Mavis's Shoe

Author of two novels and a creative memoir.

Monday, 28 November 2011

The cat that got the cream

I like this. I think the cat that got the cream is me and not Antonio Banderas, but I'm a red-blooded woman and don't mind sharing my front page with him. The pandas are kind of sweet too, but I wish I'd included the whole of their faces when I took the picture.

That's my Mum's thumb on the left, proud Mum. We were in Campbeltown in the howling gale of the weekend. I had slept like a top, admittedly with a pillow on my head to keep the noise out, while she got up in the night to examine the double glazing and reflect on the fact that some draft-proof windows are not, er, draft-proof: there is always the problem of the outside edges and how they fit with the building. But nothing would have kept the whistle out. It was a fierce storm, and when we emerged blinking into the light of another November morning, we had to stop on the track down from our clifftop B & B to gasp at the turmoil that was the sea and the deep band of froth and foam along the stretch of the western coast between Bellochantuy and Glenbarr. Islay was hidden behind the rain, as was the sun. Then a bolt of sunlight burst through and dazzled us, like a sudden joke, and vanished as surprisingly as it had appeared. We picked up some fresh veg and eggs from the road-side stall and headed into Campbeltown.

By the time we'd arrived the rain was horizontal and the car door was whipped open taking my arm (and me) with it. Between the car and the newsagent's I was drenched down my left side. The shopkeeper whumped the Scotland on Sunday onto the counter. I resisted the temptation to poke a finger into Mavis's Shoe and say, 'that's me', but stuck it under my wet left arm instead and ran back to the car, soaking my right side en route.

Of course there are people who think this giveaway is madness, but I'm hoping more people find out about Mavis's Shoe. And now I can say I was on the front page of a national newspaper, and without murdering, stealing or lying either.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Read Raw Ltd

Read Raw Ltd have made me their featured writer. How nice of them. You can see what I've said there if you follow this link: Read Raw Ltd. I hope some of it is helpful and/or interesting. They've also included a little flash fiction on a Scottish PEN theme ie censorship.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Inky Black

The nights are fair drawing in, n’est pas? This is payback time for all those beautiful long days that merge into each other in June. The photo on the left is a night in November if you're in the middle of nowhere or if you're in the city and glance outside and your eyes haven't adjusted. Sort of. Some people don’t like it. Some people get all miserable and depressed at the sight of all that black outside. Some people long for the return of heat and daylight and deep blue skies without a single cloud in them. But some people find themselves longing for all that even in, well, June. So I want to disagree.

Okay, the weather in November is variable, but never hot, but the night is dependably long and getting longer and there is no question of working a ten hour day then going for a ten kilometre run in the park through a cooling breeze then returning home to make the dinner and still eat it al fresco at midnight. No, no, no, this is not going to happen. Instead the inky blackness envelopes us and invites us to work for eight hours (max) and return to hot soup and cheese on toast by the fire with a hot toddy for afters, and if you’re lucky, like me, a laptop on your lap to while away the hours, but only a couple of hours because the main point of winter is going to bed early with a hot water bottle, and ok, if necessary, another hot toddy, and a very good book. Mavis’s Shoe perhaps, but I’ve already read it.

This is very beautiful of course, Glencoe, but notice how it's taken from the inside of a fast, warm car. The cold outside is what we're trying to avoid.

Apart from the distractions of Christmas parties as they loom on the horizon and all the angst about what to buy the nieces and nephews, oh, and the kids, not forgetting the parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and most importantly the mums and aunties (Hear that kids? You know who you are!), there is a great deal of peace to be had at this time of year and therefore the possibility for a great deal of dedication to writing. Perhaps this is why so many people I know are indulging in NaNoWriMo, aka Nation Novel Writing Month.

During the month of November, NaNoWriMo writers must produce 50,000 words by 23:59:59 on the 30th, not strictly speaking a full length novel, but very nearly. Certainly enough for a first draft. I think this is a great thing. I wish I had done it myself. As I lie fast asleep at 5am, I am profoundly jealous of my friend who is actually up and writing at that time before she puts in her eight hour shift for the council then comes home to feed her kids. I sound sarcastic but I’m not. I’m genuinely in awe of her stamina, although when my kids were younger a similar level of determined energy was required of me too. I’m also greatly impressed by her commitment to writing. She’s not actually a NaNoWriMo person. She’s been doing it for even longer. It’s become her ROUTINE. This is something I believe to be very important to successful writing, though to look at me at the moment you’d never guess it.

NaNoWriMo is a licence to write complete rubbish, to experiment, to forget about the finished product and concentrate on getting as many words on paper as you possibly can, to squeeze the words out and watch them fall into whatever ridiculous place they want. It’s probably best done with a bit of planning before the month begins, but that may be against the rules. I’m not sure. But it certainly fits with the way I like to work.

If I’m sitting down for a day’s writing, I have to write a minimum of 1000 words. I may write 3000 but I’m not allowed dinner, or the toddy, until 1000 words hit the screen. Sometimes this entails throwing down anything that comes into my head just to pass the finishing line, and sometimes it’s easy and the words just follow one another obediently into the blank space in which I want to corral them. And oddly enough, when I return to them the next day it often doesn’t matter how they went down there, quick, slow, easy, hard. It’s either complete rubbish or it’s not and often the act of forcing the ideas out produces something surprising and fun and interesting. Which is fine as long as I’m trying to write something surprising, fun and interesting.

But I do like the middle of winter with its silences and cool skies, cloudy breath and more dependable temperatures than any other Scottish season. My favourite is January. The madness of Christmas is over and there is an atmosphere of concentration which isn’t there at any other time, as if the world is one big library and everyone’s working very hard. Best month for geeks like me, I suppose, libraries being some of my favourite places.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Where are all the Seagulls?

The Braehead Maritime Museum has been shut. It looked disappointingly small anyway when I was down there this week on my bike, but I should have known that from the satellite picture I looked at online beforehand. Also in the satellite was a tall ship, masts and booms and all, which was one of the reasons I made such haste. (Once started, rain spurred me on.) Sadly the masts are in fact concreted into the ground but the whole still lent a mysterious nautical air, albeit a sad one, Ancient Mariner rather than Onedin Line.

Also in the satellite was the wreck of the Captayannis, a steel ship nearly 400 foot long. The Captayannis went down mid-way between Greenock and Helensburgh in 1974 having been swept there by a storm and then colliding with another ship’s anchor which drew a massive hole in its side. Initially I thought there was a fault in my computer programme or a mark on my screen but, on zooming in with gannet-like speed and determination, I found this perfect silver hull lying on its side with mast, rails and bridge clearly to be seen, like a discarded Monopoly piece. It lies on a sandbank which I never knew was there. Fabulous. Excuse this photo taken of it on my screen, which doesn’t do it justice.

Back on the real earth I found a pleasant walk/cycleway along the waterfront, behind Braehead and all its garishness, with views at various yards on the other side of the river, many of which are still operational. This was a surprise, the path and the activity. The path continued (via a small number of steps) along the river until it almost reaches the Renfrew ferry terminal. Here I turned up Lapwing Road, (near Redsnank and Whimbrel) along King’s Inch Road (love these names and being a tourist in my own town) and down Ferry Road, obviously.

I had seen the little ferry from a distance having only been vaguely aware of its existence until that moment, another silver boat but this time the right way up. The day was grey. The water was murky. There was flotsam and jetsam of all kinds catching anywhere it could against all the old slipways, jetties and docks and the broken stonework of the river walls. Some brilliant swans risked our progress as we backed in to the river, the only other sailing bodies to be seen. The ferryman was silent but not unfriendly. We reached the bank in no time at all and I pushed my two-wheeled friend up the cobbled slip past once-grand or at least functional buildings and an old boatyard full of boatyard debris. Bright new houses stood on the rise, gleaming fresh white paint and a brave new world.

My next stop was the site of John Brown’s Shipyard. It seems odd I haven’t been there before, given how much time I’ve spent in and around Clydebank. It was an odd feeling. Clydebank College, a truly courageous new building, stands on the eastern side of it with two simple plaques to mark the place where the Queen Mary and the QE2, amongst countless other fine ships, were launched into the Clyde opposite the Black Cart Water on the other side (for extra leeway). A rough track took me round the dock where these ships would have been finished, a desolate spot where all the buildings and trappings of greater days have been removed. A row of feral pigeons lined the edge, perched on metalwork whose working days are over, but no seagulls. Not a one. Which seemed strange. Continuing round I reached the base of the Titan, seen here through the same high fence which surrounds the whole area. Beautiful and giant and iconic, the Titan crane can be seen from a considerable distance and stood blue against the grey autumn sky of that day. It must surely be some consolation to the good Bankies (of Clydebank) that this fabulous structure was restored a few years ago instead of being taken down as was the Singer Clock Tower (bigger than Big Ben) even after it survived the devastating Blitz of 1941.

Feeling rather overwhelmed by the vast emptiness of the spot, I took a train to Dumbarton and visited the Maritime Museum there. Here was Denny’s Shipyard or the only part left of it, the Ship Model Experimental Tank (totally mental it was). Here scale models of proposed ships were made of wood or wax,then sailed down a long water tank with replicated sea conditions. Being rather geeky by nature I found the whole process fascinating. But probably the most meaningful part of the museum for me was a giant photograph of the entire yard in which Dumbarton Rock and Castle sit comfortably over the snaking arrival of the River Leven into the Clyde Estuary. The photo was taken at the end of WW2 and shows several large ships fanning out from the Leven, sitting on its banks being built from the ground up. The finishing dock hides in the shelter of the Rock. The yard buildings sprawl out from this central and curving natural arrangement, the tank building being dwarfed by the massive workshops around it. All gone now, and replaced by all the super-hyper-capitalist-markets of the day, and acres of windswept car park. One saving grace is the finishing dock, which has been filled in and holds a football field.

Do we really want all this leisure? Wouldn’t we rather have work, dirty and dangerous though it was? Where are all the seagulls?