Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Writing / Radio’ Category

My peat plot problem

Does anyone have experience of burying bodies? Preferably in peat?  Was anything dropped in the grave that was incriminating?

I’m addressing writers, you understand, not murderers. And no, these aren’t questions I expected I’d ever have to ask but an unpredicted twist in my almost completed story means I’m having to rewrite a section and I’m struggling to find a likely item that would survive long enough to date the grisly event back in the late 1970s when the body is eventually uncovered in 2014.

I know this isn’t the time for reflecting on dastardly deeds, but perhaps in a spare moment, while you’re choosing presents, watching a nativity or humming a carol you might give some thought to my dilemma which is currently driving me to drink; mulled wine, as it happens – there has to be some seasonal cheer in an otherwise murder-riddled festive period.

The scene is a remote Scottish moor and the baddie, a mature male farmer, disposes of the evidence without considering that the blanked-wrapped body will ever be found, so he’s not too careful. Peat bogs are exceptionally good at preserving items but it doesn’t need to incriminate him, just anchor the event in the period.

Oh,  you want to know if there’s a reward for the most useable information? Well, I could name one of my characters after you so that you’d be immortalized in a …ahem… bestseller.

How about it?

Advertisements

A chink of light

I’ve written the last paragraph.

It’s just the beginning and it’s not even a full first draft, but it feels like an achievement and I need to share it. Writing’s a lonely business and most of my pals suspect I’ve been loafing around and reading novels these past eight months. My “book” has become an in-joke! And that’s absolutely fine because I’m not comfortable describing myself as a writer… yet!  Journalist? That’s different; I’ve spent 30 years being paid to write and broadcast.

But finishing the last chapter gives me the impetus to start editing, rewriting and checking on facts. I’ll be more confident in contacting all the professionals who’ve helped so far and I’ll speak to others. There’s still so much to do, and many words to write, but at least there’s a structure now. I can finally see the light.

I started my research in March and took chunks of time out to walk and travel but other than that, writing this story  has been my “work” this year, and I’ve learned a lot. It was a mistake to start without a plot but then I didn’t know there were going  to be so many words! And I hadn’t a clue how it would end – until it did.

I hope I’m not tempting fate by setting a deadline now, but I intend to have a first draft by the end of the year. And when my family come home at Christmas I hope I’ll have the courage to show them what I’ve been doing all these months.

Now there’s a scary prospect.

Entering the Dark Age

I’ve traded superfast Wi-Fi and a reliable phone signal for a log fire, candles and a cottage door that opens onto a Highland beach.

On my first night here I fell asleep convinced that through the bed, the floor, the foundations and the sand I could feel the vibration of the waves on the shore just a hundred yards away. On a wild day I will certainly hear them smashing against the pier.

I know the tide times now; I know when to walk so the rock pools and seaweed will be uncovered. My mind and body are becoming attuned to signals that are natural rather than electronic. No bleeps.

It’s getting dark early at night and it’s quiet; I hear nothing through the thick old walls of this fisherman’s cottage so for the first time in months I slept beyond 6.30am today. And 7.30.

At 8.30 I woke slowly to tranquility I haven’t experienced for years. Is this the return of a natural body clock that isn’t disrupted by the reflex rush to check gmail, Facebook or Whatsapp before breakfast? For the next few months there will be no wakening up to read the BBC news or regular bloggers over a cup of tea. No more crumbs of toast in the keyboard.

For two days now I’ve been writing without distractions and I’m sitting tonight down by the hearth with candles burning. No music. No radio. Just the crackle of the logs and the smell of wood.

It’s what I wanted, but going cold turkey and withdrawing to a life without instant access to knowledge, friends, research and trivia is confirming just how many waking hours I’m wasting by clicking and mindlessly browsing. Random notions to price international flights I’ll never catch have to be dismissed. But will that mean I read more or write better? I guess I’ll find out.

It’s still too early for a full hibernation so in the morning I’ll walk to the library to send emails and this update and by the time you read it I’ll have returned to Internet exile. Temporarily.

But if I no longer inhabit a virtual world do friends and readers still exist? If I can’t see you, can you still see me?

I’m just wondering.

The geese are back; anything might happen

.

The autumn migration is under way; the geese are back and filling the skies above me, wave after wave of dark wavering skeins, honking and hooting as they search out and settle in to their winter quarters around the Cromarty and Moray Firths

I’ve been on Nairn beach every morning and evening this week, powering along the sand as my new dogsitting customer, Harley-the-Golden-Retriever pounds through the waves; crazy-happy, beautiful dogIMG_1596

And I’m not alone in stopping to admire the synchronized flight.

“Save your energy for flying!” One woman called out as the sky grew dark and the decibel level intensified above our heads.

They sound excited to have arrived after their journeys from the Arctic Circle, Scandinavia, Greenland and Canada and use their vantage point to scope out the  roosts and fields – where they’re not always welcome.

They pass over, still bickering and swerving, swapping places to avoid fatigue among the flock. Here it’s mainly Greylags but there are  Pink-Foot, White-Fronted Geese and Barnacles – over 700,000 of them migrating to Scotland every autumn. Last year at this time I was wandering among flocks of Canada Geese on the shores of Lake Ontario, the water sparkling in the  autumn sunshine. Great memories.

Whatever the species, they represent the most exciting time of year. October has always been the month of new beginnings; leaving home, starting university, beginning new jobs, embarking on big travel and adventures.

It’s the month when anything might happen.

P1000916

Sparkling Lake Ontario

Stretching time

It has been passing too fast, this gap “year” of mine and it seems I’ve now overrun my original 12-month deadline. Thirteen months and … well, who’s counting? Best not. I’ve been stretching it out, packing in adventures, travels, walking,  sunshine, encounters and as much writing as I can before my nomadic lifestyle comes to an end and I have to work again.

The hills have been an enduring focus. Two of the most memorable were Beinn Chabhair and Ben Cruachan in Argyllshire; brutes of mountains which demanded long days and big effort. We started late after mornings of rain spent reading in the tents but Chabhair eventually rewarded the steady slog with evening sunshine and outstanding views. There was no desire to leave the summit so we dallied and gazed at the ranges of hills, trying to work out the names of different peaks, returning to camp too late and tired to cook. We pooled resources and shared beer, chocolate and yoghurt – a walker’s feast.

But Ben Cruachan was a different matter. It has been a target for a long time and it lulled me upwards, almost promising all day that the clouds on the summit would clear as I reached through them to the top.

But for once I wasn’t lucky. I’m a fair-weather walker so the last few hundred feet of navigating through mist over rock slabs was a disorientating experience which I’m not keen to repeat. I turned back once, only to meet a couple of serious climbers then follow them sheep-like to the summit. Finding a route back on my own was scary.

Then it was back up to Sutherland to climb Canisp, the elegant swirl of hill I admired from the summit of Suilven in the springtime. I could P1010343gaze all day at the wonder that is Suilven … But Sandwood Bay beckoned still further north across the moors.

What a day of late summer sunshine, the magnificence of Ben Stack, Foinaven and Arkle poking stark out of the expanse of Sutherland’s heather and moorland.  I want to return to camp there, miles from roads and houses and people and take time to enjoy its peace. Next year.

I camped in the pine woods of the Cairngorms and on the coast  in Fife; I spent three days in Stirling at the “Bloody Scotland” crime writing festival listening to successful writers discuss their books and making friends (and commiserating) with like-minded aspiring authors. One woman had written 18 novels and published them online to acclaim yet still can’t attract a publishing deal. What hope for the rest of us who’re still struggling to finish our first?

But despair in pointless (while procrastination is not) so I jumped on a cheap flight to Bordeaux to rewalk parts of last year’s Camino more slowly. And visit Pamplona, Estella, Bilbao and finally the lovely French town of Bayonne.

And now I’m going to stop and stay still for a while. I’ve arranged to rent a little cottage for the winter; it’s by a beach and it has a fireplace. I don’t need more.  Hibernation suddenly feels like another exciting adventure. I’m going to enjoy the sound of the waves at the door, to walk in all weathers and finish my story.

And in the springtime? Time, I hope, will stretch.

“Break a leg!” they said. And he did.

Three weeks ago it wasn’t looking good.

My artist son was in hospital in Germany, his leg badly broken and out of action for at least three months.

It was painful and inconvenient but his most pressing problem was that the theatrical installation that had been commissioned for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had still to be built.

Professionally it was unmissable. But time was short and the welding, lifting, cable laying, ladder climbing, transporting and other heavy-duty work would be impossible for him.

P1000858Word got around. His friends pulled out the stops,  his girlfriend was a trouper and  Cryptic, the theatre company, paid for an assistant to work under his direction.

I flew back from Canada to provide the wheels and food and was allocated space for my sleeping bag in a Bohemian cupboard under the stairs!

The local supermarket became familiar, I negotiated my way round the industrial estates of Glasgow to find electrical warehouses, filled my car with the most fragile equipment, loaded vans, blacked out windows, crawled around moving cables (first time I’ve had “housemaid’s knee”)  and – with an hour to go before the preview opened – I even mopped the theatre floor.

Others contributed so much more. But Robbie’s the star; a talented artist who’s uncompromising about his work.

P1000917

The show  combines music, light, mechanical choreography with “found objects” and the lightening impact of a caged Tesla coil  to create the spectacular assault on the senses. It is dark and sinister, it makes you fear for the future but then, unexpectedly, it can make you laugh out loud. Some of the beats stay in your head for hours. It comes with no interpretation or explanation. It provokes.

His nocturnal lifestyle proved challenging (and the cupboard had its limitations) and apparently I did a bit too much “mothering” but it has been a privilege to help and be part of the team over the past three weeks . The memories will last a long time – not least a last exhausted evening we spent sipping curative Lagavoulins in an Edinburgh bar. His pals are great, we’ve had endless stops for beers and laughs, the preview night was emotional,  and the opening night on Friday …. a full house.

He did it. And now he needs to keep on hobbling in and doing it every day until the 25th of August.  Robbie Thomson. Ecstatic Arc. Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Summerhall Arts Centre. He broke a leg.  (And just look at that shiny floor!)

ZenoWatson10-10Nov2012-250x166

Missing my global family

It was 7am at Glasgow Airport.  From far back in the queue I watched my son and his fellow creatives pass through security en route to Berlin to produce work for the theatre tent at Fusion festival near Hamberg.

He appeared to be in deep discussion with an inspector about a suitcase of LED lights and other electrical equipment he wanted to carry on board. Finally the case was repacked and he was waved through, free to travel a few hours east.

His brother, meanwhile,  is thousands of miles south, in New Zealand where he’s writing music, earning a living and snowboarding.

And I boarded a flight west across the Atlantic to Canada where I’m spending a few weeks writing some more chapters of my story.

So for the moment we’re a family on different continents, living in parallel time zones, engrossed in our own creative worlds.

And it’ll be another six months or so before we’re reunited.

I can’t wait.