A Sunny May 2016

After the wettest winter we can remember, spring arrived and the last half of the month saw high temperatures and continuous dawn to dusk sunshine. Gorse bloomed all over the island – splashes of yellow brightening entire hillsides and filling the air with a rich coconut scent.

Picking for The Botanist Gin began with gathering the flowers from between the sharp spines – a prickly business indeed. Birch leaves followed and the month ended with collecting leaves of Sweet Cicely and the newly opened flowers of hawthorn, white clover and red clover. With more and more plants coming into leaf we were able to add fresh samples to the dried and tinctured botanicals for our sessions with Brand Ambassadors from Canada and Switzerland.

At Bruichladdich Distillery, the raised bed is under construction and will eventually be used for training purposes. So we will be planting examples of some of the 22 Islay botanicals.

On many islands, trees are scarce, or even absent. We are lucky on Islay in that we have woodlands where bluebells carpet the ground. They remind me of a phrase I’d read as a teenager. I can’t quote exactly but the gist of Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald’s comment was that nothing on earth could rival the heaven of colour in an English bluebell wood. I didn’t balk at the reference to England until I moved to Scotland where bluebell woods are every bit as colourful as the Hodder Valley woods of my Lancashire childhood.

Here they are in Bridgend Woods on Islay.

Joining The Deadline Poets’ Society on Facebook made me start to submit poems after a very long break. Several are awaiting a response but it was good to get two speedy acceptances. One, is awaiting publication in the webzine https://silverbirchpress.wordpress.com/ .

The one below has already appeared on https://keeppoemsalive.com

Sally Evans, of Poetry Scotland, who edits this site says it’s for poems that won’t lie down and die, that haven’t been seen for a while, that say something worth saying and are still saying it. This is an excellent opportunity for re-visiting poems that were published ages ago in magazines that are no longer in circulation.

Looking for Words

If you leave the road in winter wet
there’s always bog
between you
and the place you want to go.
But if you want it bad enough
you’ll carry on,
squelching through water, oozing mud,
gauging distances between tussocks
and exposed stones,
hoping to come away with something special,
like Bob Dylan, who, eager
for the gift of Woody Guthrie’s notes
took the cut across the bog,
arrived wet to the knees,
found no-one home,
returned without Woody’s words,
wrote his own instead.

A particular treat for me was an evening of poetry with a group from north-east Scotland. Every year they visit a different island and Knotbrook Taylor, a friend on Facebook, had told me about their visit. Richard and I were delighted to welcome them to our home where we shared our work, swapped poetry collections and enjoyed The Botanist. It was interesting to see that several of us had written poems about lighthouses. With such a shared love of islands it was definitely a meeting of like minds. We were enjoying ourselves so much that I completely forgot to take a photograph.

We had a day trip to Colonsay so that I could deliver copies of The Snake Wand to the Colonsay Bookshop. For a small island it’s interesting that this small shop has sold more copies of my books than any other outlet. This is thanks to Christa Byrne for placing my books in the middle of the counter and for encouraging reviews which she pins to the shelves.

http://www.colonsay.org.uk/Amenities/The-Bookshop

Marketing is obviously extremely important and it is disappointing that other shops don’t even display the covers of my books. Tucked between other titles, with only the spines showing, they fail to attract much attention.

Spreading the word about our wonderful island is always a pleasure so I was delighted, on the 30th of the month, when my first LETTER FROM ISLAY appeared in The Island Review.

https://theislandreview.com/content/letter-from-islay

LETTER FROM ISLAY

I sit in the cabin on the shore of my south-facing garden. Here, I can concentrate on my writing. Or can I? When writing fiction, the story grabs me and I can sit for hours without an upward glance; but if I am writing poetry, searching for the right word to fit the right place, I look up and am captivated by all that lies before me.

In the narrow stretch between the cabin and the sea the first signs of spring appear in clumps of Scurvy Grass. Yellow Iris and Marsh Marigold follow while high summer brings Meadowsweet and Purple Loosestrife. The autumn equinox marks a change. Undulating lines of seaweed creep closer to the cabin and after winter storms the grass is peppered with shingle and the unwelcome blight of plastic flotsam.

To the south-west, thirty miles of sea separate Scotland from Ireland. Rathlin Island lies even closer. Evening sunlight accentuates its coastal cliffs and at night, the East and West lighthouses warn of treacherous seas. Farther west, car headlights define the roads along the Antrim coast.

To the south-east lies the peninsula of Kintyre. Attached to mainland Scotland at Tarbert it was claimed as an island in 1089 when Magnus Barefoot’s boat was dragged across the isthmus from the West Loch to the East Loch. From my home on the edge of Port Ellen Bay it is a dark, rugged outline. The only visible light is the flash of The Mull of Kintyre lighthouse.

I am not an Ileach. I am not even a Scot, but loving a place does not always relate to the location of one’s birth. To live on an island was my goal from the age of four when Robert Louis Stevenson’s words caught my imagination- ‘where below another sky, parrot islands anchored lie.’ I had already seen the sea, but had no concept of anything lying beyond it. I was intrigued, not by parrots, but by places surrounded by sea and open to different skies.

In my teens I read about the islands that lay around the coasts of the British Isles. At fifteen I walked the coast of the Isle of Man, but seeking greater wilderness I headed to Scotland’s Isle of Skye. From the summit of Sgurr Alasdair, the highest peak of the Cuillins, I saw a sea dotted with islands and I resolved to visit them all.

Holidays took me to Orkney, to the Western Isles from the Butt of Lewis to Vatersay, to the Small Isles, the Clyde islands and most of the islands of the Inner Hebrides. For many years, my husband and I dreamed of living and working on an island. It seemed impossible, but on arriving on Colonsay we found that the school needed a headteacher. Here was our chance. I applied, was interviewed and offered the post.

Colleagues in England wondered why I was leaving the picturesque village of Robin Hood’s Bay. There was much scepticism – talk of long, dark winters, bad weather, poor facilities, the senselessness of leaving the headship of a large school in Scarborough for a tiny island school. Most of my acquaintances shuddered at the thought, but a few hardy friends wished they had the confidence to follow suit. Just in time for Christmas we moved into the schoolhouse and our island life began.

For seven years most of my time was spent in the company of children ranging in age from four to twelve. It was one of the most rewarding periods of my life, but eventually retirement loomed and we had to vacate the schoolhouse. Return to the mainland was unthinkable. Because of family ties in England we sought an island with convenient links to the mainland. Islay with daily flights and two or three ferries each day seemed ideal.

On our first search we found a neglected house in 1.2 acres of unkempt land. As a holiday home it had been on the market for some time. Seduced by the magnificent view and the secluded shore we gave no thought to the work that lay ahead.

Fast forward several years and the bracken is conquered. Brambles are reduced to slopes where birds feed and nest. Our mowing regime allows plants to set seed and 209 different species grace our semi-wild garden. Bird species seen in or from the garden total 83, and seals, otters, and occasional dolphins appear to delight us. Most of my writing focuses on landscape and wildlife so it would be hard to find a more favourable location.

As we prepare to head for Barra, the Uists, Skye and Raasay we realise that our garden is at its best. One of these years we really ought to spend June at home.

April 2016

Having put all my recent poems into my ‘Waymarks’ collection (Cinnamon Press, 2015) and lacking in inspiration for writing anything new, I haven’t submitted any work recently. However, at the beginning of April I joined a new group – Deadline Poets. Membership requires me to make at least one submission each month and it has proved to be the kick I needed.

I offered a piece to ‘The Island Review’ http://www.theislandreview.com/ and after a little discussion with the editor have arranged to write a ‘Letter from Islay’ for each of four forthcoming issues. The first one will appear in the May issue of their newly designed on-line magazine. It tells how I fell in love with islands and how we changed a wilderness of bracken and bramble into a haven for wild flowers. The editor’s response was – ‘It’s a splendid read which effectively combines your own story with the kind of place and nature writing our readers love’.

This is the kind of comment that I need. Writing is a lonely business and it is encouraging and heart-warming to know that my efforts are appreciated. Another source of positive feedback came from our Book Group who had read ‘Waymarks’. One of my favourite responses was – ‘They feel as if they’re our poems because the things you describe are familiar to us,’ Another was – ‘They were easy to understand. I could read them and say, yes, that’s true. It’s exactly what I’ve seen.’

On the fiction side I made two further visits to Port Ellen Primary School to work on The BFG project. The children illustrated my story and I now have to select which one to use in my final report. The story itself and the chosen illustration must remain a secret until the launch of the 26 Twits website for the Roald Dahl Centenary Celebrations in September.

We had an excellent day with Botanist Brand Ambassadors from various parts of America. In addition to our usual demonstrations we were treated to a foraged lunch by Mark of http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/ Among other things we sampled various seaweeds, fungi and pesto made with wild garlic.

The group visited our garden where we have examples of several of the 22 botanicals that are used in The Botanist. Unfortunately, after cold, windy weather only a few of the perennials were starting to poke their heads above the soil; but gorse was in full bloom and the ambassadors were able to appreciate the difficult task of picking the flowers from between the lethal spikes. Gorse is the first of the botanicals to be foraged each year. Sunny afternoons between rain, hail and a few flurries of snow have found me enjoying the wonderful coconut scent but suffering from sore fingers.

Our Juniper Conservation project involved moving four year old rooted cuttings out into the wild. Richard planted cuttings at the south end of Islay, in an ungrazed area near Ardmore. We keep the cuttings in pots in fish boxes and managed to empty one – there are seven more to go.

The last treat of the month was going aboard the ‘Silurian’, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s vessel that moored at the pontoons in Port Ellen Bay. We were able to talk to the crew and learn about the monitoring work they do around the islands.

A life size inflatable model of a harbour porpoise enabled us to have a close view of a creature that normally shows little more than the tip of its dorsal fin. Here, it is lying on one of the bunks used by volunteers who take part in the Trust’s expeditions.

The garden is gradually coming to life, the first bluebells are out and the cliffs above the shore of our garden are bright with the flowers of Thrift. Willow warblers are singing and a cuckoo is calling – sure signs that spring is finally here.

SPAM on Callandar Blog 2014

For a fortnight my Callandar Blog from September 2014 has been inundated with spam. Nothing I have done has enabled me to stop it. After 27 messages today I have deleted the page in the hopes that the spam will stop. Because I don’t want to lose the information from the page I’m re-posting it here.

September 2014

The first of the month found us staying in a caravan on a farm near Callander. With three days before the daunting prospect of introducing my ‘Slate Voices’ to an audience of poets, we set out to explore the neighbouring countryside.

Inchmahome in The Lake of Monteith was as tranquil and beautiful as on our first visit.

We walked round this tiny island several times, admiring the ruined Priory and the ancient Sweet Chestnut trees.

The board walk through Flanders Moss, the largest raised bog in Britain, was fascinating with lizards basking in the sun along the raised edge.

The Fairy Mound at Aberfoyle is obviously still a place for pilgrimage. The Scots Pine tree at the top of Doon Hill, and smaller trees all around are festooned with ribbons and other offerings from people hoping that their wishes will come true. ‘Secret Commonwealth’, written by Reverend Robert Kirk in 1691 tells of his encounters with fairies here. Legends differ in the way his life ended. Some say that he entered fairyland, others that his spirit is trapped in the pine tree.

All these places may well find their way into future writings.

My 25 minute Saturday night reading seemed to go down well, and to my surprise and relief I actually enjoyed it. Meeting and hearing readings from other poets was a marathon that went on from Friday afternoon through to Sunday evening.

Back home, attention turned to gardening and preparing for the launch of ‘Cry at Midnight’ at the Islay Book Festival. I’m looking forward to engaging with an audience of much younger children. I’ve even bought a witch’s hat.

Writing Poetry about Nature

Among my husband’s hoarded papers I found a small publication entitled Nature Poetry. He had picked this up during a working visit to the States in 1973. It was published in March 1964 as Volume 57, Number 3 of a series entitled Cornell Science Leaflets by the New York State College of Agriculture which is affiliated to Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, United States of America.

Within its thirty two pages are poems by Walt Whitman, Shelley, Tennyson, Rose Fyleman and Rachel Field. Many of the pages are illustrated with sensitive black and white photographs with such varied subjects as a house sparrow, a field of dandelion clocks, a spider’s web and ripple marks on a sandy shore.

In my experience, many people with a scientific approach to life fail to appreciate poetry. So I found it both surprising and refreshing that a College of Agriculture should have produced such a booklet.

It is difficult for me to decide if I am a naturalist who writes poetry or a poet who loves nature. Both areas are of equal importance to me and I write from meticulous observation complemented by reading to ensure that my facts are correct.

When I read work that includes errors and misconceptions in relation to nature I am both concerned and disappointed. These can be found in fiction as well as poetry, even in works by well-known and respected authors. A flower growing in the wrong habitat, a bird making the wrong call, an animal behaving in an improbable way all jar on the senses of those who are more careful in their observations and in their choice of words. Errors such as these diminish the credibility of both the work and the writer; give false impressions to the uninitiated and break the spell for those who are more in tune with the world of nature.

Having held these views for many years I was delighted to find that this small volume included an article that made the same points. Verne N. Rockcastle who selected the poems, pointed out that those who observe nature closely and with sympathy, and make the effort to share their observations and feelings with others, do so in many ways – some with photography, some with painting and some with songs and stories but that some of the most vivid creations have come from poets.

The article goes on to quote from a talk entitled ‘The Common Ground of the Poet and the Naturalist’ by James G. Needham, Cornell’s first Professor of Limnology. Needham drew parallels between the botanist and the poet, describing how both approach their work through study that leads to interpretation. The naturalist achieves his goal through homologies and intellect, while the poet expresses himself through analogies and emotions. Each, in his own way, formulates and delivers a message through patient and accurate observation. Poets who are good naturalists tell the truth without reverting to poetic licence to fit the rhyme or the rhythm. Naturalists who are good poets do the same. Good nature poems should inspire the reader to observe closely in order to appreciate the experience that triggered the poem. While an observant naturalist who reads an accurate nature poem will see and appreciate the clarity of an experience that he has shared.

My plea, therefore, is to look, look and look again when writing about nature. Your poems will then provide a double pleasure, that of enjoyment in the words and rhythms together with the receiving of accurate information. This will stimulate and encourage the reader to learn from first-hand experience and in so doing to gain a greater appreciation of the natural world.

Mavis Gulliver

Published in’Earth Love’ and ‘Dawntreader’.

A very mixed March

My activities in March changed almost as often as the weather so I spent the month wearing a number of different ‘hats’.

My writer’s ‘hat’ found me returning to Port Ellen Primary School. On my last visit I’d given the children a starting point for a story. This was a line taken from my book, ‘Clickfinger’.

‘The witch pointed her long black fingernail at…’

The stories had been written, cat pictures had been drawn and a bundle of these had been delivered to me. I’d promised prizes but, because there were so many great ideas, deciding winners was difficult. I solved the problem by choosing the two that, after putting them aside for a couple of weeks, had remained most vividly in my memory. I added written comments to every piece of work and read some of the stories to the class. I gave two copies of ‘Clickfinger’ as prizes for the most original ideas, activity books for the two best cat pictures – and a Gold bar to everyone as a reward for their efforts.

As a member of 26 – a group devoted to the love of words – I was selected to take part in the forthcoming Roald Dahl celebrations. I had great fun writing a story about my favourite Dahl character – The BFG – and will be taking it into schools in the search for someone to illustrate it.

Our botanist’s ‘hats’ led to Richard and I providing two more sessions on botanicals. The first was for Japanese people from the various aspects of the drinks industry. Working with an interpreter for the first time was interesting, but we missed having informal conversations with members of the group. This wasn’t the case with the second group from Belgium as they all spoke perfect English.

 

In my photographer’s ‘hat’ I rose to a Facebook challenge when asked to post seven successive wildlife photographs. My favourite was the eider duck on her nest, but the beautiful patterns made by goose barnacles on a washed-up log generated the most ‘likes’

In my gardener’s ‘hat’ I had a busy weekend potting dozens of small juniper plants that we’d grown from cuttings. Destined for re-planting in the wild we are hopeful that these will help to secure the future of this charismatic species.

By the end of the month we could hear three song thrushes singing and we counted twenty different wild flowers in bloom.

Finally, we paid a visit to Islay’s Toothie Stane.

Embedded in the rock’s crevices were 70 nails and 3 coins. Some time in the past they had been hammered into the stone in the belief that they would cure toothache. As all the objects are extremely old and rusty it appears that the belief has finally died out.

The grass in the garden is growing so April will see the mower at work. We don’t have lawns, but have to cut a complicated path that winds its way between the wildflower areas of our 1.2 ace garden. The whole area is still very wet so we are hoping for some dry weather.

February 2016

My London holiday with my daughter’s family ended with a wet but wonderful birthday treat. We went to the Chinese Lantern Festival in Chiswick House Gardens and were enchanted by the life size lanterns of animals such as elephants, pandas and giraffes – and by larger than life size flowers. The jellyfish cleverly draped over trees were my favourites. Reflected in the lake and with added sparkle from raindrops it was a magical experience.

I had intended to return to poetry this month, but fiction once again got in the way. I had written a story for 8-12 year olds a few years ago and abandoned it because I was unhappy with some aspects of the plot. So I re-read the manuscript and decided to embark on a re-write. Once I’d worked out a new plot I spent most of the month in my cabin, cutting out passages and adding new ones. I now have 53,000 words and have to decide what to do with them.

Leaving magic behind, my story is set on a Scottish island and is partly drawn from my experiences as a teacher in a small island school.

A sense of place is very important to me, but I felt in this instance that it would be unwise to set my story on a known island where everyone knows everyone else. In order to create a ‘new’ and different island I designed a map. It is unlike any of the real islands, but shares its features with most of them. Named Erinsay, it is surprising how real it has become to me. I have a clear picture of it and can imagine myself wandering along the tracks and beaches with my characters.

My last three books were all under contract to the Welsh-based Cinnamon Press. This book, I think, needs a Scottish publisher. However, it’s never good practice to rush into sending out a newly completed manuscript. So I shall let it lie for a month or two before returning to re-read and edit it. Then I will decide where to send it. Of course, getting published is not easy, so it could be a long haul before it sees the light of day – if ever.

Taking a published book into a school is always a a pleasurable experience. On this occasion I introduced ‘Clickfinger’ to the pupils of Keills Primary School. As a taster I read the first chapters of Part One and Part Two – hopefully this is enough to make the children want to read the rest for themselves. They enjoyed handling some of the objects that appear in the book. The sea-bean and hag-stone necklace is always a favourite, and everyone wanted to feel the contrasting textures of the horse’s head that is carved from a burr on a piece of wood.

 

Scottish Islands Explorer published my article ‘Island Orchids’ with photographs by Richard. Appearing in advance of the orchid season, it gives people a chance to brush up their knowledge, before these enigmatic blooms appear.

It is always good to hear from readers and I make a point of answering their letters. One lovely letter and photo came from a snowbound fan in Pennsylvania. I have had to replace some of her words with **** because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who has yet to read it.

Dear Mavis,
I absolutely love Cry at Midnight! My favourite character is Merryn. I like her because she is very brave, and she believes in herself. If I were to become part of the book I would want to be her character.
My favourite part of the book is when Kester turned into a ****! It was my favourite part because it was very shocking. It was shocking to me because I had no idea that he was going to transform into a ****. Merryn and Hamish probably had the same feeling I had too.
I know one thing for sure, if I ever become an author I would want to be just like you!
Sincerely,
McKenna

I wondered how people in America had found out about my books, but discovered that McKenna’s mum has links with Tiree. The story is set on Tiree and is on sale in the shop ‘Chocolates and Charms’ – so word has got around. Now, a copy of ‘Clickfinger’ is on its way across the Atlantic because McKenna can’t wait to read it.

January 2016

It is hard to believe that the first month of 2016 is already over. It began with a visit to Port Ellen Primary School to read from, and talk about, ‘Clickfinger’, Book Two of ‘The Hagstone Chronicles’. As always, the children loved handling the objects that are mentioned in the book, The Clickfinger Locket being a particular favourite.

A final successful check up following my eye operations meant a trip to Glasgow. From there I went to my daughter’s house in Birmingham where I celebrated my 75th birthday in their newly extended and refurbished kitchen/diner.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived through 75 years of unprecedented changes in the world. Life for my grandchildren with their mastery of technology is so very different from the joy I recall at receiving a 4-in-one propelling pencil for my 6th birthday – long before the advent of felt pens. Grandson Josef made my birthday cake – a delicious concoction topped with melted white chocolate and whipped cream

And here are 3 generations of girls – me with my daughter Caryl and granddaughter Cerys.

Proofs of Book Three of The Hagstone Chronicles, ‘The Snake Wand’ arrived – and being paranoid about typos and other errors I spent three days of my ‘holiday’ in reading and re-reading in the hopes of producing a perfect manuscript. Fingers crossed…

From Birmingham I visited my sister in Guildford and enjoyed a fascinating day at Butser Ancient Farm. The buildings there are reconstructions of dwellings from the Stone Age through to Roman times. It was particularly interesting to see the coracles, having written a poem that mentions these small craft. This excerpt from ‘Finlaggan’ appears in my collection ‘Waymarks’ (Cinnamon Press, 2015).

‘men stepping gently
into coracles –
a weave of split willow
lashings of hazel
thin skins of hide –’

My final destination was my daughter Ashlyn’s house in London where it was inspiring to see the results of a year’s re-building and renovation. This former warehouse now features reclaimed and natural materials. Internal shutters look down from the bedrooms into a large open-plan living area giving me this intriguing view of a corner of a Saturday night party.

Needless to say there has been little time for new writing, although a poem about Meta menardii, the Cave Spider was accepted for the Fair Acre Press Maligned Species Project.

A fitting end to the month came on the 31st when Ashlyn attended a CWB (Children’s Wear Buyer) event at ‘Bubble London’ where she received the Independent Retail Award for the Best Established Store.

December 2015 – Christmas and New Year Greetings

December was a wild wet month with only a few mild days. Lots of ferries were cancelled but things were not as bad as for people in flooded areas farther south. For me, it was a strange month, one in which I’d been looking forward to a quiet Christmas with time to do some serious, uninterrupted writing. It wasn’t to be. I must have had a premonition that something would go wrong, because I asked Richard to bring in a self-seeded Norway Spruce on December 13th – a whole week earlier than our usual date. I enjoyed an afternoon of decorating it with baubles, toys and trinkets collected over a lifetime and have gained a lot of pleasure from its sparkle on a series of dreich days.

Reflected in our large French window it’s been a double pleasure, especially when raindrops reacted with the light to give a magical impression of movement.

Bringing out a wall-hanging, embroidered and appliqued by my sister in the 1960’s was also a lovely reminder of Christmas days of the past. My daughters Caryl and Ashlyn are depicted in the clothes they were wearing at the time, and she has caught their likeness amazingly well. Ashlyn on the left is wearing a blue snow suit while Caryl on the right has a Ladybird duffle coat.

On the 14th I went for a flu jab and was advised to also have one for pneumonia. Within four hours my arm had swelled and turned scarlet. I was unable to move it and when the doctor checked we discovered that I had experienced every side-effect and adverse reaction in the book. I couldn’t sleep at night, but slept for hours and days in the chair – with my cat, Leo, for company – and it was 10 days before I felt completely better. By then it was Christmas and I was glad that we’d planned a quiet one at home. I certainly had no desire to travel.

On Christmas Eve we viewed the full moon – the first one to occur at Christmas since 1977. Also known as The Long Night Moon or The Cold Moon, the full moon nearest the winter solstice travels a high path across the sky and stays in the sky for a longer time than usual. It shone all night long and was still visible in the west at 9.00am in the morning when the sun was rising above Kintyre in the east.

We had a few shorter-than-usual walks to favourite places on Islay. Ardtalla on the east coast was our choice for Christmas Day.

Very little writing was done – but lots of reading. Richard and I enjoyed reading aloud to one another from some of our favourite books about Christmas days of the past. Dylan Thomas, John Clare, Frances Kilvert and Alison Uttley among others. So much joy from simple pleasures serves to emphasise the commercialisation, expectations and extravagance of the festival today. I can’t help feeling a sense of nostalgia for simpler times.

On the last day of the year, Scottish Islands Explorer arrived with my article about Bernera. As there are three Scottish islands sharing the name, and a further two named Berneray, I had to explain that I was writing about the tiny uninhabited Bernera that lies in Loch Linnhe off the coast of Lismore.

A walk down to Singing Sands (in between showers) gave me the chance to write a message on the beach alongside some otter footprints. So I will end with that.

May 2016 be healthy, happy and fruitful for you all; and may those of you who write, be filled with inspiration.

November 2015 – more Cinnamon Press launches and a holiday.

The first part of the month was taken up with preparations for yet another trip. On the 19th we headed to Glasgow for the first of three Cinnamon Press launches by five poets from Scotland. AC Clark, Jane McKie, David Mark Williams, Robin Lindsay Wilson and I read from our newly published collections at The Project Café.

I only know two people in Glasgow so was delighted to have the support of Emma, the Global Brand Manager for The Botanist, and Phil who I knew in London, but hadn’t seen since last century! Since then, Phil has had great success with his book ‘Orphan Boys’.

On Saturday four of the five poets met again in Castle Douglas where we read to a very welcoming audience in the Gordon Memorial Hall at St Ninian’s Church.

Left to right – David Mark Williams with ‘The Odd Sock Exchange’, Jane Mackie with ‘Kitsune, me with ‘Waymarks’ and Robin Lindsay Wilson with ‘Myself and Other Strangers.’

From Castle Douglas, Richard and I travelled to St Monans on the Fife coast where we were blessed with good weather and enjoyed exploring an area that was new to us. We can highly recommend The Old Post Office – the one with the blue door – where we enjoyed a very comfortable week. It’s right on the edge of the harbor and the views of lights reflected in the changing tides are spectacular.

A day in Dundee while the car was being serviced was our only wet day and was largely spent on ‘The Discovery’ and in the excellent adjoining Museum.

The fateful ‘Terra Nova’ expedition was explained in detail and included the harrowing and poignant last entry in Captain Scott’s diary.

Other days found us wandering round the fishing villages and walking sections of the coast path between Elie and Craill. Redshanks, Turnstones and Oyster Catchers were busy rootling through seaweed and feeding along the edges of the outgoing tide, while flocks of eiders were crooning in several of the harbours. Despite the lateness of the year we counted thirty wild flowers in bloom and were impressed by the sculptural aspect of seed heads of teazel, hemlock and alexanders silhouetted against sea and sky.

St Monans

The drying ground at Cellardyke.

After leaving Fife we went to The Poetry Library in Edinburgh for our final reading. The newly refurbished premises were an ideal venue and there was a good audience. After the reading, time was spent in chatting, buying books and enjoying The Botanist Gin and Islay Barley Whisky – courtesy of Bruichladdich Distillery.

Rosslyn Chapel was the destination for the last day of our holiday. Photography isn’t allowed in this truly magnificent building, but I got round the problem by photographing one of the official posters.There were lost of visitors but few of them stayed very long. As usual, we were first to arrive when it opened at 12.00 – and last to leave when they closed at 4.45. This is something that frequently happens when we visit places which have so much to engage our interest.

Our journey home found us pausing for a chilly picnic lunch at Rest and Be Thankful.  Snow lay on the ground and the surrounding hills were looking very wintry indeed. Thankfully the ferry was on time, but we arrived home to discover a waterlogged island with flooded roads. Being in the east meant we had missed the worst of high winds and extremely wet weather. Now we wonder what December is going to throw at us.

October 2015 – Busy – busy – busy.

The month began in Northampton at the Cinnamon Press 10th Anniversary Weekend where I re-connected with old friends and met people I had previously only known through their writing.

On Friday evening I was pleased to read from ‘Finding My Place’ at the launch of the anthology ‘Meet Me There’. Here are seven of the ten authors who each wrote a chapter on the importance of place in their writing. From left to right – Mark Charlton, Hazel Manuel, Susan Richardson, Gail Ashton, Jan Fortune – and me.

On Saturday I gave a brief introduction to ‘Slate Voices: Cwmorthin and Islands of Netherlorn’; and also joined Joy Howard of ‘Grey Hen Press’ to read some of my poems from her publications. On Sunday I gave a short reading from ‘Cry at Midnight’; and in between my readings I enjoyed hearing the work of other writers. I also picked up some tips from several excellent workshops.

It was a stimulating weekend – and a far cry from my isolated existence on the Isle of Islay. Here are some more Cinnamon Writers –

A bonus was being handed a copy of my 2nd poetry collection – ‘Waymarks’  which had been published earlier than expected. The cover is  taken from my photograph of bluebells around the Punishment Stone on the island of Canna.

After Northampton I spent a week with my daughter in Birmingham and managed to fit in a ‘Cry at Midnight’ session at Abbey Junior School near her home. The children drew pictures from my description of Aunt Aggie and one, in particular, was far more accomplished than one would expect from a ten year old. Just take a close look at the detail of face and hands in Emily’s picture – top left.

I also asked the children to write down the names of their favourite books and authors. Most were familiar names of current writers, but it was good to see that two of my personal favourites are still being read – ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett and ‘Silver on the Tree’, Book 5 of ‘The Dark is Rising’ by Susan Cooper.

However, I couldn’t resist giving pride of place to this lovely tribute to me and to ‘Cry at Midnight’. Oh! if only it were true.

A trip to London gave me the chance to see the ‘shell’ of my daughter’s new shop – ‘Olive Loves Alfie East’. Situated in East Village, it is in a complex of housing, retail outlets, eating places, gardens, ponds and the Olympic Swimming Pool. Developed on the site of The London Olympic Village, once it’s fully open, it’s set to become a popular destination for visitors.

Following this marathon trip there were a few days at home before heading to Glasgow for a 2nd cataract operation and yet another ‘Cry at Midnight’ session. This was held at  ‘The Language Hub’, a community interest company that combines a bookshop with classes for both adults and children. Situated in Keith Court in Partick, it caters for a wide range of different languages.

After the session the children enjoyed taking turns to impersonate the witch of Tiree and to act out some aspects of the story.

Although ‘Clickfinger’  – Book Two of ‘The Hagstone Chronicles’ has been published I prefer to introduce ‘Cry at Midnight’ – Book One of ‘The Hagstone Chronicles’ whenever I go to a new venue. This gives me the chance to make a second visit, and I’ve already been invited to do follow-on sessions of Book Two next time I’m in Birmingham and Glasgow.

It’s been a beautifully mild month with glorious sunny days, brilliant autumn colour and good crops of berries. Lovely weather for relaxing after lots of travelling and for recovering after the successful cataract operation. I would love to be gardening but am not allowed to embark on that for another month.

However, I have to shout Yippee! Although I still need glasses for reading and writing I can now see to walk about without them. After 30+ years of wearing them continuously, it’s a fantastic result!