Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Death and life

Garden view, early May


Some wandering thoughts today. Thinking is a luxury, I don't ever forget that.

So, a little while ago I followed a Facebook link and read a quote from former UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. It was in this article and it was: "It sounds a slightly self-aggrandising thing to say, but I've always thought that death was my subject. You don't find your subject, it finds you." I didn't put a comment on the fb post but I did think "what a daft thing to say... isn't almost every poet's subject death on some level or in some way? Life and death... they are in most things that people write, aren't they?" I know I'm not the first person to say or think this but, as I said, I didn't post it. It's quite an old article and I've read Motion's Larkin biography but I couldn't tell you one of his poems. And I didn't want to get involved in an argument on Facebook... certainly not one about poetry (they can be ferocious...).

But again this week death is around (in the UK) in a big, big way. It is always here of course... it is always everywhere in doses big and small... but sometimes it is more prominent in the public mind (for obvious reasons). There is shock in the air. There is a general sadness and disbelief and confusion. People are making pronouncements, there is 'heightened security'... there will be many more funerals and photos of lovely young people (so many girls) and, for those of us who didn't know any of them personally, it will be more distant heartache... the same that we feel for kidnapped girls in Nigeria, for bomb-victims in Syria, for people who drown in the Mediterranean as they seek safety and something resembling a 'normal life'.

Even before Manchester there was much talk of suffering online already. I couldn't face watching the drama 'Three Girls' that's been on TV here this week. Maybe I'll watch it another time. I read an article about it and watched something (a fictional drama) with a similar theme not long ago ('Ellen' on C4) and still have that strong in my mind's eye. It is unquestionably good that people fight for the safety of our young people and children – wherever the threats come from (individuals, gangs, institutions, governments). It is a hard, hard task and one probably without end.

I did, however, watch 'A Time to Live' (about people with terminal illnesses). Someone we know was one of the subjects (Fi Munro - she blogs here). It's certainly worth a watch - very emotional, quite thought-provoking. We will all face it somehow, in some way, if we haven't already. We will help others through it too, maybe many times.

We also watched 'Schindler's List' this weekend. Someone in the house is going to Poland soon (school trip, Auschwitz, Schindler factory...) so it was part of the preparation. Again a huge subject, too much to comment on here.

And then reading matters... I recently read 'The Outrun' by Amy Liptrot (2016) - a book about escaping death (or a lost life) in some ways. Liptrot and I have quite a bit in common (except she's younger, slightly different taste in previous self-harming behaviour, far more publishing success, better bird knowledge... OK, maybe not that much in common...). I found the London sections a bit too much like déjà vu but the Orkney sections are gorgeous and her honesty kind of beats you with its brilliance. It's a good book, Canongate know what they are doing. Faber and Faber used to be my dream publisher but I've chucked them now and instead send my imaginary love letters to Canongate every once in a while. I doubt this love will ever be returned. Never mind. I'll survive.

I've also been reading 'How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher' (2005) by Simon Barnes. I enjoy the bits about birds but overall I definitely prefer his later 'How to Be Wild' (2007). I might write more about that another time. Maybe.

And our garden is full of birds (another luxury... or two luxuries...). It is Mark who feeds them (I feed him... it's a circle of life...) but I think that soon we will be ready for wildlife reserve status (and broke from buying all the nuts...). All the above makes for the following poem, it would seem (and yes, I do keep tweaking it…). It's new today so not in my new book but that is most definitely still available. It's only been out a week but I feel about a decade older already. Or maybe that’s everything else…



No protection

Little chicks,
It’s not easy.
Squeezed in,
Pushed out.
Traps are set.
Snip snap.

They skip,
Trip, sing,
To the top
Of a tree.
Too high sometimes,
Too high.





RF 2017




Monday, 15 May 2017

New book - now available




Today is the official release date of my new collection of poems ‘Turn’. You can now buy it from my (new, improved) website and a few local stockists (current ones listed on the site with more to come). This collection is what poets tend to call a ‘pamphlet’ (a softer-backed, slimmer version of a book) but this seems to confuse non-poets of my acquaintance who look at me like I’m daft and say it’s a ‘booklet’ or just a book (and what am I going on about). I suppose (being more Scottish by the day) I think of it as my ‘wee book’ (as opposed to the last one which was my ‘first book’). This one is quite different to the last one (I think) but I won't say any more than that because commenting on your own work is... difficult (and I said enough about that in the last post). 

And now for some thanks:

Mark Stephenson – for his help throughout, for endless margin tweaking and website rebuilding and constant support and patience.

Steph Masterson – for use of her fantastic artwork ‘Arbor’ for the front cover of Turn’ . Steph’s art career has been hampered greatly by long-term illness but for me she always has just the right image (her work ‘Soundwave’ was on the cover of my first book). Huge thanks Steph!

Early readers – you know who you are… people who said ‘put this in’, ‘why is this here?’ and ‘you are mixing primes with typographer’s quotes for apostrophes and quote marks’. I really appreciate all your time and thoughts and efforts.

Big SkyPrint – for being so professional and helpful and efficient. 


So please feel free to order your copy (or copies) now (see ‘Books’ page). As you will see there is a ‘Reviews’ page on the new-look site – at present it is just reviews of my previous book so it would be great to have some comments about ‘Turn’ (from print or online) to add to it at some point. Anyone who wants a review copy please contact me here or via the site – I’m not sending out many review/promo copies on spec (not in the budget) but I am open to interesting offers.


Many thanks also to regular readers for all your support and encouragement and thanks to any passers-by for reading.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Scratching stones



So, I’ve been mentioning off and on that a new book of my poems is in the offing. Well, it’s now so close that I can almost touch it… in fact I can touch the final, it-all-looks-right-now proof copies because they arrived today. I’m a bit excited.

It’s a smaller book than last time’s ‘More about the song’ (2008) - this one is more a poetry pamphlet (or booklet or even chapbook if you prefer). I will be posting full details about sales in a week or so. Please contain your excitement.

I don’t post much in the way of long rambles on this blog (that was more the old blog style… back in the noughties…) but I might ramble a bit just now about why I’m publishing again at this particular time. The thoughts might be of interest to someone (and if not click away now).


Firstly, it went OK last time. As I said it’s been nearly ten years since my last publication and in that time I’ve never regretted putting out that first collection. It didn’t exactly knock the world off its axis but that might have been uncomfortable anyway. Overall it felt good, some people liked it and I only ever read one bad review (maybe there were others… best not to know by this point). I flick through it now and I still love the cover, still approve of all my poetic choices (even the questionable ones… maybe especially them…), still feel more proud than embarrassed or horrified. There are poems that I think still have good lives left in them. By now it almost feels like someone else wrote them… and in some ways that is true. I think we are different people at different points in our lives – maybe not everyone feels like that, maybe it’s an instability on my part (or maybe a flexibility…). I’m glad though, either way, as I wouldn’t want to stay the same. I like change. This time I’ve even used punctuation.


Partly I put this new collection together because I have a good number of newer poems that feel like they need a place to be – a place out in the open air, as it were (not just cooped up in computers). The recent poem phase started when my Mum died in 2010, took a bit of a break 2011-2016 (quite a break!) and then started up again (with a vengeance) early last year. For me writing poems does go in phases, I certainly don’t write them every day or all of the time. I write them, I suppose, when feelings run high (and high can be up or down) or when I have time (and nothing else getting in the way) or just when I feel I have to or I will explode. The subject matter for this collection includes life and death (of course… isn’t almost all poetry about those?), political feeling, the outdoors, love/hate, loss, getting older, dealing with change. So same as ever, same as most poetry… so why do it?


I still feel this (poetry) is a thing that I do. It’s not the only thing I do. These days I earn money  from student support (proofreading and such like, no sniggering, I get good feedback...) and I potter about with this and that, try to be a good person and don’t have any great ambitions in most directions but, despite a lack of great accolades or publishing advances, I still feel this is something I should/must/will do. I both don’t care what other people think of the poems and, at the same time, care a huge amount. When someone I respect says a poem is good (that does happen) I feel ridiculously happy and proud. It passes of course… stuff needs doing, things go wrong, the news from elsewhere is shocking… but still, it is a high I won’t give up on just yet. And the lows (that often, but not always, are an equal possibility)... well, you can’t spend your whole life worrying about those now can you?


If you read this blog regularly you will have read many of the poems in this book already. I hope some people like them enough to want to own a copy printed out on (recycled) paper or to buy a copy to send to a friend. The cover, once again, is brilliant (clever artist friend…). The title is also the title of the poem I wrote when English MP Jo Cox was killed last year. I once read that you should name your collection after the best poem in it and ‘Turn’ has certainly had some very positive responses when I’ve read it out in public or posted it online. Maybe people need something to respond to as the event of her murder was so awful and it’s that, as much as the poem itself, that is powerful. I have yet to read any other poems about that day or about Jo but maybe they are around (or yet to come). There is a strong campaign group working to keep her memory and political will alive.


I’ve dedicated this new book to my Mum (now almost exactly 7 years gone). She really preferred novels… or biography… or even biographies about novelists… but I haven’t managed any of those yet so this will have to do. She was a very supportive parent and person so I’m sure she’d understand. When I put my first collection out I heard her telling people that I had ‘found my voice in poetry’. That was very sweet, very her. I’ve been a fairly gobby person for much of my life so I’m sure at least some people rolled their eyes at that phrase and thought what a softie she was for putting up with all my (what some Scots would call) pish. And she was maybe… but she knew what she was about. She was a tough softie because single parents can’t really be anything else (and survive, and parent well). She’d had a very challenging life and she chose to be positive about things. Most of my favourite people are like that.


Finally, I am 50 now. It is a milestone kind of an age and I feel I need to mark it, at least a little. I haven’t been on a big fancy holiday or had a raucous party or anything. Instead I’ve chosen to mark it (to myself as much as anything) with words on pages. 



There are probably other reasons as well as the above but that is more than enough for now. See you soon with all the details and thanks for reading. x

p.s. the photo was taken at Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney in April this year. I don't know the artist's name... they just left this present on a stone. Thank-you artist.