Book of Records - as it was really heavy). I don't remember what I was writing when this photo was taken but it was probably a story about a family of animals as this was my favourite subject at the time. It's nice to see that I'm more interested in what I'm writing than in what's on the telly and that I clearly enjoyed writing stories early on in life. Thanks to Caroline who snapped the originals and sent them through cyberspace to my laptop! Oh, and Happy Birthday to Beth who is as lovely today as she's ever been x

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Speak Up! It's Oor Tongue!

I have just read an interesting article about Falkirk author and playwright Alan Bissett (Death of a Ladies' Man, Boyracers, The Incredible Adam Spark) and it got me thinking again about the importance of keeping Scots dialect alive. In the article Bissett talks about his visits to secondary schools where he meets young people who are surprised to find that writing can be 'relevant and fresh, not all about standing up and reading poems about mountains'. Is this not crucial if we are to encourage our young people to become creative and interested in literature? My memory of working in Craigmillar was that the majority of children were 'turned off' by reading - but looking back there were very few book that they could relate to - few characters who led a similar life to them and none who spoke in a language they understood. I have a brilliant book called "Identities: An Anthology of West of Scotland Poetry, Prose and Drama" which I've had for many years and which I have used often as a teaching tool during my years as a Community Educator. There is a wealth of material in this book which might appeal to anyone interested in Scots dialect in writing. I came across a lovely piece, written by William McIlvanney which revolves around a young working class boy and his experience of school (and a rather hideous teacher):
"What's wrong with your face, Docherty?"
"Skint ma nose, sur"
Ah fell an' bumped ma heid in the sheuch, sur"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Ah fell an' bumped ma heid in the sheuch, sur"
The blow is instant. His ears seem to enlarge, is muffled in numbness. But it's only the dread of tears that hurts.
"That, Docherty, is impertinence. You will translate, please, into the mother-tongue"
"I bumped my head, sir"
"Where? Where did you bump it?"
"In the gutter, sir"
"Not an inappropriate setting for you, if I may say so"
Later the class are asked to "translate" Scots words into English - lum (chimney), wabbit (tired), speugh (sparrow):
"One side of the paper was filled. He didn't start on the other side because he now wanted to write things that he couldn't find any English for - (breeks - troosers). When his mother was busy, she had said she was "saund-papered tae a whuppet" If his father had to give him a row but wasn't really angry, he said "Ah'll skelp yer bum wi' a tealeaf tae yer nose bluids"
He despaired of English. Suddenly with the desperation of a man trying to amputate his own infected arm, he savagely scored out all the English equivalents"
The children I worked with during my years as a nursery nurse and then as a community educator spoke broad Scots dialect in their community but were expected to drop that at the front step of the school and pick up a completely different code. It struck me when reading "Docherty" how incredibly difficult that must have been for them and how in some respects they were bi-lingual. I'll finish with a short excerpt from From Scenes Like These by Gordon Williams :
"Why teach kids that Burns was the great national poet and then tell you his old Scots words were dead common? What sounds better? - 'gie your face a dicht wi a clootie' or 'give your face a wipe with a cloth?' One was Scottish and natural and the other was a lot of toffee-nosed English"
The point that both these writers try to make is that there is something dangerous, or desperately wrong, about a system which forces children to unlearn or to give up the language they naturally talk. There is something highly refreshing about authors like Alan Bissett who write in their 'mother-tongue' and in doing so reach an entire generation who might otherwise never choose to pick up a book. Perhaps as writers and educators we need to focus more on the diversity of language that reflects the actual lives and experiences of young people and to challenge our own assumptions about the 'correct' way of speaking.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Blackbird Singing

I had a rather lengthy phone conversation with my editor, Graham today. We were going through the edited version of "Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket" finalising things so that we can move on to the next stage in publication. During our conversation we got side tracked for a moment and we started talking about the Welsh poet, R.S Thomas who we are both big fans of. Graham recited this beautiful poem to me and I loved it so much I thought it would be nice to share it with you.

"It seems wrong that out of this bird - black, bold, a suggestion of dark places about it,
there yet should come such rich music, as though the notes ’ore were changed to a rare metal
at one touch of that bright bill.
You have heard it often, alone at your desk
in a green April, your mind drawn
away from its work by sweet disturbance of the mild evening outside your room.
A slow singer, but loading each phrase
with history’s overtones, love, joy and grief
learned by his dark tribe in other orchards and passed on instinctively as they are now,
But fresh always with new tears"