Monday, 18 September 2017

A is for apple

I've gone a bit apple-mad. The ex-psychiatric hospital nearby has an orchard full of apples (and I mean full!) but of course it is an ex-hospital so the grounds are pretty much places in waiting... and so the apples are too. For the last few years that orchard has worn a carpet of apples for much of the fall season and it's pretty sad, I think, when food costs so much and we all seem to talk about healthy eating all the time. We went and picked a bag full yesterday (we all have permission, I emailed the current landowners to check... ) and I am telling everyone I can think of to try to keep the rotting to a minimum. I suppose this is partly because I was brought up by a mother who'd lived through WW2 and so I hate food waste (though I think most of us do really). There are issues of course... some of the trees are very tall and quite old... and everyone is busy... but I'm hopeful.

And lo, an apple poem (title connected to my late arrival at Instagram... I like to try most things... just not always at the same time as everyone else...). 


Dream, if you must, of apples.
Check the ground first,
Flatten nettles,
Clear the rotten windfall.

Then head up high
To the happy bounty,
Ripe clumps of life,
Calling out to be pie.

There’s no finer sight;
Than apples above,
The pound in your heart,
A red and green beat.

Preserve if you can,
Keep the taste fresh,
Make the good cake,
And save the picture.

RF 2017

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


I saw Chris Wood play live in Glasgow in January 2016 and can't recommend his live shows enough (he's touring this year too - see here). The song above was written about his daughter leaving for college or some such... but even if that isn't a situation you know it is still a beautiful song about love.  He has some very political songs too - all the usual weapons of a good folk singer - and he plays and sings really well. Proper makes your heart sing, he does. 

Friday, 1 September 2017


Picture of the girls of the house

Still not much writing business to report here. Mostly I've been hanging out with these two. Well, look at them ‒ wouldn't you? I don't often post photos of the daughter on here but it's a lovely one and I thought you might like it (it's not staged). Some regular readers will feel like you know her I am sure (internet family and all that). 

There is some almost writing news though as I will be heading to the Auchmithie Arts Festival on 9th and 10th September (11-5 on Saturday, 12-5 on Sunday). The artist who did the cover artwork for both my books (Steph Masterson) is opening her house as part of the festival (along with her artist husband Scott Henriksen). There isn't a website for the festival but there is facebook page for it. I will be selling books at Steph's (venue 5) and generally hanging around. It is always a lovely day out (16 art venues, tearoom in the village hall, beautiful setting).

I've not even been writing the little Twitter poems recently (that has been this summer's, post-pamphlet poetic activity). Then today a little one arrived (here) probably because I've had contact with quite a few old friends this summer. It's such a strange business (lovely in the main part but strange for all the memories it stirs up). I tend to have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude around this kind of thing ‒ I just feel so pleased (and amazed in some cases) that we've made it this far. Is it a poet thing to be so obsessed with the possibility and probability of death? Or a child of a suicide thing? Or just a human thing? Or is it just because I read the news (more than some, not as much as others)? Or because this was one of my favourite songs in childhood (it came out the year my Dad died, as it happens...)?

Anyway, after a busy week I had a little quiet time this morning and listened to Robert Webb's much-publicised 'How Not to Be a Boy' (Book of the Week on the radio). It is sometimes frustrating for non-celebrity writers when famous people's books get a lot of hype but this one is published by Canongate (Scottish, love them...) and I did really enjoy his reading (though bits are super sad ‒ more death of course...). There were some pretty perfect sentences in amongst it all. I especially liked his description of his academic position at the age of about 11 ("the disappointing end of clever or the hopeful side of dim") and this sentiment from (I think) the last of the 5 episodes "those of us who are loved have no excuse". I read a lot of work by and/or about people who weren't loved much early in life and think about this kind of thing a great deal (for one reason or another). And his is an interesting addition to such thoughts... and it could easily have been part of a poem (Larkin maybe). Poetry is everywhere... whether you want it or not!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Treading water...

River Tay at Dundee, 5th August 2017

I haven't done a lot of posting here over the summer. This isn't due to a big holiday away or anything (quite the opposite). Things have been pretty quiet... and this is always an odd sensation when (it feels like) everyone else is dashing off and doing exciting things. Of course not everyone is... it just feels that way. Some people, quite the contrary, are dealing with terrible things and would love some of this kind of peace and quiet (London's Grenfell survivors, for example, or people fleeing their homes and risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe... it's less in the news but it's still very much happening). On Grenfell, I watched this clip the other day containing interviews with a survivor (well worth watching, though very sad on many levels). 

For me there's not been a lot of my paid work coming through (I am on a zero hours kind of a thing...) so I've been lying low and reading more than writing. I suppose I'm in a post-book-publication-confusion phase (or something) and so I'm following the minds of others to get me out the other side (oh, and watching a bit of TV... 'Handmaid's Tale', 'Fargo', 'OITNB'... and others). But, as for books, after Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends (reviewed on here a few posts ago) I moved on to Dave Eggers' The Circle (2013) and then Sarah Waters' The Night Watch (2006)  both excellent in very different ways (and I still read paper books  tried the electronic kind once... and once only). Also daughter and I have been reading Jane Eyre. I've read it once before but daughter likes to read aloud and so I haven't been able to speedread/skim/think-about-something-else-whilst-moving-eyes-over-the-page this time. I hadn't realised it contained so many long descriptive passages when I read it on my own... 

It's been quite quiet on the music front here too... we've booked tickets for Rhiannon Giddens for later in the year (hooray!) but in the meantime here is a video from local singer/songwriter/musician Rhona Macfarlane. I took delivery of a couple of hard copies of the CD of her new EP 'The Tide' recently and you can listen/buy the other kind of copies here. The beach in this video is local to here (Lunan Bay). Rhona is very talented and at that exciting beginning-of-adult-life phase. I look forward to following her career... from a comfortable chair... and in increasingly comfortable shoes... Enjoy.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Be brave...

Up the road, last week

I have mentioned Kim Edgar's latest album 'Stories Untold' on here before. Below is a lovely video to accompany her song 'Tightrope' and here is info from her newsletter on the project:

"Louise Mather recently filmed a music video for my song, "Tightrope", which is about having the courage to say how you are feeling. We even used a drone! I’m so pleased that members of Freedom Of Mind Choir (which I lead for FDAMH, Falkirk’s Mental Health Association) agreed to feature in the video, which I’m hoping will help to raise awareness (and funds) for the organisation and the work they do to support people and families experiencing the impact of mental illness."

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Radio! Radio!

Just down the road, yesterday

I had a lovely surprise this weekend when my new wee book got a mention on my favourite radio show (Sunday mornings with Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music). You can listen to this particular episode of the show on the BBC i-player for the next month or so (here and the bit in question is about 2 h 10 mins in) but the show is on every Sunday (10am-1pm) and it's always packed full of great music and interesting interviews. This week's episode has a really interesting segment on young poets earlier in the show too, including a great piece read live (that's at about 1 h 15 mins). Along with playing my choice of 3 tracks for the lunchtime Sunday Roast feature, Cerys even read one of my poems on air ('Stand', p. 23) and I went into a kind of mini-shock at that (I didn't know it was coming...). I loved how she managed to turn what often feels to me like a fairly sad book into something that earned a defiant laugh! Cerys is a very positive force on the radio and I've listened to the show with love for years (certainly since we came back from our big trip in 2011). I would have loved to have kept roaming as we did for those 6 months but it just wasn't possible (we were amazingly luckily to get the time we did...). Sometimes it has to be radio that takes us to new places instead (books can do it too of course... and maybe TV and films).

I know I'm not alone in this but radio has been such a huge friend to me over the years. I remember sitting as a teenager and listening for hour after hour and everywhere I've moved I've listened to different radio stations (sometimes local, sometimes not). I even had a (pirate) radio show for a few years with my friend back when we were club DJs in Leeds (Daisy & Havoc on Leeds' Dream FM back in the early '90s) and it was such a fantastic thing to do. It's very liberating working on radio - totally free of all gaze (male or otherwise), just playing tunes and trying to think of something to say in between. These days I still listen to a lot of radio (though I often pick and choose with i-player and the like). I suppose I'm in a bit of a quiet, not-really-very-sociable phase and radio is perfect for that. You can feel you are seeing people and being out there... even when you're not.

Off to go and listen to Sue Perkins on Desert Island Discs now... but I'll leave you with the song I picked for 'dessert' for the Sunday (radio) Roast (from the soundtrack to 'Inside Llewyn Davis'):

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Book review - Conversations with Friends

I haven’t done anything like a book review for ages but sometimes a book is more than just a book, it’s a connection, and so you make an exception. The book I am talking about (and that I bought recently and read last week) is the much-praised Conversations with Friends, the first novel from Sally Rooney. Rooney is a ‘young’ writer (in her mid twenties or thereabouts) but some of us had a few online exchanges with her when she was a lot younger and so we feel a tiny bit connected to this now runaway publishing star. In those exchanges Rooney was always smart and friendly and gently fascinating and it appears she has stayed true to herself because that still comes across if you read any of the interviews that accompany her first book’s publication (try this one in the Irish Independent).

So what about the book? Well, Rooney doesn’t mess about – she weeds out a good portion of the reading public in her first sentence by dropping in the words ‘poetry night’ (and that made me laugh straightaway – if only they knew how much sex was coming later…). But for those of us who stay past “Bobbi and I first met Melissa at a poetry night in town, where we were performing together.” there is some gorgeous writing in the next 300 plus pages. I read Conversations... in about 2 days (some of it at about 4.30am when I couldn’t sleep) and it is just that kind of book – a book to take on an odd trip with a strange bunch of people, a book to feel a bit conflicted about, a book to give you a bit of headache (in that ‘must stop reading now, my brain is blurring…’ kind of a way). It is wry and funny in places, dry and lonely in others.

It’s not light fiction but it certainly is crisp. Rooney unquestionably writes like a dream – one minute beautifully simple, then scissor-sharp. The ‘friends’ are 4 main characters, with a few others in the background, (and how friendly any of them really are changes from page to page – Central Perk this is not). The details of modern life are delicious – they will date soon enough, of course, but then we can love them even more then (= nostalgia). There is, as you might expect from the title, a lot of talking… and drinking… and sex… but a good deal of the novel is about how we present ourselves to others, about self-consciousness and (I think) that process we go through in our twenties (if we are lucky) when we try to work out what feelings are, which ones matter, and which ones don’t. We might put on a cynical face at that age but it is often just a cover for giant hopes and dreams (even if we don’t know that until later). My 20s are a fairly long time ago but I think that's how it was...

The central character, Frances, feels like the Rooney I think I know (though of course I don’t really know her at all…). Frances is young (a student) and particularly awkward (at least to us, the readers). There is a lot of talk about faces (hers and others’), about expressions, mirrors, appearances… it is exactly what we older readers think young people think about all the time (though we do it a bit too of course…). “Even I could see I had character,” says Frances (to us) about a photo of herself. Frances is smart too.

Frances writes poems (though I think she will grow out of it…) and I laughed again in chapter two when Rooney has her “sitting in bed in the morning writing poetry, hitting the return key whenever I wanted” (I have so done that… still do sometimes…). The character is all-knowing in some ways and yet, in the tradition of young-people-going-out-in-the-world fiction, she makes some big gaffes, falls into some fairly well-trodden paths and has to try to dig herself out again. There are points in the story where you might feel there is some cliché in the air (taking a group of people to a big house in France… what could possibly go wrong?) but Frances is strong enough (as our heroine) to keep us with her and bring us out the other side. She is good company – observant, interesting, a little over-analytical maybe but no-one’s perfect – and going through clichéd experiences is a rite of passage after all (who hasn’t had to creep around a house at night because you shouldn’t be with X doing Y – come on, it can’t just be me?). Who hasn’t had difficult family situations, kept heartbreaking secrets, sent emails they shouldn’t have? And what happens to us when these corny situations have us… in their grasp? Do we still have character? Do we survive? I think that’s part of what Rooney is doing with this novel. But I might be wrong. I'm not a professional book reviewer or anything.

A lot of the content seems to be about presenting contrast too – well-heeled media folk in big houses vs. everyone else in dirtier, more cramped accommodation or attractive, charismatic Bobbi vs. Frances (who doesn’t feel like she is either of those things, but is). As the novel progresses the differences blur a little – partly at least because Frances enters other worlds and sees their pros and cons. Whilst studying, for example, she makes this comment on herself: “I’m bettering myself, I thought. I’m going to become so smart that no one will understand me.”

The novelist I most thought of when I read Conversations was Zadie Smith. A few reasons I suppose (I am a fan, read her new book this year and reread On Beauty after that) but Smith was also ‘the hot new literary discovery’ straight from college in her time (bidding war etc.), is super smart but wants to write books all her friends can read, I suspect, and not just her publishers and academic colleagues. It’s not the easiest road to travel, as a writer (though it may look that way to others…). You will be built up high and sometimes people will throw things at you. You will, perhaps, grow to curse the clichés about yourself that will follow you round for years and years (some of which will be true, others less so) but there will be consolations and here are just three of them: you will write some magnificent lines, you will construct some interesting fictional friends, and, most of all, you will have readers. Oh what a joy*.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber) is available pretty much everywhere.
Cover of UK hardback features painting "Sharon and Vivien" (2009) by Alex Katz (as on this post).

*Yes, I am quoting Chic in a book review.