Monday, 17 December 2012

christmas capra, film and firearm crime

It’s the crazy season, the one where we all embrace tradition with an affliction of heartfelt fondness and encourage one another to hug family and friends with the intensity that a year of neglect can demand.  And all the while we are engaging in social gatherings and relaxing into pastimes that allow us to assume an imagined life that provides us with the opportunity to question the people we have become and afford us a wee chance, should we choose to accept it, to do something different.

We curl up with our children, our friends or our lovers, and our books and DVDs and life is actually different, and for a little while at least, meaningful and significant. Increasingly, one of the tools we use to capture that sense of worth is by watching poignant films, movies with a tell-tell message. 

Screenings of old black and white movies, like Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, are sold out in cinemas and in a unified emotional slumber we engage in an uplifting, inspirational experience that teaches us (with more than a little finger wagging!) that to be good is to be right and clever and kind.

But what of the broader meaning of these old films, especially in the period of their actual place in time?

In 1930 America, of a population of 120 million, 100 million made a weekly visit to the movies (60 million went to Church on a weekly basis...). Some of the most popular films were those of the man  mentioned, Italian immigrant Frank Capra whose movies frequently represented the sub-text of his own life, the achievement and consequence of realising and living ‘The American Dream’.

Capra’s journey from poor immigrant to national figure, through sheer determination and hard work, overcoming significant hardship along the way was text book material, symbolic of the ethos of American society, and as such fuelled an interest in his character and his films. Capra and his language represented the aspired ‘real’ world, which for most had only ever been imagined. The vocabulary of Capra’s movies demonstrated an overwhelming command of film and common language that depicted America as its people held it to be. For the American population his films resolutely asserted a number of familiar elements that were representative of the American way of life whether by actuality or perhaps more tellingly, by aspiration.

Remarkably, Capra’s movies extend even further beyond that. His movies are useful, especially now, in helping us to gain an understanding of the cultural history of America. If you are watching this Christmas, you will be able to see how as the narrative cleverly unfolds onscreen.
Capra, often referred to as a utopian populist, offered a fairytale alternative to the grim reality of the Depression whilst at the same time providing a grounding of a familiar world, reaffirming experiences culturally reflected and understood from the inside out by his audiences.  Capra has been quoted as being ‘the most insistently American of all directors’ – that is, he was obsessively concerned with scrutinizing American myths and American states of consciousness. In undertaking an in-depth examination of the language of Capra, as expressed via the figurative technique of his characters and storylines which respond to issues of gender, repression, politics, idealism and nationalism, a unique insight into how the population lived, or perceived to live their lives, in 1930s cultural American society is represented and revealed.
Capra explores a number of constituents of American cultural life through his use of idiosyncratic language and in doing so he creates characters, in the period they reflected, that are successful in providing upbeat entertainment which the Depression audiences were anxiously looking for. This shift towards unity and individual success is a recurring theme in Capra’s work and represents yet another element of this constant commitment to fulfilling, for his audience, the ‘American Dream’. 

In Mr Deeds Goes to Town, in the language and character of Deeds, Capra engages his audience in his attempt to reflect American society by creating a dramatic social circumstance that forces his character to speak symbolically, not just for himself, but for all Americans afflicted by the power of the institution over the weak.

For Capra the association between the metaphorical character and reality of life was evident in his analogy that each of his characters ‘are human and do the things human beings do – or would do if they had the courage and opportunity.’ His use of family values, a location for the populace to embody a fundamental and valuable feature of American culture, makes his audience comfortable with the material. This wasn’t particularly representative of the way in which Americans lived their lives but it is certainly systematic of the way in which, via the aptitude of the ‘American Dream’, they have been shaped to understand their lives. In embodying this technique the audience is at home with the analogy generated by the film’s methodology.
The audience now, here in the UK too, engages in Capra films like It’s A Wonderful Life in a similar way. The reaction of us, its 21st century audience, and our willingness to accept the story is symbolic of our understanding of the message which reflects a familiar or aspired pattern of life. The reaction and interaction with the plot and its story is demonstrated in two strands, fantasy or reality.
Regardless of which, the language is successful in constructing an equitable representation of the cultural desires, nuances and understanding of its audience. We want to be somewhere else and for some that desire to escape is entirely understandable.
Capra reaffirms that the dream is permissible, but only if the good challenge the bad and the political tyrants are succumbed by the power of collective justice.

In the wake of the unthinkable violence in Newtown, collective justice is all the people of America have if they are to break the cycle of firearm atrocity.
If you’re escaping this Christmas, think about the different ways in which you can come to understand that escape, and remember that collective justice is the route to a reality that at the moment only looks as if it can be imagined.





Sunday, 2 December 2012

'all there is for now', gaelic and telling stories

I'm going to start with the last first.

Telling stories is integral to everything that I engage in personally and professionally, whether it is in conversation, making television, articulating an idea, writing a creative proposal or indulging in writing my own fiction.

And yet people don't really do it any more, not in the traditional sense of huddling around the fire and making elaborate conversation into the wee small hours with a wee story that is as embellished as the day is long.

I feel very blessed to have grown up, and into, an environment where talking was king, be it about football or ghost stories or the good old days of the past, my childhood was often spent amidst adult conversation, lost in endearing and often raucous chat that was the principal source of our evening's entertainment.

It makes my heart heavy when I watch people's eyes roll and sink at the prospect of listening attentively as an older person recounts a narrative which has connotations of some personal importance. It is often part of who they are; its arc the residue of everything that has constituted their very being. Yes, in traditional storytelling it is often exaggerated and its truth diminished as it is adapted to suit its audience, but it makes my heart jump with joy to watch a narrator pass on a skill that quite tantalisingly allows us to grow and develop and push on with some aplomb because we know how to structure a story arc and deliver a beginning, a middle and sometimes even an end.

Everyone should take a minute, or an hour, or even an evening when they get the chance and embrace a story delivered from the heart. It strengthens families and communities and explodes in time in the form of a burst of creativity in others, and goodness me where on earth would we be without that.

Like storytelling language is important, in its vernacular and in its various colloquialisms that allow people to engage with one another in words that build bridges and promote a kindred spirit of shared experience and togetherness. But we don't have to be part of the 'gang' to embrace language and culture that isn't deemed as our ‘own’.

I read with some disappointment recently a comment accusing an agency of "ghettoising" something because it was going to be delivered in the Gaelic language. It's an incredibly naive assessment to make. Gaelic is a beautiful language and it is available to everyone to enjoy. The language is expressive and poetic and hugely integral to the art of storytelling.

The fact that Gaelic is being showcased on its own channel on television and delivered in artistic ways means it is incredibly easy for a viewer to access, engage and should they so wish, understand the language. It is genius. Take football or rugby for example...

In this medium Gaelic can be celebrated and, for those with a desire to learn, comprehended. Watching football, a big rectangle space with familiar words and phrases repeated in easily identifiable areas of the 'painting by numbers' pitch is just lovely. How lucky are we to be able to pull two creative things together - football and Scotland's national language - and present it in an engaging and entertaining way.

I'm not a Gael but I'm embracing the language because it's bold and it's creative and its part and parcel of Scotland's heritage. I'm not fluent, I understand a wee bit, and sometimes to my amusement I find myself using Gaelic words in my head instead of the English equivalent. It's lovely. You can love it too. Come and join the Ceilidh. There’s a nice introduction to using the language on the Learn Gaelic website.

I'm writing a new novel, 'all there is for now' and wee tiny snippet - a whole 75 words - was published by paragraph planet recently. It's a creative website that publishes short fiction of exactly 75 words. It's not as easy as it sounds. Give it a try.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

the next big thing...

"The Next Big Thing, authors tagged, questions answered..."

Does the concept sound pompous, slightly up itself perhaps? Well it's not at all; it's a thing of real beauty, a chain that brings together wonderful writers and books in a circle of creativity that is so vibrant it creaks in celebration.

The very lovely Elizabeth Reeder tagged me and in turn I'm going to answer the questions posed and introduce you to some incredibly strong writers who are dedicated to storytelling.

 Here goes!

What is the working title of your next book?

The Dandelion Clock

Where did the idea come from for the book?

When my children were very young they called themselves Mary and Joseph, because as they explained, the Virgin Mary (yeah, that one...) would call in and see them during the night. It got me thinking, in religion people believe the most incredible things with absolute conviction so why not take it a stage further and illustrate that the VM can pop down from heaven and get herself into a bit of an emotional tangle. She was also a good tool to use to illustrate some of Elizabeth's pain. It is Elizabeth’s story and she comes from all of us.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh good question. I would love Shirley Manson to play the Virgin Mary, Kathleen McDermott to play Elizabeth and Sadie would have to be a young and very brash Tilda Swinton. There's a couple of very mean boys in my novel, but I would hate to tarnish anyone's reputation by suggesting that they would fit the part...

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

When teenage mum Elizabeth is plotting to avenge her girlfriend's death she becomes mixed up in drugs, murder and hard-assed Glasgow gangsters, as well as becoming entangled with the (actual...)Virgin Mary who comes to question her own life and her feelings for Elizabeth.

It's 'aw go as they say.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Hopefully published and represented, fingers crossed on that one at the moment...
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Well, there's a wee story to that. If we ignore the fact that The Dandelion Clock emerged from the roots of another novel then I would say around 12 months. If we add in the previous work, which has mostly been consigned to the dustbin, then it's a lot, lot, longer.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This is a difficult question to answer but maybe for the language, the raw humour and the stark bite of reality something Des Dillon or Irvine Welsh.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The need to write a story that narrates Elizabeth's journey. Her road is a road so many travel along. Life is actually like that and we should embrace it and give not always getting it right a voice. It’s okay not to be brilliant. Normal is good.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It's a story that challenges how we respond to the choices we make, or have made by others for us, and it represents the notion that there isn't a big 'we shall overcome' agenda in life, it's about getting on with it and constantly picking up pieces and slicing up and over the next bit. The story is sad and that's sad because there is always sadness of some degree in a person's life. But there are tiny snippets of hope too and they don't have to be 'happy ever after' paths, they're just there to embrace for the moment and that's the kind of thing that makes life what it is.

This is a story for so many people. It will make you laugh and maybe make you cry too. Key emotions that make us strong and convincing and remind us who we are. It's for you all really.


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

passion is at the root of determination

It is with a heavy heart that I begin to write this.

And yet I know with unwavering conviction that as the words slowly unfold on this page, each tiny letter collaborating with another and gaining ascendancy over the last, gently encouraging the next expanding word, that their strength will grow and so too will my determination.

It has been an evening of contrasting emotions - elation, trepidation, triumphalism, anxiety, joy and then utter, utter sadness. As dusk collapsed into darkness an inspiring movement, a thing of absolute beauty took to the heights with aplomb, riding the horse latitude with confidence only to stutter and stagnate in the face of the doldrums.

 A new beginning was within touching distance for the Scotland's women's national football team. So agonisingly close. And then the trade winds of Spain reversed and cooled and blew defiantly in the opposition's favour.

We crashed to the earth alongside them, not as a nation of people from Scotland but as a union of women, breathing as one, willing the empowerment of one another, collapsing deftly to the ground in unison. Fortunately, we fell on solid ground. It can take our weight and we can stretch our wings and fly again.

With passion there comes determination and a will to push disappointment to the side and battle on. In women's football the players and coaches have next to no financial support and resources, the girls endure scathing attacks on the game as a craft, on their personal skill and capabilities as footballers and as if that’s not enough they have to listen to the ridiculously boring and unfortunately enduring notion that they are women trying to be men.

That inaccurate picture clouds the real vision. In women’s football there is talent and passion in abundance. It is an enviable mix. So much so, that this potent combination led to the banning of the women’s game in the UK in 1921. Excuses were unfurled but the message was simple, with crowds of tens of thousands attending women’s matches the position of men in society was being challenged. Instead of embracing something strong and admirable they chose to try and destroy it. Bizarrely, given the game’s success how the authorities couldn’t envisage the defiance that followed is a mystery.

It's a cliché, an overused boring anecdote that football is more than a game, but when it comes to the women's game it is exactly that. It's a drive to succeed, a commitment to achieve and a will to challenge the world to wake up to itself and its outdated idiosyncrasies and inadequacies and make space for the girls.

Women have been playing football for at least as long as men, from as far back as the 1700s in Scotland. In the 19th century, Lady Florence Dixie, a curious and extraordinary Scot with a desire to make the world an equal place for women, formed a women's football team, its objective to use the sport as a means to create opportunities for women in a tense Victorian society soldered together with gender bias and gross unfairness and inequality. With her captain, the aptly named Nettie Honeyball in tow, Lady Florence’s team, comprised of middle class 'ladies' began a campaign that continues, albeit on a different platform with a different agenda, to this day. A diverse agenda, but the similarities are there. It is still about empowerment.

Anna Signeul’s Scotland team, and the Glasgow City FC’s of this country, aren’t openly brandishing banners depicting their call for equal rights but their determination to create equal opportunities are just as blatant and exciting. The understanding of what the women’s game is and what it is quite spectacularly trying to achieve, is becoming clearer thanks to their commitment.

Women aren't trying to be men; that notion has gone beyond laughable. It’s just downright annoying. They are playing women's football, with WOMEN being the operative word. They are strong, independent individuals who collectively epitomise the fight for a new beginning. They may have been grounded for now but this is their game, and our resolve carried by their skill, talent and knowledge will generate the passion and determination to allow us all to continue to grow.

There isn’t just a tomorrow, there is also a today. The struggle continues. And my goodness, isn't it just fabulous to watch.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

the tree of love

Next weekend I'll be here, positioning myself and my family in the gentle shadow of this beautiful old tree, embracing its energy and paying homage to its narrative.
The tree's roots plough into the rich history of the land that they sustain, strong limbs stretching with unrivalled intention into warm soil, long fingers channelling backwards and forwards in peaty earth that tastes of cold autumn evenings. The scent of a slow burning fire hangs softly in sharp air that charts the space you breathe, coming alive in a frosty smoke that chases speech playfully, meandering suggestively among tickling branches before taking flight. If its roots were underwater they would fashion a creel; a conduit of hope.
This Muile nan Craobh (Mull of the Trees) in the townland of Mullindress, Rathlin Island, is my garden of Eden, the field in which my new home is rising from the hallowed earth, emerging from soil that has enriched and blessed my father's family, my siblings and my children's. It is an integral element of who we all are and what we will all become. Its past is our past, its future our legacy. It is fitting then that this strong symbol of life, so important to us in fortifying our heritage and giving optimism for the future, will be Tommy's tree.
Next weekend, my beautiful Grandson Tommy will secure his rightful place in the inheritance that is rightfully his, even though it was wrongfully denied him. As we remember him, imagining with joy and sadness the world that we dared to hope to embrace alongside him, his roots will cradle us, protect us and keep us safe. We will never forget him and in the Muile nan Craobh he will be as much a part of us as we are of him.
Tommy’s narrative is embedded in the roots of Mullindress and our American oak swing, hand carved with love and compassion and swung high from the arms of strong branches, will sway with him and hug and protect his memory.

Monday, 27 August 2012

the mirror to your soul

It can cause chaos and destruction but I am fascinated by rain.
I respect it in each and every one of its illustrious guises, especially when it descends in a gentle mist and caresses the earth like the soft down of a newborn baby, or when it is harsh and cold, turning pavements to a stunning silvery grey. Gentle or fierce, it says something about who you are. Rain is a mirror to your soul.

As a child someone took me outside into the rain and told me that, there, above me and around me and below me, was my past. The rain that was enveloping me had hugged my mother and my grandmother and her grandmother before her. In tiny drops it comprised everything I had ever been. It is poetry, it is strength.

When I see rain, when I hear it, and when I feel it tease me, balancing playfully on my eyelashes or trickling under my collar and slipping unsuspectingly down my throat, I know who I am. I am strengthened by a well of familiarity that instead of submerging, releases. It frees.

Rain makes me melancholic, in a malleable way, as if its blanket of sadness can offer some kind of comfort, like a classic poem that brings tears of sorrow to your eyes and a contrasting smile to your lips. When you stare into its looking glass you know exactly where you are going and can understand from where you have come.

Here and then, tomorrow or yesterday, we and it share the same paths, forwards or backwards. Rain is a metaphor, a reminder, just when we need it most, that life is fragile. When the rain stops, in those briefest of precious moments, if we look for it, we can find our time, our tiny chance.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

the sanctuary of the ungodly hour

The leaf caught my eye the instant it made its bold move, floating gently, the pretty colours still vibrant, still incredibly sharp. It was bursting with all the stunning things that its tender existence evokes, like the sun that hangs playfully, its richness moored impossibly high in the sky yet with a presence so close it caresses, squeezing itself into hidden spaces, chasing the darkness of the ungodly hour into the shadows.

The summer sun is a silent beacon, compelling us to rise from our cocoons and embrace a light that changes the way we breathe and the way we sip our surroundings, swallowing it greedily like lines of beautiful poetry that sway deeply inside, warming us from toe to tip.

It may have captured my attention but the little leaf, tipping its hat to the bended branch, wasn't trying to impress. When the tiny cup of summer acknowledged my recognition it blushed and overflowed, a gentle gust of wind rushing in to offer it support as it spiralled downwards, carrying it quickly to the ground as if it might never have happened. And yet I could see it settle, the edges of summer sheltering in the roots of a big old tree that had seen it all before, its maturity glowing with a confidence that says it’s okay to let go.

It needn't have worried, that small chalice of hope was skipping enthusiastically towards autumn, its bravery a leap into the unknown, to something new, to the possibilities of another season.

Summer hasn't really arrived this year, it has swayed softly on the periphery, sometimes strong, sometimes shouting its presence with warmth and colour, capturing a snapshot that mirrors a scene played out a million times before. And whilst each landscape is different its sameness comforts, and so will the autumn as it emerges strongly, chasing away the winter, keeping those cold crisp mornings at bay until the bright sky of a December snowfall hangs impossibly high in the sky with a presence so close it chases the darkness of the ungodly hour into the shadows....

Today the leaves explore their surroundings, impatiently waiting for the sun to hang its charm that little bit closer to the darkness of tomorrow. And tomorrow will embrace something new and yet so familiar we will take it in our stride and move towards something we've not quite met, for those ungodly hours are a sanctuary, defending tomorrow from the final residue of today.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

an empty hush

I met my beautiful grandson today, stroked the oh so soft skin of his strong face, gazed with sadness and pride as he lay quietly, his soul asleep, his heart at peace. These words are for him, whatever they are...

an empty hush

A sorrowful quiet is falling.

And yet the birds still try to sing,
their heads thrown back toward the sky.
Swallowing thickening cloud their throats open,
their voice piercing.
The stillness of quiet song booming

they remember the precious note,
the one before the melancholy;
The soft melody that was the hymn of hope,
when gentle music swayed and budding petals fluttered,
a fledgling sheltered in a mother's unending love.

And now those tiny wings fly forth on a stolen silence,
their empty hush embracing with a tender kiss,
their warm caress protecting,
blurring the eternal edges of that place between here and now.

Sweet child, sing forever.

For Tommy, with love, Mamo Margot x

Sunday, 1 July 2012

gentle mist

For a few seconds this morning I lay awake, but kept my eyes tightly closed. It gave me a chance to listen, hear without seeing, watch without eavesdropping. I pictured a scene that visits me frequently, the soft wet rain of that which falls by the shore, its gentleness like a comfort blanket that wraps and enshrouds. If rain could smile this is how it would do it. My head still on my pillow I smiled broadly in return, imagining the mist hanging low in the sky, blurring the edges between the world I envisage and I world I seek to escape.

In the scene the smile is silent, the falling rain entering from the sky without drama. Such deep passion doesn’t require a drum roll. That arrives in its partner, a grey sea, cleverly trying to mimic the misty aura of the sky, teasing us. It kisses the shore, gentle one minute, rolling in with pizzazz and splendour the next, the roar lifting from the shingle to the hills above, tossing and turning playfully before disappearing into the distance.

As I lie awake, in that other place between here and now, I keep my eyes shut for another moment and join in, my throat tickling and then exploding in a mimicked roar of laughter. I open my eyes because I know that today, and for the next thirteen days the scene is real.

I am here, I am one, I am at one.

I’m on Rathlin Island, the home of my father and his father and his father before him...the home of my heart.

Life is different here.

My beautiful daughter is with me, her limbs as entwined in Rathlin’s soil as mine, the chambers of her heart rooted in the place we share with a knowing smile. My wonderful son, father to the incredibly strong and resilient Harris, Mamo Margot’s grandson, is arriving on Friday. It will be Harris’s first visit to the island. The excitement is already trickling down my spine, knowing that he will step off the boat, warm and safe in the shelter of his mother’s womb, to embrace his Mamo’s spiritual home for the first time.

He’s still very sick, that’s not going to change. His heart is structurally unsound, and as a consequence will struggle to function when he enters the world in just a few weeks time. But we still hope, and pray, that someone is watching over him, willing strength and durability. Be that God, or be that his family, or the strong arms of Rathlin Island, we will not give up on him.
We are all one.

Friday, 22 June 2012

hope; it's not just a word, it's an almighty thing.

It feels so terribly wrong to even think of the word recital given the circumstances but Mamo Margot's little baby is taking centre stage. 26 weeks new, just 14 weeks from the customary scheduled birth, and our little Harris performed well in his latest scan.

Depsite his continual attempts to disrupt the proceedings with his tongue sticking out escapades, the paediatric cardiologist was able to ascertain that this week he is stable (and cheeky!). By all accounts his situation is still critical but there has been no further deterioration on last week and that's the best news we could have hoped for.

The journey for his parents has been constantly chaotic. Violently thrust against a seemingly impenetrable wall, the breath punched from them by a dark physical force and yet, just as suddenly there follows a gentler presence, a sympathetic dusting down accompanied by a warm encouraging hug, the embrace of hope.

And each and every day we pray that it fails to reappear. That place bereft of hope, its stolen foundations congealed by the fragments of our tears, tiny droplets of despair that freeze and solidify ever so tightly, squeezing one upon one and stretching high into a grey-black sky that disappears into the deep nothingness of a place we know we don't want to go to.

We can only continue to admire his parents' courage, our passionate and supportive community that treads water gently alongside them. Love, and above all else our unswerving belief in the vast parameters of hope, is keeping us all afloat.

We are where we are. They are where they are. And we, and hope, are all with Harris. Now and always.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


I kicked off this blog with a post about my excitement.... my announcement that I'm to be a grandmother; a mamo. This would be Mamo Margot's blog. That has not changed. I am a grandmother and my little grandson, who we now know of as Harris, is probably the most loved child on this planet (well we think he is anyway!). All this love and we haven't met him yet.

Harris is over 30 cms long, (a foot, a whole foot in length!!) and for the last 25 weeks he has sheltered in his mother's womb, bonding in her rich love as he waits patiently to meet the rest of his family. Every day we love him more, making sure he is part of us, filling our moments with thoughts on how he's doing, sharing with him tales of what awaits him.

At 25 weeks he is a tiny mirror of his father, my 25 year old son. A dad. How wonderful. And he will be a wonderful father as he is kind and patient.

Harris, though, has a heart condition, the situation is gravely serious and whilst some days my son and his fiancée are given hope, on other darker days, like today, the news isn't so bright. As a parent, not being able to make something right for your child is the single hardest thing in life. It's an inconsolably difficult position to be in.

But Harris is strong, and like his parents he is beautiful and incredibly worthy. An absolute star. Keep shining brightly little Harris. We can't wait to meet you.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

lovely, lovely advice, come and share!

This quote was posted on the TheWritingRoom Facebook page (stop by, it's a wonderful, growing community of writers) and I am unashamedly placing it here because I believe it should be shared and cherished by everyone who writes. It made me cry when I read it. In a fabulous way, in that intoxicating way where a surge of emotion rushes from the pit of your stomach to your neck bringing with it a deep red flush that makes you smile rather than cringe with shame.

It was written by the legendary Ray Bradbury, author of one of the most inspiring books I've ever read, Fahrenheit 451. Read this quote and then go and read Ray. You deserve a treat, all writers do from time to time!

"If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” Ray Bradbury

Saturday, 2 June 2012

across the landscapes

I've been completely remiss in not posting this earlier as it's an imaginative project and one that should be shared as its very premise is in sharing, both in terms of creativity and experience. The story began when I quite by chance saw a tweet from Claire King asking for writers to take part in a Short Story Collaboration for International Women’s Month back in March. Good timing on my part demonstrating that the loveliest of things can happen just by chance. An opportune meeting, a road to somewhere completely different.

Claire got involved in the project via its creator, New Zealand based writer Michelle Elvy who had the wonderful idea to cross international boundaries with each woman writing 100 words before passing the story on to another life in another part of the world. Women writers uniting across landscapes and creating a powerful story that had at its root its vastness and yet its close collaboration.

You can read the four stories by following the links. It was a charming thing to do and I thank all the lovely writers for allowing me to share. Enjoy!

#1 ”Collaborative”

Michelle Elvy – Martha Williams – Claire King – Sarah Hilary

#2 “Waiting”

Michelle Elvy – Martha Williams – Claire King – Margot McCuaig (that's me!)

#3 “Time Flies”

Michelle Elvy – Martha Williams – Claire King – Jane Prinsep

#4 Journey

Michelle Elvy – Martha Williams – Claire King – Kate Brown – Peggy Riley – Judith Teitelman – Beth Gignac

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


When tragedy strikes its impact is violent. Like being winded, a truck driving through your chest at speed, sucking life as you know it from your lungs before chucking you out, through the cracked window of what was once upon a time reality, onto the side of the road.

In the ditch you grapple around in the dirt, desperately trying to breathe. But you can't breathe because you're not in control of who you are. You're not you, you're a shell, and in the space where love and happiness once bounded around with a playful hope and enthusiasm there's just pain. You're not functioning in the way you instinctively know how to, something else, stronger, sadistic even, is in charge. There's no hemlock, no drowsy numbness, just fear.

You can't move forwards or backwards, all you can do is spin out of control on an ‘oh so inappropriately’ titled merry-go-round. You can't get off and even though your eyes are full of grit the world flirts mischievously with everyone else, laughing and loving and spreading it's almighty colourful wings as if there is going to be a today, a tomorrow and a forever.

I've been winded with the news that mamo margot's little baby is far from well. At a time when my son and his beautiful fiancée’s lives should be filled with so much promise they are at the side of the road, reaching out and trying to grasp hold of a tiny fragment of hope that will allow us to crawl back through the window.

It's proving to be elusive but somehow we need to try and keep breathing, no matter the weight crushing our lungs, their lovely, lovely lungs. We need to rise from our perpetual present and find a way towards today and tomorrow.

Isn't that how it's meant to be?

Monday, 7 May 2012

unreliable and strong

Like 2.5 million others in the UK I spent the last 12 weeks watching the American import Homeland on Channel 4. It was incredibly gripping, even when the narrative was implausible.

But hey, it's telly, it's made up. The writer has the freedom to tell the story how they see it and that's what makes it so darn strong.

What really stands out in this powerful drama is the use of two unreliable and uniquely challenging narrators. Carrie and Brody within their own spectrum have deep issues and we are always on the edge of curiosity,  never fully trusting the point of view of either to be exactly as it might seem. Bold and exciting it works really well on television and it's given me some comfort in two characters of my own.

I've just begun writing a new novel, although the thinking process has been going on for some months with my two protagonists, a brother and sister, driving the shape of the story with strong, often loud and frequently opinionated voices. Each though also possesses a soft and vulnerable side, a kind voice that emancipates them from the darker, troubled elements of who they are.

In different ways they are threatening to take me in directions I hadn't originally planned for them. It's incredibly exciting, I love them both for suggesting the way ahead and rejoice that they are strong enough already to think that it is they that can dictate the proceedings.

At the moment we're stepping off a jagged cliff face and hoping that the wind will carry us. Today I believe that we can fly.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Derry & Dundee...

I've just realised that I'm rubbish at writing. My blog that is. I'm fairly committed at writing elsewhere which is just as well because it's exactly what I love to do... Anyway, finally, an update blog.

Last week I was in Derry at the Celtic Media Festival. It's an amazing city, full of passion and determination and fabulous friendly people, and the history is so very much alive it whacks you in the face at every turn. A stunning, vibrant place. I was one of the National Jury for the festival organisers this year so I was excited to attend the festival and see how the Scottish entries our team had nominated fared against their Celtic cousins. I was also very excited because Dannsa Beo, one of my own programmes produced by mneTV for BBC ALBA, was shortlisted in the best Factual Entertainment category. We didn't win, which was disappointing as it really is a tremendous programme created by a wonderful team but well done to the Welsh for taking the Torc.

Just after that moment of disappointment I received an email to say that my novel, The Dandelion Clock, has made the shortlist of the Dundee International Book Prize. The panel comprises some really impressive judges; Stephen Fry, Alan Bissett, Philip Pullman and Jenny Brown. The prize is a contract and publication with the quite lovely Scottish indie Cargo Publishing and £10,000. There were 475 entries and the shortlist comprises 12.

Myself and 11 others at the supper table.

I am refusing to see any synchronicity in the fact that my novel quite heavily features a Glaswegian Virgin Mary. That would be just wrong...

On the trip up to Derry we took the coast route from Larne and I had the absolute pleasure of driving past my amazing island, Rathlin. It looked stunning, showing itself off at its best for the convey of cars that were following me up the road to Derry. Thank you my beautiful island, I was right proud of you. Sigh.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

The hens' chorus

This week, after responding to a tweet from Claire King, I took part in Michelle Elvy's collaborative writing project, which was the creation of a short experimental story in honour of International Women's Month in March. The 100 words collective was exciting, each woman wrote 100 words of the story, taking the narrative on before delivering it to the next. It was enchanting and powerful seeing how the journey, even over a few days, had developed. A woman's voice, acting on her own but with the collective strength of those around her is a mighty powerful thing. We should remember that.

Just for a change (that's sarcasm by the way!) I had a ridiculously busy week at work and looked forward to sleeping a little bit longer this morning. At 6am I was staring at cloud formations. Sometimes sleep is overrated. I'll keep telling myself that anyway.... Actually, it was lovely. So peaceful, the birdsong melancholic yet full of possibilities. Until my hens stirred, squawking to life in the back garden. They are beautiful, funny, and incredibly friendly animals but jeez oh they cannot sing. They don't do the morning chorus at all well!

Anyway, since the early morning choir I've been doing a lot of thinking. I came up with a fabulous idea for a 3-part TV series yesterday. I have so much confidence in my ability to sell it, it's a winner. Engaging, compelling telly. This week I also received interest in my novel, The Dandelion Clock, from a publisher. Subsequently we've had some chat about a 3-part series, although we each have a lot of thinking to do. Are we actually right for one another? We need to know that, and understand what our independent aspirations are before we can move any further ahead. Even if we're not the right fit I am pleased that there is positive interest. The Dandelion Clock was longlisted by Mslexia this year so that makes two happy readers so far!

As tempting as it is, when it comes to your precious work, your beautiful creation, it's not a simple case of take a deal and run. Compromise isn't something to be considered lightly.

I've always regarded my fiction writing to be something personal and exclusive, completely separate from the business 'me'. The softer, calmer, malleable me. And yet, when the words are ready to leave you and venture out with a life of their own to be greeted by (hopefully!) eager readers, business sense and understanding is the key to making that happen.

So, if I can broker and sustain multi-million pound deals at work, I can do it for myself and my writing. Shouting about yourself is easy right...? If the hens can do it, so can I. No problem at all....

I might just nip out to the coop for a wee vocal lesson.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Mamo Margot

When my mother was the same age as I am now, she had five young children. The youngest came in a pack of two, metaphorically joined at the hip and emotionally inseparable were 10 year old twins of opposite sexes, the next, at the middle rung of the sibling ladder was a boy age 12, a smart young man, already a comprehensive thinker. At the next step was another girl, 14 years old and charming with every breath and every enigmatic smile. Just up ahead and convinced she was already an adult in embracing a motherly role, was my mother’s first born, a girl of 17.

A young family, full of possibilities, bouncing towards our futures. Five distinct paths lay on the horizon, one for each child to stumble upon or skip alongside as the peaks and troughs of life meandered and sometimes cascaded towards various junctures, some fascinating, others more haste than speed, many more sooner forgotten than remembered. We frequently crashed like the ebb along our various routes, here and there meeting at a crossroads, some of us sinking just a little, some of us overcoming challenges with bravado and some of us embracing life with a will that might have long since passed if we weren't so keen to remember that yes, it actually existed. We all got to somewhere fabulous at one or several points, and now, the five of us find ourselves as parents, with new paths and new possibilities and young lives all of our own to cherish.

However, at the same age as my mother was as she juggled her five young charges I find myself at a different place than she. My children, a boy and a girl, are now a young man and a young woman, each of them at the threshold of something incredibly beautiful and inspiring. They are both embracing the absolute joy of embarking on their own journey, with their own loves, in their own homes with their own ideas and zest for doing it their way. And whilst my mother dealt with schools and homework and teenage tantrums and hormones I find myself as a grandmother-in-waiting! In six short months my first grandchild will arrive into the world, with much aplomb, to be met with celebratory fanfare. My heart will burst with love and our lives, as grandmother and grandchild, will be new for both of us.

Women of my age have children but I'm ecstatic, thrilled beyond words that I am to be blessed with a grandchild. That said, I reckon there are enough "granny's" in the world so for that reason, and that reason only (!) I'm adopting the term for granny that is used in Connemara, Ireland - Mamo.

So, Mamo Margot it is. This is Mamo Margot's blog. Don't worry, it's not all going to be baby chat, this blog will be about life and love and work and making television. And writing. The wonderful, wonderful joy (and sometimes pain!) of writing.

And children and grandchildren! I hope you'll allow me to indulge, just a little...