Mavis's Shoe

Author of two novels and a creative memoir.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Guerilla Writing

This is the photo the GWL didn't want to publish, probably because I look a bit silly. But I don't really mind, as you'll know from previous posts, and I think this photo reflects the fun I had with two other writers.

Last week I indulged in a little Guerilla Writing Workshopping with the Glasgow Women’s Library in their new location and hopefully permanent home in Bridgeton in Glasgow’s East End. Along with Magi Gibson (centre), their Reader in Residence (what is that exactly? Isn’t that what I do when I read at home?) and author Helen Fitzgerald (right), I was charged with accosting individuals around Bridgeton and getting them to write stories in five minutes flat. Luckily for us, workers from GWL had gone ahead and primed certain organisations to expect us otherwise who knows what might have happened? Only one person was actively displeased by our surprise request. Everyone else threw themselves into the task in one way or other with warmth and gusto.

These guys look busy don't they? ---------->

Guerilla writing – it’s an odd idea, isn’t it, using war tactics to get people creative. But then the pen is mightier than the sword, but then again, it wasn’t the pen we were using as weapons, it was our inimitable charm and irresistible enthusiasm for making it work: “Go on, you know you want to.” I think I did actually say those words, and they did actually work, not least on a certain Arts Officer for Literature who strayed into my path.

To be honest what we really did was chat people up in chip shops and get them to give us chips. Or roast ourselves in the local elderly person’s home (it was very cold outside) and while we were doing those two things we got people to tell us their stories, either by writing them down themselves or by talking to us so that we could write their stories for them in their own words. It was more a collecting of stories than a stimulation of creative writing, mostly stuff in the first person rather the inventive third.

Helen, poor thing (not), was restricted to base camp in the Bridgeton Community Learning Centre, although she seemed very happy and relaxed there when we returned (despite missing the chips) and had loads of stories from all the people passing through or working there.

Due to logistics, we didn’t accost strangers in the street though we did eye up a few likely candidates at the bus stop. But the last time I wrote outdoors standing up in the freezing cold and without a Virginia Woolf style lectern was … I can’t remember, probably never. I might stop and jot down a fancy idea in three words to be worked on later, but I wouldn’t write a story. But I wouldn’t write a story in five minutes either, although I might write the bones of it.

I’m hoping just getting people to dip their metaphorical toes in the water (or pens in their inkpots) they’ll maybe get a taste for writing more stories. Because stories are everywhere, or ‘The universe is made of stories not atoms,’ as Muriel Rukeyser, the poet, would have it. And most writers began by writing stuff from their own lives, because to coin a bit of a truism/cliche, life really is stranger than fiction. And the extraordinary thing was the number of people who, when asked about stories, said they had none to tell. Often there would be a brief pause followed by all sorts of amazing tales of surviving the blitz, travelling the world for work or leaving everything you’ve ever known for love.

This writer went home with a head that went on buzzing for days afterwards with the stories of all those people reverberating in her head like so many gusts in the wind in a courtyard.

Thanks Bridgeton and thanks GWL.

Thursday, 15 November 2012


All of this is true, especially if you are a writer, most especially if you are a novelist, perhaps. It’s a slab in the ground in Cathkin Park in Glasgow.

Yesterday, at Perth Academy, one of the pupils wanted to know what to do about writers’ block which she said regularly struck her down. We were close to the end of our session so I was only able to give very limited advice. Here are some more thoughts on the subject.

First, what is writers block? Perhaps it was me who used the term ‘struck down’ as if it is an illness. It certainly feels to me like a blight and for some people it can be seriously disabling. There are also levels of block, ranging from mild prevarication to abject terror of the page, but why is that? What are we afraid of? Disease? Heart attack? No. Our work not being good enough? Being rubbish as a writer and therefore as a person?

There is a big nasty censor in most of us and this inner censor needs to be firmly switched off. Find any ways that suit you, and I’ll give you some clues, but there are enough people ready to tell us we’re rubbish without doing it for ourselves.

A few years ago I took a drawing class at Glasgow University. The tutor, who is still there, was Irene Macneil. I was probably a less than average drawer and hugely bothered with block. She taught me not to think of the final creation, which always seemed so clear and perfect in my head if only I could get it onto the paper, but instead to consider every piece of work as an experiment. It was very liberating. Now, as a writer, the first draft is always an experiment, or perhaps a gathering of ingredients and then once it’s finished I can mould what I have into something which works better, is more beautiful, elegant, precise, clear, whatever. Irene’s advice was like a gift, the gift of the fun that was to be had in the first creation. She taught me how to turn off my censor.

Another way to lose the censor is to distract it and thereby loosen its grip. When I was a kid learning to play the piano, sometimes I’d get my fingers all tangled up at the keys and be stuck making the same mistake over and over again. My teacher would quietly ask me about sweets or Halloween or something completely different. After two minutes she’d get me playing again and the repeated mistake would vanish.

Fast forward a few years to working for highers and I used to study for an hour, practice piano for twenty minutes, study, practice piano etc and could keep going and be fresh for a whole day. I suppose what I’m saying is something about dissipating that stress that heavy focus on knotty problems can cause, by swapping briefly to a vastly different activity.

This is tricky for the prevaricators amongst us (me especially) because you have to be vigilant about when you’re prevaricating and when you’re using sensible stress dissipaters as avoidance. Much as I dislike Nike for their employment practices, I do love their slogan: Just do it! Sometimes just writing something, anything, is the only way past the barrier. But a writers needs to be careful about forcing themselves too in case the muse takes the huff and goes for a long walk.

Sometimes I think of the muse, or the writer part of me, or the character in my story perhaps, as having the soul of a toddler. That part needs encouragement and guidance, sometimes a strict governing hand and sometimes reassurance that when you say you’ll arrive at your desk at 8am, that you will actually do that, and that you really will open the relevant piece of work and you will even sit down and work on it even if it’s just to move a comma or two or to stare into space and consider the next twist in the tale. Turning up is the most important thing to do, otherwise this toddler/muse/writer/character will lose faith in you and there’s nothing like self-perpetuating despondency to kill the muse/writer/character dead.

By the same toddler token, I find bribery, otherwise known as reward, works wonders. Remember all that behaviourist theory from way back? I insist on a minimum of 1000 words in a novel-writing day. Sometimes this means I vastly outstrip myself and write 3000 or even more and feel pretty damn good. Sometimes I stagger to the end of the 1000 words feeling virtuous only in having completed the task, but note how either way I get to feel better than if I did nothing at all. But set yourself a realistic target, not one which will doom you to failure. At the end you can reward yourself with a different activity/tea/cake/phone-a-friend/walk the dog etc. You can also reward/encourage yourself as you go along. In my case this usually involves tea. But don’t take too long or get complacent. Get back to the task as soon as you can.

Toddlers also need 'herding' or gentle cajoling, recognition of their unique perspective and valuing their need to wander and explore without being constantly reigned in. This is how they learn best. Be nice to your inner toddler and s/he will take you somewhere interesting and fun.

Then there’s the speed writing. This idea comes from Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’. The idea of speed-writing is to sneak past your inner censor. It’s simple but very effective. Get a pen/pencil and three sides of paper and get writing. Keep writing as fast as you are able and don’t stop until you get to the end of the three pages, not even for a second, anything that comes into your head. If you run out of thoughts write ‘I’ve run out of thoughts.’ It’s a bit like vomiting up all the nonsense that is going on in your head and using up all your creative energy, the ballast that keeps the balloon on the ground. Write ‘I can’t think what to write’ as many times as it takes. Be strict. Don’t stop before the end of the third page. Don’t worry about spilling out those evil thoughts about your brother/parents/partner/gorgeous-new-person-next-door. No-one is going to read this, not even you. If you have an amazing idea while writing, which often happens, put a cross in the margin and keep going, so you can come back later. When you’ve finished, check any of these good ideas but otherwise don’t read what you’ve written. Tear it up and bin it. Now you’re ready to write.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Books and Beds.

This is the view which doesn’t distract me at all but quietly comforts me through the rigours of novel-writing. It is the view from my bed.

I think beds and books are a combination made in heaven. After all, most people, including myself, probably do most of their reading in bed. It’s warm, no heating is required, it’s forgivingly squishy and is often in the quietest part of the house. There’s usually a decent lamp strategically positioned (unless you’re in a hotel where it’ll be pointing in the wrong direction and have a 10 watt bulb) and usually everyone else is asleep or nearly or doing the same as you and the rules of bedtime privacy apply.

But I have discovered that certain other people, myself included, have been using their beds for the same and other purposes DURING THE DAY and I don’t just mean the weekends either. And by the way I’m not talking about S*X in case you’re dirty little minds were travelling in that direction, although extreme pleasure may be experienced.

This is how I spent my day: Woke at 6.30am. Husband away working. Rolled over. Went back to sleep. Woke 8.30am. Rose. Slippers, woolly jumper, a rub of the eyes and I’m off to the kitchen. One lemon squeezed into a pint of spring water is enough to waken the arm muscles with the effort and the rest of me with the zing. Knock it all back then make the Oolong tea. Take said tea back to bed. Fetch mobile, laptop and large bag containing notebook, pen, best glasses and tissues. Write.

Keep writing, no matter what.

Interruptions include various phone calls, some answered, some not, and toilet breaks which usually involve tea breaks during which oatcakes and various types of fruit may be foraged for in the kitchen. Spider solitaire, emails, Facebook, Twitter etc, are lightly dispersed throughout the day when the tension of creative sideways thinking starts to hurt.

Suddenly the last line of the chapter appears. I make a space, then another, then I type: Chapter 21.

The phone rings right on cue. I feel inordinately happy and gracious. These are the moments to ask to borrow my most precious earrings, my car, my husband. Fortunately the call is none of these. I emerge blinking into the human world as family members return and I catch sight of myself as I pass the mirror in the hall en route to the front door. My hair has three opposing kinds of clip and looks sticky. My jumper is on inside out and my jammie bottoms clash horribly with my slippers. I have been tousled by my own book.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

What would you do?

I have three treats for you today.

When Mavis's Shoe was at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I asked the kids who came to imagine what would happen if some bombs came down at just after 9pm that night. I asked them to think specifically about what they would do. And I asked them to write something and send it to me. These are the results.

This was a very difficult task for me because nearly all the pieces were very very good. I therefore chose three winners, first, second and third. Their stories are below. I hope you enjoy them.


The Bombing Begins
by Caitlin Paterson, p.7, Broomhouse Primary

I was in my house with mum and dad. I was in my room sitting on my giant bed texting my best friend. I was feeling fantastic, happy, cheerful and great. I never saw my best friend for a year and she was coming back to visit for a week. I was excited to see her.

She was coming to my house to visit. She reached the doorstep and the ground started to shake madly. I told her to come in. We looked out the window there were bomber planes
everywhere and me, mum, dad and Sarah ran outside to the bomb shelter. Just when we got in the bomb shelter, the bombs started going off. I smelt the disgraceful smoke and heard loud crashing sounds we could smell the burning metal. We were petrified.

My mum and dad ran out of the shelter and then I went out to look for them. I could not find them. I looked everywhere for them. I tried shouting “Mum! Dad! Where are you? You need to comeback!”
I saw them walking.
Cabang !
A bomb went straight through them. My eyes filled with tears and the street was filled with flames.


World War
by Ali Eltom, P7, Broomhouse Primary
“Oh no,” I said to my friend Lewis. He was beating me at my own video games again. We were playing Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 3. All of a sudden I heard a giant roar in the sky but I ignored it…

Bombs started falling. People were screaming. Men were shouting “Someone help my family”. The only thing going through my mind was “What’s going on out there?” I ran to my window and could hear the rubber of my shoes thudding on the ground with humungous bangs. Me and Lewis ran outside and explored. I worriedly walked across the street. My brain was filled with different emotions, fear, anger and worry.

I thought I should go looking for my mum. Lewis asked “How are you going to find her with all this bombing?” I ignored him. We were walking and I heard a faint scream. I ran to see what was happening. I saw my mum sitting there she never opened her eyes I thought she was dead. I screamed “Wake up, Mum, wake up !!!!!!!” People in military suits came and took me away. I was screaming and shouting. They stuck a needle into my skin and I fell asleep.


Bombing in Denny
by Brandon Wilson, 15, Hillside School

One morning I woke up in a nice, wet and windy Scottish summers day. I went down the stairs to the kitchen to make a greasy squared sausage roll with fried onions and a bit of HP brown sauce. After finishing my breakfast I headed to catch the post office at 9am to get my mum’s money for the tea that night.

I took my dog Lehgend. He is a German Shepherd, only 7 months old. I was walking casually down to the town. I was only two minutes from the post office and my dog was going mad. He was barking, jumping, and staring up into the sky. The sky was still and very grey. I shouted, “Shut up” to my dog, and suddenly I heard in the distance a roar of engines. All around me there was a deathly silence.

The Post Office shutters went down and everyone ran for shelter. All of a sudden these planes were surrounding the buildings in the town centre. Bang, crash - the sound of concrete and glass smashing and falling all over them. I heard the screams of panic. Children crying. Dogs barking. Everyone ran for their lives, with their hands over their heads. Fear on their faces, as they saw the flashing lights in the sky. The smoke and dust was up into my nose, burning and choking me and the people around me. All I felt was dust, tiny, sharp bits of debris. Suddenly, all I heard again was silence. The buildings stopped moving. All I could hear now were sobs and crying and dogs whimpering. People were helping each other to safety.
I started to make my way back to my family to see if they were safe and well. But I struggled to find my way back home because all the paths and roads had burned out cars. It was all smokey in the air around the streets. Finally, me and my dog were back in my house. My family were glad to see us. They thought I was hurt, but I only had a cut arm and a bruised leg. My house was not too badly damage but next door’s had crumbled down. It was just a big pile of rubble. We were extremely lucky that we were not hurt and our house was still standing. We all sat down and stood in the one room, waiting for everything to blow over (said my mum).

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Lenny Lives

This is exciting. I’ve just spent another day with the human embodiment of my fictional character, Lenny Gillespie. This is the actor Lisa Farren who will be joining me on Monday 20th August at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for a schools event in the Peppers Tent for Mavis's Shoe. Can’t wait. We will have action and noise, including some especially loud explosions. There will be an ARP helmet to try on and some very interesting slides (in my opinion).

Lisa makes an excellent Lenny. She seems to catch what Lenny is going through with extraordinary sensitivity. It’s the most peculiar thing hearing someone you made up saying the words you made up for them. Last year at the time of the launch we did a grander version using five actors and a sound technician. Lisa was part of that too. It worked well. This year we are just me and Lisa and it feels tight and fluent.

The picture above is last year’s cast in WH Smith in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, where we did a three person version. That's Lisa/Lenny on the right with all the scars. The people of WH Smith were lovely and so no doubt were the pipe band playing outside the door, but the two in such close proximity were unusual and difficult. But as you can see we survived and conquered.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Operation Starfish

I have been very busy and very excited. One of my favourite things is research and I’ve been doing a lot of it for two reasons. One is my Mavis’s Shoe event for schools at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August, and the other is the sequel to Mavis’s Shoe, known to me as Mavis’s Other Shoe or Mavis 2 or even M2. This activity has taken me all over the central belt in cars, vans, trains and boats and has had me stumbling across a variety of fascinating facts and national secrets. Perhaps they are not actual secrets any more but are simply forgotten and undocumented.

This otherwise very boring picture, for instance, is Auchenreoch Decoy, part of Operation Starfish. It doesn’t look much but that perfectly circular pond in the lower right is in fact an old bomb crater. If you follow this link and scroll down you will find a zoomable map and if you zoom into the top orange marker you will find lines of bomb craters tracing the path of the Luftwaffe. Auchenreoch is near Dumbarton and the reason the Germans bombed the wide open countryside near Dumbarton is because Auchenreoch was actually a decoy model of Dumbarton made of wood and complete with street lights etc. And when the Germans came over there were also some very brave souls in an underground bunker (down at the bottom orange marker) setting light to their own model so that the Germans would think their raid was successful and carry on bombing there instead of going to where the real conurbations were. This seems to be the most dangerous job of them all, being the bait.

I have been told there was a similar model of Clydebank but I’m not sure where. I believe there may have been another near Greenock and more across the Central Belt and perhaps beyond. Fortunately we have no current use for such things, but still it seems strange just how undocumented this is. Perhaps, during the war, things just got done and with the prospect of invasion so real, documentation was worth avoiding.

If you’re as nosy as I am you might also want to look at the National Library of Scotland map website which has all sorts of maps of Scotland, both current and historic, all available online. But their best, for my purposes anyway, is the zoomable mosaic of photos of Scotland taken from the air between 1944 and 1950. It is in no way complete but shows a pre-motorway world with umpteen train lines criss-crossing our world, or beating a path under the hills as in the Greenock/Port Glasgow/Gourock area. I begin to see and feel what it might have been like for Lenny, heroine of Mavis’s Shoe, to arrive in Greenock from across the water.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Adventures in Portuguese

This is a picture of me NOT at a family wedding but I’m in a hat chosen by my adult daughter to wear at her friend’s forthcoming nuptials along with a 60’s psychedelic mini-dress. I wish I’d had a go with it first when I attended a family wedding in northern Portugal last weekend.

The groom was British and the bride Spanish. Coming from a family of artists in one medium or another, wedding traditions are somewhat fluid with our lot, whereas the Spanish crowd seemed to know exactly what was going on at all times. And that’s before we get started on the chaos of so many languages. In addition to the Spanish bridal party and British groom party there were the French and Swiss German contingents and a variety of British local dialects. The staff were, of course, Portuguese and one of the many lovely things about northern Portugal is the lack of English spoken by everyone here. There are no other Brits and no Americans. Everyone in Portugal seems to be almost uniformly kind, helpful and gentle, and conspicuous gentleness is a wonderful thing. Trying to understand each other has so far been fun on every occasion.
There was also a spectacular view down the Rio Minho, a large unchlorinated pool and lots to drink, all of which eased the wedding and the couple of days around it.

On top of that, post-wedding, a drive into the mountains revealed masses of purple heather Scotland would be proud of and lots of yellow broom and, not so like Scotland the two were mingled in a delicious pastiche across the hillsides.

Back at the coast, posh hotels and sensible apartment blocks mingle with private homes and gardens full of vines and large exuberant vegetables. There seems to be a great and popular habit of sitting in the shade watching the world go by. Sad to say all this outdoor malarkey has led to an invasion of ants in the laptop which crawled out at me from beneath the keys like some little horror movie when I lifted the lid. I fear I murder with every tap.

Please note, dear reader, that this wedding was arranged long before Bertrand Brasil bought the Brasilian Portuguese rights for Mavis’s Shoe (see last post). I don’t really believe in synchronicity but do feel a slight shiver up my spine and quite at home in northern Portugal.

Finally, I would like to share a Facebook post by a reader because it made my heart stop:

'I am so grateful for the writing talent, of author Sue Reid Sexton for her amazing historical fiction - Mavis's Shoe - It helped me to live a part of my mum's Margaret Donald 's history. I'm very grateful. Thank you. What a read!’ - Lesley J Vander Welle

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Champagne Moment!

Mavis’s Shoe has been bought by Bertrand Brasil of, er, Brazil. I don’t like to change a country’s own spelling of itself but it seems to be the way with Brazil. Mavis’s Shoe is to be translated into Portuguese. This, by the reckoning of an online translator, would be into Brazilian Portuguese and would make it ‘O Sapato do Mavis’. To my Scottish ear this sounds kind of cute, or am I just excited at the prospect of Mavis crossing the Atlantic? This is something I have never done myself. I would of course be very pleased to follow in Mavis’s Shoe’s footsteps (if that’s not confusing metaphors and idioms and such-like) and indeed, my friend Isa MacKenzie who lived through the Clydebank Blitz informed me tonight that she travelled to Brazil with her husband a couple of decades after the war on a mission for Singers sewing machine factory. Meanwhile my own beloved is being persuaded to travel to Brazil for work and the first song I heard after getting the news was on good old Sunny Govan Radio on their world music programme and was by a Brazilian band whose name I was too excited to remember. Perhaps there is such a thing as synchronicity. Or perhaps Brazil is so much on the up just now that everyone’s talking about it.

Anyway this means Mavis’s Shoe is being launched on ‘South America’s biggest media market’ so-called by the BBC, but not in the style of an Iraqi in the company of George Bush. I’m hoping that the arrival of Mavis’s Shoe in Brazil is welcomed. Brasil does after all have a population of 196.6 million which is nearly 38 times the population of Scotland and the tune of its national anthem, although not particularly carnival is suitably jubilant. I know this because I have been playing it all morning and you can too by going here.

But what is really exciting is the translation of Mavis’s Shoe into another language and perhaps another culture. Will Lenny be given the voice of a girl in the favelas of São Paulo? What will readers who don’t know anything about Scotland never mind Clydebank or the blitz or even WW2 in Europe, make of it? Will I ever know even a fraction of what they think when I don’t speak any Portuguese? Is it time finally to learn?

A couple of weeks ago I participated in an event run by the Scottish Writers Centre at the CCA in Glasgow. Our subject was the languages of Scotland and with me on the panel were Alan Riach of Glasgow University, Catriona Lexy Campbell a Gaelic writer and translator and Kusay Hussain, my Iraqi co-writer (who always keeps his shoes when not at home) (see previous post) and we were chaired by Leela Soma, another writer. In researching for my input, I found the following statistic: In France 15.9% of new books are translated from another language. 60% of these are from English. I found no figures for Scotland but in the UK only 3% of our new books are translated. I found no figures for Brazil either. Pause for thought. Are we being insular on this ‘island’ of ours?

Meanwhile I have been congratulated on Mavis’s Shoe’s latest success by lots of kind people. Martin Stepek said, ‘Muito bem!’ which means ‘very good’ or ‘well done’. And Craig Munro said, ‘Está uma mulher,’ which means ‘Yer some woman.’

To which I reply, ‘Obrigado!’

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Date for the Diary

Date for your diaries: week on Thursday, 17th May at 7pm in Clydebank Library. I'll be there as part of Booked, the book festival of West Dumbartonshire. This is very exciting because I’m part of the heritage section so I’ll be talking about my research, which is kind of fun for me because they were happy heady days as an unpublished writer phoning people up and saying “Say, I’m a writer and I want to ask you questions about your speciality/obsession/terrible life-threatening experience.” Nerve-wracking and exciting and often upsetting, and frequently a strangely intimate process, it will also be nice for me to revisit those days. I may even talk about when it went wrong and also some of the fascinating side issues that held my attention and used up some of my valuable writing time. But mostly about how I wrote Mavis's Shoe. Find out more at:

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Things to do with Mavis's Shoe once you've read it

This is a picture of one of the many things you can do with your copy of Mavis's Shoe once you've finished reading it. This was made by my beautiful daughter (biased mum, I admit it) out of hers. Some may feel this has all the sacrilege of smashing pianos at the shows, a practice now all but extinct, but this right to destruction has been earned. Firstly this copy has been read by her from cover to cover. Secondly this daughter read Mavis's Shoe in one of its earliest drafts and gave me some very helpful advice, but perhaps more importantly, encouragement. Thirdly, it's hers to do with what she will. Fourthly, I have a few more copies in a box under my desk. Fifthly, it's very beautiful, like her.

The lovely thing about this is that when I light the fire which is directly underneath it, I know the little hearts will dance.

This is something else, rather similar, you can do with the pages of Mavis's Shoe, although do make sure you read the whole book first otherwise you may miss out on various important events therein. These are not Mavis's Shoe pages but print-outs of various bits of writing by me, poems, short-stories and other general nonsense which were then folded origami-style into swans by my other beautiful daughter. (Lucky me, I have two.) They were hung from threads in large numbers from the lights at a certain important birthday a couple of years ago and completely took my breath away. They moved to a fireplace without a fire (as in this picture) and then back home over the little stove in the room where I work. Being hung on thread they eventually succumbed to human clumsiness and now live in a box. This is why I know the love-hearts will dance; because the swans already flew.

I'm told they're quite simple to make and were certainly a good alternative for some of those pieces to never being published.

This is what Alicia Martin might have done with Mavis's Shoe if she had enough copies. This is one of her book sculptures in Madrid. 5000 books were used for 3 sculptures. This seems a tiny bit excessive and very like burning money. Can she honestly say 'no books were harmed in the making of this work'? But it is also books in an irresistible form somehow. I have no idea what point she's making. Perhaps her aim is simply to make us stand and gape at the size and madness of the thing. Apparently the pages are loose and whisper in the wind, perhaps reciting their contents.

Here's a Utube video of something else you could do if you had lots of books and lots of time. This one will re-acquaint you with all those books you search the shelves for but somehow just can't find. I do sometimes think it might be fun to colour code my books, a red shelf, a purple one, blue etc rainbow style and then I think it might be more useful to have them in alphabetic order, but probably those two options would ruin the prevailing library technique I already operate, namely books arrive here and find a semi-logical place and it becomes theirs. I usually know roughly where they are.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Edinburgh Book Festival for Schools

It's here at last: The Edinburgh International Book Festival's schools programme. You can download it here. You'll find a mugshot of me and Mavis's Shoe on page 9. The event is on Monday the 20th August at 12.30pm and I'm very excited about it already, as I'm sure you can imagine. Make sure you book soon or alert any teachers you might know. It's a one-off never to be repeated event.

It's great to know so many young people are reading Mavis's Shoe as well as older people who experienced the Clydebank Blitz or whose parents and grandparents did. I'm too young to have lived through it myself but my parents both talked about the war a lot when I was growing up, as did my grandparents. But no-one talked about being bombed, because no-one in my family was. But that doesn't mean they weren't hugely affected by six years of being separated from parents for lengthy periods, travelling alone on trains across country at an early age, hunger, insecurity, fear and all the other privations of wartime.

These things and worse happened here in Britain and across Europe and, sad to say, all these worse things are still happening around the world. That's why I'm so pleased so many young people are reading Mavis's Shoe and learning what war is really like for ordinary people on the ground. No-one's going to try and stop it if they don't know how bad it gets. Did I mention I'm pleased about young people reading Mavis's Shoe?

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Avast, Me Hearties

After the delights of Chagall last week, my brain still being weary due to the bug and not capable of words in the way I’d want it to be, I moved on to various other visual delights to occupy my time and prevent the rising boredom of the sick bed. The first was the 1971 film Fiddler on the Roof the reason being the recently acquired knowledge that said fiddler is based on Chagall’s many fiddlers on roofs, in the sky, on donkey back and hidden in vases of flowers etc. This was a very nice circle to round, linking ten year old me to my somewhat older self now. Ten year old me adored it and played the record over and over.(Sorry Mum.) But this is hardly surprising as the music is spectacular and the story moving and epic. Certain songs have been playing on a loop in my head all week and occasionally I break into song.

Next I found two photo books on my shelves, the first being Century, by Phaidon, and is a series of important photos of the last century. The main disadvantage of this book is that it is necessarily heavy to hold for a poor sickie like myself, the other being it makes rather depressing viewing.

This was followed by the smaller and much more exciting ‘The Photo Book’ also by Phaidon and is a collection of fantastic images by some of the most important photographers of recent years. Many of these photos are very strange indeed and therefore appeal to my internal storyteller.

After struggling to find anything interesting at all on the TV I joined Love Film and watched Source Code which I can recommend highly for its constant twists and surprises, most especially the very smily last ‘8 minute journey’. Watch it and you’ll know what I mean. Clever plot.

Then my dearly beloved, going a little stir crazy himself, took me on a couple of drives out to favourite places, like a proper old invalid, the last one finishing in Waterstones where I purchased a journal for recording the strange events of my life (still untouched - journalling just doesn’t come naturally to me) and a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island complete with a very pretty parrot on the front. (A few years ago I inherited the family library. Sadly it had been badly plundered before its arrival and most of the best had been taken, including Treasure Island.) To my shame, I don’t think I ever read Treasure Island as a child, being pointed by well-meaning parents in the direction of What Katy did, What Katy Did Next and Anne of Green Gables. Better late than never however and, like Source Code, it is a tale of endless twists and excitement and, as it turns out, the perfect anecdote to gastro-enteritis. Don’t tell me the end! It’s all I can do to get back to work and not finish reading it this morning.

However, in a fit of pirate allegiance, in fact a long and heart-felt loyalty, beloved and I went to the flicks last night and watched, in the company of only five other viewers, two ice creams and a packet of mint aero musket balls, The Pirates! – In An Adventure With Scientists. This has to be the least promising of titles to have been around in a while, and it must be said we were disappointed on the pirate front, there being very little real pirating going on, not much swashbuckling, no blood, no full-on genuine nastiness, but in its place lots of wit and fun and a great deal of rather sweet gentleness. This too was healing. Aaah. And plenty of fun to be had in the detail.

But Avast, me hearties, I have chapters to read, or is it write?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Free Fish

It seems odd that I’ve never told you about the great love of my life, the painter Marc Chagall. But like most people I neglect my best love for long periods and don’t even notice I’m living on bread and water. Recently I had a FEAST.

The feast is called ‘A la Russie, aux Ânes et aux Autres’ (To Russia, Asses and Others) and is a dvd about his life.

Here is a picture of the front of the box. I bought it in Nice in the Chagall Museum which is a museum worth going all the way to Nice just to visit. It was my last feast, in January. I’ve been three times and will go again at the earliest opportunity if someone would like to donate my fare.
Here I am in Nice, gorging myself in front of one of his giant canvases. See how happy I am?

Chagall was free. That’s why I like him. And when I first encountered him in a retrospective exhibition of his work in the Royal Academy in London in 1985, I felt his freedom. I was brought up thinking art was a serious business involving lofty ideas and one which a mere girl like me could never fully grasp. (Thanks Dad). Well, thank you Marc Chagall for opening my eyes and making me laugh all the way round that gallery. Who puts goats in the sky, upside down people all over the place and is obsessed with hens? (We have so much in common.) Joy ripples from his canvases. He was full of life, full of love. His work is full of both too.

Isn’t this ridiculous and beautiful?

So from my sick bed of enforced inaction, (back step in the sunshine actually) I’ve been thinking about artistic freedom. I mean the internal stuff, not the social-political stuff which often concerns me.

For an artist, art is freedom: ‘The place where I had freedom most was when I painted. I was completely and utterly myself.’ (Alice Neel)

And therefore: ‘To confine the artist is a crime; it means murdering unborn life.’ (Egon Schiele) (‘There’s been a murrderr.’ - Taggart)

But on the other hand: ‘No human being, however great, or powerful, was ever so free as a fish.’ (John Ruskin)

And yet: ‘Writing just for the hell of it is heaven.’ (Julia Cameron)

I recognise this too: ‘Imagine, if you will, the author standing on a high rooftop hurling books into the void yelling, 'Fly! Be free!'’ (Curtis Craddock)

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Five ambulances, one with wings.

Fortunately it was nothing like this! This is the first ever ambulance.

All hail Rab and Gus, the lovely paramedics in Kintyre who patched me up and carried me downstairs from my hotel room and into their ambulance without the slightest bump and opened the back blinds of the van so that I could at least see the sea which I had come to walk alongside if I couldn’t walk along beside it.

Yes, slight viral attack, invasion of the little men from the other side of the galaxy, and after three hours of intense vomiting I slid gracefully to the floor with the help of my dearest and fortunately nearest and passed out for approximately 60 seconds. I have to take his word for this as I wasn’t strictly present as witness and didn’t notice a clock as I slipped from one realm of consciousness to precisely none.

After two tourniquets and several hours and many litres of four types of drips, I was pronounced uninvestigable in that small but I have to say, extremely loving part of the world, and a plane was ordered for my transportation back to civilisation aka Glasgow (stop laughing) where all possible tests would be put at my or at least the doctor's disposal.

All hail Rab and Gus who returned and were two of a party of many helpers accompanying me back to the ambulance. On we went to Machrihanish and the plane. Gus and Rab have to be named and so does Kate the nurse who attended me in Campbeltown with such quiet kindness and efficiency. These three were superlative. I’m saying superlative because you can insert your own. Nothing I’ve come up with matches these people and their care and gentleness in the delivery of a system of care which in itself is of necessity pretty alarming. Kindness, I have concluded, is the most healing thing of all.

The plane was narrower than a double bed and had a teeny little door. The transfer was done outdoors (thank the heavens for being kind) and via a conveyor belt type of contraption which afterwards refused to shrink and behave and get into the limited space inside. Ho hum and all this time I’m wired up and strapped up, and Rab and Gus and various others are telling jokes outside.

Arriving in the A & E of a large hospital in Glasgow I was suddenly very alone. Everyone was helpful enough, but there were no extra miles. I was however checked out and made well enough to check out of the hospital by the following evening, which was after all the purpose and best outcome. The extra mile I observed was delivered with absolute compassion and understatement by a male nurse called Gerry to Agnes the elderly lady in the bed next to mine who was coaxed through all the indignities of her illness with profound gentleness and was an absolute joy to overhear. All hail Gerry too.

I must add that I’m fine now but tired and have been told to REST and RECUPERATE and given the fine state of the weather who would argue?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Mavis's Videos

Today is the 71st anniversary of the Clydebank Blitz. In fact as I sit here just after seven in the evening the sirens would perhaps already have gone off and people would be more of less ignoring them because for some reason few people thought Clydebank would be a target. This always strikes me as very odd given the quantity of war industry going on in Clydebank at the time. But I suppose it was a long time coming.

So today I have been thinking again about what people went through and about the people I have met and spoken to for my research and so on and how they may be feeling today. I am particularly sad because of Syria because what is going on out there is something very similar.

However, this evening I also stumbled upon a video of an interview I did for the Scottish Book Trust last year and another of me reading an extract from Mavis's Shoe. You can find them both at this link.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Proximity of the Past

Andrew Greig once spoke on the radio about a sense of there being no time or space when he found himself in certain wild and isolated places. I recognised this instantly and was so excited to hear such things spoken of on the radio that I bought one of his books on the strength of it. Yesterday I had the opposite experience, of being overwhelmingly aware of time and of events in the past feeling very close indeed.

Being in Kintyre at the weekend on other business (pleasure, to be exact) I made the trip to the Mull. After a gate there is several miles of road, very winding and also very windy (as in windswept and blowing-a-gale) which lead you to the top of the hill above the lighthouse. It was a multi-season day involving brilliant sunshine, hailstones and snow in quick succession many times over, all carried towards us on a bitterly cold wind. We parked the car and made our way down the steeply snaking road and departed from the way onto a hummock. There we stopped and watched the squalls race across the twelve miles between Scotland and Ireland and the curtains of hail showers as they floated eerily in our direction for as long as we could bear the chill.

This was where ships passed in great numbers during WW2 making their way in convoys from Liverpool via the Isle of Mann and then out across the Atlantic for vital supplies, dodging German U-boats and air attacks as they went. Having been unaware of this the last time I visited a few years ago I was suddenly struck by the vision of this place as a naval highway at that time, choc-a-bloc with activity. The Scottish coast there is inhospitable in the extreme and many ships have foundered thereupon, hence the lighthouse built in 1788 by Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson, grandfather of the great and wonderful author Robert Louis Stevenson.

But on the 2nd of July 1940 in the early hours of the day, the Arandora Star passed through that channel with a cargo of mostly innocent Italian internees and German refugees from Nazi Germany. I stood on the hillside and imagined their ship sneaking past a moonlit coast and passing on into the dark unknown on their unprotected passage to Canada and forced exile. In the British panic in the face of Mussolini’s partnership with Hitler on the 10th of June of that year, no convoy was afforded them and shortly after Malin Head they were spotted by Günther Prien, the commander of the same U-boat which sunk the Royal Oak in Scapa Flow near the outbreak of the war with the loss of 833 lives, mostly ‘boy sailors’. In the hurry to be rid of these Italian internees, who were erroneously perceived as a massive threat, the Arandora Star was not marked with a red cross and was therefore considered fair game and torpedoed. More than 800 people died that night though the exact number is not known, such had been the rush to board them. Several Scottish islands have graves marked ‘Unknown Italian’. Those that survived this ordeal and were picked up by rescue boats were taken to Greenock, transported back to Liverpool and put on another ship bound for Australia.

How strange to stand on that spot and see in my mind’s eye this huge ship passing into its darkest night.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Hen Hell

I have to tell you this first.

I was washing my hands. The extractor fan was buzzing over my head when it stopped for a second, the light too, then came back on. I went to the front door to check the electrics and saw dark shadows crouched on the other side of the frosted glass. I opened the door and a figure scarpered onto the path to join two others. They had my saw and an old pole of mine, about 10 foot long, that used to be at one end of a line of flags made by local kids that stretched across the old back court.
They dropped them and ran but turned and stopped in the middle of the road.
Three of them, about fifteen, I suppose, just kids, two lads and a girl. All in black trackies, one with two yellow stripes down his arms. We stared at each other while I fumbled for what to say.

‘What did you do to my electricity?!’ I yelled.

‘He did it and he’s sorry,’ said one, thumbing his pal.

I went back inside and then five minutes later the guy over the road came over and a woman from up the street. Never seen her before. They said they’d called the police and was I ok? Well, I was shaken. Got a fright. Anyway they’d seen these kids peering in my front window, which is weird because the curtains were shut so there was nothing to see. I suppose they were trying to work out if there was anyone in. They’d been checking out my little 24 year old campervan too and arguing over doing something to that, probably smashing the window. There’s nothing to steal inside. You can see that through the uncurtained windows.

Anyway turns out the woman from up our street lives next door to a big empty building which used to be a hotel until about twenty years ago and has been shut ever since. There’s always stuff happening to it. This crowd of guys has been going in regularly and stripping it of everything they can move, anything that’ll sell and she and her husband always yell out that they’re calling the police and then when the police arrive they’re gone and never get caught. Same lot every time. Then one day she was out and they came again and when her husband yelled out they took a crowbar to his head and battered shit out of him. She said he died three times and was brought back three times. I don’t know how they know these things. But apparently they do. She thought he died for a couple of minutes but the ambulance people told her it was more like 7-10 so the brain damage is very severe.

‘Did they get the guys?’

‘No, they didn’t.’

There’s a gang of twelve of them. The police know this and they know who six of them are but they’re after the ring leader and haven’t arrested anyone.

‘Probably the same crowd that killed the other guy two weeks ago about a mile away right outside his own front door in full view of his partner.’

‘The very same.’

‘How many people have to die before they arrest someone?’

There was a body found down our back lane a couple of weeks ago too. I saw the police tape. I saw a police woman in a car guarding the area afterwards, probably looking for body parts, same as after Moira Jones in Queens Park. The policewoman was crocheting. I got my binoculars out to see because I thought she was knitting, certainly not paying attention, another boring job. Apparently there’s been lots of rapes and other attacks in the area recently, but this street is the worst.

Fucking scary. I thought it was all ok now that the Parkview is shut, an old hotel that was a dumping ground for anyone any local authority didn’t want. I’ve not been scared for two years now. No more ferrying people to the station, only five minutes’ walk away. Plenty of walking out in broad daylight and dark night the same. Fucking scary.

Eighty-four year old woman attacked at 9am.


While we were chatting, me and the woman from up the street, the three in black trackies split up, one heading back down. The other a guy and girl disappeared into one of the gardens of the big houses up the road. We were still waiting for the police, and as we stood there chatting making friends I saw this big fine fat fox trotting out from behind my little twenty-four year old campervan and heading towards the lane beside the house, brave as you like, pausing only minutely and surprised to see us there on the pavement where clearly only foxes should be. He disappeared beyond the hedge and I, already aghast by strange events, noticed and thought no more of it.

Twenty minutes passed and me and my newly found neighbour are still waiting for the police and she’s gasping for a fag. My phone goes and she heads to the shops.

Phone call over I’m back at the desk trying to work. I hear the two hens in our backcourt making a racket and look out and here’s Mister Fox chasing one of them round and round and pinning it down to the ground by the neck. And I’m shouting and rapping at the window so hard I’ll put my fist through it if I’m not careful and I open the window and shove my head out and shout but it’s too late. So I go next door to the other ground floor flat to the owners of these damned hens and bang on their door so hard my knuckles feel like they’ll burst. Nothing. Silence. Bastards aren’t even in. Left their hens out and not even in. I rush back to the window and see the fox disappear behind the steps, hen heavy in its mouth. In for the kill. I’m shaking. I don’t know what to do. Are foxes dangerous to humans? The other hen is lingering by the hutch. Should I go out? What would it do if I did? How would I catch the damn hen and where would I put it? In our kitchen? What about my cats? And then what would I do? So I don’t go out and rescue this hen but instead pace the hall wondering. But then I hear it screaming and run back to the window and see the fox giving chase and the hen finding its wings and swooping over the fairly useless barrier they’ve put up between the two ends of the garden. I’m cheering inside for half a second as this bird flies possibly for the first time in its little life. I’m so amazed I don’t see how the fox follows but it does and they race towards our end and down towards our back door. I bang and bang on the window then run downstairs and bang on the window there, but the fox is dragging her back up our little steps just opposite the door. He’s dragging her by the neck. I bang super hard on the pane of the back door. He stops and lifts his head, and hers too, and looks at me with his little orange eyes. Stares. Checks me out. Am I dangerous? No. Do I understand, with my soft human ways, the truth of life and death? No. Carries on.

I’m thinking this hen’s dead. Has to be. But it’s not. He’s got it in the middle of the grass and he’s pulling at the feathers. I’m wondering whether to open the door but, again, don’t and go back upstairs. It’s got to be dead now.

I’m helpless so I get out my phone and start videoing. Then a flock of magpies and crows appear and are cackling out their warning and the fox is worried so he leaves the hen and climbs the wall and scans the environs to make sure he’s safe, then he comes back down to the hen and he bites her bum and she isn’t dead! She isn’t dead at all and races over to our door again but he follows her and drags her back by the wing and plops her back where he had her. The magpies are bothering him so he goes up on the wall again, to the highest point and sits, calm with his beautiful tail curled round him the the magpies in the tree above his head. The hen raises her head. Why is she still alive?

The first hen is belly-up at the other end by the steps.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Tweeting and Rones

I am a tweeter. I now tweet. Am I a twit to tweet? We'll see. To the right is my new twitter button. I've tweeted twice so far, the first with a slip-of-the-left-index-finger spelling mistake, but hope to be a better bird-taking-flight in future. Watch this big blue virtual space.

Scots-English. At the risk of opening up another huge and occasionally fierce discussion of Scots as a language/dialect/variance etc I came across this Scots-English dictionary while looking up ‘rone pipe’ for correct spelling, something I'm in need of, and for exactly which bit of guttering a rone is. ‘Rone’, it turns out, is a Scottish word or ‘wurd’, I suppose. Not nationalistic, if still pleases me that there are so many Scottish words, sorry, wurds, in common usage, particularly my own usage, particularly if my usage is unwitting. I'm glad that some form of individuality survives the tidal wave of popular worldwide culture. It gives me a safe warm feeling.

Apparently ‘outwith’ is uniquely Scottish too, although in this particular ‘dictionar’ it’s down as ‘ootwi’. It means 'outside something', a bit like ‘without a city wall’ in the old hymn, ‘There is a green hill far away without …’ except the other way round. This hymn always confused me when I was wee and hymns were still sung in all schools, but mainly because my city, Glasgow, (I belang tae Glesgae) doesn't have or need city walls. If it had been 'There is a green hill far away outwith a city wall ...' I would of course have understood instantly. I loved singing those hymns every morning and probably only ever wondered vaguely about their meaning. I didn't expect to understand and actually thought less of certain hymns when the meaning was too obvious. For instance, 'In the Bleak Mid-Winter' is beautiful in the extreme but is readily understood and therefore carries no mystery. The mystery of the wurd 'rone' is that it doesn't exist outwith Scotland. Why not? And why does it exist 'inwith' Scotland?

'Inwith' is pretend. Or is it?

'Reid', of course, is another one. Guess what colour I wore to marry Mr Reid? There's a clue in the arrow.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Spools Turning

Because I need as much focus as possible to write the new book, I have resigned from the management committee of wonderful Scottish PEN. I think I'd be more useful doing more directly practical things like organising events and I'll still do the 'Rapid Action' letter writing for writers who are imprisoned.

For those of you not familiar with Scottish PEN or indeed International PEN, it exists to defend freedom of expression around the world especially in the written word and specifically for writers. Scottish PEN is a fantastic organisation run entirely on the dedication of unpaid staff, all a superb community of writers. Both Lui Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Prize for Peace last year, and Mario Vargas Llosa, who won the prize for literature, have served as PEN presidents in their countries, China and Peru respectively, although sadly Lui Xiaobo was in prison and unable to attend. For more information about Scottish PEN please check their website.

I am including in this post a flash fiction which was first published in a pamphlet of writing from workshops run by three PEN members including myself during the Document 8 International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival in 2010.

Spools Turning

Xing Pi was a film director. He lived in Chiwanrea and made films about the stories his parents and his grandparents told him as a boy, stories about the village in which he lived and the artisans and monks and holy women who lived there too.

Then one day the police came and took away his notebook. The next day they came for his computer and the day after that they broke down the door, threw him to the floor and dragged him out to their wagon by his feet. Xing Pi’s wife was lucky she was not there too and, hearing the news, went into hiding in the mountains.

Xing Pi did not know where she was. He did not know where he was either and soon he did not know what time meant. He knew space and could judge how close he was to the walls he could not see by the sounds they echoed from his clicking fingers. He knew from first taste whether his food was safe to eat each day. He knew where his skin was because it hummed with bruises and sores, sometimes so clearly he could almost hear it.

A year passed in darkness but in that darkness he played all the films he’d ever seen, all the films he’d ever made and all the films he’d make as soon as he was out, because he was sure one day he would be. Flick, flick, flick went the stills on the wall and the pictures shone out with the stories of his life before and his life in that place. Tales began to grow out of the sounds beyond the walls, someone wailing for peace, the guards joking about women, the uneven tread of one of them outside the door, the same man on his journey home through the cotton fields, past the grazing oxen and through the noisy town. Until he comes to his home and finds the police there waiting.

Ling Joo was a poet. He lived in ….

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Bare-Naked Resolution

This is the view from the huge floor to ceiling square window in Cairnoch Lodge, a little holiday cottage where I spent the week between Christmas and New Year, far from the maddening crowd. The thing I want to draw your attention to is the right hand branch of the left hand tree. Does it strike you as odd? It strikes me as eccentric but I’m not sure you can call a tree eccentric. I’m not keen on stories in which animals take on human characteristics and it seems three times worse to do it to trees, even if I’m only suggesting a tree might be eccentric. It does seems a peculiarly human thing to be. Though of course cats are too. All cats are eccentric, in my opinion, which makes eccentricity normal in the cat species and it makes cats, as a species, eccentric amongst animals. But I digress. You’ll no doubt have felt my confusion.

Perhaps what I’m saying is that the natural world is wonderfully varied, even in our own backyard or the backyard I borrowed, as in this case. As a resident of Scotland I find Scotland beautiful but not exotic or unusual. It's too familiar. But it is varied and this tree seems somehow extra alive with that strange ‘arm’ stretching upwards in a peculiarly rhythmic shape, like the movements of a dancer or the line of flight of a small bird.

Winter is the perfect time to examine our trees for eccentricities. The gush and splendour of new leaves in spring (see earlier post) has not yet arrived to cover up their strange and twisting bodies. And here I’m reminded of the artist who photographed ordinary people in little or no clothing in simple settings. Without the homogenising effect of clothes we are all distinct and beautiful. These portraits made everyone look oddly vulnerable. And eccentric. Eccentricity is a good thing I think. I wish I could remember the artist’s name. There was an exhibition going round about eight years ago I think. A brief search on the internet was as dodgy as you would imagine it to be.

On a bus journey this week from Inverary to Glasgow I was treated to still more oddities of the tree world: five deciduous adult trees clustered so close together their roots must have formed a woven blanket (close-knit family?); trees growing out of the floodwaters of Loch Lomond like reeds in a river; branches the width of elephant legs snapped in two by the ferocity of recent storms; a fallen giant amidst an army of giants, the others all still standing tall; two men with chainsaws beside a stack of thick discs sliced from a trunk, like a pile of cakes two foot wide; twigs, sticks, branches of all shapes and sizes littering every field and grass, only the roads being cleared.

Meanwhile, of course, the human population is feeling a little stripped back to its roots by the ‘recession’ and by the austerities of January after the excesses of Christmas. But some of it is deliberate because of RESOLUTIONS. The idea of resolutions is surely to strip ourselves back and get more focussed on what matters, to behave better, give up things which harm us, make this the year all the right things happen. Done the right way we strip ourselves back to our own special core and build from there, perhaps growing in new directions with the elegance of a small bird's flight, or the quiet strength of a tree or even the ferocity of a winter gale.

Meanwhile, in a dark room near you, I am sitting here creating a whole new structure for the life of Lenny Gillespie of Mavis’s Shoe fame. To begin with it looked like the five tree cluster with the various characters all standing round one another, but now some of them are being thrown about by the wind, all of them are growing before my very eyes and one of them falls in a place no-one sees.

This is the same time of year I began Mavis’s Shoe. There is much I don’t know about the history and background of the period I’m writing about. Mavis’s Shoe was written in a frenzy of researching and writing and writing and researching. It looks like writing the sequel is becoming a similar process and in the absence of time to do anything but write, I too am like the trees stripped back to their essential peculiar selves.