Saturday, 31 October 2009

Writing, Running and Blogging

That's me in the red and white halves
at the Trapprain Law race earlier this

I am a member of one or two (maybe three) on-line writing communities, and My Writers Circle are my two favourite writers’ sites at present. I am also a member of a running club and a triathlon club. I often visit sports club’s web sites. A lot of people write on or to these sites. In fact one of the running sites has a regular blogger on it (Mr Stuart Hay) who participated in my social research earlier this week.

As an infant blogger, I have started to look at the sites with new eyes and see if I can discover why people do what they do. I am seeking any insight offered into why people bother to write when they don’t have to and why people go out in the wind and rain in Scotland to run around mean streets and desolate landscapes. I am of course one of them and could ask myself the same question, but I want to get a sensible answer so I am again taking the scientific approach. [I have often wondered why people run and the best I can come up with is that ‘life is far too soft and we need to suffer some of the time.’ When I have offered this explanation to other runners, they have usually told me to sod off]

But why do writers write, particularly if they are not getting paid for it and if they don’t know if anyone will ever read their wee pearls? It’s a bit like me sitting at this computer and writing this piece, not knowing if anyone will ever read it. So whom am I addressing? Is it cyber space? Now that is a scary thought. might offer an explanation. This site offers authors the very remote chance of getting their book published. To arrive at this hallowed place, you must first put the chapters of your book on the site. Then you give comments about other author’s books and receive comments back from them. You can put a book on your shelf, which is a bit like voting for it. Other people can put your book on their shelf, if they like your story. At the end of each month Harper- Collins promise to read the top five books with the most votes that month. They write a crit of the story and very occasionally, they offer the author a publishing deal. Now this is a great idea for dealing with the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts that arrive at publisher letterboxes each week. Something that isn’t obvious when you join up is that although the people who get to the top of the pile, undoubtedly have good stories they are also expert social net-workers who must spend twenty-three and a half hours a day on-line and the half hour they sleep they dream about publishing their book. The comments given and received on this site can be excellent and I have gained a lot from some of the good advice I have been given. So, this is a very good site because it offers you a way of achieving your dream, (the holy grail of publication) and you get a lot of support from like minded people who energetically pursue their hobby, calling, craft … without having to explain to anyone why they are doing it.

Runners’ web sites are pragmatic. They tell you who ran and how far, in what time and when you can do it all over again. There are many expressions of support and congratulations. So once again members of running or triathlon web sites share a sense of identity with other people who do the same thing without asking themselves why they do it.

Maybe people who support writing or running web sites don’t ask searching questions like why are you writing or running when you could be watching the telly or down the pub because that very question might kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. They might decide it’s not worth doing it any more

The question that a baby blogger barely out of his nappies has to ask is why do people and in case me, why do we blog?

This is the deliberatley home made looking cover of my book as it appears in

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Two Kinds of Horror

To further my apprenticeship as a fledgling blogger I thought it would be a good idea to expose myself to genres that I don’t usually follow. With this in mind, I came across a film, which stirred my curiosity. The blurb described ‘Thirst’ as everything you'd expect from from Korean director Park Chan- wook – violent, surreal, different – and full of moments of genius that breathe new life into the genre.
Friends had told me that the vampire genre is all the rage and as the last vampire film I saw was back in the ‘70’s and starred Christopher Lee, I thought I could do with a bit of a horror update.
Newsflash – vampire stories still contain gallons of false blood and deranged non-humans who just want their daily pinta and a place out of the sun. The film started off well and portrayed a priest who wanted to do good, but who ended up as blood sucking sex fiend with a conscience. I have to admit that the second half of the film made me quite squemish and I thought of leaving - something that I have never done in a film. But looking back on on all the blood and gore, I have to give it credit for being well done. The female lead is a fine actor, changing from a down trodden ‘dog of the family’ to super charged and evil vampire with a strong desire to drink blood. One thing that I noticed was that they don’t use vampire fangs anymore, people were dispatched with some very sharp sissors.
So, the lesson learned from this experience is that, I wont be writing any vampire stories in the near future. But now that Haloween is just around the corner, maybe I should dust down my very own (non vampire) horror story. Set in Haddington and called ‘Bridge over the Panny.’

Last night, a different type of horror was descirbed by Avi Shlaim, who discussed his new book Isreal and Palestine, at the Independent and Radical Book Fair, hosted by Word Power books, in the Drill Hall, Leith. Avi is an Oxford don, who was once conscripted into Isreal’s army. He described himself as a revisionist historian who believes in a two state solution to the conflict based on the boundaries which existed before the war 1967. His view's are forthright and he speaks with humour and honesty. Avi quoted another revisionist historian to describe the essence of the conflict, 'The Jews are the victims of the Holocost and the Palistinians are the victims of the Jews.’
Avi talked about the complex history and events of the area for an hour and then responded to three rounds of questions from the audience. Not bad for a 63 year old man suffering from a nasty cold.
He has written several books about the Arab – Isreali conflict, which are all available at the book fair.

Monday, 26 October 2009

A newbie on the block

I’m a newbie, virgin, just off the boat beginner at the blogging malarkey. The blurb says it's just about writing down your thoughts and sharing them with people… aye right!
If anyone is going to read my blog then it will have to offer them something. I’ve already hinted that I’m a bit of a butterfly, landing on the flower that seems to be the most interesting at the time. Is that a good thing for a blogger to be? In fact, what is a good blogger? In the best traditions of social research, I decided to do some fieldwork and find out what makes a blogger.
First of all the fieldwork. I looked at the styles of well know local and international bloggers. This wasn’t as difficult as it sounded. I had four bloggers who I occasionally read and they acted as my random sample.
First the international blogger Natham Bransford. This guy is a literary agent for a high flying publisher and a highly recommended and prestigious blogger. He lives on the West Coast of the US and writes about all things to do with writing and getting published. Having read some of his posts I noticed two things - he is well received and gets lots of comments – okay three things – he writes very well (annoying ), four things – he writes like a West Coast American, with lots of references such as ‘Let’s shoot for the high country,’ or ’ I'm a Times New Roman guy, so I'd shoot for 3-4 pages double spaced TNR.‘ Having read this I must be on the track of something.
Next comes a well known runner (in East Lothian he is) and jazz enthusiast Stuart Hay. Now I can really relate to this guys wit and in depth knowledge of the said running and jazz, both things I like, but maybe not as much as Stuart. Applying the test of noticing things about his blogs… well yes he does sound a lot like a Scottish runner who likes jazz and has a lot to say about running and jazz. So that can’t be a bad thing can it?
Now I come on to Nicola Morgan, who describes herself as a ‘crabbit old bat’ who helps people who need a publisher. Reading her posts, I notice that she tells her readers that getting published is an incredibly difficult business, rent with heart ache and disillusion and the only thing to do is ‘ never, ever give up writing.’ She also mentions chocolate quite a lot. Now this woman is very successful, she has published loads of books and when I met her she was the chair of the Scottish authors society. Does she live up to her title?… well she likes to think so.
My final piece of research takes in my good friend Christine Howson. Now Christine is a mother, a very good swimmer and she likes triathlons. So we have a lot in common, apart from the mother bit and of course I’m not a very good swimmer, anyway, what she writes about is her family and various aspects of family life and events that happen to her, such as swimming and entering triathlons. I must say that she sounds like a mother a very good swimmer and of course, a marine biologist… that is obvious from the photos on her blog.
So what has my research shown? Well all four bloggers are good writers and they write like the people they are, and about the things that are important to them.
And what have I learned?
1. A blogger is a person who likes writing and posting things on a blog site.
2. It’s important to be a good writer.
3. It’s a good idea to write about things you are interested in with a style which is instantly recognisable as your own and not somebody who lives in San Francisco.
4. It helps if the things that interest you, also interest other people who can comment on what you have written.
5. Reading other people’s blogs is good idea.

Now that I have carried out this research I feel ready to move on to the next stage in my blogging career and find out how to become a good writer. Work out which of the many things I am interested in, I should write about. After that I can write a little tag line describing my blog and what it is about… brilliant.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

An Autumn Sunday

Just like any other day, Sunday's can be sunny, wet, windy cold and mild or many combinations and sometimes they include rainbows for good measure.
Last Sunday wasn't bad so having spied an attractive looking gallery with coffee shop attached, in the Art magazine, Pat and I decided to cross the Forth and head to West Fife. We took the turning off to Rosyth and headed along the Fife coastal route looking for Culross. Luckily, it's not hard to find and we didn't need to get the map out. No, we don't own a gps (and I don't own a TV and yes I know it's strange.)
I hadn't heard of Culross before so I wasn't prepared for what I found. But more of that later! The first thing we spotted was the RED LION pub. Now that was an coincidence because only the night before a guest had told us that he had just watched an interesting programme in which every RED LION pub in the UK was visited and it resulted in interesting TV. The plot seemed a bit thin to me but when I saw the pub I was immediately curious about whether or not it had a visit from the camera crew and had they met interesting local characters? Little did I think that this might be an omen of what was to come.
The first thing we did was to walk along the coastal path and look over to the Central Belt. What a sight Grangemouth is. I have seen bits of it from the M9 and even ran a 10k through it once but I hadn't appreciated the extent of the oil refinery. It's huge and makes a stark contrast with the Forth and the surrounding hills. We walked on avoiding a few wobbly Sunday morning cyclists and discovered some leafy woods and a track which lead to the gates of Longannet power station in Fife which appears at number 17 on a list of the least efficient and the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in Europe. Neither of us knew it was there but we should have guessed when we saw the huge chimney on the horizon.
By the time we got back to Culross we needed a coffee but before we found the famous gallery and coffee shop we went into a National Trust building and began to suspect there was more to Culross than met the eye.
Biscuit Cafe at Culross Pottery and Gallery were worth the wait. The gallery both upstairs and downstairs is packed with attractive pottery and original pieces and colourful, tempting paintings. If I am able to start a cafe rating scale on this blog, then the Biscuit cafe will be challenging the leaders. Everything has been thought though to give a pleasant experience as you sit and sip an excellent latte and droole over wonderful home made fruit scones. Of course you might want to try your own selection. I loved the way they had used a limited amount of space to conjure up a great atmosphere with big windows and plenty of foilage to keep your interest. The staff were really pleasant too. Pat, who is an expert on cafes all over the Lothians and Fife was impressed, so we will go for **** and a half gold stars out of five.
Re-energised, we explored the rest of Culross and what we found was a wonderful village with narrow lanes and pebble, cobbled roads. The houses are sixteenth and seventeenth century and are very attractive. Culross Abbey is at the top of a steep road and looks like it could be from the Borders. It is very interesting to walk around, as is the Church which was once part of the Abbey. You get a real sense of history as you go in and see the names of people who donated Merks (Scottish silver coins worth 13s 4d) to the local populaton in the middle eighteenth century. We were really surprised to find a corner of the church had been given over to contemplation with Tibetan prayer flags swaying above the scene. On the way down the road we came across a garden open day. We walked through the wooden gates and were immediately aware of the delightful smell of the flowers. The garden is wonderfully laid out and has grand views down to the Forth. The man who had built it up for the last twenty years told us he doesn't go in for garden competitons, he had enough of those over the last twenty-six years when he was a PE teacher. He has managed to get an incredible number of flowering plants to grow in late October.
So, the RED LION was a good omen and what we found in Culross was an attractve and interesting place to visit and have a coffee on an Autumn Sunday

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Mother India

Spoke to my daughter Zoe earlier today. She has been travelling around India for the last 3 and a half months. Zoe has just returned to Varanasi in Utter Pradesh from Pokhara in Nepal where I visited in 2001. It's nice to know that she has seen the holy mountain of Macchapuchare reflecting in the lake. When I was speaking to Zoe I could hear the back ground noise from the crazy scenes you get in the cities in India, it's not a bit like here and it is good to be reminded about the different beliefs, lifestyle and culture of that country. Zoe will be travelling through Orrisa and Andra Pradesh where I was cycling earlier this year. When I got back I wrote a poem about my experiences with our group of cyclists. An unforgettable experience.

Some of our party knew India.
Had cycled it's roads.
They knew her intensity.
People crushing together in cities.
Traffic playing a distraught symphony
with their horns and performing a graceful dance.
Lorry and tut tut swaying by each other,
slowing occassionally to let a cow walk through.

Some noticed the vibrant colours of saris
worn by women shifting rubble - baskets on their heads.
My friends had been warmed by children smiling, waving,
shouting hello - goodby.
They had cycled through villages of happy people.

Our party knew the sun as they cycled by paddy fields.
They understood the lengths our crew went,
to prepare our meals and look after us.
They were familiar with the horns of the
buses, lorries, cars and tut tuts,
each horn sending a warning as they passed by.

These people were meeting old friends at the
Leper Hospital and the Health clinic.
They knew LEPRA and it's work.

But I didn't know any of this -
I had 350 miles to ride
before I found out.


Thursday, 22 October 2009

Getting started


I'm Ray, welcome to my blog. It will be great to share some ideas with like minded bloggers. The tltle of my blog might change to reflect where I am heading at a particular time. This is because I like writing, painting, running, cycling and swimming. So depending on whether I'm injured, inspired or knackered the content of the blog might change to reflect that. Right now I'm injured so I'm not running but I am swimming and the desire to write is quite strong. As time goes on I might put some stories and poetry on here and if I can work out how - a painting or two. I'm learing to paint in water colour and it's a great thing to do. Oh the other thing I like is good music, particularly jazz. I'm listening to Smashing Pumpkins right now - not exactly jazz but very good. Did I mention I like reading.. well there you go. Swapping impressions on books would also be a great idea.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to cycle in India. That's me (on the bike) just finishing the ride, which was in aid of LEPRA.