Wrong Turns

Spring is bold and bright. My friend visits, beautiful, in white shoes. We walk, meet neighbours along the path, avoid dogshit, see wild strawberry flowers already in blossom. We discuss her father, his failing mind, the buddy system that tracks him as a blinking dot on a screen when he goes out for a walk, forgetting that he forgets, even his speech unravelling.

Afterwards, on my fifth cup of stewed, strong dark tea, we talk about how our lives fall short, what we think we’ve missed, sudden death. My friend says ‘I think I may have taken a wrong turn’. I fall silent. Are friends supposed to comfort each other? Or do we sometimes just nod. Life falls short. We fail. Things are not what we wish they would be.

My boyfriend and my son return, shouting, and people move cars and my friend leaves for the city. I sit here looking at the duck egg sky, the Campsies that are always dappled, dark Prussian blue, pale gold sunshine. We want to move house, somewhere bigger, somewhere safer, somewhere more permanent. There is nowhere to go. Life is all made of wrong turns. It’s okay.


How To Get Him Back

… is the title of my list fiction piece in this lovely new anthology from Little Fiction.

Get it here now, for free, along with some wonderful pieces from 15 other writers.


FeatherLit is a new online zine for literary erotica and sex writing.

It’s a place for experimental, though provoking, inventive and unusual work, whether in the form of fiction, poetry, essay or memoir.

FeatherLit was hatched out of a yearning for a particular kind of place. I wanted to make a space where we could celebrate writing that explores sex and sexuality without always feeling the need for a money shot. Writing that asks questions, that takes risks and is not ashamed to use the word ‘literary’ in the same breath as ‘sex’.

These are some of the reasons I’m launching FeatherLit.

I hope to bring new, fresh, exciting work to the net every month. This work can be erotic or it can be thoughtful or both. It doesn’t even need to include sex (although of course often it will). It does, however, need to excite and inspire the reader. There are no limits other than that of 500 words. (And even that is open to discussion). Once a year I hope to publish a collection of the best stories.

I’m launching with an open mind and a willingness to make mistakes. I don’t even know yet where all this might go, but I’m looking forward to the journey.

I hope you’ll join me.


Hope is the thing with feathers

– Emily Dickinson

I want to write a poem about mountains. But how do you fit a mountain in a poem? I want to write about how scared I am and how easy it is to fail. How I drove over land masses and through great crevasses today with my son asleep in the back, taking photographs with one hand and the focus on the camera all wrong. I was almost ready to accept getting older, like you accept insults from someone you love.

The landscape was great enormous heaps of gold shoulders. I stopped the car high up on the Rest And Be Thankful pass, where the laybys are full of mountain rescue vans. Only idiots would be moved by the size of mountains, but I was. The world felt big enough to face up to. I had to start up the car before the feeling faded.

I was driving from one falling down house to another, thinking of home and whether safety is what kills us in the end. I left most of the words littered on the road.


Recently I learned that the word ‘husband’ meant the keeper of a house long before it meant anything to do with marriage. And of course a housewife is wed to the household, if you take the word on face value.

Lately I do a lot of sorting. There are boxes for foil, tins, glass, paper, card, and milk cartons. I collect compost. Orange peel and burst teabags spilling wet rich fragrance over my hands. Wasted food.

I just put on a white wash. Three loads a day, sometimes – muddy grubby shitty clothes, towels, billowing sheets as white as the cold landscape. I like the squareness of sheets, the smell of hot laundry out of the drier. I like how your feet go numb and then burn when the ground is frozen and you walk over it. We’re in flood season, the river rises and the snowline falls. Roads close, bridges wash out. It’s light only for about seven hours – a brief glimmer of day. We submit to the weather. I watch the snow fall.

Six years ago I published my first novel. Then I started writing a lot of short stories. Then flash fiction, a whole slew of 100 word pieces. Recently I rediscovered my long lost love – poetry. I found the depths and miniature grace of haiku.

It seems I’m working slowly towards silence. There’s a blizzard outside. Wrap up warm.


The Rules of Haiku

You think you’ll one day write a haiku so sharp it’ll cut jugulars, so golden it’ll blind people. In fact, you’ll write many, many haiku, lay them out in a mess, try to arrange them, make ladders out of them. Mostly they’ll be scraps, warm in your hand like bread dough, limp and prone to holiness when you roll them out.

You need to twist them in your hands. Make snakes. Ropes. Climb the ropes. Tie knots in them first. Not loops. Don’t get caught. Every so often you’ll stumble on a good one, and stumble is almost always how you’ll find them. Nevertheless, you have to do the other stuff first, the careful laying and meticulous brushstrokes. It isn’t the way it will happen but you have to pretend.

No. Not pretend. You have to believe it, make yourself believe the impossible. Then the other thing will happen and you’ll be proven wrong and stupid and ugly and bad and falling over so, so happy.

Moreover – watch the others. Imitate them, then realise that mostly people say the opposite of what they mean. Watch the gaps in their words. Learn to accept what they say, take it on face value, even as you know they are talking in riddles.

We are all on a treasure hunt, the prize of which is a necklace made of diamonds so big and pure they scream like individual suns on a chain. Count them like a rosary, in your mind’s eye. Whisper as you touch each one. We all know it isn’t real, not even a convincing imitation, but even so, we must share the adventure – take a bead, test it between your teeth, give it back, nod your head, and look them straight in the eye.

Wait long enough that your heartbeats fill the space between you. Let them shake the air, even if it hurts. That moment, just before you say or feel anything – that lack of a taste in your mouth – that’s where to look for your haiku.


Feminist Flash 2011

Feminist haiku? How could I resist! Mookychick are running a new competition for feminist-themed flash pieces.

Here’s a recent poem I wrote while thinking about the male gaze and how people whom I don’t know have responded to my profile photo on facebook. I intend to write some more fresh flash and/or haiku especially for this event, but in the meantime, I thought this one was pretty relevant.

How Do I Look?

my face is a blank
so how will you mark it?
eyes shine hard as glass


This is an entry for the Mookychick blogging competition, FEMINIST FLASH FICTION 2011. Enter now.

I really look forward to seeing other people’s entries for this comp. Promise you’ll send me a link if you write something?

This is where I am

A flurry of articles about Scottish writing here.

I’m not Scottish. I’ve lived here since I was three and I’m an alien. I’ll always be a white settler, unwanted, despised, mocked, an outsider. That’s okay. I live here in disguise and I cut my own shape out of the land. I take the displaced earth and I eat it in handfuls, taste every bitter muddy clod. Scotland and I live in a state of cold war.

I’m not a writer. I’ve written for many years and I produce reams of blank pages. When exposed to light the words bleach out. They disappear into the ether. I read the wrong books, I speak the wrong language whenever I open my mouth. If I allow myself to think about it, I miss my painting studio, the smell of linseed oil and turps. I miss it like the man who ran off with his mistress and still dreams, secretly, of his long lost wife.

The last pictures I made were of fitted kitchens, of women with their faces burning, of rooms with small windows. They were done in heavy charcoal and the figures sat with hunched shoulders. The drawings are hanging on a washing line now, pegged up, the paper curling at the edges. I try not to look at them when I pass. Most of the time I have my son by the hand, and I’m taking him out for fresh air, teaching him how to share, how to be gentle, how to withstand the cruelty to come.


Land Girls

The men have scattered. Eyes as bright as bulbs, hands working
as if strangling invisible enemies, they charged into the burning east wind,
left fields to stretch naked under neutral skies, exposed to the weightless air.

Haver-grass thickens like muscles knotting. Swayback lambs wander
into ditches, nibble at their stagnant, fretful thirst. Blossom multiplies in the trees,
like an infestation. Leaflet bombs drift across the parched no man’s land of mid-year.

Each bears a picture of a field planted with thousands of graves, row upon row,
as neat as a head full of pin curls. The low mounds are spiked with markers, a stake
driven into the ground. The printed leaflets stick in the hawthorn.  Leaves furl

like an empty fist in a pocket: holding fast. Under the untouched earth,
wireworms tick. No-one is counting. It’s a black fallow, volunteer weeds
invade silently with the frost, ice trickle reaching the groundwater, piercing

underground streams, burning like fevered blood. France falls and the land is drawn
and divided. Surplus new girls swarm from the city, bombshells rise at daybreak to rake
the turned shoulders of the fields. The country is unlocked, rutted, seething, raw.

They dig blistered hands into the furrows of self, bury bullet-sized mangold seed in long lines
nobody calls trenches. They pull soil over the ditches like a counterpane,
they sing the sugarbeet to sleep. Along the wild edges they let the soft rushes grow.

At last the gardens are gone. Railings sawn, beds stripped of flowers – roses turned over
for white clover, borders mined with thin carrots as pale as hope. The arms and faces
of the women have turned a strong, dark bronze, like ripe wheat or statues of old, deposed gods.