Sunday, 16 October 2016

Arise Sir Rod - A London Writer in Bonnie Scotland

From My Bedroom Window
So in the week when Sir Rod Stewart became a Knight and Phillip Green ceased to be one,  I'm living it royal in Scotland's capital city, Edinburgh.  This se'enday has a distinctly surreal edge - perhaps it's because we're so near the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, otherwise known as Halloween.  For one thing, my court case is the most chilling I've ever clerked. It's not every day you hear a father say of his thirteen-year old daughter, in all seriousness, that he 'saw the stain of sin' in her eyes. Apparently, that explains his subsequent crimes.

Celtic Festival of Samhain
Well, a comment from the Clerk of the Court would be deeply inappropriate, so I fill my spare moments with healthful walking, eating and writing.  Edinburgh is deliciously full of things to see and do; from my bedroom window I have a glorious view of 'King Arthur's Seat', for a start.

Obsessed By the Strange
Edinburgh's a city notorious for being built, basically, on a rock, and one of the famous views, which I'm lucky enough to see from my hotel bedroom, is that of King Arthur's Seat. I stride up towards it - adding to my Evernote file that it features in Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' - and in doing so, discover another inescapable fact about Edinburgh - the place is obsessed by the eery and strange.

I select a pretty-looking pub, 'Deacon Brodie's Tavern', in which to enjoy a leisurely lunch and writing session. The tavern is rammed at first. Soon, they find me a table secreted by the upstairs window shutters, all a writer really needs. The spinach and cheddar pie is to die for. Although I'm salivating at the array of gin and high-quality Scotch whisky, it's a bit early for those. I make do with a large glass of Pinot Noir.

Deacon Brodie's Tavern
Chatting to the staff between scribbling, I learn that Deacon Brodie was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's terrifying creation, Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde. Stevenson was probably Scotland's greatest ever writer, the son of a well-known lighthouse engineer. He was a sickly, bronchitic chap all his life. As so often happens, imagination was stimulated during bouts of ill-health. As a lad he lived just doors away from the spooky long-dead Deacon Brodie's home. I wonder whether the holidays in isolated, fog-laden lighthouses increased the lad's fears and obsessions - certainly they did Scottish literature a huge favour.

Robert Louis Stevenson
I love the way the bar staff are so engaged and proud of this history. By day a goodie-goodie respectable citizen. By night the Deacon apparently turned riotous gambler, drinker and fornicator, one tells me. He wipes the bar with ghoulish delight. Brodie 'had' to take to burglary to pay off his gambling debts (always wondered why they are called debts of honour, whereas your rent, apparently, is not). Brodie was hanged in 1788. Nice.

When I return to my racketty hotel the manager, who seems to specialise in gassing rather than grafting, asks me 'how it all went.' Avoiding gossip about the court case I tell him instead about my lunch in the scary tavern. 'Wheesht, tha's nothin' - I could tell ye a tale about yon Arthur's Seat,' he says. And he does. Apparently, in 1836, 17 small coffins were unearthed in a small cave on Arthur's Seat. Each contained a carved effigy, meticulous in every detail including little black boots. Coincidentally (or not) the serial killers Burke and Hare, had 17 victims too. Burke and Hare supplied bodies to Dr Robert Knox of Edinburgh City, for the purposes of dissection. Unfortunately they murdered them first.

Seventeen Effigies
Were the effigies a long-dead Edinburgh witch's attempt at retaliatory magic? Who knows.  My hotel manager resists the temptation to go answer a complaint about the state of the towels in Room 324. Burke was hanged in 1829 for his crimes, he tells me, Hare eventually released.  Readers may find further details on the whole subject, if they so wish, elsewhere on the internet.

I'm off to watch the traditional Samhain procession.



Fire Ravens Dance Group Samhain 2015

'I incline to Cain's heresy ~
I let my brother go to the Devil in his own way...'

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde 
Robert Louis Stevenson 1850-1894



Friday, 7 October 2016

I'll Take the High Road, And You Take the Low Road


Off To Edinburgh
So in the week when two grown men have a very public punch-up in Strasbourg I leave beautiful, enchanted Cornwall. After reporting for duty in a certain London courtroom, I'm given my marching orders for a trip to Edinburgh!

That's life in the legal world, but it doesn't bother me a bit because I have Scots blood in my veins and a visit north gives me a special thrill. Also, I hope the train journey will allow me time to nail Chapter 21 of the novel in progress.

London King's Cross Station
With a challenging court case ahead, I rock up good and early at London King's Cross. There's a queue forming already, on the plaform next to no. 9.

The Platform Next to No. 9
The keen-sighted amongst the passengers notice that, right from the start, the route to Edinburgh bears a striking resemblance to the one that takes Harry Potter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

When I'm working on fiction I'm tempted to write about subjects of which I know nothing. It fascinates me when I realise just how much of her native Edinburgh found it's way into J.K. Rowling's books. Note to self: write what you know. It must be the oldest piece of writing advice in the book, there we are.


The Route to Edinburgh
Another piece of writing advice I want to take this week is to go for quantity, not quality - that's because I'm on a first draft of a 10-section piece of my work-in-progress. I used to edit every dang paragraph before going onto the next, and that's one of the reasons I've been such a slow writer.


Basher Lowe
A dear friend recently told me that, having published eight novels now, her secret is to 'bash out' the first draft without ever looking back.  Revision comes later. She got the idea from the rock music producer Nick Lowe, whose rough and ready first takes earned him the nickname 'Basher Lowe'. Second note to self: Good enough for rock n' roll will be good enough for me too, now, at least until I've written 'The End' at least once.

One practice I have managed to maintain is that of writing 'Daily Pages'.  It's like a morning meditation to me now - the minute I sit down on the 50 minute train ride from Barnet in north London to the Courthouse in the far reaches of the south, I get out my notebook and write.

Steaming to Edinburgh
Once I've moaned, groaned, whinged and self-flagellated, I change from a black to a blue pen (oh how I love you, Bic Four-Colour Biro!) and add a bit to my novel.

Serendipitous occurrences I note in green and the compulsory weekly check-in bright, blood red.

Edinburgh at Twilight











It's a long journey to Edinburgh and I arrive in the twilight. My hotel proves to be a gloriously racketty, gothic affair with turrets, real winding staircases and even a set of terrifying steps that lead straight up from the back door to Old Edinburgh.  I can't wait to explore.