Thursday, August 23, 2012

13/ 13th/ Thirteenth

The latest book in the Highland Gazette series comes out on 13th November 2012

13 / 13th / thirteenth

Superstitious? Me? Never. Well, almost never. But I know someone - a close family member, born on the thirteenth who changed his birthdate. How, I don't know, but he never admits to being born on the thirteenth.

I decided a long time ago  not to be superstitious. As I have moved countries, and continents, and read and heard of other cultures' superstitions, and heard so many weird and conflicting superstitions, I've decided to give them up.
I don't walk under ladders because that seems plain sensible.
I don't count chickens etc, because that seems sensible also.
But I still throw salt over my left shoulder should I spill some.

But the thirteenth? Friday the thirteenth even? I find it a good day to get things done as many people avoid trains and boats and planes.

So, Tuesday the 13th of November it is ---and I will be in New York. Hmmm, what did I say about not counting chickens? But I've booked a flight, and a hotel, for Tuesday the 13th in New York. So, we shall see.

PS ...and I took the picture of the actual place where the actual (fictitious) deed was done.

Aa' the best.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just do it

First time I heard that phrase was from Frank Zappa of The Mothers of Invention, addressing students at the LSE at the time of the London student riots (1968). He was talking about getting an education and infiltrating the system from within.
He could have been talking about writing.

Google "Writing" or "Habits of Writers" and nearly every writer mentions the habit of writing, daily, (a bit like exercise or sports training). Published writers write about the necessity of turning out words no matter their merit, and the days when you hate writing and it is all dross, to the days when the muse visits you and it all works as it by magic. But, BUT... there ain't no magic, same as there ain't no "sanity clause" -- thank you Groucho for shattering my illusions.

Dennis Lehane, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Maeve Binchy and all spectrums in between say, write write write. Make your daily words as necessary as brushing your teeth.

Well, I'm trying. I'm at 1500 words a day - aiming for 2,000 and it is not because I have a contract for this book but because, when you are writing, no matter how crap you think it is feel marvellous.

There. I've said it. I've revealed why writers write. Because it feels marvellous.

And if you need a far better explanation than the above, Google, Colin Nissan - THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO WRITING BETTER THAN YOU NORMALLY DO.

Tell it like it is Colin.

Aa' the best.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

On the edge

The edge of a typhoon hit last night, and it rained. It rained and rained. Then this morning, the clouds lifted and the mountain tops played hide and seek.

And down the valley the roadside trickles became streaming waterfalls, sweeping across the road, making driving somewhat hazardous as on the other side is a sheer drop to the paddy fields thirty metres below.

But the best thing, the marvellous, the thrilling thing about the rain - or the aftermath of rain - is that I am writing - real writing, writing my novel. And it feels good.

Must be the Scottish in me, I need cool weather and rain to write.

Aa' the best.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The day of reckoning

15th August 2012

It's my birthday. For me a day of reckoning, a day when I allow myself to look back, to look forward, to yes, be present as well, but to count blessings, and to state where I would like to journey. And today, I allow myself to be lonely, to be glad, I allow the tears held back for so long, and today, I count the many many blessings of being me. 

The past is past. And private. Sacred even. The future -- I want to write a book for me.

I want to write a book where the words will fly out of the ends of my fingertips, where the heart and the soul and the body and the room and the house or cabin or loft or shed or a mansion or meadow or glen or forest will be filled with the light of the inspiration of this book – the book I write for me.

I know this "zone" of inspired detachment but don't like the word zone - too metallic. I prefer enchantment. I have been there before, been blessed with fleeting visits to that elusive, provocative, enchanted realm, granted to artists as though gifted by the faeries.

It does not matter if anyone reads this yet to be written book.
And if anyone should read it, it should be Hugh. But he is dead.
So I will write it for me.

                                                      Birthday Breakfast. Yummm.

                                                                  Aa' the best.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Someone has stolen my rock

I won't describe putting the bike on the train in torrential tropical rain.
I won't describe arriving at 5.20am in a crush of tourists and a swarm of bus drivers and bike drivers and tour operators and tea ladies and coffee ladies and the plain hopeful trying to sell knickknacks and trinkets and playing cards with modestly naked worn on the reverse side.

I won't describe in detail the joyous trip up the mountain in the fresh morning, to the scent of damp earth and pine trees and water dripping over mossy rock, to the sight of my beloved rice terraces and waterfalls and mountain tops playing hide and seek behind morning mist and cloud.

And the Yao woman I gave a lift to, who kept me warm on the final twelve or so kilometres when it becomes decidedly chilly on a bike, she was lovely and so grateful not to have to walk all that way uphill, on a visit to her sisters in Sa Pa.

But the trip up the road to the top of the valley cut short because I was so bereft - that I will describe. See, there is - was - this spot, the one particular spot where I would stop, the same stop where, on and off over for nearly 14 years, where I would go to sit, look at the mountain, listen to the distant echo of the river far below, and just sit, staring at the mountain, doing nothing but sitting.

And now, ten months since I last saw my spreading comfortable, about the size of a baby elephant rock, is this.

Someone stole my rock and I am bereft.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

High anxiety

When the writing gets tough - or stuck - or non-existent ...

Plus ...

And I'm ready to head up the mountain. But first, an overnight train journey with the added drama of putting the bike on the train, (paperwork in Vietnamese, draining the fuel, making sure my beauty is not damaged by the loaders) then a 35 kilometre ride from sea level to 1700 metres on winding twisting roads shared by maniacal bike riders and death defying truck driver and the occasional goat and small groups of minority people laden down with produce, walking to market.

This is not just any mountain, but the mountain where I wrote A Small Death in the Great Glen and A  Double Death on the Black Isle. Aim - two thousand words a day to crack the first draft. So, fingers crossed, boots on, backpack packed, camera ready, books (the new John Banville awaits, Alan de Botton on philosophy, and my trusty I Ching) Also some Fortnum&Mason's English breakfast tea, plus a real teapot and I am off. Off to beautiful Sa Pa. Off to my "Triggering Town". Off to a view of the mountain from the room where I write (the outline of which is on the blog heading above)

To write a first draft, to really truly immerse yourself in the place, the characters, and to let the story unfold, needs space for total immersion and little or no distractions. And the funny thing is, if I surround myself with people speaking in another language (Vietnamese or Mong or Yao) it is like birdsong rising and falling in the background. Never distracting, always good company, always fascinating, the rhythm of the town and the purity of air works - has worked for me in the past I should say. Because with that Muse of mine (definitely a woman, in a dress, in a Scottish voice saying "who do you think you are?") must be obeyed or at least placated, and she likes Sa Pa.
And so do I

Aa' the best.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Writer's rooms

Back in my wee river cottage in Viet Nam after a long expensive journey, I wonder if I am home. Or if I have a home. Or need one. But oh how I want a place that is my place to write. "A Room of One's Own." Indeed.
What I have here is so ephemeral --the fishing village will soon disappear for a marina for tourists, for rich people who can afford a boat. And for a fake fishing village with cafes and restaurants with lots and lots of beer.
And the fishermen and fisherwoman (this is an equal labour village), what of them? Well, they are to be given a nice new apartment in a four storey block with no access to the river or the sea. But they will have indoor toilets. They will have new kitchens. No gardens but they can buy vegetables and eggs and chickens in brand new supermarkets -- when they are built. Buy everything they used to grow with money from ...hold on, money from...they won't be able to fish. Or keep chickens to sell. Or ducks. Or vegetables. The coconut trees which are another source of income are to be cut down.
Me, I have a passport. I can move on. Sooner than I had hoped but I will find another little cottage somewhere in the world. I will write. I will earn a modest income. Maybe keep chickens.

I, we, all of out there in the West have it so good. Jump on an aeroplane and visit my former fishing village. Eat delicious seafood. And perhaps, in the dusk, as the sun sets behind the strange flat-top mountain, and the karaoke music echoes across the still, muddy water, you might see the ghosts of fishermen and women, standing up and rowing, spooling out the nets then banging with the oars to frighten the fish into the nets. Banging, late at night, not loud enough to disturb, but enough to awaken. And I return to sleep, to the rhythm.
Perhaps those fishers will not be ghosts. Perhaps they will be comely young people paid to be fake fishermen and women. And instead of nets, they will scatter little plastic boasts with tea-light candles glowing in homage to the very expensive Western consultant who came up with this traditional ceremony circa 2005.
Then at five AM the National Anthem blasts from high towers out across the river and the rice-paddies, followed by the news and propaganda and adverts for Omo. This is one ceremony that no amount of complaints from tourists or hotel owners will change.
So if you can't beat 'em, wake up have a cup of tea, then start the days' writing.

Aa' the best.