Monday, 20 November 2017


A garden turbine on the edge of Dundee...

An old friend of mine is crowdfunding for her new EP. Her name is Ana Laan and all the information about the EP and options to pledge/buy are here. You can hear the title track 'Camino del Agua' here (spoiler - it's lovely!). The title track is in Spanish but Ana sings in English too (and French and Swedish...). Support her if you can...

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Dead inside

Living blues

Stop all the rot, put down the blessed phone,
A dog will eat itself if you leave it too alone,
The radio has dropped to a heartless hum,
We know all the news that is still to come.

The sky was on fire and it’s in my head,
The memories hot as they freeze the dead,
The funeral lasts like the longest love,
My eyes look down, hell burns high above.

I have no direction, or home, or rest,
There’s a rattling thing inside my chest,
I know I once could sing a song;
I thought that music stayed forever: that was wrong.

The stars are way too far, they can help no-one,
Not the dead inside, not our dying sun;
Hear my broken voice, scratch my name in wood.
I feel like nothing, for nothing is good.

RF 2017 (with obvious debt to W.H.Auden)

I usually like to start posts on here with a photo... but I can't think of a suitable one for this kind of piece. This post is just a poem and that poem the product of watching this news interview with a Grenfell survivor yesterday and then watching, later the same day, a documentary about the poet W.H.Auden (1907-1973). The documentary featured his well-known poem 'Funeral Blues' ('Stop all the clocks...') and so this afternoon I found myself reworking it with the Grenfell interview (and mental health matters in general, I suppose) in mind – they are never far from my mind to be honest, and are much in the news too just now. There are many reasons this Auden poem is significant in many of our lives (whether we like it or not) and its fabulous rhyme and rhythm have a lot to do with it (though there is the film/movie issue too of course... I am not a rom-com fan but I know someone who is...). When I watched the interview online yesterday I wanted to send my friend (who is a very good counsellor) down to the woman immediately... but of course my friend is very busy, as all good counsellors are, because they are so in demand. Our societies are broken in so many places that we struggle to manage day-to-day lives, never mind huge, terrible occurrences like the Grenfell fire.

p.s. I suppose some people won't approve of me reworking a 'classic' but I like this kind of thing (I'm quite partial to Benjamin Zephaniah's 'What If' reworking of Kipling's 'If', for example). And it works in music (you can like an original track and a cover version or a track that uses a sample of that original... see Chic and 'Rapper's Delight'). Not that I'm saying it's in that kind of category. Anyway...

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Dark Times

New music alert! MarKived (a very local producer...) has a new EP out today called 'Dark Times'. You can hear the 3 tracks on Bandcamp (over here) and, for those of you who haven't used that site, you can listen to each track 3 times for free and then it prompts you to buy if you want to listen any more than that. The first track on the EP is called 'Dark Times' and features actor Joseph Millson as Lord Byron reading the poem 'Darkness'. It's all brilliant, of course.

Now, I'm back off to Instagram to read hashtags (not really... but some of those lists are soooooo long!).

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

National Poetry Day - part 2

Poetry textbook from my schooldays
First published 1960, my edition 1981

Maybe the last post was a bit of a stress-fest. I think I am less and less keen on celebrations (Xmas=you must be happy, birthdays=ditto, National Poetry Day=you must overflow with love for poetry etc.) and they have the effect of sending me in the opposite direction (and there was a lot of National Poetry Day coverage in the media here this year...). I am a bit contrary, perhaps. This is not news.

But a couple of things cheered me up a bit (poetically/celebrationally speaking) so I wanted to mention those too. One was a TV show from the Hull 'Contains Strong Language' festival featuring a couple of poems I really got lost in (one by Zena Edwards, the other by Bohdan Piasecki). One of the things that unsettles me, I suppose, is how much poetry I really don't like (old and new). I feel like maybe I'm really in the wrong boat when these sensations rule the waves so it's always a great relief to encounter a poem or two that hit that 'oh, yes, I love this, do it again' button.

And then also, the day after National Poetry Day, poet Benjamin Zephaniah was a guest on the Lauren Laverne radio show on BBC 6 Music (the show is here for a little while longer, he's on in the last hour). He talked about poetry in pretty much the opposite way to the Don Paterson radio series I listened to all last week (which was great, very interesting, but depressing here and there for various reasons... see last post). Lovely, calming, positive, magnificent human that he is, Zephaniah said:

"If you are suffering, if you are going through change in your life, if you are confused, if you are feeling pain, that's the stuff of great poetry... especially when it comes to the kind of poetry I'm interested in, it really doesn't matter much about form as such... can you speak to me?"


"It's just words we use every day. Everybody... you all... can have poetic thoughts every day... and sometimes you forget them, you let them go... all we are doing is capturing them and remembering them and writing them down."

I'm not saying either one of them is right in their approach really (Paterson's perfect form or Zephaniah's more open book...) and in fact I enjoy listening to them both talk (I'm such a liberal...). I think maybe that, as a writer who sometimes feels kind of on the edge of everything, I need them both to keep me moving in any kind of direction. 

On the second day after National Poetry Day I listened to the last programme in the Paterson series (on Robert Frost's 'Design'). Frost was a poet I studied at school in the early 1980s (poems in the book pictured above - though 'Design' not one of them) and Paterson covers things like the (now pretty well-known) great misreading of 'The Road Not Taken' (or is it...? I suspect Frost changed his own mind from day to day). I felt less battered by the end of the series (I guess surviving the Plath episode* was a help) and ready to keep trying, here and there, to be the best writer I can be, whatever that is. Small steps, everybody, small steps...

*You can still hear my old Plath/Hughes/Larkin go raving poem 'Set text fever' here or read it here

Friday, 29 September 2017

National Poetry Day - diary of sorts and thoughts

Early light picture from last week, playing around on Instagram

One of my favourite pieces of writing this year has been a writing diary from Scottish author Denise Mina. She read it aloud on a radio programme a few months back and it was honest and funny and I suppose that is one of my favourite kinds of writing. I have a simple relationship with comedy (and with music...) because I just love them, so much of them. I suppose this is partly because I have adored them both from a very young age but also partly because I have never tried to do either of them in any kind of serious way (put something out in the world and say 'I am a musician' or 'I am a comedian'). Poetry, though, is another matter.

And yesterday, here, it was National Poetry Day so I thought I'd have a go at one of those diary-type things (with some poetry-related content). I used to write a lot more like this on the old blog (ah, the golden days of blog... when you'd get up to 50 comments on a post... how did we read them all... etc.) but I haven't done one for a while. So here's yesterday... though the times are only approximate (I put them in after...).

9.00am. It's one of those waiting-for-work days for me (the paid work, not the poetry). When it does come it just arrives by email (some days loads, many days nothing) but today nothing comes (so more time for poetry matters). It’s a good job we don’t rely on my salary to survive.

9.10am. I look at Twitter and see all the National Poetry Day links etc. (along with all the stuff about Hefner... which just reminds me of Watson and Oliver's great bunny sketch... their series is on Netflix these days... go and find it if you can, daughter and I quote several of their sketches regularly). For a couple of years (see back here) I organised a local event to mark National Poetry Day and it was always in October back then so it feels weird to have it in September this year (though here in Scotland it makes sense… it’s school holidays in early October and why should they escape the freedom – this year's theme – of organised words). I write a tiny poem about this calendar issue, post it to Twitter, get a very small response. I am not in a loop, no celebrities retweet me or anything like that, so it's a fairly unsatisfying and quite possibly pointless endeavour. It’s a good job we don’t rely on my poetry (or social media success) to survive.

9.30am. I watch a video from one of the links on Twitter. It features Sarah Crossan, whose book ‘One’ we won as a prize at a books quiz in the summer (Dundee Waterstones, monthly, it was summer, not much competition...). She writes verse novels (‘One’ is one). I really enjoyed ‘One’ (though I'm starting to feel like the queen with all these ones...) – it may be marketed at teens but (a) yes, I am at least part teenager and (b) it’s bigger than that. I’ve never been one for dividing lines anyway. And it’s a good job we don’t rely on my career in marketing to survive (my first proper job was in an advertising agency… in the late ’80s and I didn’t last long... in fact I just left one lunchtime, never went back... well, I had to return the company car at some point... but apart from that). Anyway...

10.00am. I listen to the third part of Don Paterson’s radio series ‘Five poems I wish I had written’ – the one about Michael Donaghy (it’s Wednesday’s). This is the first one (that I've listened to so far...) where I can agree with him about the poem and that might well be because the poem is, at least in part, about music (the poem is ‘The Hunter’s Purse’). Tuesday’s (about Elizabeth Bishop's 'Large Bad Picture') is a great listen, whatever you think of the poem. It packed some punches though and whilst up till then I had not been feeling too bad about my own recent poetic output (I had written two ‘proper’ poems in the past couple of weeks, not shown them to anyone yet but felt I was back on that track a little after nothing but unloved Twitter 4 liners over the summer) this programme knocked me right back down off that artificial high. I am totally crap (and needy) and don’t know the most basic things about form and rhythm and it’s no wonder I am moaning in obscurity most of the time. It’s a good job we don’t rely on my positive outlook to survive.

10.15am. I wonder about the idea of ‘poems I wish I had written’. I’m not sure I think about poetry in that way at all, certainly nothing really comes to mind (what would you say if Radio 3 came knocking..?). I could think of about 100 people whose singing voice I covet… and maybe some songs I wish I’d written… though no, even there I can’t say that’s the way it feels (I can love something, but that doesn't mean I wish I'd made it...). What I can say is that we were looking through the old youtube channel the other day (for admin reasons) and Mark and I both really enjoyed hearing the videos we posted in 2008 of Hugh McMillan (live… in Edinburgh…). I especially loved hearing ‘Three Letters to McMhaolain Mor’ again (‘my heart bleeds in this Travelodge’). I don’t wish I’d written it (how could I have done… it’s Hugh’s history background coupled with his experience of life in some particularly modern-day trenches – schools and pubs and buses – that makes this ring so true and be charming and painful all at the same time). I have non-poetry friends (one in particular) who says poetry only works for them when they hear it (aloud, with or without music) and, although I do read poetry quietly, sitting still, I do also understand the need for hearing (when it comes to enjoying/understanding/wanting to repeat the experience certainly). In the poetry world there is less and less of a divide between 'page' and 'performance' (so I hear, so I read…) and that is a good thing, I think. There are good poems right across that spectrum (there always have been) and many of the best poems (for my taste) can be inhaled either way. After this I watch a video of BBC Scotland’s poet in residence Stuart A Paterson giving a lesson in Scots weather terms (he is a long-term friend of Hugh McMillan, I think). Twenty years ago I wouldn't have known any of the words but now I know about half of them (and will go through and pause with Scots dictionary/friend to get the rest later). That’s a poem I certainly couldn’t have written! It’s a good job we don’t rely on my career in Scots poetry writing to survive.

12.30pm. I do some Mum things…take girl here, go to the supermarket. No one in there is talking about National Poetry Day or seems to be worrying about rhythm patterns. It’s a beautiful sunny day and everyone is trying to get out of there as soon as possible. I worked in shops quite a lot in previous stages of life and the money is so crap but it’s bearable as jobs go. I don’t have a great record when it comes to jobs and making money (but I have a great CV… ). It's a good job we don't rely on my ability to earn money in any kind of regular way to survive.

1.30pm. Essential jobs done I think I should make a National Poetry Day effort so I grab a poetry book (the first that comes to hand - an anthology) and sit in the sun for a brief stretch (as long as a cup of tea). It’s too hot for the dog so she whinges at me and the neighbours seem to have the loudest lawnmower ever made (it’s probably old... as they are). I can’t say anything really grabs me from the book… but that might be the dog, the (very hot) sun and the fact that I’m going out this evening and possibly to a place where people will be sitting quietly in rows (this always makes me anxious). I am much more a cabaret-atmosphere kind of person… in every possible way. It’s a good job we don’t rely on my career as an airline passenger or jury member to survive. And yes, I know you don’t get paid for either of those…. Well, not often.

7.00pm. It turns out that I have tickets for a poetry event in Dundee tonight – a total coincidence as I bought them ages ago before I knew that the national day of poeting had moved closer to the sun. This event features Rachel McCrum and Caroline Bird and I don’t know either of the poets’ work but I have seen them bigged up online by people whose work I do know (and like) so I'm quite keen. It’s a long time since I went to a poetry reading of any kind I realise (other than my own). I used to go to quite a few (particularly at the StAnza festival in St Andrews – I used to go there every year) but in recent times it just hasn’t happened (partly to do with where we live but a lot to do with my weirdness about sitting quietly in an rowed audience). I find the awkwardness of some types of readings really difficult so was disappointed to get to the venue tonight and discover it was my least favourite kind of place (no exit at the back, only one way in and out and that right in front of the whole audience and stage...). It’s hard to explain if you’re not a person who feels this kind of specific anxiety about places but believe me, it does rather spoil your concentration… especially if you can’t have a calming alcoholic beverage because you are going to be driving a car at some point later. I decided to ask for help (always one of the hardest parts...) and luckily the organisers were lovely and didn’t think me at all mad (well, they didn’t say so anyway) and found me a bolthole where I could see but not feel awkward (and no, I'm not going to describe it…). So I did see the show and it started with music from Roseanne Reid (tiny enigmatic songs, liked them a lot) followed by poet Rachel McCrum. She did a few poems about boats and a lot about women (her new book, her first I think, is called ‘The First Blast to Awaken Degenerate Women’) but, though I did find these interesting (facts about Marie Stopes, for example, plenty to go back and read…and in fact the poem that includes them is online here, though it's quite far down the page), the mood I was in (odd, career identity crisis, locked in anxiety bolthole… and not for any lack of feminist tough thinking over the years…) meant I was drawn more to a poem about unusual stars (‘Runaways’). I didn't buy a book but I am thinking I might; there was a lot to take in. After a little break poet Caroline Bird (now on her 5th book apparently, though she started very young) took us to places I really wasn’t expecting (her experiences of drugs and mental health, albeit with a surrealist twist... although if you’ve lived though any of it… which of course I have… you don’t really need the twist). She was very engaging (a bit bouncey, getting herself gradually more and more into the audience…) and if I hadn’t been in an anxiety bolthole (with my poor, long suffering daughter… ‘what weird place are you taking me today, Mummy?’) I would have stayed for the whole thing. But we had quite a trip back, and there’s school tomorrow and Mummy can tell you plenty of stories about that kind of thing on the way home (she is pretty much an adult now...). I have no line here about careers and surviving. I have run out of steam about that.

9.00pm. And then the train… and the car… and the chips (I have an old poem about having chips on the way back from a poetry reciting competition when I was a little girl... I guess this is our version of that in some kind of dragged-out mirror image). And on the radio (I love radio!) it was still National Poetry Day and there was a young guy called Isaiah Hull on the Jo Whiley show on Radio 2. We didn’t catch the beginning of the poem but the bit I heard sounded warm and young and hopeful. Ah, it's a good job we don't rely on my career in misguided nostalgia to survive...

Thanks, as ever, for reading. x

Monday, 18 September 2017

A is for apple

I've gone a bit apple-mad. The ex-psychiatric hospital nearby has an orchard full of apples (and I mean full!) but of course it is an ex-hospital so the grounds are pretty much places in waiting... and so the apples are too. For the last few years that orchard has worn a carpet of apples for much of the fall season and it's pretty sad, I think, when food costs so much and we all seem to talk about healthy eating all the time. We went and picked a bag full yesterday (we all have permission, I emailed the current landowners to check... ) and I am telling everyone I can think of to try to keep the rotting to a minimum. I suppose this is partly because I was brought up by a mother who'd lived through WW2 and so I hate food waste (though I think most of us do really). There are issues of course... some of the trees are very tall and quite old... and everyone is busy... but I'm hopeful.

And lo, an apple poem (title connected to my late arrival at Instagram... I like to try most things... just not always at the same time as everyone else...). 


Dream, if you must, of apples.
Check the ground first,
Flatten nettles,
Clear the rotten windfall.

Then head up high
To the happy bounty,
Ripe clumps of life,
Calling out to be pie.

There’s no finer sight;
Than apples above,
The pound in your heart,
A red and green beat.

Preserve if you can,
Keep the taste fresh,
Make the good cake,
And save the picture.

RF 2017

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


I saw Chris Wood play live in Glasgow in January 2016 and can't recommend his live shows enough (he's touring this year too - see here). The song above was written about his daughter leaving for college or some such... but even if that isn't a situation you know it is still a beautiful song about love.  He has some very political songs too - all the usual weapons of a good folk singer - and he plays and sings really well. Proper makes your heart sing, he does. 

Friday, 1 September 2017


Picture of the girls of the house

Still not much writing business to report here. Mostly I've been hanging out with these two. Well, look at them ‒ wouldn't you? I don't often post photos of the daughter on here but it's a lovely one and I thought you might like it (it's not staged). Some regular readers will feel like you know her I am sure (internet family and all that). 

There is some almost writing news though as I will be heading to the Auchmithie Arts Festival on 9th and 10th September (11-5 on Saturday, 12-5 on Sunday). The artist who did the cover artwork for both my books (Steph Masterson) is opening her house as part of the festival (along with her artist husband Scott Henriksen). There isn't a website for the festival but there is facebook page for it. I will be selling books at Steph's (venue 5) and generally hanging around. It is always a lovely day out (16 art venues, tearoom in the village hall, beautiful setting).

I've not even been writing the little Twitter poems recently (that has been this summer's, post-pamphlet poetic activity). Then today a little one arrived (here) probably because I've had contact with quite a few old friends this summer. It's such a strange business (lovely in the main part but strange for all the memories it stirs up). I tend to have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude around this kind of thing ‒ I just feel so pleased (and amazed in some cases) that we've made it this far. Is it a poet thing to be so obsessed with the possibility and probability of death? Or a child of a suicide thing? Or just a human thing? Or is it just because I read the news (more than some, not as much as others)? Or because this was one of my favourite songs in childhood (it came out the year my Dad died, as it happens...)?

Anyway, after a busy week I had a little quiet time this morning and listened to Robert Webb's much-publicised 'How Not to Be a Boy' (Book of the Week on the radio). It is sometimes frustrating for non-celebrity writers when famous people's books get a lot of hype but this one is published by Canongate (Scottish, love them...) and I did really enjoy his reading (though bits are super sad ‒ more death of course...). There were some pretty perfect sentences in amongst it all. I especially liked his description of his academic position at the age of about 11 ("the disappointing end of clever or the hopeful side of dim") and this sentiment from (I think) the last of the 5 episodes "those of us who are loved have no excuse". I read a lot of work by and/or about people who weren't loved much early in life and think about this kind of thing a great deal (for one reason or another). And his is an interesting addition to such thoughts... and it could easily have been part of a poem (Larkin maybe). Poetry is everywhere... whether you want it or not!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Treading water...

River Tay at Dundee, 5th August 2017

I haven't done a lot of posting here over the summer. This isn't due to a big holiday away or anything (quite the opposite). Things have been pretty quiet... and this is always an odd sensation when (it feels like) everyone else is dashing off and doing exciting things. Of course not everyone is... it just feels that way. Some people, quite the contrary, are dealing with terrible things and would love some of this kind of peace and quiet (London's Grenfell survivors, for example, or people fleeing their homes and risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe... it's less in the news but it's still very much happening). On Grenfell, I watched this clip the other day containing interviews with a survivor (well worth watching, though very sad on many levels). 

For me there's not been a lot of my paid work coming through (I am on a zero hours kind of a thing...) so I've been lying low and reading more than writing. I suppose I'm in a post-book-publication-confusion phase (or something) and so I'm following the minds of others to get me out the other side (oh, and watching a bit of TV... 'Handmaid's Tale', 'Fargo', 'OITNB'... and others). But, as for books, after Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends (reviewed on here a few posts ago) I moved on to Dave Eggers' The Circle (2013) and then Sarah Waters' The Night Watch (2006)  both excellent in very different ways (and I still read paper books  tried the electronic kind once... and once only). Also daughter and I have been reading Jane Eyre. I've read it once before but daughter likes to read aloud and so I haven't been able to speedread/skim/think-about-something-else-whilst-moving-eyes-over-the-page this time. I hadn't realised it contained so many long descriptive passages when I read it on my own... 

It's been quite quiet on the music front here too... we've booked tickets for Rhiannon Giddens for later in the year (hooray!) but in the meantime here is a video from local singer/songwriter/musician Rhona Macfarlane. I took delivery of a couple of hard copies of the CD of her new EP 'The Tide' recently and you can listen/buy the other kind of copies here. The beach in this video is local to here (Lunan Bay). Rhona is very talented and at that exciting beginning-of-adult-life phase. I look forward to following her career... from a comfortable chair... and in increasingly comfortable shoes... Enjoy.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Be brave...

Up the road, last week

I have mentioned Kim Edgar's latest album 'Stories Untold' on here before. Below is a lovely video to accompany her song 'Tightrope' and here is info from her newsletter on the project:

"Louise Mather recently filmed a music video for my song, "Tightrope", which is about having the courage to say how you are feeling. We even used a drone! I’m so pleased that members of Freedom Of Mind Choir (which I lead for FDAMH, Falkirk’s Mental Health Association) agreed to feature in the video, which I’m hoping will help to raise awareness (and funds) for the organisation and the work they do to support people and families experiencing the impact of mental illness."

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Radio! Radio!

Just down the road, yesterday

I had a lovely surprise this weekend when my new wee book got a mention on my favourite radio show (Sunday mornings with Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music). You can listen to this particular episode of the show on the BBC i-player for the next month or so (here and the bit in question is about 2 h 10 mins in) but the show is on every Sunday (10am-1pm) and it's always packed full of great music and interesting interviews. This week's episode has a really interesting segment on young poets earlier in the show too, including a great piece read live (that's at about 1 h 15 mins). Along with playing my choice of 3 tracks for the lunchtime Sunday Roast feature, Cerys even read one of my poems on air ('Stand', p. 23) and I went into a kind of mini-shock at that (I didn't know it was coming...). I loved how she managed to turn what often feels to me like a fairly sad book into something that earned a defiant laugh! Cerys is a very positive force on the radio and I've listened to the show with love for years (certainly since we came back from our big trip in 2011). I would have loved to have kept roaming as we did for those 6 months but it just wasn't possible (we were amazingly luckily to get the time we did...). Sometimes it has to be radio that takes us to new places instead (books can do it too of course... and maybe TV and films).

I know I'm not alone in this but radio has been such a huge friend to me over the years. I remember sitting as a teenager and listening for hour after hour and everywhere I've moved I've listened to different radio stations (sometimes local, sometimes not). I even had a (pirate) radio show for a few years with my friend back when we were club DJs in Leeds (Daisy & Havoc on Leeds' Dream FM back in the early '90s) and it was such a fantastic thing to do. It's very liberating working on radio - totally free of all gaze (male or otherwise), just playing tunes and trying to think of something to say in between. These days I still listen to a lot of radio (though I often pick and choose with i-player and the like). I suppose I'm in a bit of a quiet, not-really-very-sociable phase and radio is perfect for that. You can feel you are seeing people and being out there... even when you're not.

Off to go and listen to Sue Perkins on Desert Island Discs now... but I'll leave you with the song I picked for 'dessert' for the Sunday (radio) Roast (from the soundtrack to 'Inside Llewyn Davis'):

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Book review - Conversations with Friends

I haven’t done anything like a book review for ages but sometimes a book is more than just a book, it’s a connection, and so you make an exception. The book I am talking about (and that I bought recently and read last week) is the much-praised Conversations with Friends, the first novel from Sally Rooney. Rooney is a ‘young’ writer (in her mid twenties or thereabouts) but some of us had a few online exchanges with her when she was a lot younger and so we feel a tiny bit connected to this now runaway publishing star. In those exchanges Rooney was always smart and friendly and gently fascinating and it appears she has stayed true to herself because that still comes across if you read any of the interviews that accompany her first book’s publication (try this one in the Irish Independent).

So what about the book? Well, Rooney doesn’t mess about – she weeds out a good portion of the reading public in her first sentence by dropping in the words ‘poetry night’ (and that made me laugh straightaway – if only they knew how much sex was coming later…). But for those of us who stay past “Bobbi and I first met Melissa at a poetry night in town, where we were performing together.” there is some gorgeous writing in the next 300 plus pages. I read Conversations... in about 2 days (some of it at about 4.30am when I couldn’t sleep) and it is just that kind of book – a book to take on an odd trip with a strange bunch of people, a book to feel a bit conflicted about, a book to give you a bit of headache (in that ‘must stop reading now, my brain is blurring…’ kind of a way). It is wry and funny in places, dry and lonely in others.

It’s not light fiction but it certainly is crisp. Rooney unquestionably writes like a dream – one minute beautifully simple, then scissor-sharp. The ‘friends’ are 4 main characters, with a few others in the background, (and how friendly any of them really are changes from page to page – Central Perk this is not). The details of modern life are delicious – they will date soon enough, of course, but then we can love them even more then (= nostalgia). There is, as you might expect from the title, a lot of talking… and drinking… and sex… but a good deal of the novel is about how we present ourselves to others, about self-consciousness and (I think) that process we go through in our twenties (if we are lucky) when we try to work out what feelings are, which ones matter, and which ones don’t. We might put on a cynical face at that age but it is often just a cover for giant hopes and dreams (even if we don’t know that until later). My 20s are a fairly long time ago but I think that's how it was...

The central character, Frances, feels like the Rooney I think I know (though of course I don’t really know her at all…). Frances is young (a student) and particularly awkward (at least to us, the readers). There is a lot of talk about faces (hers and others’), about expressions, mirrors, appearances… it is exactly what we older readers think young people think about all the time (though we do it a bit too of course…). “Even I could see I had character,” says Frances (to us) about a photo of herself. Frances is smart too.

Frances writes poems (though I think she will grow out of it…) and I laughed again in chapter two when Rooney has her “sitting in bed in the morning writing poetry, hitting the return key whenever I wanted” (I have so done that… still do sometimes…). The character is all-knowing in some ways and yet, in the tradition of young-people-going-out-in-the-world fiction, she makes some big gaffes, falls into some fairly well-trodden paths and has to try to dig herself out again. There are points in the story where you might feel there is some cliché in the air (taking a group of people to a big house in France… what could possibly go wrong?) but Frances is strong enough (as our heroine) to keep us with her and bring us out the other side. She is good company – observant, interesting, a little over-analytical maybe but no-one’s perfect – and going through clichéd experiences is a rite of passage after all (who hasn’t had to creep around a house at night because you shouldn’t be with X doing Y – come on, it can’t just be me?). Who hasn’t had difficult family situations, kept heartbreaking secrets, sent emails they shouldn’t have? And what happens to us when these corny situations have us… in their grasp? Do we still have character? Do we survive? I think that’s part of what Rooney is doing with this novel. But I might be wrong. I'm not a professional book reviewer or anything.

A lot of the content seems to be about presenting contrast too – well-heeled media folk in big houses vs. everyone else in dirtier, more cramped accommodation or attractive, charismatic Bobbi vs. Frances (who doesn’t feel like she is either of those things, but is). As the novel progresses the differences blur a little – partly at least because Frances enters other worlds and sees their pros and cons. Whilst studying, for example, she makes this comment on herself: “I’m bettering myself, I thought. I’m going to become so smart that no one will understand me.”

The novelist I most thought of when I read Conversations was Zadie Smith. A few reasons I suppose (I am a fan, read her new book this year and reread On Beauty after that) but Smith was also ‘the hot new literary discovery’ straight from college in her time (bidding war etc.), is super smart but wants to write books all her friends can read, I suspect, and not just her publishers and academic colleagues. It’s not the easiest road to travel, as a writer (though it may look that way to others…). You will be built up high and sometimes people will throw things at you. You will, perhaps, grow to curse the clichés about yourself that will follow you round for years and years (some of which will be true, others less so) but there will be consolations and here are just three of them: you will write some magnificent lines, you will construct some interesting fictional friends, and, most of all, you will have readers. Oh what a joy*.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber) is available pretty much everywhere.
Cover of UK hardback features painting "Sharon and Vivien" (2009) by Alex Katz (as on this post).

*Yes, I am quoting Chic in a book review. 

Saturday, 1 July 2017

In print and things

So today, if you see 'The Scotsman' newspaper and turn to page 23 of the Magazine section you will see a poem by... the author of this blog. It's quite exciting (for me). You can't access it online – just via the print copy (or above).

Maybe you've arrived here because of this publication (in which case 'hello'). Looking for me via online searches often brings up wedding sites (particularly amusing to anyone who knows me...), thanks to one, quickly written and now fairly old, poem that has been used and recommended for a few weddings. Still, it gets me on lists with Robbie Burns and Liz Lochhead so I'm not complaining. Other search results include an actress (not me) and a writer of 'cowboy poetry' (not me either... at least not yet).

If you are a new visitor and you fancy buying my latest book/pamphlet 'Turn' it is available from various sites and shops – all details here, including new stockist the DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts). From my website it only costs £5 (incl P & P) to UK addresses and £7 (incl P & P) to anywhere outside the UK. Quite a few of the poems in it are on this blog so feel free to look around. The poem featured in 'The Scotsman' is one of the older poems in 'Turn', so old it was on the previous blog (back in April 2010, written for one of the Poetry Bus prompts...'sex drugs and rock'n'roll' was the subject that week...). Many of the poems in 'Turn' are more recent. 

Other things for your attention this week:

The amazing Kim Edgar getting a song played on the Radio 2 Folk show (here).

Local musician/songwriter Gary Anderson releasing his new album (here).

And don't miss the brilliant Benjamin Zephaniah guesting on Frankie Boyle's TV show (here).

I'm still learning at Twitter too...

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Late bird, no worms...

So, I've been writing lots of little poems again lately. I used to write them years ago but haven't come up with any for a while. The current output started a couple of posts ago after our general election and it hasn't stopped since. I wrote a 4 line poem about the local result in the election and then one about Grenfell Tower, then Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, the Queen, Theresa May, the Daily Mail... I just don't seem able to stop! Because they are all so short I thought maybe they might be suited for Twitter. I've just never fancied using it myself up till now but I thought I'd give it a go for this. You can find my bit of Twitter here. It's an experiment really and I am learning all the time. Today I learned that I should move the cursor before I snip the text (see above Boris Johnson poem). For those of you elsewhere he is sort of a politician, sort of a very bad, unfunny joke. It doesn't need to just be my poems either - I will tweet/retweet other people's 4 line poems too... if I like them. Have a go... if you're not on Twitter you can put them in a comment on here or on facebook or whatever. They don't have to rhyme (I even wrote one about that... it's on the profile).

Anyway, I don't know how long these little poems will continue but for now I'm over there a bit... over with the non-stop, 24 hour news people. 

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Keeping track

Near Dunkeld, earlier this month

The cost

Governments can be terrorists too,
Save some pennies, all for the few.
What would Margaret Thatcher do?
Burn the poor for a better view.

RF 2017

I posted this little poem on facebook yesterday so some of you have seen it already but I post it here just to keep a record really (the blog is a little more permanent than facebook, though it gets less comments). I seem to be in a stream of these little reaction-rhymes just now (as opposed to reactionary rhymes...). I haven't written poems like this for a good few years but the times and events dictate the form sometimes... in fact maybe they always do (for me anyway). I have subtler work but subtle isn't everything. I had pretty much stopped writing rhyming poems (though not intentionally) but a couple have appeared in recent weeks. Maybe it was the Tony Walsh interview the other week that prompted this where he said, of poetry, It’s ancient and it’s in us. I teach what I do, and in some ways I don’t so much teach it as allow people to find it in themselves. Particularly with rhyme, there’s a reason it’s been around for thousands of years. We live through rhythms and heartbeats. I think we’re hardwired to receive rhyme. When you get that balance between meaning and rhyme and flow, there’s a music to it which we respond to instinctively." Though of course, like anything, you can have too much of a good thing...

Anyway, this wee poem, obviously, came from reading, watching and listening to a lot of the coverage of, and reactions to, the Grenfell Tower disaster this week in London. I followed reports of the demonstrations yesterday too, pleased that people were speaking out but worried that there might be more deaths if the authorities dealt with the protests badly. Some of the UK media coverage is stupid but we expect that now. I hope the next generations find media that work better for them, that are more independent and much less keen on making us hate victims or the vulnerable. Writing so soon about the person whose flat (allegedly) was the source of the fire, for example, was premature and cruel (I think that was in The Daily Mail). I know the 'more in common' campaign (in Jo Cox's memory) is trying to improve media coverage in general (they got The Sun and others to print a 'more in common' editorial this week) but do we really believe such papers want to change? What would a positive, caring Sun newspaper even look like? Some of them have made their beds badly so many times that the dirt is never coming out of those sheets. Go and take a look at the front pages in the shops today and decide for yourself. I believe The Telegraph went for the old favourite ('militants hijack inferno protest') but maybe there were complaints as I can't see it on their website now. I went on quite a lot of London demonstrations when I was younger (and living down south... and Mrs Thatcher ruled the roost) and pretty much every time there was a march that was the story the press wheeled out (how they loved to feature 'militants vs. the police' stand-offs, how I hated being stuck in those closed-off streets...I'm quite claustrophobic...). And yes, there were people from far-left parties present on most of those demonstrations but they were usually a tiny minority and focusing on them was an easy way of avoiding the issue the demonstration was about (in those years the Public Order Act, Section 28, to name just the first two that come to mind).

Also this weekend there are many events planned for a Great Get Together to commemorate Jo Cox's death (one year ago yesterday). I watched the documentary on this week ('Death of an MP') and was so impressed by her life story, the energy she had, the love so many felt for her and, as most of you know, I wrote a poem last year prompted by her death. MPs can be good people, journalists can be good people, police officers (and 'militants'!) can be good people. We have to hold on to that and help those people stave off more austerity, more prejudice, more unnecessary deaths. I know this is all obvious. Isn't it?

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Round and round

Near Dunkeld, last week

So, we had our election. Of the two largest UK parties, the party that didn't win was celebrating and the party that (kind of) did was... not so much (at least not in public... too busy doing the deals and handing out blame). That party (the Conservatives) always seem to win somehow though... even when it doesn't say that on the list of results. They move sideways a bit, they hide from view a little, they change their colours, they play a bit of golf. Here in our local constituency of Angus the winning colour changed from yellow (SNP/Scottish National Party) to blue (Conservative) and many of us here felt very blue (in the other sense) about that. I am not a party member (I have never joined a political party) but ours was a good MP and it's a shame he got washed away (this time) by the Conservatives in Scotland and their fairly one-message (anti-independence) campaign. It may not be the only issue here but undeniably one of the big issues in Scotland is still Scottish independence (whether some people like it or not... it hasn't just magically gone away). Some people still feel very strongly 'aye' and the opposing side (whatever their party) are digging in their heels deeper than ever. Some people think this election will see independence hopes put away for another generation but others most definitely do not so nothing has really changed in that regard. Other people's opinions are hard work!

I wrote a little poem on election result day. Some of you have seen it on facebook already (my most shared poem ever I think...). As I said on there I haven't lived in a Conservative constituency since 1989 and I'm sad that my adopted county went this way, this time. I love the colour blue and I always feel a bit sorry for it being associated, as it is, with this particular party. Also when I said "Blue window/To another day" on the back cover of my new book this was not what I meant!

Angus blues

Blue is the colour of my county's wallet,
The ribbon is too and the sky is grey,
The clouds hang low like a broken bonnet,
Sad is the song for our bairns today.

RF 2017

Monday, 5 June 2017

Hold on

No poem today. Marvellous man and I were away for the weekend – marking 20 years together. We went inland to Dunkeld in Perthshire (view above is from our hotel room). We had a lovely time  food, drink, nature, music, peace  and I must be getting old (I am) because sometimes I feel like I would happily never leave Scotland again. We were only an hour from home but the scenery and atmosphere were completely different. There are many different Scotlands and they are pretty much all brilliant in one way or another. And 20 years... who would have thought he would be able to bear me for this long! It's amazing.

But there is a UK general election on Thursday so this is not going to be a quiet week. First there was the concert in Manchester last night... not my kind of music for the most part but the spirit on show was impressive. I listened with admiration as people in the TV studio talked about not being afraid and keeping on coming out to show defiance etc. (I admire this, in part, because I am one of those people who is fairly anxious wherever I am and whatever I'm doing...). It's worth reading this great interview with the Manchester poet Tony Walsh who was such a powerful voice with his poem 'This is the Place' after the attack on 22 May. I love what he says about poetry in the interview   really worth a look. I think I was myspace friends with him about 10 years ago... that feels like a lifetime ago already.

And then London on Saturday night... again much horror followed by much defiance and 'we will not be scared' reactions. I know these reactions are important and I understand the point of them but they make me a little uncomfortable (this might be just my own weirdness...). And then this morning I read this piece about a Canadian who died in London on Saturday night and how her fiancé watched her die in his arms. "He is broken into a million pieces," said his sister. So this is a couple who won't make it to their 20 years together... not the first, not the last (of course!), not in the UK, not anywhere... but it is still sad and maybe I'm just a maudlin person but it's the sad that follows me about more than the defiant (well, at the moment anyway). I go and listen to the lovely mournful tune/song that Kim Edgar wrote for an old poem of mine about another London sadness (listen here). It's a beautiful set of sounds and I think how I admire that too (the ability to make beautiful sounds).

Happy, sad, happy, sad. And so on.


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Beside the sea


You were two when we left,
When we ran for the sea,
So it’s all you’ve known,
That feel of freedom.

Blue, green, ash-grey,
The flag we raised,
Tied fast to the waves,
Sewn hard to the shore.

RF 2017

No photo today. For a change. 
But new book still available (though obviously this poem isn't in it...). Help me need a second print run why don't you?

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.