Marit Barentsen and The Scent of Blue

Had a lovely email from Dutch artist Marit Barentsen asking if she could use an extract from my poem The Scent of Blue, in a design for a 'skinny' card, which she wanted to show on her blog. I was delighted -and I love her card. You can see it here if you scroll down the post. And what a fascinating website this is! One I'll definitely go back to again and again, I think.
I wrote the poem The Scent of Blue some time ago, and then later on, published it in a pamphlet of the same name. You'll also find the whole text of it somewhere in this blog!
I don't know why my poetry writing is so erratic. I think it's probably because novels are certainly my first love, followed by plays, with poetry and short stories hovering somewhere in the background. I have ideas for more novels than I will ever have time to write, and spend a lot of my life half in and half out of whatever fictional world I'm currently involved in. Mostly, it seems much more real to me than the 'real' world I inhabit! However, I began my writing life as a poet, years ago, but poetry seems to come and go with me and when it's gone it's gone. Then, quite suddenly, something like The Scent of Blue will arrive, and I'll spend an intensive few weeks working on it - only for that particular muse to desert me all over again.

The Price of a Fish Supper - Scottish Shorts

My play, The Price of a Fish Supper, is about to be published by Nick Hern Books, as part of a new anthology of Scottish Plays  - Scottish Shorts. It's already flagged up on Amazon, and I'm told it'll be published in time for the Edinburgh Festival. The editor is Philip Howard, late of the Traverse - a lovely director to work with  - and I'm slightly phased by the distinguished company I find myself in with plays by Stanley Eveling, Louise Welsh and David Greig among others. I've a soft spot for this play so it'll be nice to see it in print, especially since Nick Hern has a reputation for keeping books IN print.

The Amber Heart

Many years ago now, I began to research my impossibly romantic Polish family history. That was in the days before the internet made these things easier, but it was also while my father was alive, and - fortunately - I persuaded him to write down as much as he could remember. He even made little sketches of the estate where he was born, and the house he had lived in, as a child. This was an essential part of the process, because he had come to the UK just after the war (via Monte Cassino, in Italy) bringing with him a handful of photographs and almost nothing else.  Then I set about the fascinating, frustrating but ultimately very rewarding task of trying to track down the history of a family which had - essentially - been swallowed by all the upheavals taking place on the fluctuating Eastern borders of the country to which I owe half my blood: Poland. It was a journey full of serendipitious discoveries and surprises and I found it at once moving and exciting. Of the discoveries which engaged me immediately, one involved a remote relative who was said to have had many wives, (albeit not all at the same time!) and to have died in a riding accident in his late eighties. Another one involved a widowed Polish great grandmother who - although born into the nobility - had married her Ukrainian estate manager which was completely explicable, once I had ferretted out other details of the relationship. And thirdly, I found out about a great uncle of the family who was a medical doctor, and a politician, a Polish representative to the parliament in Vienna, a lovely man, by all accounts, who was immensely popular with the younger members of his family. I even managed to access his obituary from a Viennese newspaper of the time. All of these things began to ferment in my head, and have resulted - eventually - in a tale of epic proportions, loosely based on fact. I say loosely because as all historical novelists know, you have to give yourself permission, as a writer of fiction, to depart from the factual truth as you know it, and make sure that you are writing a readable story! The Amber Heart is the result. It's currently with my agent, along with another novel, The Summer Visitor, and now I must wait and see what he makes of it. More about the Amber Heart in future posts.

Debating Creativity

About to start writing a series of articles on the thorny subject of Creativity, for the Scottish Review. Eventually, I'm hoping that they will form the basis of a whole book on the subject, but there's a long way to go in terms of reflection and research.
At least some of this has been inspired by a great many interesting discussions with a friend who is a visual artist. We find ourselves profoundly disturbed (actually, sometimes the emotion seems closer to rage!) at the way in which the word creativity has been commandeered by so many people who wouldn't know what it was if it came up and bit them on the bum.
More to come!


This is the working title of a new project: an idea that has been nipping away at me for weeks now. It is very hard to describe this process - the sheer compulsive delight of it - to anyone who doesn't work creatively. But it is, I suppose, the answer to that perennial question - every writer has heard it, at almost every reading - where do you get your ideas from?
THIS is where you get your ideas from, except that it's almost impossible to define what 'this' is! It's a process, I suppose and you feel it as much in your stomach as in your head! Butterflies, like the feeling you got as a child, when you were anticipating something wonderful. Something seen or heard or discovered, sparks something else in your imagination. And then you spend days, weeks, sometimes months, thinking about it all, often in the early hours of the morning. On this occasion, I was quite alone, visiting a place, (briefly) at a particular time of day, at a particular time of the year. It was a place I had written about before, but the character who came into my mind had nothing to do with that. This was a new person, new to me, but it was as if I was suddenly looking at something through her eyes and with her memories. This is a very odd sensation, for sure, but it is also very wonderful, and more exciting than anything else I know. I knew instantly who she was, what she was doing there, why she had come back there, and what her memory of the place was. I also knew something about the history of the place. And I knew that there was doing to be some connection between the two. What I didn't know - and still don't, not in any great detail - is what exactly that connection is, and how the story is going to pan out. But I'm slowly but surely starting to put the pieces together. It always amazes me how this feels like 'finding out' rather than 'making up.' It's as if the story exists somewhere as a truth, and the writer's job is to tease it out, rather than invent.

A Warm Welcome Back to Wordarts

I've been away for quite a long time. Actually, I haven't been away at all. I've been writing and revising madly, pondering and contemplating changes and coming up with lots of new ideas. There's something about springtime that always has this effect.
Besides, I'd found myself getting bored with my own blog and that will never do! I needed a break, but here I am, on the first of the month, back on board. Moreover, I have a nice new agent, with a nice new agency, a whole host of new projects, several things on the boil at once, and hope in my heart. And here's a nice new picture of an old source of inspiration for me - the isle of my heart and the setting for a brand new novel, with this time - I hope - the stonking great plot that eluded me for so long. Well, if not a 'stonking great plot' then an interesting plot. Involving, dramatic - and rather sad, too. Or so I'm told. Let's hope nice new agent can find a very very nice new publisher to take this one on board.