Sunday, 29 November 2009


I started writing as a hobby about four years ago. To start with, I wrote a lot of poems. I don’t know if there is a reservoir of them in us all just waiting to be tapped, but in my case once I started it was like a crack in the dam and a whole tidal wave flooded out. These poems were often to do with places I have visited and in particular, places that have inspired me, which have often been in the countryside or beside the sea. There were poems about family and loved ones and some that were just a play on words or a reflection of the things on my mind at the time. It didn’t take long for me to start reading poetry books and I remember Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and Leonard Cohen figuring prominently. I made a great discovery of the poetry library in Edinburgh and I joined Jim Wilson’s poetry evening class at Edinburgh University. There are a lot of people out there writing poetry, and like many skilled people, good poets hone their skills over many years. I think that at the heart of a good poem is a truth that resonates with the reader. It is, to some extent an exercise of discovery for the writer and the audience.

Another discovery was the Tyne and Esk writers group, which I found on the Midlothian web site. I went along to the Dalkeith group and found a mix of people who brought their poems, short stories and novels to read. They are a great group who listen, offer advice, and are prepared to share their own work. Before long, I was impressed with the quality of the short stories people read and so I tried my hand at that genre. As I found with poetry, I had a lot to learn about writing good short stories… I’m still learning. Luckily, there are great resources to help you on your path. I have found some extremely useful writing web sites, including writers circle and authonomy. There are also any number of good books on ‘how to write.’ I rate Stephen King’s ‘On writing’ one of the best I have come across. People write for all sorts of reasons, but at the core of them all is a desire to communicate. If you write stories, you want to entertain and you want people to read what you have written.

I am amazed by the number of people who write. I only come across a small proportion of those who are published but looking at the web sites I use, people from across the world are eager to tell you their stories. In order to be published you have to develop a whole host of new skills and start to put your stories out there. This year I have been doing that. So far, I have had two stories published, ‘Odd Ball’ on the Southpaw journal and ‘Sunset dog beach’ on Pearl Luke’s web site. This week, I sent a letter, a synopsis and the first fifty pages of my novel ‘Mirror Lines’ to Jenny Brown associates. Their blurb states that if they don’t get back to you in eight weeks, forget it. Here’s hoping.

A quirky poem I wrote in April 2005 (Port Patrick is at the west end of the Southern Upland Way}


I’m tired of drinking in the usual way
I think I will drink with my eyes open today
Drinking in beauty on the edge of the lawn
Sipping in seagulls just before dawn
Letting sensations seep into my skin
Soaking it up and letting it in

Over the road is a much darker story
Clogged up pores cry out for mercy
Suffering sights assailing the eye
Thirsting for freshness and wanting to die
Drink till you’re merry; drink till you’re full
The path to Port Patrick was never so dull.

Ray Harris   © 2009

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Harvey Here

I’m so excited I can’t sit still. Got so much to tell you about my new home and the things I’ve been doing . Woof.
I’ve been going on lots of walks and now I am allowed off the lead and I can run around. Just to show how much I like this, I always go back when I am called.  Arrf.
I love the beaches around here, especially the ones with lots of sand that I can run on. A few days ago I went for a run with Ray (he’s the guy who feeds me, so I’m always pleased to see him.) woof woof
He’s not a bad runner, but he doesn’t stop to sniff at the interesting things you find on the beach. Grrr
This morning I went for a run in the park and met Bruno, he’s a Sprocker and he’s a bit bigger than me and a bit loopy. I ended up with paw marks all over my coat, grrr grrr
I’ve made another friend as well, called Sky, we have great fun running around the stubble field, woof woof.
This afternoon I was left in the kitchen and I chewed up a lot of things, I really like the way you can chew up plastic. Ray said that it was lucky the socket unit was switched off when I chewed through the radio wire. He wasn’t pleased with me for that,  arrf, woof, grrr.
I’ve got lots more to tell you but I’m a bit busy just now, I’ve got to go and shake some old socks that are tied together. arrf, arrf.
Ps I’m glad that Ray sewed up my bed after I had chewed it because it’s more comfortable like that woof woof. :. :. :. :.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

My First Tooth

I never expected it to happen, but here I am, one month into blogging. I have posted seventeen times (including this) and I now have a stack of labels as long as your arm. Labels… what? Yes, it’s true, there is a lot of jargon to learn when you try anything new. Labels are those handy little… well, labels that you put on the end of each post (submission to the blog.) But already I’ve got into trouble. The very nice list of labels that appeared somewhere on the blog, which you could hit in order to go to the blog in which it was featured has disappeared. Now, if I want to hit a label, all it does is give me the post I’m already reading. This is a pity because some of the labels are intriguing e.g. blood, horror, celebrities and cafes.
That brings me to my next discovery about the blogging world and me. We want to share our musings. In following this fine and noble cause, I have committed myself to a few things already.
• I’ve promised to start up a review of cafes I visit. There are two reviews on blogs already and I visited another today. So I am going to have to master the dark art of setting up lists on the blog .
• I’ve also promised to put another version of ‘An Autumn Leaf with Attitude’ on the blog and unless someone offers me money not to, that’s what I’m going to do.
• This is the biggie – I am following other people’s blogs. Yes, I have been seduced into the whole blogging world. This is particularly apt because the latest blog I have linked to is ‘.Belle du Jour,’ maybe seduced is the right word.  Confession time – I have nine blogs which I follow and blogger (trade name for the Google blog) kindly manage for me. I’m going to have to control myself.
My proudest moment has been getting my first follower. Zoë gets the gold medal for this. I’ve also had quite a few comments, which always gives me a little buzz.
So, what next? I’ve already got an idea for another list.
• Books, I have read. I hope that the world is ready for this – I am going to share my thoughts on my random book reading exploits.
• The best news yet is that I have a helper. Harvey has been mentioned on the blog quite often and he has agreed to contribute an occasional post. Thanks Harvey.

"Look forward to it - woof."

PS Just found out where the labels list is - in the edit page, which I think is a strange place to put it! (Harvey has the most labels - YES.)

Monday, 23 November 2009


Autumn Leaves Watercolour by Ray Harris

Last Wednesday night I went along to the Tyne and Esk writers group in Dalkeith and read them ‘An Autumn Leaf with Attitude.’ It was the final stage in a project to develop a poem on my blog.
Was it worth doing?
I would say yes, because I enjoyed the whole exercise and I got some useful comments both from my writers' group and from the on-line community ‘Writers Circle.’ I was also very pleased that Zoë joined in and wrote an autumn leaf poem… she has gone on to write another (very good) poem – this time about her experiences and impression of India.
So, what have I learnt?
Some people do not like poems about nature. They get a feeling of irritation and boredom when they come across silky stanzas, which extol the beauty of nature. They have perhaps come across Victorian poets who used rich imagery in their poetry. They think that poems should have an edge and make you think. To the extent that poems shouldn’t be boring I agree entirely. I think that the core of a good poem hits on something real which other people reading it can relate to. I like poems that get the reader to look at a subject from a different point of view. Mandy Haggith in her book ‘castings’ does this really well. Her poem ‘Out in the Open’ describes the coastline where she lives from the point of view of a lover.

this morning she waded in up to her belly button
lobsters biting the backs of her knees
winkles in her knickers
fish having sex in her sex

by noon she was posing reflected in sunshine
only her muddy feet in the water
bladderwrack dress clinging to rocky limbs
underwear a squirm of slaters and stranded
knees crusty with barnacles
and that tell-tale white jelly stain on her skirt

now she’s inching back in, letting it lap up her legs
nudging a hundred heads, a thousand tongues
under her petticoats
letting the tribe of tentacles touch her
slapping as they come into her
splashing as she plunges to meet them

I hope that I will continue to be inspired by nature and I don’t think that will be too difficult because Scotland has such a lot of natural beauty to offer.

The project isn’t quite over. Tyne and Esk’s writer in residence, Brian Whittingham, took a professional look and suggested that I shorten the poem. I liked what he said, so there will be ‘An Autumn Leaf with Attitude2.’ This is the first version which I would like to stand in it’s own right.

An Autumn Leaf with Attitude

I am an Autumn Leaf.
One of many
and like you,
I have a story to tell.
I know a thing or two
about life.

My ancestors - all 123 seasons
left me a message of growth.
Another year unfolds,
I add to the story,
tick a ring on my Oak.

My season is done but
I’ll leave in a blaze.
I’ve changed already.
I’m a chameleon of earth colours,
fluttering at the tip of my branch.

Soon, I will join my cousins,
feeding the earth
or I might ride the burn
to some far away bank.

Until then,
I’m a note in the symphony.
Rising and falling
in the breeze.

Delight your eyes
on my delicate dance.
Watch me move,
vibrant, in the dappled light.

When the time is right
I’ll join the fall
become part of the ensemble
and fly on the wind

We will cover you
like a swirling storm
and children will play,
amazed by our bounty.

© November 2009

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Lennoxlove Book Festival

I’m not impressed with celebritiess per se, but I do appreciate inspiring people. This week-end gave me the chance to attend the first Lennoxlove Book Festival, just outside Haddington and the bonus was that I didn’t have to pay anything! It started on Friday night when my allotted task was ‘Car Park attendant.’ Not what I had been hoping for! It was soon obvious that the book festival would be a success, judging by the number of cars, which filled the car park and most of the field below it. Quite a few people had their best shoes on and found the converted cow field heavy going. So, I didn’t get a whiff of any authors but I did get a lot of fresh air and so did Harvey.
Yesterday was the real business – and I saw four different authors strutting their stuff. My job was to direct people to their seats in the Festival Marquee, this comprised of making sure there were no gaps in the rows of seats so that everyone could fit in. The first two gigs were sell-outs and the next two were three-quarters full.

First off was the well-known children’s author called Michael Morpurgo. I have to admit that I had not heard of him, but the hundreds of children present had. Michael said that the worst thing you can do to children is bore them. He is an ex schoolteacher and he has a way of talking to the audience as if he is a spoilt child. He relates well to the kids talking directly with them and sometimes telling them to sit down. I was very impressed with the questions that the children asked him He entertained us with his latest story for five year olds called ‘The Best of Times.’ This was a magical story about a Prince and Princess which had an ideal at it’s heart. The more Michael talked the more we realised that he wrote about things that meant something to him, including a story from the devastating tsunami and a story about kites and the death of a young boy in Palestine. He also told us the story of why elephants have long trunks.

Next, Simon King, the wildlife cameraman and presenter of ‘Big Cat Diary’ and ‘Autumn Watch’ entertained us with stories about his life. Simon likes living on the edge and he proved this once again by throwing his allotted time open to questions from the audience. He took one step further by doing away with the roving mic. Simon is charming and witty, his stories about Shetland fascinated me, because I was there earlier this year. But when I came home, he went off to the Masai Mara. Simon talked about cheetahs, orcas, crocodiles, foxes, otters and many, many more animals. Strangely, his most dangerous expedition was on a traffic island in Bristol.

Gervase Phinn is a man in a million. We were expecting him to be at the peak of his story telling powers (the festival guide told us so) and we got a funny, clever and thoroughly entertaining hour. Here is a man of deep-seated beliefs about the way we should treat children. ‘They deserve the very best we can give them.’ During his career, he has been a schools inspector and many of his tales showed us the world through the eyes of children. His jokes were side splitting. One of his best was when he and the Lord Mayor of Rotherham asked a small boy why he wasn’t going to the Christmas nativity play.
‘It’s been cancelled,’ was the reply.
‘Why?’ they asked.
‘Virgin Mary’s got nits,’ was the ultimate in one-line answers.

After the festival was over I joined the authors I had recently been enthralled with in the great hall of Lennoxlove where we were treated to a song by Martine McCutcheon. I went off to see how Harvey was getting on, reflecting that I had found some inspiring people who also happened to be celebraties.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Just Back

‘Is it’- I ask myself – ‘a good thing to do lots of different things?’ To find the answer I could look at the sorts of things I have been doing recently. Yesterday, I went to Stirling and attended a networking conference on Telecare – not too bad a thing to do especially as Telecare is quite interesting and I spoke to people from around Scotland, including a woman from Orkney, who brought me up to date with some of the things that happen there. She thinks that the way they are using the ‘oil money’ is much more sensible than the way they use it in Shetland. There may be a bit of Northern Isle rivalry in this. When I got home, I went to the running club and had my first injury free run for six weeks. We did a session in the soft, water soaked park, which was good for my legs…. Good thing.
After that it was the usual trip to the Tyneside free sandwiches and pizza and to introduce Harvey to runners… well he has to learn about life’s odd ball’s some time! Another Good thing
I have spent most of today in various meetings at work. Not a good thing, then I took Harvey around to dad’s old folks home, where he was a hit with all the old ladies and gentlemen… Good thing.
So there are a lot more good things than not good things in the list and I guess that if I went through my daily activities I would have a lot of good things to note down and the bad things would be around activities that I’m not keen on doing, like going to meetings for example. Another example of a bad thing is going to Tesco’s at any time, but particularly on a Saturday lunch time, which I did last Saturday.

Harvey Update: He is doing amazingly well in his new surroundings. He is very sociable and gets on with people and other dogs. He likes a lot of attention. I am teaching him to sit and stay. He has been good at learning these instructions, but I suspect that his concentration will go if there is something interesting happening, such as another dog appearing on the scene. For that reason I haven’t let him off the lead when we are out walking. I’ll hold on for a while longer before I do that. I have let him off when we get out of the car and up to now he has run to the front door or stayed by my side, so that’s a good sign.

p.s. Lia and Harvey get on together… another good thing.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

What’s been happening?

First of all a doggy update; Harvey is coming through with flying colours! Socially, he is charming and competent. He had plenty of opportunities to display his talents yesterday. In the morning he was as a guest of the Tynepark art group and was a big hit. After that he met a couple of friends in Haddington. He isn’t phased at all by any situation he has come across and he has a way with the ladies, something that his owner Paul said he might not be too good at, because he hasn’t met many women before. Today he is going to meet some work colleagues and this afternoon he will meet my granddaughter who is 5 years old. Paul said that Harvey doesn’t have much experience of children, so we will see how he gets on. Up to now, he has wanted to be friends with everyone, let’s hope that continues.

There have been developments with my on-line poem 'An Autumn Leaf with Attitude.' I put it on the poetry section of a writers web site called ‘Writers Circle; and got some useful comments, some of which I have used to revise the poem. I hope to get more constructive criticism at the next writers group in Dalkeith. After that, I will post the final version on the blog. I think I will make that an ‘Autumn Leaves’ day and post a watercolour painting on the same subject, which I am working on at the moment.

CAFÉ - CAFÉ… The second in my occasional series on cafes I visit describes the Tyninghame Smithy country store and café. As the name implies, an old Smithy (Smiddy in Scottish) building is now an ample store of arts and crafts with a more modest space for the café. Tyninghame is a lovely, unspoilt village of stone cottages. It is near the coast and perfect for a visit after some healthy exercise walking on the beach and in the woods. The best time to visit is on a sunny day when you can sit outside in the courtyard. Dog bowls of water are provided (I’m noticing things like that now.) The café inside is a little cramped and the coffee is made in a cafetier there is no Latte or Cappuccino on sale. There was in an interesting variation on the fruit scones with cherry’s used, the verdict from the others about the cakes was – very good. Overall the café is well worth a visit and I would give it **** out of *****.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Doggy’s Tail

Last night Harvey came to stay. His owner Paul brought him to the house and he we chatted for an hour as Harvey and I got to know each other. Harvey is inquisitive, he had a good look all around the house and made friends with me quickly. It was a good start, but how would he take to his new surroundings? The first test was when Paul left, Harvey was a bit upset with a little whimper, and he had a look at the door. But his attention was soon taken with Pat who arrived five minutes later. Harvey was very interested with the cooking going on in the kitchen. He really took to Pat and wanted to be on her knee all the time. He has a winning way about him, and is full of fun and mischief. After the meal, it was time for our first walk. Harvey loved it; he was interested in every little thing we passed and particularly the lampposts. He walks lightly on his feet and is fast. The main test that confronted him last night was being left on his own for the first time in a new house. He usually shares a dog cage at night with several other dogs so it must have been very strange for him to spend a night without them When the lights went out he whimpered for a while and I returned and talked to him. He soon settled and never made another noise all night. What a well-adjusted mutt he is! This morning he was excited and dashed around the place with lots of jumping on laps and licking. We have been for another walk and he is sitting near the fire looking happy. It seems that my life has changed for ever but on the evidence so far it's for the better.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


Sometimes things happen that warm your heart. This week an unexpected and exciting thing happened to me. A friend at work knows how much I love dogs. When her nephew was looking for a new home for his nine-month-old Parsons Russell Terrier, called Harvey, she thought of me. I have seen his photo and he is very cute. He is house trained and lead trained and has an excellent pedigree. His owner, Paul says he has a very good nature and gets on well with other dogs and people. He has grown a bit big for shows so Paul thought he would make someone a good pet. That lucky someone is me.
I immediately responded to him and so did half the people in the office. They are as excited about him as I am. This afternoon, I started a document on the shared drive at work so that we can make a list of the things he will need. After thinking of some of the adjustments I will need to make in my life I phoned Paul and we have arranged for them both to come around next Monday evening. I can’t wait.

I went to the Tyne and Esk writers group last night. It was an unusual meeting because a storyteller called Greg joined us. He told us about story telling and about the creative activities he is helping to develop in Prestonpans. Our new writer in residence Brian Whittingham was also present so we were given a lot of useful advice. There wasn’t time to read my poem, which means I don’t have comments to feed back about it. We will have to wait a couple of weeks for those.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Baby blogger

My status as a baby blogger gives me a chance to ask some basic questions about blogging and I have been pleased to get some responses. People blog because they like writing and I can go with that. They also like having a forum to write about the things they are interested in and inspire them. There is also the philosophical question: why blog? – why do anything? I am intending to write this blog to share ideas about the things I am interested in with people who are also interested in them. It is also a great way to practice writing regularly, which, if you have any pretensions of being a writer is a good idea to do. Writers should also read a lot which makes writing a double whammy, unless of course you enjoy reading, which I do.
I am really pleased that Zoë has responded to my Autumn Leaves poetry project by sending me a poem of her own. Tonight I am going to my Creative Writing group and I will read them my ‘Autumn Leaf with an Attitude’ poem. Constructive criticism is always a good thing. So I hope that's what I get.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

An Autumn Leaf with Attitude

Over the last few blogs I've been developing ideas for a poem on Autumn Leaves. If anyone wants to join me on this project you will be very WELCOME! As promised I have produced the first draft of the poem. I got to it by thinking about all the leaves that fall at this time of year... there are crowds of them. It reminded me of being in a busy shopping centre full of people. So I thought even though it is a mass of leaves, each one is individual and just like people in crowd thinking of themselves as individuals I can take a slant on a single leaf as an individual in amongst the whole scene. So here is the first draft:

An Autumn Leaf with Attitude

I am an Autumn Leaf.
One of many
and just like you,
I have my story to tell.
I know a thing or two
about life.

My ancestors - all 123 seasons
left me a message of growth.
Another year unfolds and
I add to the story as I
watch this Oak grow old.

My season is done but
I will leave in a blaze;.
I’ve changed already.
I’m a chameleon of earth colours,
fluttering at the tip of my branch.

Soon I will join my cousins,
feeding the earth
or I might ride the burn
to some far away bank.

But till then,
I’m a note in the symphony.
Rising and falling
with the wind.

Delight your eyes
with my delicate dance.
Watch me move,
Vibrant, in the dappled light.

I will cover you
like a storm of snow
and children will play,
amazed by my bounty.

© 3 November 2009

Monday, 2 November 2009

Hidden East Lothian

There are some beautiful places to visit in East Lothian. Between the 47+ miles of coastline and the Lammermuir hills is a rich assortment of coast and countryside. I have lived here for 31 years and during that time, I have been out and about visiting all the well known beauty spots and to a large number of the not so well known places which often turn out to be wee gems. It’s great to find new places off the beaten track
Earlier this year I joined the Dunbar runners on their club nights. We ran to some spectacular places that were new to me and it was a delight to get to know them.
I made a great discovery on Saturday when I went to Gifford woods to undertake my Autumn Leaves field trip. The beautiful day and warm sunshine made me feel intrepid and I followed a track, which wasn’t marked as the public path, and I am glad that I did. The first thing I came across was a piece of artwork made out of slate, which comprises of three pyramids with red ornaments on the top. A cockerel strutted around them as if he owned them with several hers in attendance.

A little further on I got off my bike again to inspect an impressive Portico which had been removed from it’s original home and rebuilt at the side of a field, next to the wood – not what I was expecting at all.

Less than a mile further on, I stopped in my tracks and laughed aloud at the picture frame that hung between two trees. It was about five feet by three feet and the hills and trees in the background were the ‘picture.’ Gifford woods are a delightful place to walk or cycle and the artwork was the cream on the top.

Today I have been thinking about the ‘Autumn Leaves’ poem. Tomorrow I will put first draft on the blog.

Sunday, 1 November 2009


(Autumn Leaves in Gifford Woods)

Although I am new to the blogging malarkey or maybe because I am new, I have been thinking about using it to best advantage. If someone told me that anyone in the world who wants to drop into my blogspot could read my musings, I might feel overwhelmed. That is until someone else told me that I am only likely to be read by one or two people and that the chances of being propelled to international fame are as likely as me winning the lottery or getting my book published (both of which are on stand-by at the moment.)

This means that I have an unexpected freedom to use this amazing set up in the best way I can think of. If it is true that one person will read this blog and that person is you, I am delighted to say that I have an idea which might be of interest.

Here’s the deal - I like poetry and I like writing poetry about things that inspire me. If you like writing poetry too, why not use the next few blogs to put together a poem about autumn leaves. This does assume that you are in the Northern hemisphere and that it is autumn where you are, but if you are in Australia or any other country in the Southern hemisphere just enjoy the sun and imagine it’s autumn.
‘But..’ you might ask, ‘how will I write a poem on autumn leaves?
I have a plan.
The first thing to do is to make a few notes about autumn leaves. Here is one I did earlier – during a particularly boring meeting at work.
• Colours – yellow, red, brown and green.
• Leaf fall – wind.
• Mulch
• Spots on leaves
If you think that this is a bit sparse you are right, it was after all an uninspiring meeting. Luckily, I remembered something that a very good poet called Mandy Haggith told me when I was in Lochinver
‘Go out and note down your observations and thoughts,’ she said.
Yesterday, with this in mind, I got on my bike and had a cycle in woods around Gifford. It was a glorious autumn day and the sun shone on the trees and piles of leaves giving me just the right amount of inspiration. I jumped off my bike and looked around and then made another list.
• Colours – green, yellow, brown, sienna, rust, black spots, grey, light brown, teak and all at once on the same leaf. Earth colours everywhere.
• Texture – dry and rustley, damp and glistening, parchment.
• Litter and clutter.
• Storms of leaves like snow.
• A symphony of sizes and shapes
• Wind rustling leaves in the branches and clusters on the ground.
• Breezes touching leaves – rippling.
• Sunlight glancing onto leaves.
• A mixture of visual delights.
• A feast for the eyes – delicate and vibrant
• Waving leaves on branches. Fluttering
• Pure dappled light

Wow – Mandy was right about getting out and about. But it’s a lot of material for a poem, and it doesn’t all have to be used.
Something occurred to me during my trip and that was:
‘Should the poem be a description of autumn leaves and the emotions they elicit in me, or could I write it from a different angle?'
• From the point of view of a big Oak leaf falling from the Oak tree,landing in a burn and travelling to… who knows where.
• Leaves with frost coats, or wet with rain or dancing in the wind.
• At last dropping from the branch, making compost for tomorrow.
• There will be many other possibilities.

If you would like to write your own poem, we can turn these thoughts, and many others into a poem. If you like, we can offer each other comments and constructive ideas and by the end of the week, we will have a finished product ready for an unsuspecting world.