how late it was

I’ve never grown out of wanting to stay up late. There’s a glamour to the night time, a certain electricity in the air. When I was younger, I liked to stay up all night with my friends. I was always the last to go home or go to sleep. Now, all my friends have grown up, and the last time I stayed up all night I felt horrible the next day, like my body was made of gravel and dirt, and my brain was busy with voices… So I thought I won’t do that again.

I used to like to write at night, because I felt like I had the world to myself. Growing up in a big, loud family, you learn to carve out time, solitude, peace, and then to defend it tooth and nail. I read a lot and was usually able to leave my body and live inside the story. Sometimes I think that I wouldn’t have survived my family at all if it weren’t for books.

Nowadays, night times are not so peaceful. My neighbours disturb me. Living in cities, so close together… I hear them moving around. Their music is intrusive, the boring thump-thump-thump of a bass line.  I want to live somewhere I can hear silence. I want to see stars in the sky at night, and be a little afraid to walk along the path to the water, and stumble, and hear the unearthly cries of the foxes in the woods.

For a long time I’ve been feeling that I want my life to change. But I have not known the shape or way it should change. I don’t want anything, or the things I want are everyday things. To sleep without earplugs. To hear the rain. To spend my time reading and writing. A very simple kind of life. But I’m not a simple kind of person, I’m complicated and full of contradiction. I want courage, is what it is.


something is squeaking

Something is squeaking in my room, and no no NO it is not my small bewhiskered friend Alphonse, he of the beret and the Gauloise and the stinky cheese. (I upset him by stuffing all the mouse holes with wire wool and peppermint-soaked cotton, and haven’t seen him since.) Maybe there is always something squeaking in my room at half past three in the morning. I wouldn’t really know because as a rule I am asleep at that time, with earplugs squeezed in my lugholes on account of all the outside noises I still haven’t gotten used to.

Maybe it’s my brain that’s squeaking. This book I’m writing has been kicking my arse lately, and insisting on getting me up in the middle of the absolute night if I want to achieve plenty wordage, which I do. Writing books is hard. It’s so hard it amazes me that anyone has ever actually managed to do it. It’s so supremely difficult that I can see now why some people will do anything but anything to avoid writing books, no matter how much they insist that’s what they really really want more than anything. I know plenty of ‘writers’ who don’t write. Edinburgh is seething with them. There’s a whole literature ‘scene’ in Edinburgh that pretty much seems like one big long excuse for not actually writing very much. (I put ‘scene’ in scarequotes because I wouldn’t want you to confuse it with an actual scene that’s like, you know, happening and groovy.)

You’d think there would be some kind of balance, a happy medium between poncing around on the ‘scene’ being a ‘writer’, and being awake at three-thirty in the morning fighting with your story-brain so hard that you are seriously considering attempting to persuade a mouse to write that tricky third act of your novel.

But that is not the squeak of a mouse. Perhaps it is the moon that is squeaking. Perhaps this is how the moon sounds: sharp and squeaky like a broken chair. A broken chair… Oh.

Oh, I see.

the rock

When it comes to a choice between moving and staying, taking action or standing still, I have always favoured movement. Some people believe in the value of staying put, of being where you are and appreciating it. Maybe they feel that wherever they are is where they’re meant to be. Some people believe that everything is an illusion, so there is nowhere to go and nothing to do, and one must simply be. In that place where you are, maybe you can write or paint or simply watch and listen. It sounds so wonderful, so perfect. So final.

If everything is an illusion, then it doesn’t matter if you move or stay still. You could spend the next 40 years staring at a rock, or you could walk around the whole world, and there would be no real difference. There is no world, and there is no rock, so what does it matter which illusory thing you focus on? But if there is no difference, perhaps it would be more comfortable and sensible to choose the rock.

But some of us, we just can’t see things that way. We are not content with being. We want to become. Better, different, more. (And some of us get stuck, in cities and houses where we don’t belong, with people who are not our people, and we are seized with urgency: we must go now.) If something isn’t working, then let it go. Don’t stay because you’re stuck. Pull yourself up by the roots, start again.

In writing, though, I’ve been trying to cultivate a different way of being. Sticking with it. Sitting with it, even though the natural urge is to move on. I love to start new things! The feeling of starting a new story is so shiny. Short stories are great because you stay just long enough to get the gist, then you move on. And novels are so long. You have to stay in one place for a long time, and just sit there. Staring at the rock. It’s just a big grey rock. The challenge is to see that it is flecked with silver, that it has faces and shadows, that it has history. The challenge is to see that the rock contains the illusion as completely as anything else, including the whole rest of the world.  And then to just keep sitting, keep writing, and keep hoping you haven’t made a terrible mistake.



The internet is depressing. I know so much stuff right now that I really wish I didn’t. Every morning I wake up to stories of economic disaster, poverty, death, systemic violence against females, war, injustice… It’s not that I don’t want to know what’s going on in the world, more that I don’t want to be immersed in the worst of it from morning til night. A part of me actually feels guilty for not spending 100% of my time staring this stuff in the face, as if that would change any part of it, or help me, or anyone. It just makes me bloody miserable, that’s all.

The other depressing thing about the internet is the fact that it provides an infinitely deep pool of mindless distractions, perhaps to counterbalance the constant stream of bad news and misery. So you read the news and blogs about what terrible things are happening, and it’s so awful you have to go and stare at pictures of cute kittens for half an hour, just to give you the energy to face the rest of the day.

Before I had broadband internet access, I never once went to the library to look at pictures of cats. If you had told me then that I would one day spend literal hours of my life reading articles about films I had no intention of ever seeing, or that I’d seek out and watch a video about how pencils are made, I would have laughed in your face. Actually, that pencil video is pretty interesting. But the point remains.

A while ago, I paid money for a program (Freedom) which enables me to turn off my internet and stops me from turning it back on until I’ve finished my work. That is a great program, but seriously? What kind of weak-minded person has to be physically restrained from checking facebook? When she’s supposed to be doing her life’s work? There is clearly something wrong with me.

So I’ve decided to take drastic measures, and ditch broadband. I’m moving cities soon, and whatever kind of new place I find myself living in, it’s not going to have constant internet access. I reckon that if I have to buy a cup of coffee every time I want to check my emails, my internet use is going to become a lot more focused and efficient. Either that, or I will become a caffeine-crazed, broke, non-writing writer, who spends all her time in cafes looking at lolcats and having palpitations. I’m willing to take my chances.



1. Last night, a silvery-blue Labrador was running through my dreams. I told his person, “I love all your dogs, but him! He wrenches at my heart.” I made a motion, like I was wringing out a towel. I really loved that dog.

2. Grief never goes away. You just push it deeper into your heart. I think that’s the human condition. Until we find a cure for death, we’ll carry on with this doomed loving.

3. I’m writing every day. It’s hard to make a routine work. It’s natural for people to avoid routines, especially when their days are timetabled and there’s hardly any time left over for people and trees and dogs. But I’m writing every day.

4. Once upon a time, about seven years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought a terrible and confusing thought. This afternoon, I finally realised what it really meant, and how my mistaken understanding had led me so far away from where I was supposed to be. I saw it all clearly, in a flash of inspiration… and I laughed. What else can you do?




the time it takes

There’s this moment in the writing of a story, when you’ve written and rewritten, revised, edited, taken out all the extra words, and given your characters a few more things to do other than nodding their heads, shaking their heads, smiling and shrugging; there’s this moment where you think you have finished. Yay, you wrote a story! So you give it one more go over, correct your spellings, and send it off into the world.

About a year and a half later, you read your story again, and see all your clumsy sentences and all your mistakes. You realise that there is a way to resolve that nagging plot problem. You suddenly understand why that character does what she does. You see how easy it would be to rewrite that section of prose and make it say exactly what you failed to say the first time around.

Unfortunately, by this point, it’s very likely that you are reading your story in some magazine or book, which you have also encouraged all your friends and family to buy. Cringe-a-rama!

If you’re still holding on to that story – perhaps you couldn’t sell it, or maybe something didn’t feel quite right, and you never tried – you are now the luckiest writing piglet in the world. You get to revise the hell out of it, make it beautiful, and correct all those terrible mistakes you had no idea you were making at the time.

As much as we want to get published NOW and have people reading our stories RIGHT NOW, patience and slowness make stories better. I suspect this goes double or triple for novels, where there are so many more elements to fuck up, and so much more impatience to get the damn thing over and done with.

It’s reassuring to know how much we improve as writers, simply by continuing to turn up and write as often as we can. Even when you feel completely stuck, you are processing all that experience into wisdom, so that one day you can say to yourself, wow that is really a crappy story I wrote. I could write it so much better now.

not the daily george

Folks, I am reconsidering this whole blogathon thing. I am really struggling to find writing time at the moment, and I am way way way behind on critting and editing and subbing stories. I think a daily blog is just too ambitious for me right now, so I’ve decided to reel it in a bit.

From now on I’m going to be blogging twice a week, probably on Mondays and Fridays. I want to write blog posts that are interesting and entertaining, rather than ones that are rushed and full of complaints about how little writing time I have. The last thing I would want is to suck all the joy out of blogging! It is a really fun thing to do, and I love hearing from people, and I hope that by posting less frequently, there will be more here that’s worth reading and talking about.

And on that note, it’s back to work on the novel…


Just realised I hadn’t blogged today! Am fixing that right now. Time has just got away from me – was teaching this morning, then spent three hours planning lessons and another two hours catching up on other paperwork, and now I am hungry and I still have to do at least an hour of proper writing… So, yikes all around then.

What I want to know is, how do you fit writing in with your other work? It seems to me that you can be a full-time writer if your partner supports you, or you have some kind of independent means, or you are writing bestsellers. The rest of us need jobs. So how do you fit writing in? Get up early and do it before work? Stay up late? Sacrifice something else?

I try to write every day, even if I only manage 15 minutes. Some days, even that seems hard to achieve.

How about you?