A Sort of Eulogy

My gran died on Tuesday 10th of December, and today we laid her to rest. My mum asked me to write a few words to say at her funeral but the whole thing ran over, meaning I didn’t get a chance to say what it was I wanted to say. So for the benefit of my family, and perhaps friends too, here it is. I was going to close with W.S. Merwin’s excellent poem “Good Night”, which I may well save for another post.

I love my nana. My old granny. She never seemed to age. Always with white hair, glasses and a slight stoop. My lasting memories of her will be like series of Polaroid photos, one after the other, as she pottered around her house. Always asking if I wanted food, always palming me a fiver or a tenner when we were sitting alone, always ready to make you laugh when you least expected it, be it through an anecdote from her life, or simply as a reaction to her rousing, infectious, whooping laugh.

Sitting alone with my nana was something I cherished. It’s strange, as time went on I felt like my life was oddly dull. I never had much new to tell her from week to week, yet she smiled all the same. And moaned. She did love a good moan. I always knew she was actually feeling alright when she was moaning about something – the state of the roads, David Cameron and the Tories, the lack of jobs, the state of Noel Edmunds’ beard, how there was never any good news anymore… there was always something. And it was always funny.

I feel it’s somewhat fitting that a lot of my memories of her are of her at home because she was very house proud. It was never in a snooty way though. For example, from when I was a wee guy up until what must have been about ten or so years ago, she had the same old horrific 70s carpet in the hall and up the stairs. It was pretty dreadful, a strange frayed mix of black and red and yellow which had been worn over many years by many different feet. It was positively terrible. The day that was replaced with the carpet which is in her house now, she told me that it was something she had always wanted to do. Such a simple thing that made her happy. House proud she was. And then followed the new kitchen, bathroom, TVs, appliances and whatnot. Most of my memories are of my gran being at home. Not house bound, just in the place that she made her own over many many years.

Memories are funny things. They bend and warp over time, yet nana was always on hand to regale anyone with a story from her youth. She loved film, you see, and she would often speak of the jaunts she’d take every week to one of the cinemas in Shawlands, those which no longer exist, to watch the biggest stars of her day. She once told me a story about how she took her brother Alfie to the cinema with her, and all she wanted to do after the film had finished was sit and watch it again, but he started crying and she managed to pacify him by giving him the chewing out of her own mouth to stop him crying. Sometimes she’d go even further back to when she was a child in Govan. That’s when we knew the stories were going to be laden with either laughter or songs, often both. I’ll miss that laugh and I’ll miss those stories.

We all worry that when we go, we go alone. I can tell you that she did not go alone; she was surrounded by those she loved. If one could be so bold as to measure a life, then the best measurement I can think of is by counting how many lives one has touched. As I look out here today, I can see the many lives that she’s touched and I think that’s some pretty good going. The stories that we all have, those snapshots, the intimate portraits of a woman we all loved, those too are a measure of how much my nana touched our lives and how her light has, in part, been passed on to us. And perhaps one day we too will regale our kids, grandkids, friends and maybe even strangers, with the stories, with the memories, we have of a funny and kind hearted woman. A wonderful light has gone from our lives, and the world has become slightly darker. It’s up to us to make sure that the light she left with us burns for many years to come. 

 

Setting Sail/Wahey

Aw jeah.

The wonderful people over at Octavius Magazine held a launch party/reading type thing last Thursday in Edinburgh. It was a really fun event and the magazine contains some excellent pieces.

And something by me. A poem. Which was unusual because I hadn’t seen it in about 10 months and I haven’t written a poem in a while so it was a bit weird.

Anyway, you can go buy it here for a fiver. Great value for money especially given that it contains 42 other writers and has some truly wonderful things in it. So go get it.

Why Do You Do That Thing You Do?

The other day somebody asked me why I post my first drafts on my blog and I said that it was so that I could hopefully get some feedback from people. Preferably constructive feedback.

I haven’t posted all that much this year but that’s mainly because I’ve been working on my novel. The odd extract has went up here and there, sure, but that’s it. The person who asked me this then said if I’d put the entire first draft of the novel up on my blog and I said no. Probably because A) no one would read it (I’m sitting at 70,000odd words already and I’m not even close to being finished) and B) if someone did read it it’d be a hell of a lot of feedback to give out.

So I’ll stick to posting short stories here. Eventually the stories are redrafted and changed, usually ending up quite different from what they looked like at the start. It’s at this point I’ll submit them to magazines or journals and the like. I haven’t done that yet, mainly cause of the novel thing, but I plan too eventually. So if you read the last story, The Lion, and liked it well it’s been touched up and changed since then. 

I miss the support I had at creative writing classes.

So there you go. That’s why I do that thing I do. A short story will follow after this post. Yum.

Something Tangible

 

To all the new followers and people who have read my blog of late, thanks. It means a lot to me.

I do have a little bad news, however, in that I don’t know when I’m going to publish another blog after this. After flying out to Barcelona for a few days this Saturday, upon my return I’ll be delving right back in to novel writing.

But it’s not all bad. I’m going to be having some real work published in an actual, honest to god, you can buy it in most book stores and on amazon for christssake, book. It’s a creative writing anthology put together by former Glasgow University/Glasgow School of Art/writing powerhouse Louise Welsh. It’s a collection of stories by both university attendees and university employees and it’s called Tip Tap Flat: A View of Glasgow. You can find out a bit more about it by clicking here.

The book is being launched in Waterstones in Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow on June 28th, but all of the websites I’ve seen seem to say it’s actually going to be released on the 25th of June. I dunno how accurate that is, but there ye go.

It’ll contain a story which also functions as the first chapter of the novel I’m working on, albeit in a slightly adapted form to make it more short story like. I’m super excited about it and I can’t wait to actually have a copy of something I’ve written in an actual bloody book. A book you can buy in bookshops.

Like a real thing you can hold in your hands. Not something digital.

The launch is an open invite and there’s going to be some drink n’ that on the go so it’s worth heading along to if you’re in the Glasgow area.

Awesome, eh?

A Triptych In Under 500 Words

(Those 500 words do not include this disclaimer: these three stories were written one after the other in a creative writing class on Wednesday night while I sat shaking in a chair due to excessive caffeine consumption. Enjoy. Any feedback is appreciated. Oh and once again, WordPress refuses to format things correctly.)

Work, play and education. Are these stories related?

Scottish Fiction

Did you know that old nitrate film stock is so flammable that the gasses they release would sometimes explode in the can?
If I were Tyler Durden I’d splice frames of porn into the latest releases.
I am Jock’s numb brain.
But I’m not, so my raison d’etre is abject boredom.

Sometimes I wish I were a projectionist in the 1940s, switching reels and changing the projectors in smoke filled theatres as people sit and watch the latest Orson Wells film.
So many old films are gone because they were too explosive to keep around. Now they are stored in warehouses in industrial estates kept far away from built up areas. Just in case.
If I were the antagonist in a Raymond Chandler film adaptation I’d take the old films out of their cans and set them on fire, turning this place into an inferno as I escaped out the back door.

But it’s not the 1940s and films are digital now, so I sit in the projectionists booth in this smoke free multiplex, press play and wait for this hell to end.
Taking solace in my own Scottish fiction.

Swift by Name, Swift by Nature: A Cautionary Tale of Passion Gone Awry

Like many boys of a certain age Riley Swift disliked his name. Things didn’t always used to be this way though. Riley Swift was once fond of his name.
At school sports day Riley was always the fastest in his year. He used to run around so much that his Mum bought him a quality pair of track shoes and his PE teacher thought he might even be an Olympian one day, such was his passion and energy for running.

During an outdoor competition on a gravel pitch (inexplicably), he’d made it to the final heat of an inter-school 100m race. He started the final race of the day in the outside lane and blitzed the competition.
He had gained an impressive lead, and was ahead in the race by a good metre or so and as he reached the finish line the ground gave way beneath him.
Sink holes.
He fell through it, falling so fast and sharp than when he hit the ground he had no time to flex his legs to absorb the impact, shattering his right knee.

He never felt the same about his name ever again.

Ninth Floor Men’s Room

The wall said:

“All we are is dust from the stars.” in red pen
“Speak for yourself. I’m a real live boy.” said someone in blue.
“Ah, but that’ll change.” stated the red.
“Maybe, but right now I’m Pinocchio, only it’s not the nose that grows, if you know what I mean.” replied the blue, a winking face drawn next to it.
“I like it. Can I have your number?!” asked the red.
“Maybe” responded the blue.
Someone in black said “Ah, young love” before the janitor erased the evidence.


Burns Night

Burns

Our fondness for a wee dram and a party is one of the things which makes us Scottish so it’s no surprise that we like to celebrate one of our greatest poetic voices, Rabbie Burns.

Burns was many things to many people; poet, lyricist, farmer, womanizer…The Bard is probably the most apt title for the man. His poetry, even the stuff he wrote in English, is wonderful. That goes without saying. Yet on days such a these, where we celebrate the man’s brilliant canon of work and his literary genius we really should remember how vital he was to the Scots vernacular, because without him the Scots language would have died. Granted, he wrote a great deal in English too, but the importance of his work in Scots, even the “light-Scots” stuff, shouldn’t be overlooked.

In order to really get to the root of why Burns is lauded one has to go back a few years, back as far as James VI of Scotland or later James I of Great Britain. After the Union of the Crowns in 1603 Scots was held as being the sister language to English, however in the years that followed written Scots had almost vanished completely. Although court poets from the time like Montgomerie and Scott wrote in Scots, and there is evidence which suggests that even when James VI did become the King of Great Britain that he still spoke in Scots, as the English influence in literature and language started to spread Northwards the language started to take a bit of a beating.

Linguistically Scots had and still has many different characteristics which allowed it to be differentiated from English in many ways. Over time, as English started to become more wide spread across Scotland, the vernacular was eventually filtered out of our speech and that had an impact on our writing. Indeed, Scots eventually became the language of the working class and of rural communities.

Burns changed all of that because when he came around by and large, Scots was effectively dead. If it wasn’t for Burns there’s a pretty decent chance that the Scots which exists in different parts of Scotland simply wouldn’t exist.

Although Burns is well know for his Scots language poetry it’s easy for one to overlook how he played with the Scots vernacular in his verse. Many look back on Burns now and think nothing of the fact his work is in Scots; we know it no other way. Yet without his poetry there would be very little Scottish language to speak of.

His poetry is about more than just the Romanticism we know it for; it’s about the exploration of a language which was slowly dying and he, along with a few other poets from the era (Like Fergusson and, before him, Ramsey – a vernacular revivalist in his own right, and probably responsible for bringing Scots back from the brink), brought it back, demonstrating that it’s a colourful, vibrant and above all relevant creative force.

Which was ironic really. Pre-reformation, medieval and renaissance Scottish literature is markedly different from what was happening in England, France and Italy in the same period. Aside from being linguistically different, it was a whole different beast thematically and the language really played a huge part in making it that way. Yet between the renaissance and the 18th century there’s a massive black hole in the canon of Scottish literature. Our language was part of the driving force behind our creative pursuits but it seems that no one of note really crafted anything of great literary merit between the Union and Burns.

Burns brought Scots back to life.

So when you remember Burns on this January night remember that he was more than just a hugely gifted master poet, a brilliant lyricist and an important songwriter – he breathed life into a dying language. If you’ve ever spoken in slang, met anyone who has, seen a TV show or a film which in which anyone speaks in Scots, read Hugh MacDiarmid, Tom Leonard, James Kelman or Irvine Welsh remember that without Burns none of it would exist.

Oh and one more thing; poetry is meant to be read aloud. When you see a Burns poem today don’t just read it to yourself in silence, read it aloud. Perform it. Poetry is, and always will be, about performance. Burns knew it, and I’m sure he’d love it if you read one of his aloud. One should embrace not only the sentiment behind his work but the language of it too. I’m sure he’d appreciate that even more.

Below you will find “The Fornicator”. I probably don’t need to explain what it’s about. Enjoy and have a great Burns night.

The Fornicator. A New Song
by Robert Burns

Ye jovial boys who love the joys,
The blissful joys of lovers;
Yet dare avow with dauntless brow,
when th’ bonie lass discovers;
I pray draw near and lend an ear,
and welcome in a frater,
For I’ve lately been on quarantine,
A proven Fornicator.

Before the congregation wide
I pass’d the muster fairly,
My handsome Betsey by my side,
We gat our ditty rarely;
But my downcast eye by chance did spy
What made my lips to water,
Those limbs so clean where I, between,
Commenc’d a Fornicator.

With rueful face and signs of grace
I pay’d the buttock-hire,
The night was dark and thro’ the park
I could not by convoy her;
A parting kiss, what could I less,
My vows began to scatter,
My Betsey fell – lal de dal lal lal,
I am a Fornicator.

But for her sake this vow I make,
And solemnly I swear it,
That while I own a single crown,
She’s welcome for to share it;
And my roguish boy his mother’s joy,
And the darling of his pater,
For him I boast my pains and cost,
Although a Fornicator.

Ye wenching blades whose hireling jades,
Have tipt you off blue-boram,
I tell ye plain, I do distain
To rank you in the quorum;
But a bonie lass upon the grass
To teach her esse mater;
And no reward but for regard,
O that’s a Fornicator.

Your warlike kings and heroes bold,
Great captains and commanders;
Your mighty Cesars fam’d of old,
And conquering Alexanders;
In fields they fought and laurels bought
And bulwarks strong did batter,
And still they grac’d our noble list
And ranked Fornicator!

Day Three Hundred and Sixty Five: Insert Sinatra Related My Way Pun Here

As I write this I’ve no idea what I’m going to post for the second last day of 2011, all I know is what I want to say on the final day of 2011.

I decided to take part in this one a day posting challenge in order to increase my creative output and I think it’s worked quite well. Despite all the ruminations on how to play the blogging game and the occasional whine about readers, I knew what I was writing was never going to set the world alight. Really, how could it? I’m 26 years old and as far as I’m concerned I’m still learning a lot about the creative process. My writing improves on a daily basis and the only reason I can say that is because of this blog. Perhaps one day I’ll write something truly great, something worthy of critical appreciation or perhaps I won’t, either way it doesn’t matter. I’ve obtained a greater sense of enjoyment through writing for this blog and that’s been invaluable.

Let’s get personal. Before I started the project a lot of what I was writing was driven almost exclusively by existential angst. I was in a dark place, and the only way I felt I could make sense of this meaningless existence was to leave my mark on the world. Not just on my close friends and family but wider than that; to be remembered for something. By writing every day, I thought, it meant I could finally craft the speck of talent I had for writing into something powerful, useful and remarkable.

That’s changed.

Writing has always come naturally to me. When I cleaned out my Mum’s loft earlier on this year the report cards that we found which were from my primary school years spoke highly of my writing ability. It seemed that those teachers thought that my skills were beyond that of my classmates and that my mathematics skills were stunningly average. The latter hasn’t changed, but has the former? I’m loath to say that I’m a good writer, or even a better writer than the average person but I do get immense enjoyment from both writing.

Having spent Christmas with my family, my Gran and my Mum were eager to tell Jennifer of how I used to be able to name the make and model of every single car I could see in the street. They said this was because I used to read Auto-Mart constantly as a child. Apparently there are even a few photos floating around of me sitting reading the newspaper when I was two years old.

So perhaps the ease I feel I have at expressing myself through writing comes directly from that. Who knows.

I suppose I’m getting away from the point a little here. I’ve struggled to feel as though I’m a competent musician from the moment I picked up a guitar on my 17th birthday. Writing lyrics was easy, writing music was hard. I neglected writing for a while, dallying with nonsense poetry and rubbish prose. Perhaps somewhat fortuitously, starting university, studying literature and my band breaking up all happened around about the same time in 2010. When I heard a friend was going to do a one a day blogging project (he didn’t see it through) I thought I’d do something similar to not only enhance my writing but to perhaps also apply the knowledge of literature I had begun to learn in university in a practical way.

The stars seemed to align, as it were.

Over at the Daily Post, they’ve asked us to look back at our blogs and to reflect on our blogging in 2011. The first question is why did you started the post a day/week challenge? so I think I’ve just answered that pretty comprehensively above.

The second is Describe the state of your blog the time your started the challenge? well, when I started the challenge I had two blogs, one for creative writing and one for more critical, journalistic writing. I binned the latter and dumped everything into the this one. Before that, Brain Echo was simply a creative echo, a collection of rubbish creative writing (bar the odd decent flash fiction/fragment). That actually ties quite nicely into question three, “how did your blog evolve over the course of the year?” Well it had a bit everything, really. I started with a schedule in mind but I never really followed through. It just became a mash of fiction, poetry, articles, mixtapes and the odd video or two. It seems this blogging strategy worked well for me, although it may not have necessarily have done so for the readers of this blog…

Did I post as often as I’d hoped? Well, given that I’m on the final day I’d say yes. Well, that’s a lie. I didn’t post as often as I’d hoped because recently I’ve had no internet connection, thus making it difficult to actually post something. I missed two or three days but it couldn’t be helped.

I probably wouldn’t do anything differently if I started again, purely because this blog has been a voyage of discovery, a way for me to push my own creative boundaries. In that sense it’s taken me places that I’d never thought I’d go.

The thing I’m most proud of accomplishing this year is almost certainly having some poetry published in From Glasgow to Saturn. Without the drive this blog has given me, it wouldn’t have happened.

Now here’s the question I really wanted to answer: what surprised you about the challenge? The difficulty of it. Challenge is definitely the correct term. Although I’ve already said that writing seems to come naturally to me, there’s still an immense amount of work involved in creative writing. Rarely does an idea hit the page fully formed. Editing and redrafting are definitely the aim of the game.

On a similar note, the study of literature is very much about the dissection of books, their themes and their impact on society. When I was in school I used to think that we were looking too much into books, and that all the imagery, metaphors and deep textual analysis was essentially just trying to find something that wasn’t really intended to be there by the author. However, when I started studying literature it dawned on me that many authors and poets actually do intend to layer their work with meaning. Yet, this opinion changed again when I started studying creative writing. Most authors take care of plot and characters first before adding in that extra layer. In fact, it appears that a lot of that extra layer stuff is added subconsciously by many authors.

It seems that a little of both is involved; on one hand the author sometimes intends to imbue their work with many layers and sometimes they just do it subconsciously. That’s really what makes textual analysis of novels and poems so exciting.

The hardest part of writing for me was doing that. Many people can write pretty words, but it’s very hard to write pretty words with multiple meanings or with fantastic imagery and that works on different levels. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded yet, nevertheless when I’m writing I tend to keep these things in mind.

Creative writing is not an easy thing to do and you have to work very hard to be any good at it. No one just spits out genius on the page, not even the absolute greats. So perhaps, above all, that’s what this blog has taught me the most – even if it is hard work, as long as you enjoy it, the effort is worth it in the end.

What advice would I give to bloggers who want to blog regularly? Have a theme in mind or a goal, but don’t beat yourself up if you go off topic or stray from the path towards that goal. I’d also so say just do it. When you make the commitment make sure you’re entirely aware of what it entails because a lot of the time you might be too exhausted to post. If that ever happens, post about it. Just write every day. It helps, trust me.

Truth be told, I never really did play the blogging game in the end. Between uni, work and creativity the only blogs I came across are the ones who came across me first. If you’re following me and you’re reading this, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to read whatever I had to say. I didn’t start this in order to have a legion of regular readers however the fact I have just a few really is tremendous and I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed it. My gratitude to you guys is eternal.

For 2012 I’m going to blog less, maybe only once or twice a week. Instead what I hope to do is focus on writing a whole lot more. You place a great deal of pressure on  yourself when you’ve agreed to blog every day for a year, often meaning that you’ll end up posting things which could use a little more work just so that you have content for that day. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most; the pressure of having to post something but without the daily timeframe. More editing, more redrafting and more writing for 2012 with the goal of creating work which surpasses anything I’ve done so far.

Oh dear, I seemed to have rambled now for nearly 1600 words. I’ll wrap this up then, shall I?

Personally 2011 has been a pretty poor year. For my closest friends, family and I this year has been pretty grim. Creatively it’s been great (with very little of the creative output focussing on the events going on around me) so hopefully it’ll get even better next year.

With every ounce of my being I thank you for reading this. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Tonight, a chapter ends but the book is still being written. I hope you stick around in 2012.