Merry Christmas everyone. It was a quiet Christmas day for us. We got up at our usual time, about 8.30am and opened our presents. Sadly the dogs never got all of their presents as Millie, my 10 year old lab, has sore tummy and we had to cut back on treats and food in general.
After preparing the veg, I had already made the vegan roast the night before, we took the dogs for a walk. I decided I wanted to take a wooden decoration from our Christmas tree to Finlarig castle and hang it on a tree in memory of my Mum. I scattered her ashes there in June, a day before we married there. It was such a lovely winters day that it felt nice to just linger in that space for a while.
By the time sunset came around we were sitting down to dinner. I asked Helen to pause and we told each other what we were grateful for. It felt fitting when there are so many troubles in the world at the moment.
My plans this afternoon were to make my way down to the river for sunset. It has been another damp and raw day and I’ve hardly been outdoors, preferring the warmth of the under floor heating. But at just short of 3.30pm, I ventured out. I took Kimber, my youngest dog, she’s great company and isn’t too bothered where we go as long as there is something interesting to sniff, lamp posts, bins, fox poo, you know the likes.
With a little time to spare we trotted off down the street. On the way, we met several people who stopped to chat. Due to the time and the fading light I would normally have waved and passed by, but the people who stopped needed an ear and, I felt, some kind words. It’s easy to assume that everyone is merry and all wrapped up in Christmas joy, but that really isn’t the case. So many people are grieving at Christmas, from the loss of a loved one, to family who can’t be close because of covid, etc, etc. And people have worries too, illness, finances, loneliness, addiction, the list goes on. Christmas for many can feel like an enormous burden, so it’s no wonder that the weight of those brief conversations stopped me in my tracks, I too feel the weight off worry and loss at Christmas.
I made it to the river at 15.45pm, but only after giving my best wishes, my ear, and to one person, the wish of laughter on Christmas day, I do hope they get that wish. I took a moment by the river bank to reflect on my short journey and concluded : It wasn’t important to be by the river at 15.42pm, I would get there eventually, I was in the exact right place at the exact right time for someone else, and that made absolute sense to me. Below is a short video of the river.
After standing for a minute or two, we headed to the park, after all, puppy time is fun time.
My sunset might not have gone to plan, but I hope by pausing at the right time, someone elses day was a little easier. Merry Christmas everyone. Peace xxx
An inversion of fog has sunk below the mountains tops and settled on our tiny village. All around us the world has alerted into an underdeveloped sepia photograph with blurred edges and featureless faces.
With such an abundance of thick fog, the village has felt cold and eerily dark. Its no surprise then that the the arrival of winter solstice yesterday was heartily welcomed.
My wife and I did our first solstice ritual which, amongst other things, involved the lighting of candles and thinking of what the coming light means to us.
The first warmth of the sun on my skin
The transformation of nature
Clean washing hung on the washing line
The sound of birds in the trees
New growth in the garden
I am going to start recording my journey from winter to summer solstice, starting today, with the hopes of becoming more aware of the changing light. I feel this gives me an opportunity to take a moment at sunset to gather my thoughts, be still, and record what I see. A mindful moment.
Day 1 Sunset 15.41 UK
I was in B&M, so certainly not a mindful moment, but an awareness of the time lingered in the periphery of my mind. We came in for wool, because Helen wanted to start a new crochet project, and I needed dry stuffing mix for the Christmas dinner. Helen wheeled off in her wheelchair while I headed to the vegan section to see what bargains I could pick up. Five minutes later, and with a basket half filled with groceries that I didn’t need, Helen wheeled up behind me with a bewildered look on her face.
‘They’ve started selling Cherry Ripe, it’s my absolute favourite chocolate bar. I audibly gasped when I saw it. But it isn’t vegan.’
There was a look of disappointment on her face, but a glint of a memory pulled her lips into a soft smile and she was temporality transported to Australia, to a different time, to a time before us, before Scottish mountains, cold inversions and wheelchairs, to a time that shaped my wife into the woman she is today. I never saw her taste her first Cherry Ripe bar, but maybe one day, perhaps on a cold winters afternoon, when a cloud inversion has transformed the world into a blurred photograph, we will share our first vegan Cherry Ripe bar together. Until then, I will sit for a moment, after this post is sent out into the world, and listen to her tell me of that first taste, and learn something new on the first day of the coming light.
I have began editing my novel, well it is more of a re write than an edit, but an edit all the same. I discovered recently that Microsoft Word has improved its Read Aloud function, so I decided to listen to what I have edited so far.
This is what I discovered.
My prologue is really very visual and I’m excited about it. It sounds nice and punchy.
The narrator sounds funny when she reads Scots.
Read Aloud let me close my eyes and edit at the same time. I found parts that need cut back, and some that need further explanation
More importantly, in chapter one alone, I found 25 errors. It might have taken me three or four edits to find those. They were mostly duplicate words or missing words that an online editor wouldn’t pick up.
Read Aloud is my new best editing friend.
The voice is better on my phone that on my laptop. I’m thinking when I do a deep edit, I’ll print it and use Read Aloud at the same time.
Do any of you guys use a narrator as an editor?
Thanks for reading my blog today and happy writing.
The snow has melted from the mountains leaving only patches of white in the deepest crevices. The rivers are roaring and, with the constant rain fall in the last week, the river banks have burst. From the park the farmers field looks like loch Tay and the ducks have reallocated there for the day.
With an abundance of water though, comes an abundance of reflections, and I love a reflection. It’s like the water is capturing just a fragment of the world and holding it still.
Despite all of the flooding though, today was the first time this year that the warmth from the sun touched my skin. It is a wonderful feeling. I was mid walk with Helen and the dogs and I just stopped, closed my eyes, and soaked it up. Recognising this moment is an important tradition for me. I like to acknowledge that I am experiencing the cusp of change – in other words spring, and then let that feeling of newness wash over me. I know now that my little world will become greener, the garden will come to life, walks will be slower and days longer.
But returning to the now and to the reflections I spoke of earlier, I would like to leave you with a prompt.
Write a small memoir/true life story where water plays a significant part. Imagine you are viewing that moment in a puddle, what does it look like? Really delve into the details, what colours do you see, what shapes? Is there multiple faces in your puddle or just your own? How does the person you are now feel about the reflection? How does the person you where then feel about what was happening at the time? Can you compare and contrast your emotions? Has the shape of the puddle changed over time? If you could drop a pebble into your puddle and distort it or even change the reflection, what would you want it changed to? Or would you freeze it that way forever?
It has been another dreich and drab day here in Killin, Scotland and, a cold one too. It’s a lack of colour day, a blanket day, a cannae find the motivation to even write day. So what do you do when the washed out world is painting your soul grey? You paint it back to life. This is how I filled my evening. How about you?
We had so much snow yesterday but most of it melted as it hit the ground. It did lie on the grass through. When I went out with the dogs, on a not very adventurous walk around the park, the snow was blowing sideways, big thick snow that made visibility difficult. I kept my face to the ground, hurrying my wee legs as quick as I could with the vision of a steaming mug of tea waiting for me at home, and of course my jammies.
It’s easy to take the surrounding beauty for granted when the weather isn’t to your liking, and to be honest, the above picture was taken on another day when the wind was just a wee whistle and, the snow just a wee crust on the periphery of my walk. It wasn’t until I was on my last lap of the park when a flake of snow, a giant flake of snow, landed on my lip. It was only a second before it melted, but the wee snow kiss ripped me out of my daydream and I found myself in the middle of a snow globe. There wasn’t another in sight, just me and my snow patterned dog, who looked at me wondering why I had stopped. It was a moment of absolute beauty, from the cold fizz of the melting snow on my lip, to my tongue reaching for a taste. I was utterly alive. For the remainder of my walk I kept my head up, letting the snow land on my face, my hat, but it only took.a single kiss to bring me into the present moment.
This is a working telephone box yet I’ve never seen anyone use it. We used to have one at the top of our scheme. It was red too, but a bit on the grubby side and with peeling paint. I remember the inside of it, the cigarette burns in the perspex windows, that kind of melted brown tear shape. I remember the ground was always wet and smelled of piss. I remember the air reeking of cigarettes and stale beer. We used to call the operator for a laugh. Pretend we were trying to get the number for Mr C Fax or Mrs C Saw. I rarely used it to make an actual phone call, but when I did, it was a hungry wee machine, eating up my silver and leaving me to say my goodbyes during the pip pip pip’s.
Do you have a telephone box in your town? What is it used for? Can you remember using them before telephones were in the house ?
This isn’t quite a prompt, but a request…
Imagine you you passing a telephone box and it begins to ring. You pick up the phone and I say. Hi, I’m Eilidh from Killin in Scotland. How would you greet me in your language?
I’ve had people visit me from 40 countries this year so far and don’t know who is from Scotland, Hong Kong, India, Vietnam and so on.
I’ve listed all of the countries that have visited my blog below.
Happy Burns night everyone. We didn’t have a traditional supper but we has a wee veggie haggis T.V dinner for lunch.
Burns night seems to be more alive this year than ever. I’ve seen children reciting poetry, various poems shared online and we have just finished watching Janey Godley’s Big Burns Supper. Ye Canne beat it. The highlights for me were Brina and Skerryvore, check them out.
We never celebrated Burns night growing up because it’s the night we lost my Grannie. 40 years today.
Do you celebrate Burns? Is tradition important to you? And how do we weave the thread of our past into our present and our future?
Is the ocean chained to the land or is the land chained to the ocean? Are we free is this world or are we chained to a system that benefits the few over the many? Are we chained to a system who would drown those in need in order to keep those who don’t afloat?
I planned to write a prompt based on the above image but when I posted, all I could see is a big rusty chain and it got me thinking. Is it time for change? Can capitalism survive this pandemic or the next? How do the wealthy survive when there is no more capital, do they win or loose? Will the many ever be free from their chains?
Okay. I have a prompt
Write a short story in the form of a news article, T.V news report or radio report named, The Day That Money Ran Out.
Imagine stumbling across an old grave yard. Imagine wandering amongst the dilapidated weather worn grave stones. Imagine a cold chill wrapping around your neck while a black crow squawks from a stone wall. Imagine the iron gate creaking as it swings to and fro on rusty hinges. Now imagine a shadow, small at first, but growing longer as a figure appears below the orange light on the old kirk building. Suddenly, you see a face.
Write a story or poem about the face that appeared in the old cemetery. Who is it, what do they want? How do you feel and do you stay to talk or run as fast as you can? You decide.
Where does a poem come from? Where does it begin? When does a thought become a creation?
The same applies to prose. Where does that unplanned story strand come from? How, in a split second, can a character fall in love without first consulting it’s creator?
Is it inspiration?
I was walking the dogs yesterday. We went to our usual haunt which is generally the big field down by the river. The weather was average for Scotland in January, dreich, windy with a wee bit mizzle in the air, and damn cold. I was trying (and failing) to stop the dogs eating rabbit shit, while being careful not to step awkwardly on the uneven ground. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, in fact, I was just looking. I was looking at my feet, at the dogs, at the snowy mountains, and the people on the old railway in the distance. Suddenly, a sentence popped into my head.
I miss the sea.
This was followed by:
I miss the sea fi when a wis wee
Fair enough, I hear you say. Don’t we all miss what we can’t have at the moment in time, the pandemic has taken so much. And besides this, I’ve seen and heard references to the sea over he past few days through various mediums, so perhaps this subconsciously inspired me. The thing is, I haven’t written any poetry or prose since the start of December 2020. There is a number of reasons for this, (as discussed in previous posts, and I’m not going to bore you with them now), but I wasn’t looking for inspiration, or magic for that matter. And perhaps you don’t think the above lines could be classed as poetry, I mean, the two lines are statements aren’t they? Perhaps. But then the next line came to me in a rhythm so perfect, that I pulled my phone from my pocket and recorded it. This is written in Midlothian vernacular.
I miss sand stickin to ma broon sauce piece
Is it sounding as epic to you as it is to me? Try saying it out loud, with a pause after sand, and the second line rolling of your tongue.
Or if you understand measuring meter in poetry:
I miss sand (strong, weak, strong)
Sti-ckin to ma broon sauce piece (strong-strong, weak. weak, strong, weak, strong).
Okay, you might not be as excited about the birth of my new poem as I am, but watch this space.
Back to my question though…
Did the poem arrive because of inspiration, or was it magic? My opinion is that it’s a bit of both.
Let me give you another example. Whilst working on my current novel in progress, Little Red Rowing Boat, I have become more and more aware of how often a new thread/strand appears during the writing process. This thread is unplanned, it might be an unexpected character appearing, a childhood flashback, and often a key plot line that materialises from no-where. I often find myself in a trance like state when I’m writing, or deep writing. This is when the magic begins. I generally do plan my writing before I sit down; I pretty much know the direction the story will flow, but regardless of my intention, there’s a genie in my head that sprinkles star dust on my fingers while I write and weird shit happens. Is it just me?
I would like to know your thoughts on this matter. Please leave a comment.
We were on our first caravan holiday in Arbroath, me, Helen and Kimber (we didn’t have Millie at that point). It had been a hell of a week, Kimber was stung by a jelly fish, then a bee the following day, but was treated to her first ice cream cone by the harbour while we tucked into some greasy chips.
It was our first time on Arbroath. The seaside town looked tired, ramshackled in parts, but with pockets of charm dotted around and we fell on love with the place. The beach was long, and at one end flies buzzed around slimy seaweed, rotten and stinking. But in the opposite direction, it was wide, flat and when the tide slipped away into the distance it left silver mirrors in the golden sand.
Famous for its Arbroath smokies (smoked fish), we expected the harbour to reek, but instead, we were greeted with the smell of the salty sea spray that lashed the rocks and soaked our faces. The smell of garlic from a nearby restaurant hung in the air, and as we passed fishing boats tied to metal cleats, a waft of engine oil. I was struck by how much colour was to be found on the coast, from the lobster crates stacked in piles, to rows of washing flapping in the wind above a small cove, to the pretty white lighthouse, stark against a blue sky. One night, we even saw a supermoon.
There was one place that stood out above the rest though. It was close to the end of our holiday and we were wandering. We’d climbed a hill above the harbour and had a picnic while looking down at the orange roof tops and the grey sea, then we strolled by the abbey, and shortly after, into a hidden garden. It was tucked away, between Arbroath’s high street, a park and a rural area. We wandered through an archway into a beautiful walled garden. The garden was in bloom with red roses, white roses, trees, a manicured lawn and a variety of shrubs. There was a wooden bench where we sat for a while. All around us, birds sung in bushes and trees, butterflies fluttered and insects buzzed, hovered and jumped. It was a lovely day and the garden offered shade and a pocket of quiet and stillness, a rest from the world outside.
I have such fond memories of this trip, and I never intended to write such a big post.
But perhaps a prompt?
Okay. Write of place of tranquility, somewhere hidden amongst the hustle and bustle of busy life. Was it found by surprise, why was it there, what did it look like, smell like, sound like, feel like? Was it surprising and did anything happen that changed you or your character? Now hide something, bury it, hide it in a wall or a tree or amongst shrubbery? What was it and who will find it?
I had the privilege of reading a proof copy of Duck Feet, and I was not disappointed. Duck Feet is a episodic novel, a coming of age novel, a working class novel, and a damn brave novel.
The story follows the life of Kirsty Campbell from the start of high school until she leaves in 6th year. Set in Renfrewshire, and told in the regional tongue, the reader is transported right to Kirsty’s doorstep. The short episodes delve into the trials and tribulations of working class teenage lives, with humour and frustration.
It’s the real mundanity of school life that make this book stand out and Ely has the gift of observation. They have highlighted issues such as ableism, racism, homophobia, bullying, teenage pregnancy and crime, and many more issues, but in a way that doesn’t seem forced They also highlight the little things that would have felt enormous for a teenager such as boy bands breaking up, periods, friendships, and first kisses.
Duck Feet is quite a long book, not one you’ll devour in one sitting, but it is a book that you can pick up and read between hoovering and making the dinner and I promise it’ll make you laugh. The book is quite heavy though, so lying on the couch for a read can be a bit of a work out, but thats one of the few things that I disliked.
The characters are fun, well fleshed out, and everyone had a Charlene in their life. It is a character driven novel, a delve into the ordinary where even the most irritating characters are lovable. Something shocking happens near to the end of the book, I thought it was arresting, well managed and probably the reason I’ll remember this novel for a long time.
Finally, from an Edinburgh lass, the dialect was a slow starter for me, not because it didn’t work or that it was badly written, it was just hard to get the voice in my head. But dialect is the reason that the character are so real, and it was brave to write the full novel in that way.
This is me, my partner Helen and our youngest dog Kimber.
I love this photograph so much, it says a lot about our little family. The photograph was camptured by Helen’s mum while we were camping at Comrie Croft in Perthshire. You can see that is was a happy day, a fun day. I think we were relieved, it rained loads while we were there, but on this day, there was a break from the grey, the cold and the dampness, and it lifted our spirits.
Write a story or poem about a group of people camping, but write it in two parts.
The first should be set inside the tent. The weather is cold, wet and grey. Everyone is a bit damp and miserable. What does the atmosphere feel like? Is there conversation? What can you see, smell, taste, feel?
Now write the second part. The weather has changed, the clouds have shifted and the sun is high in the sky. The tent is suddenly warmer, there are voices outside as people unzip their tents and venture out into the bright open field. How does the mood change inside, and then outside of the tent. What happens? How does it feel? What can you see, smell, taste, feel?
I haven’t seen the sea for over a year. Living in Killin, I am close to several lochs and rivers, but there is something special about the sea. For me, it’s a feeling that wraps around my ribs like a hug. It’s that feeling of wonder, the mystery of nature and the universe. The sea is a place for contemplation, for stillness and a place to feel whole.
I love this photograph , I snapped it while walking on the beach at St Andrews. The photo is of some teenagers huddled together on the sea wall. I couldn’t hear their conversation but I noticed the long pauses where they all looked out into the endless grey water. Perhaps they were thinking about their studies or their future, perhaps they were lost for a moment in a memory. I like to think they were contemplating their place in the world, their responsibility to the earth and her future
Write a story with two characters, each going through individual difficulties in their lives. The characters should not talk out loud to one another, but sit together on a sea wall watching the sea. The story should record their thoughts, perhaps scattered like a stream of consciousness, or like an internal conversation or monologue. Notice the difference between the characters voices. Did the sea calm them or increase the storm within?
One of the best things about living in the Scottish Highlands in the wee detached village of Killin, is the night sky. It’s pretty dark at night, with little light pollution and the brightest moon I’ve ever seen. When there is a scattering of clouds, however, the sky puts on the most spectacular show of patterns and shapes, it’s like art. When the days are clear and the rain is at bay, we have a new exhibition to indulge in every night, and often with twinkling stars dotted in between. That’s not to say it’s not freezing, wrapping up is essential for sky gazing. The picture that accompanies this post was taken in December 2020. It was taken on my phone and zoomed in. I couldn’t help but notice a genie smoking his pipe and pondering what’s to become of this bloody pandemic.
What do you see?
The night sky is a great place to start for writing inspiration. Perhaps on a clear night, get yourself wrapped up and venture out into the dark.
Listen Look Smell Feel
By tuning into the senses, you might be surprised at what the night has to offer. For me, on a night like the one in December, I would hear the hoo-hoo of the owl, the swishing of the trees on the old railway, the creaking of the car port roof, possibly a car in the distance bit mostly not.
The sky can be anything from a yellow oil slick, to a blue fox stretching lazily between the seven sisters and the plough.
There’s usually a smell of a burning wood in the air, the smell of wet grass, sweet frost or mulch. Sometimes even the smell of laundry from someone’s tumble dryer.
I will feel the sharpness of the air as it reaches my lungs, the sting of cold on my cheeks, my feet on the ground, my heart beating, the clothes on my skin.
This is present moment awareness, a moment of mindful contemplation. All of it relevant as I stand completely alive, sharing the sky with those brave enough to be out too.
Today the temperature has remained below zero, the lowest being -4°, but the sky was the deepest blue I’ve seen in a while, and with only a slither of cloud on the horizon. Me and my two chocolate Labradors walked along the river bank, the river was flowing so slowly that the opposite bank was reflected clearly on its surface, apart from the odd random ripple and patches of grey ice around the bank that is. My dogs love the water, but they also love chasing the ducks, and there are an abundance of ducks on the river at the moment. So they remained safely on lead while I took lovely photographs. Here’s one of them in a little sandy cove.
Once we moved away from the river and into the field, the dogs relaxed a bit and I was able to settle comfortably into my surroundings. The mountains seem to have gathered more snow overnight and looked particularly dramatic. One in particular, Ben Lawers, looks to me like its twisting away from the other. There are parts of Lawers that are so incredibly steep and its a wonder that so many people climb it. And even though I view it with that sense of fear, I can see the draw because it is overwhelmingly stunning. This sensation reminded me of an English Literature lecture about the feeling one gets when confronted with the beauty and the terrifying in nature – I believe it was described at the sublime.
Edmund Burke identified the sublime as the experience of the infinite, which is terrifying and thrilling because it threatens to overpower the perceived importance of human enterprise in the universe.
Where was I? While I was having these wonderful emotions, and keeping one eye on the dogs, who sounded like little piglets sniffle out truffles, except it wasn’t truffles, it was frozen rabbit poo, I wandered into some frozen flood water.
We had an incredible amount of rain in December and the field, which is normally filled with sheep, was flooded. The sheep were replaced by ducks, but with this new cold snap, even the ducks are warming their bums in the river rather than the solid ice.
So, as I stood in this mini ice rink wondering how I’d got there, I realised there was an opportunity to walk mindfully, to bring myself back into the present moment, all because of a crunch…
What does it mean to walk mindfully?
Mindful walking is about intention and paying attention. Let me explain. When I found myself on the ice, the first thing I noticed was the sound, the satisfying crunch as my wellington boot broke through. It was a familiar sound, something that drew me back to my childhood and I found myself smiling. This is when I decided to walk mindfully, in other words, I made an intention. The dogs were sniffing around, eating poo and were in no hurry to move on, so I stopped, and I took three long deep breaths, (this is kind of like the Bell or the Gong in my previous post as the breath allows you to arrive into a moment, to be present). I then took a moment to check in on how my body felt, to relax any muscles that had become tense, to feel my feel on the ground, or in the ice for that matter, and that’s when I noticed, for the first time that day, the cold on my face. In fact, I was so surprised to feel the sting on my cheeks and neck that I raised my hand and touched it. Then I began to move. Mindful walking is walking intentionally, walking slow and feeling the range of motions while experiencing all the sensory pleasures available to us. That’s not to say that this exercise is exclusive to able bodied people, it can be adapted to wheelchair users too, although I wouldn’t recommend wheeling into a frozen flooded field, but the exercise can be adapted on less dangerous terrain. As I began to walk, I concentrated on each movement, the weight of my legs as I lifted my feet, the feeling of my feet landing on the ice, that moment of resistance before my foot broke through the ice and then landed on the sticky earth below. Then there was the sucking sound, and a moment of fear which I noticed landed between my shoulder blades and high in my stomach. It felt like a screech, if a screech were a feeling, and for a moment my breath became tight as I lifted my foot. I suddenly felt my face flush with warmth and my hair filled with prickles, and I breathed a long sigh when I discovered my wellington was still attached to my foot. I continued to walk like this, observing each movement, each emotion, watching the ice crack and crumble as I punctured a path of size fives through the middle. It was the crunch that kept me right there though, the brief squeal before the coosh sound, (I think it sounds more like a coosh than a crack). I could smell the frost, that sharp almost sweet smell, followed by a rush of mulch and sulphuric bog smell. I only walked like this for about two minutes, but managed to collect so much information as well as becoming more aware and feeling relaxed.
How can Mindful Walking help with my writing?
It’s all about the experience.
What did I notice?
How did it feel?
When we walk mindfully, we begin to notice a range of things, such as the temperature of the air, the ground beneath our feel, textures and smells, our surroundings, the soundscape. Have another read at my experience and see if you can identify these things. There is definitely many benefits for a writer to practice mindful walking, although it is easier to plan the mindful walk than to decide halfway through a walk that you are going to do it. By planning a walk, you can pick a place that may resemble a setting in your story, then you can experience the setting in the same way your character will. This will enhance your description. Remember the old phrase,
Write what you know.
It might be relevant to disclose to you at this time that I am writing a novel set in this very village and partly in this very field, so all of this is wonderful research for my book. But I will conclude today by saying, thanks for reading, and also, of you would like any more advice on mindful walking or how this could be adapted to a wheelchair, please comment and we can chat. In the meantime, here’s a photo of my side of the mountain.
I struggled to find the motivation to walk the dogs today. I had a busy morning delivering an emergency package to my partner, Helen, who is currently in hospital, and returned home tired and with a headache. But those pretty brown eyes kept pleading for their walks, and who could resist the eyes of a Labrador (never mind two). So, I got them rigged up and we tottered off to the field at the back of the house. It has been a lovely clear day here in Killin and the sky at 3pm had barely a cloud. We wandered into the farmers field, along by the river and with one of the best views of the mountains. That’s when little patches of red began to appear on the furthest mountain, then slowly, as the light dimmed, it spread right over the mountains in front. Of course, I had to stop and capture the moment on my phone. I even took a video for Helen. But for a moment, the smallest moment, because the dogs can’t stay still for long, I stopped, put my phone on my pocket, and just looked. I felt the cold air in my lungs, the nip of icy wind on my face and my heart filled with the sight before me. I felt alive.
If you want to enrich your story, look at it from a different perspective. For example, if this photo is turned the correct way around, what does the protagonist see? But when it’s turned on its side, the view suddenly changes. Could the protagonist be lying down, or have fallen? Have they been looking for clues to solve a mystery that is revealed from this new perspective? Changing the way wee look at a scene, by either changing where we view it from or, from a different character’s point of view, can bring a whole new perspective to the scene, and perhaps add a new strand to the story.
Amber mist sweeps the woods
and treetops burst like fireworks
red, orange, yellow and green -
against the silhouetted Trossachs,
Leaves plucked from branches -
A leg and a wing, to see the king,
Fall under Wellington boots,
Into a cold casserole of dead summer.
The hill is a graveyard.
Thistle corpses are crispy baskets.
Bramble bushes bow low, and autumn
Shoots jets of freezing air,
I feel them creep into my hair as I descend
Into the valley.
A swirling cloud hovers over the grass
And a snapping twig halts
A tap-dancing gull, it hops sideways
Over a flattened mole hill.
I pause in the shadow of a goal post,
While the ghost of summer wraps around my neck
Like a feather boa.
Stanley Harrison Unwin Galloway was not supposed to die first.
Margo pulled the front door shut and hobbled out onto the veranda. She put her mug of hot tea onto the table then pulled out one of the plastic chairs. Fastening her fingers around the handles, she began to lower her fragile body on to the seat. She held her breath, knuckles white under the patio light, arms trembling, but her elbows buckled and gave way. She gasped. Her bottom hit the seat with a thud. The chair skidded backwards – with Margo holding on for dear life – and its four legs scraped the concrete, ripping a roar into the night. She sat rigid, her heart thumping hard in her chest. She blew out a long whistling sigh. Clumsy old fool. A large brown moth tapped the light above her head. She watched as it hovered and tapped and hovered then dived, down towards her face. Unfastening her fingers from the chair, she swiped the air. The moth darted back into the light. Shug would have scolded her for swiping the moth, “God created this world for all living creatures, not just the pretty ones.”
“Oh Shug,” she wrapped her arms around her chest. Her shoulders shook and tears welled in her eyes. She coughed out her sorrow in a whisper.
“Stanley Harrison Unwin Galloway, you were not supposed to die first.”
She wiped her tears on the sleeve of her dressing gown and inhaled the night. Autumn had begun to creep into the corners of the garden in little cold curls, and the air smelled of damp foliage and chimney soot. Margo looked out into the darkness and saw the moon, a white eyelash resting on a purple blanket.
The tea was hot. Margo held the mug to her chest and twirls of steam rose into the air, dampening her face. She turned away and caught her reflection in the patio window. How time had altered her face, it used to be so soft and smooth but now it hung in folds of sagging flesh. And those lips – sucked dry into a shrivelled line. She swept a strand of hair that had blown onto her cheek and tucked it behind her ear. How she missed her long fiery curls, her most defining feature back in the day. Now her hair was as grey as the chimney smoke chugging the air. Shug had barely noticed her changing though. “You’re bonnier than the sunset o’er the Forth of Firth,” he’d say, “as bonny now, as the day we met.” Shug had gone grey first. He was only twenty-three when it happened. In a single year, Shug’s hair transformed from bold black into fading grey. It was the year after Pearl died. Margo sipped her tea from trembling fingers. She heard the sound of a door opening, closing, and then footsteps. In the darkness, she could see the silhouette of a tall slim man walking down the pavement. It was Billy, her friend’s Grandson.
“Evening Mrs Galloway,” he waved, “Starting to get a bit nippy out eh?”
“Aye Son, it is.”
He continued walking. She watched as he stopped at the far end of her fence and lit a cigarette. The flash of orange light glowed for a moment, then he disappeared into the night. All that remained was the sound of his footsteps and a dancing orange dot. The smell of tobacco drifted through the air, lingered for a few seconds and she felt a flutter in her chest. She inhaled deeply. Margo had never smoked, never even tried it, but she had grown used to the smell of a newly lit cigarette. It reminded her of the first day that she had met Shug.
It was a warm afternoon in the spring of 1964. She was working from home at the time, a seamstress by all accounts, though a self-trained one. She had even built herself quite a reputation in the village where she lived. A craftswoman, the locals called her, “with an eye as sharp as a needle and fingers that can turn a tattie sack into a gown.” When Shug turned up at the foot of her steps, a handsome young man with a pair of trousers draped over his left arm and a cigarette paper balancing between two fingers, she stood in the doorway and watched him. He knew she was watching, but his eyes were focused on his fingers while he tore the wiry brown tobacco, spread it into a line then folded the paper, rolling and licking and rolling again. When he was done, he put the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and looked up.
“Are you Margo McNabb?” he cocked his head to one side.
“Aye.” She blushed and looked at the trousers over his arm.
“Great, my Maw said you could maybe take up the hem of my trousers,” he held them out. “Can you do it for me?”
Margo looked at the trousers and then at her visitor. He was short and stocky and the trousers would have been a good two inches too long. She sniggered.
“Aye okay,” she turned her back, leaving the door ajar, “Come on in.”
He followed her and closed the door.
“Who’s your Maw?” Margo asked taking the trousers and nodding her head to an empty seat.
“Betty, Betty Galloway. She said you two were pals during the war. Do you mind if I…?” he pointed to his cigarette and raised his eyebrows.
“Aye go ahead, but you’ll need to take it into the scullery. Do you want a cup of tea?”
“Go on then.”
He got up from the seat and followed her through. Margo filled the kettle and put it on to boil.
“So you’re Betty’s laddie. Stanley is it?” she asked dropping two teabags into the teapot.
“Aye, but call me Shug, hardly anyone calls me Stanley anymore.”
“Alright Shug,” she leaned back against the wall and folded her arms. Shug lit his cigarette. He took a long draw and blew the smoke up to the ceiling.
“Nice place you have, Mrs McNabb.”
“Not Mrs,” she felt her face burning, so she turned to the cooker and fidgeted with the kettle, “Just Margo will do.”
“Just Margo eh? Interesting.”
She turned back around and watched as he blew little hoops of smoke into the room.
“Me and your Maw, we had some good times together, she used to wash and iron the clothes that I fixed, she was always singing, kept us all going so she did.”
“I bet you could hold a tune yourself,” he winked.
“Well I tried.” She twirled a lock of hair around her index finger. “Anyway, those were hard times back then, nae money for luxuries and all that.”
“Make do and mend,” he said, “Aye, she still goes on about it.”
A car engine rattled, snapping Margo out of her memory, and abruptly back to 2010. She jumped, and looked out into the street. It was normally so quiet at this time of the night. The car drove past. Lifting her mug, she took a gulp of tea but it was almost cold. She put the mug back on the table. Television lights flickered in the window opposite and an upstairs light in the house on the left, turned on. A curtain twitched. She watched for a moment then stretched her legs out in front of her. Flopping her head back, she looked up at the darkening sky. She closed her eyes and sighed, letting her thoughts drift off again. ‘Make do and mend’, she thought, ‘just like our wedding.’ In the space of a year, they had gone from talking in the scullery to walking down the aisle. It was a shame it had been such a small ceremony. Not many people approved of the twenty-seven year age gap. Shug had looked so charming in his taken-up trousers and suit jacket, while she had worn a dress she made herself. Oh and how wonderful she had felt in that beautiful dress, satin and lace that expertly skimmed her three-month baby bump.
Pearl was born in the back of an ambulance, eight days late, and after seventeen hours of labour. She was a scrawny little pink bundle – with a temper as fierce as her fiery hair. And those eyes, those little blue eyes that looked up at her Mother and filled her joy. They had fallen in love instantly. Margo remembered bringing her home, swaddled in a crocheted shawl. It took Shug a few days to hold his daughter on his own though.
“She’s not a bomb for goodness sake,” she took the baby from him and told him how to position his arms. He sat back in the rocking chair, and she placed the little bundle back into his arms. He stared down at her, a new twinkle in his eyes.
“She’s a gem.”
“Aye,” Margo smiled, “She really is. Are we giving her a name?”
“Pearl,” Shug replied, “Her name is Pearl.”
“Pearl.” Margo whispered her daughter’s name into the night. “I’ve missed you all these years.”
A cold breeze ruffled her hair and tickled her face. It felt like tiny ghost fingers touching her playfully. With her eyes still closed, she held on to the lingering chill. She touched the pendant that hung on a silver chain around her neck. Shug had bought it for her birthday in 1968, the year that Pearl died. She could still remember him dropping the pendant into her hand and closing her fingers around it. The stone had felt as heavy as the ache in her chest.
“I don’t want it.” She threw the pendant back at Shug. She hadn’t even remembered it was her birthday. After all, she had only buried her daughter three weeks earlier.
“But it’s Mother of Pearl,” he placed it on the bed side table, “Like you, the Mother of Pearl. It’s to remember our little girl.”
“What? You think a stupid necklace is a replacement for my baby? Really?” her body convulsed and tears fell from her swollen eyes.
“You’ll always be her Mum, Margo. You will.”
“Her Mum? But it was my job to look after her, not to dilly dally at some stupid ladies group. She was only three, for Christ’s sake, my only child. I should have been with her.”
“It’s not your fault,” he sobbed, “I should have been watching.”
Margo looked away from him and clenched her teeth.
“I only took my eyes off her for a second to roll my fag. I didn’t see her run. I didn’t see the car.”
“Come on Margo, you have to believe I’d never have let anything happen to our wee girl, not on purpose.”
“Too late. Where is she now Shug, eh? Where is my bairn?”
Shug bent down to touch her face. She swiped his hand away.
“Don’t touch me!” She shouted and pulled the covers up to her neck. “Just don’t”
“I’m so sorry,” he fell no his knees and wept into his hands, “I’m so sorry. Oh God. Oh God!”
Margo could still remember his cries, even now – forty-two years later. She shook her head, dropped the pendant onto her chest, and stared out into the darkness. Poor Shug. He’d never been the same after the accident. It hadn’t been easy for either of them to – just get on. But they did – get on – or at least they did their best. The television had stopped flickering in the window across the road. All the other windows were dark. She was alone.
Margo had always imagined that she would die first. Shug had joked about how he would go off and travel the world with all of their money when she was gone. After all, the success of her sewing business had allowed her to save for many years; so much so that she had comfortably retired at sixty. She remembered asking Shug to consider early retirement from his job in the carpet factory.
“I’ve plenty years in me yet.”
“But we can afford it, and you’ve worked so hard for all these years, don’t you want to spend more time at the dancing? You love the dancing.”
“We can dance anytime. Look,” he took her hand and pulled her into an embrace, then spun her around, catching her and kissing her on the nose.
“But we could do other things. You know. Together.”
“Get on a train and go somewhere new. My goodness, we could travel the world.”
“I already told you,” he slapped her bottom, “I’m going to travel the world when you’re dead and gone. What else am I going to do with all that money you’ve got stashed.”
“Stanley Harrison Unwin Galloway, you are a bad man.”
But alas, it wasn’t to be. Shug was forced to retire in 2004 due to ill health. He was diagnosed with emphysema and heart problems. It had begun as a cough that had lasted for three months.
“Is it no about time you gave up on the cigarettes?” she’d asked him, knowing full well that he wouldn’t.
“How am I supposed to give up the fags now,” he said, “I’ve been smoking since I was eight.”
Shug had often recalled his early childhood memories to her. He had worked in his uncle’s cigarette factory when he was just a boy. He told her how he would sweep under the machines, collecting the loose tobacco in a paper bag so him and his pals could meet in the hay field after school and smoke the scraps. Margo had laughed about it, and people didn’t know the risks back in the fifties, and most of the boys did it.
Margo worried. Shug had lost his appetite and had grown thin, adding years to his face. His bottom lip was tinged in blue. He spent much of the day asleep or sitting up in his armchair reading the paper. Margo began to sleep in a chair beside his bed. One night, at the beginning of 2005, his heart stopped.
“I saw her Margo. I saw her standing there, waiting for me,” he gripped her hand through the bars of the hospital bed.
“She’s waiting, I saw her, and she was smiling.” Shug tried to sit up, but she put her hand on his shoulder and bent over him. Her back ached and her eyes filled with tears.
“She forgives me, my little girl.” He closed his eyes.
“It’s not time yet.” She said and kissed his finger then held them to her lips. “I’m taking you home.”
“Oh Margo, I’m ready to go now,” he turned his head towards her but never opened his eyes, “Don’t let them bring me back next time. Promise me?”
“I, I don’t know.” She whispered.
“Don’t let them bring me back.”
Margo looked up at the sky. It had turned black. She was glad that Shug had managed another six years after that, and although he began to fade away, his love never faltered. And he learned to laugh again. “You better get spending that money, Mrs Galloway.”
She reached for her mug; it was as cold as stone. Pouring the remaining tea into the wilting fuchsia in the flower box, she sighed deeply. She pushed her arms against the plastic chair and steadied herself. Her legs trembled and she shivered. The night had sunk into her dressing gown. She had waited long enough. Straightening her back, she walked slowly into the house. It was just as she had left it. The armchair, the ashtray filled with cigarette ends, and Shug. She kissed his cheek, closed his eyes, and watched another white eyelash fall to his purple blanket.
“Stanley Harrison Unwin Galloway, you were not supposed to die first.”
Tears rolled down her face. She picked up the phone.
Kelman’s novel Dirt Road is story that takes both characters and reader on a journey right from the outset, but the journey is more than it seems. The novel begins in the West coast of Scotland where we learn that Murdo – a sixteen-year-old boy – and his father Tom are mourning the death of their mother/wife and sister/daughter. Searching for solace, they embark on a journey to Alabama, U.S.A to spend time with Uncle John and Aunt Maureen. For Murdo, family is just a happy memory, a moment in time captured in a photograph, ‘The family was four and not just him and Dad’, whilst for Tom, family is the bond that holds them together. Throughout their journey, Tom strives to guide his son and keep him on ‘the right path’, yet Murdo, as we will learn, has a path of his own to find. Stifled by the fathers influence, the boy has a tendency to stray, thus when they reach Allentown Mississippi, Murdo stumbles upon a family of musicians led by Zydeco performer Queen Monzee-ay. Murdo is as drawn to music as his father is to family, the boy himself is an accomplished accordion player, and when he is offered an opportunity to play a set with Queen Monzee-ay in two weeks’ time, we watch as the road between father and son diverges and choice and risk becomes the key plot in the story.
While this may appear a simple story line, Kelman’s exploration into the fragmented relationship between father and son gives the reader an honest analysis of family and grief. The third person narrator, with bursts of free indirect discourse from Murdo, allows the reader both an internal and external insight into the constraints of family. This parallel leaves the reader feeling uncomfortable, yet with a conflicting heart. This is Kelman’s unique writing style at its best.
Dirt Road is more than a novel of grief and family relationships though; it is a novel of risk, of following new paths with uncertainties, about leaving behind the familiarities and safety of the past and following the heart. It is about deep connections; for Murdo this is through music and the feeling of freedom that he associates with music, whilst for the other characters it is about cultural connections and Scottish ancestry. Kelman’s clever use of parallels shows the reader the intensity of human connections whilst suggesting that change and progression is possible. This great novel will linger in your thoughts for weeks after you put it down, and it brings to mind a poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
Nasty Women, published by 404 ink, is a collection of essays about what it is, and how it feels to be a woman in the 21st century. When I first picked up the book, I assumed, like I think most readers would, that it would be an easy book to just pick up and put down whenever I had a spare ten minutes. Wrong, I was sucked into this book right from the beginning, and read it all in a day. That doesn’t mean it was an easy read, or perhaps easy is the wrong word – it isn’t a comfortable read – and it isn’t meant to be. Nasty women is hard-hitting, eye-opening, and unashamedly honest.
The book opens with ‘Independence Day’ by Katie Muriel. A story of mixed race and identity in Trump’s America, Muriel discusses her experience of inter-family racism, heightened by political differences, ‘This is not the first, nor is it the last family divide Trump will leave in his wake, but I refuse to think of him as some deity who stands around shifting pieces on a board in his golden war room.’ The anger in this piece is clear, but it is the rationalism and clarity of the writer that speaks volumes. Race, racism and xenophobia, is a prominent feature in these stories. Claire L. Heuchan, for example, talks about ‘Othering’ a term that readers will see repeatedly in this book, ‘Scotland,’ she writes, ‘is a fairly isolating place to be a black woman.’
Survival is a key trope in Nasty Women. Mel Reeve, in ‘The Nastiness of Survival,’ talks about being a survivor of rape and emotional abuse, ‘I do not fit the ‘right’ definition of someone who has been raped.’ This statement alone is filled with irony.
I was particularly drawn to Laura Waddell’s essay, ‘Against Stereotypes: Working Class Girls and Working Class Art.’ Laura talks about the difficulty of both gender and class inequality, and, in particular, the lack of working class writers and working class fiction being published, ‘I have read a lot of fiction’ she says, ‘I have read almost none from housing estates such as the one I grew up on. These stories are missing, from shelves, and from the record.’ As a Scottish fiction writer from a working-class background myself, these words resonate deeply.
Alice Tarbuck’s ‘Foraging and Feminism: Hedge-Witchcraft in the 21st Century’, is almost fun to read in a deeply devastating way. There is a desperate tone in this piece, and a desperate need to escape society. ‘There is beauty and bounty around us if we look for it, and perhaps that is all the magic we need. Or perhaps, what we need is real magic, whether that comes in the form of resistance and community or the form of blackthorn charms and skullcap tinctures, and howling to the moon.
I loved this book. This book gives women a voice. And it is loud! Well done 404 Ink, and all the contributors, for bravely breaking the silence.
We whaur raking for treasure this efternuin, Doun the back of the bing, The bit where ma Ma kin see us, Frae ower the kitchen sink. And well–
Buried doun beneath some foosty plastic bags- Fou of someone else’s ‘sexy’ Tennent’s Extra cans, We fund four wheels of a Silvercross pram.
We brought them hame and dunked them in a puddle by the kerb, The drain gunk cleaned the rust up, they whaur looking quite superb. Then Willie,
Willie wis having a muck aroond – Spinning the wheels, and ripping them Roond and roond and roond, Until the cauld muck spat Intae the plumes That our laughing made.
Oh, and then!
Willie chored a fence post frae oot the back eh Mr Bain’s While I was shottie.
‘But it was Ian that made the bogie!’
And it was the best boggie the Fruit-and-Nut scheme had ever seen. A pure dr-eeam. He made the seat frae a scullery chair, And drilled it tae a widden frame- Remember? The fence post that Willie chored frae the back eh Mr Bain’s?
Then Willie – he bagged first go.
So he pulled the boggie up the hill. Right oot the top of the street – and wow! There I wis, racing him doun the hill like Seb Co Aboot to cross the line – And claim ma gold,
When Willies orange helmet slipped – or so am told And the next thing I kent- Am lying On the kerb – Oot cold And wi a skint knee.
And Willie – Well – He wis flying oor ma heed and As you ken I was lying there – half deid But the blooming bogie – Well It didnae even ken tae stop, It smashed into the back Of Mr Law’s New – fancy – Ford –
‘But is no oor fault officer – Ian never put any breaks on it. ‘
This poem is featured in the Lies, Dreaming Podcast #11 named Treasure. Click here to hear me read this poem.
This short story was published by Fairlight books on 13th November 2017. Click here to be redirected to their site.
She pulled a bunch of ribbons from her jacket pocket, selected a red one, then squeezed it in the palm of her hand. “I wish,” she said, and closed her eyes, “I wish that today will be the day that I find you.” She took the ribbon to the large elm tree and tied it onto a low hanging branch. It flapped lazily in the breeze. From her backpack, she pulled out a folded handkerchief and unwrapped it. It held a rusty nail with a battered head, but with a newly sharpened tip. Crouching down to half her height, she traced her finger over the neatly carved lines already on the tree trunk. Nineteen lines for nineteen years, and the first, still as deep as the day her father helped her carve it. She pressed the nail into the bark, and tapped it with a large stone that she’d found by the loch. She carved line number twenty. It was still early morning and the sky was a brilliant blue. She sat cross-legged on her sleeping bag, drinking strong coffee from the lid of her flask and let her eyes trail lazily over the rugged outlines of the Trossachs. A lone osprey flew from the east and soared over the wide loch, its white belly and black-tipped wings, mirrored in the still water. “Look at the giant seagull Kim, look, look!” Kim held her breath as it dipped its wings, swooping downwards and breaking the water with its claws. “Did it steal a fish?” Blinking hard, she sighed. “Where are you Nora?” The osprey was already back in flight by the time she shook off the memory, rising to the sky, before disappearing into the forest of Scots pines on the opposite bank. All that remained was a ripple in the calm. She took the longer route to avoid the main campsite; weathered hill walkers tended to stray away from the paths and the noise of people. The terrain at the south side of Loch Chon was reasonably accessible, although rock scatterings hidden amongst the greenery at the foot of the hill could be tricky underfoot. She dug her trekking poles into the grass and took long strides, breathing in the smell of mulchy earth and sweet oily bog myrtle. It was late spring and the hills were alive with wildflowers. Smatterings of dog violets grew amongst the long grass that swished in the breeze. She paused to watch a woodman’s friend bat its tiny orange wings as it landed on the spike of a blue bugle. “Is it a moth Kim?” “I think it’s a butterfly.” The valley led down to an old stone bridge, where twenty-one years earlier, she had found a little red shoe among the reeds. The shoe was still warm, perhaps from the sun that shone on its shiny patent surface, or perhaps from the foot of her five-year-old sister Nora, who was nowhere to be seen. She climbed onto the bridge, took off her backpack, and leant over, watching the reflection of her orange cagoule flickering in the stream. “Count to fifty then come and find me.” “Fifty is too long Nora.” She bent forward and put her face into her hands. “One, two, three…” She said out loud. “Are you playing hide and seek?” Kim stood up, startled. A little girl, no more than five years old, stood beside her. Her eyes were red and her cheeks glistened with tears. She crouched down to the little girl’s height. “Nora?” “No, I’m Phoebe. Who are you?” “Oh God.” She leaned against the bridge wall for support. “Sorry Phoebe, you gave me a fright. I’m Kim, where’s your Mum and Dad?” She stood back up and looked around but there was no one else in sight. Phoebe began to cry. She held the sleeve of Kim’s cagoule while her little body shook. “I got lost,” she sobbed, “I lost my Mummy.”
“It’s okay Phoebe, don’t you worry. I can help you find her.” “Will I be in big trouble?” “No silly, you won’t be in trouble.” Kim took a tissue from her backpack and wiped Phoebe’s eyes. “Now blow your nose and we’ll find her together.” She held the tissue to the girl’s face and laughed when she blew a trumpet. “Now, which way did you come?” She asked, pulling her backpack on. Phoebe pointed her finger east and Kim figured she must have come from the campsite. It was a five-minute walk on flat land, and easy to find. “Can I take your hand?” Phoebe asked. “I’m scared.” “Sure.” She held it out and felt the tiny warm fingers grip hers. They passed through a grove of elm trees, stepping over protruding roots and clumps of moss. The temperature dipped in the shade. “How did you manage to get lost?” “I was following the big seagull.” Phoebe said. “Did you see it?” “Yeah I did. But that big bird was an osprey. They look a bit like seagulls but they’re bigger and prettier.” “Offspray,” Phoebe giggled, “Off. Spray.” “Osprey, aye.” Kim laughed. They emerged from the grove and found the man-made gravel path that led to the campsite. Kim could see a group of walkers ascending a softer hill in the distance. The odd tent was dotted around the flat ground while others clung diagonally to the side of the hill. When she saw the loch glistening at the far end of the horizon, she knew they were close. “Kim. Who were you playing hide and seek with?” “Oh. I was just pretend playing. I used to play with my sister Nora, she was five.” “I used to be five. I’m seven now,” she smiled showing a gap where her front tooth had fallen out, “How are you going to find her if you’re taking me to my Mummy?” “I’ll find her,” Kim pressed her lips together, “One day.” “But isn’t she too wee to be left alone?” “She’s lost Phoebe.” Kim took a deep breath before continuing. “She’s been lost for a long, long time. I come here sometimes just to look.” “My Grandad got lost. He was in a home. Mum said he went to heaven but I heard her telling my Auntie Kate on the phone that they lost him.” “Oh.” Kim squeezed Phoebe’s hand. “If people get lost then they can get found too, can’t they?” “I guess.” “I think they can.” She nodded her head. “My Grandad leaves me clues. Like one time when me and Mum were out walking Timmy, that’s my dog, and we found a card with a number eight and a heart on it…” “Uh-huh.” “Well, eight is the number of his old house, before he went to the home, and the heart is because he supported the Hearts.” “That’s a brilliant clue. Maybe you could be a detective when you grow up.” Kim laughed. “Aye, that’s what my Mum says.” Phoebe’s little blonde bunches looked so much like Nora’s did on the day she disappeared. “When I’m big, I could help you find your sister.” She put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows. “I’d like that.” “Good. Does Nora leave you clues like Grandad does?” “I’m not sure. I think so,” she said, “maybe I’m just too grown up to see them now.” “How can you be too grown up to see clues?” “You’re right Phoebe. Maybe I just forgot how to find them. Thank you for reminding me though.” “You’re welcome.”
“Oh my God. Phoebe. Where on earth have you been?” Kim stood by the door of the park ranger’s cabin. She smiled warmly as Phoebe’s mother ran towards them and scooped her daughter up into her arms. “I got lost Mummy. I’m sorry but I was following an off spray, it’s like a big seagull you know, and then it flew away over the big mountain and then I didn’t know how to come back. But I found Kim.” She said, pointing at Kim who nodded her head. Phoebe’s mother mouthed a thank you and pulled her daughter in for another hug. “You shouldn’t run off on your own. I’ve been worried sick.” “It’s okay Mum, I only got a wee bit lost.” “Well thank goodness you found Kim.” “I know. She was playing hide and seek with Nora when I found her, but Nora got lost. Like Grandad.” “Oh.” She lowered Phoebe to the floor and rubbed her hair. “Is your daughter lost Kim, do you need some help?” “Twenty-one years ago, I’m afraid, and she was my sister.” “I’m Kim, I’m so sorry. That must have been awful for your family.” “Yeah, it was. Mum passed away the following year and Dad never forgave himself for losing her.” “Is your Dad with you?” “Gone too. Four years ago.” Kim coughed and looked out of the window. “Sorry Kim.” “It’s okay, but thanks.” She felt her chest tighten. “I come back at the same time every year hoping to find something, you know…” “Clues.” Phoebe interrupted. “Yeah, clues.” Kim laughed. “I don’t know how to thank you for finding this little rascal.” They both looked at Phoebe who stood with her tongue out. “I’m Sandra.” Kim took Sandra’s outstretched hand and shook it. “Nice to meet you. She’s a good kid.” “I’m so glad you found her, she tends to wander. I only nipped to the toilet, she must have run off.” “Well, no harm done.” Kim smiled. “And it was Phoebe who found me, honestly. In fact, I think she might even have been sent as a clue.” She winked at Phoebe who clapped her hands in delight. “Can I get you a coffee or something?” Sandra asked. “or a hot chocolate?” “No thanks,” She said. “I need to get on, I’ve a bit of walking to do and I’m heading home tonight.” “Please Kim.” Phoebe took her hand and pressed her face against it. “Not just now,” She whispered, “I need to go looking for clues.” “Oh aye,” she whispered back, “I hope you find some good ones.” “Me too. Hey, maybe you could both come around to my tent after dinner. I’ll let you make a wish on my faerie tree.” “You have a faerie tree?” Phoebe’s eyes opened wide. “Do faeries live in it?” “Yes, they do. Now, do you have a ribbon?” “Have I got a ribbon Mummy?” “Erm, I don’t think so.” Sandra said. “Don’t worry, you can have one of mine.” Kim smiled. “I’ll come by here at six.” She patted Phoebe on the head. “See you later detective.”
She climbed down the rocks blow the stone bridge. Gripping onto a dangling root, she lowered herself onto the pebbled bank and walked into the cold shadow of the bridge. “Watch out for creepy crawlies.” She ducked her head. The water echoed around her like whispers and she hunched her shoulders to her ears. She found the line she’d etched into a large rock the previous year and set down her backpack. Using the ends of her trekking poles, she flicked pebbles one by one into the water. After each plop, her eyes scanned the ground – searching. She got to her knees, cupping the stones in her hands, sifting through them with her thumbs, before throwing them into the stream. “Where are you?” She dug her fingers into sand and mud, scooping up wet clumps, and throwing them to the side. “There must be something.” She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her jacket. Just then, she saw the surface of a rounded piece of glass partially hidden in the dug-out hole. She pushed her finger into the mud and edged it out slowly, discovering a glass marble, cold, and smooth with green and yellow swirls through the centre. She washed the dirt off in the stream then rolled it around in the palm of her hand. Was it Nora’s? “Come on Kim, play with me.” She squeezed her eyes shut, searching her mind. Nora tugged her sleeve, blue eyes staring hopefully. Her pink freckled cheeks dimpled as she smiled. A smile that stretched over decades in Kim’s memory. The red velvet dress with white trim was as clear as the photograph in her purse. Shiny red patent shoes. “Count to fifty and don’t peek.” “One, two…” Did Nora play with marbles? “Three, four…” I can’t remember. “Five, six, seven…” “Damn it!” She threw the marble into the stream and it barely made a splash.
The sun had begun to dip behind the mountains by the time Kim had led Sandra and Phoebe to her pitch. They stood beside the slow burning wood fire and Kim looked over the loch. It lay flat and still, reflecting sky and mountains and creating the illusion of endlessness. “It’s like the sky is upside down.” Phoebe pointed. “I think it looks like the edge of forever,” Kim said, “like you could walk right inside the belly of the world.” “Forever-land.” Phoebe said. “Like Peter Pan.” “That’s Never-Never land.” Kim laughed. “It’s pretty though, isn’t it?” Sandra said and put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder. Phoebe nodded. “This is the best time for wishes.” Kim said, “It’s when the faeries come out to play. Come on.” They walked up the stony bank. The oak tree stood alone on the grassy hill at the rear of Kim’s tent; its wide trunk topped by a full head of leafy branches. “Where are the faeries?” Phoebe asked as she stepped into the shadow below the tree. “You can’t see them, but listen.” They huddled together, listening to the tree branches creak, and the leaves rustling gently. “They whisper to one another,” Kim continued, “Can you hear them?” “I think so.” Phoebe put her ear to the tree trunk. “What are they saying?” “They’re waiting for your wish.” Sandra said. “That’s right.” Kim smiled and took two pink ribbons from her pocket. She pulled down a long thin branch to Phoebe’s height, then held it while Sandra helped her daughter tie the first ribbon. “Don’t let it go yet.” Kim said as she fastened her own ribbon to the branch. “Now make a wish.” “You first.” “Okay.” Kim took a deep breath. “I wish that one day I’ll find a great big clue that’ll help me find my Nora.” “I wish,” Phoebe squeezed her eyes tight shut, “that my Grandad will look after her until you find her.” Together they let go of their ribbons and watched as they flapped freely in the breeze.
This is my family, or part of it. That’s me on the left in my pink and white gingham dress, smiling because I don’t care that the elastic around the sleeve irritates my arms and the neckline strangles me. My socks are brilliant white, the proper wool ones that you steep in a sink of boiling water for hours until a thick film of soap powder floats in clumps on the surface. John has matching socks. He’s my little brother, he is three years old in this picture making me six. John doesn’t look as happy as I do, perhaps because Mum cut the sleeves of his favourite red jumper and made it into a t-shirt; he cried for hours afterwards. John and I are both wearing shiny patent leather shoes, good ones from Clarks. We often went there to get our feet measured. They put your foot into a strange wooden contraption and then the shop person slid a bar down the front of it until it touched your toes, it always tickled. Right in the middle of us is my Mum, she looks happy. Mum must be thirty-one years old in this picture; I don’t remember her being this young though. Look at how tanned we are. You can almost see the white line at the top of John’s arm were the sun couldn’t quite reach. The little dog to the left of me is Prince or at least I think so, it might be Ben, my Auntie Annie’s dog. We had a dog called Prince but Dad gave him to the local police man. I’m not even sure why he gave him away, I think I was sad about it but I don’t remember.
The sky looks grey above our heads but this is an old picture and the summer had been wonderful. I was on my first long holiday from school and Mum took us to King George V Park. We’d been visiting Granny who lived behind the park. We’d have come in from the back gates. I know this because we are far away from the church tower; you can see it above Mum’s head looking like a giant green pencil. It’s the parish church, built in 1845 and the cornerstone of Bonnyrigg; this is where I went to Sunday school. The big old chimney at the far left belonged to a coal mine, it’s gone now. I can still remember the smell of the smoke. They stacked the coal up in huge black pyramids in the yard.
My big sister Marion is missing from this picture, Marion would have been ten. Going by low the angle that the picture is taken from, my sister may have been the photographer.
We all look happy. Except John that is. John is biting his nails. Maybe because Mum is about to feed his chocolate bar to the dog. Maybe because Dad isn’t there. This is likely why Mum isn’t wearing her wedding ring and looks full of life. For me? I’m smiling because I have two adhesive tattoos on my arm, a tiny glimpse of the person I was to become.