Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Deeply embarrassed

Truly madly deeply embarrassed; the typo in the previous post has made me so ashamed and conjured up Mr. Coule my primary school teacher, leather strap (government issue) in hand ready to belt out any mistaken apostrophe. So, I am not editing the title as it will sit there as a reminder to always, always check my posts before posting.
Cavalier Scot that I am, I don't always check. So do I do a spellcheck? But how is a computer, or programmers, to know how to spell Burns?
For that errant apostrophe, I humbly apologise.

Which leads me to the next topic. As I was researching material for book 5 --The Low Road --I was remembering the exams we sat at the end of primary school. Known as the Eleven Plus, these exams would decide if a select few would make it to the Academy ( a grammar school in England).
I passed, and my education at Inverness Royal Academy was excellent if a trifle marred by a sadistic Latin master.
On the internet I found a sample 11+ exam paper. The question is, would I pass today?
Now bearing in mind this was a timed exam for eleven year olds, naturally I thought I would sail through. Blimey, it was really hard!

Is it that nowadays education places less emphasis on grammar? Or on times tables - if these are still taught? Or perhaps the Scottish education system, which we boast is  more thorough than other countries, really is better? Don't know. But I do know that many from the academy system would be in all sorts of trouble had we made the obvious mistake with the apostrophe that I made in the previous post.
"Hold out you hand girl!" And I would receive six of the best.

Aa' the best.

PS. The essay component of the 11+ was tough. You had to write a longish original essay on a completely boring topic e.g. My School Holidays, in a short period of time. That was the section of the exam that I loved, and excelled at. So why oh why I didn't discover writing until I was in my sixties I'll never know.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Burn's Night

Done. Finished. Sent. As much as any manuscript can ever be, but I can do no more, so the manuscript for the new novel The Low Road has been delivered.

Appropriately it was sent on Rabbie Burn's birthday. He is, and always will be is an inspiration for me and countless others. The sheer humanity of the man, the mesmerising, heartbreaking poetry.

Ayrshire, where he hailed from, is a county I can't claim to know well, but I do have memories of tramping the moorlands above Kilmarnock, building a wee fire by a burn to brew up gunpowder tea in a billy-can. And of the station bar in Kilmarnock drinking draft Bass, trying to avoid stiring up the cloudy lees, lest the hops become too overpowering. I had a first boyfriend from there. He had two brothers. All of them, even the sixteen year old were political, were musicians and had a love of early blues and folk and Trotsky. And, naturally, Burns.
I remember the park in Kilmarnock with the stature of Rabbie Burns, and always always I will love that county that produced that genius, that treasure, our national and universal poet.

I remember a small man, a former coal miner, John was his name, from Darvel in Ayrshire. I went to his wedding. He introduced me to On the Road by Jack Kerouac. And John had a monkey, a vicious mischievous monkey that would hang out on the clothes pulley and pee on you.

I remember Largs where the train from Glasgow would disgorge passengers for the ferry to Millport on the island of Cumbrae. There was a great Italian cafe in Largs. Still there I see. And doubtless still great.

I remember, I remember - and naturally enough I have mined those memories and used them and they are in the new book. Not John, not the brothers, not the monkey, not the home made emerald green dress I wore to the wedding,  but the smell of the county, Ayrshire, the green fields with many cows, the skies above the flat high deep-heather silent moorland, the train, the ferry, a summer in Millport, these memories imbue my writing as I sit at my computer, in my cottage by the river, in the fishing village in Viet Nam, hearing, but not listening to, the ducks, the Party announcements on the loudspeaker, the neighbours quarrelling, the children playing with a football against a wall.

"A man's a man for a' that...
That Man to Man the world o'er
Shall brothers be for a' that."

Aa' the best.

To read the full poem see  www.robertburns.org/