Sunday, 31 January 2010

Do do what you do do well boy.

Strange to report but today was a day for running in the Borders cross-country series at Berwick on Tweed. I like going to these events because they are in some beautiful parts of Southern Scotland and Northern England. There is a friendly feeling about them and it’s a great opportunity to catch up with old friends.
One of the things I’ve noticed about running in a series is that you end up running in a group of people who are about the same standard. It means you see them around you at the various races.

Another thing is that I tend to repeat the same old mistakes when I’m running. Today was no exception. It was one of those very bright and sunny winter days and the air was freezing. Now the last time I raced in these conditions I wore a singlet, shorts etc and the only concession to the weather was a pair of gloves. Today I wore my Helly Hansen top, thick gloves and a hat. I didn’t need them and they were stuffed down my shorts after about a mile.

The race started with very little preamble and a bunch of people made their way through a narrow path and onto the soft sand of the beach.  I hadn’t run there before, so didn’t really know what to expect. I found myself next to Fred McCain and thought ‘good, I’ll try and keep with him.’ That worked fine until we got to some steps, which took us off the beach and onto a cliff top - I started to loose ground! Then a state of not feeling fast or too happy with myself came on and continued along the cliff top on the way back and yes there they were, first Neil striding past me and then Anne. We went back down the steps and I started to gather myself. There was a guy in front of me who I caught and over took and I was hauling Anne in. The route came to an area of rocks with the waves crashing right into them. They retreated and I thought ‘okay here's my chance and made a dash for it over the wet sand. ‘ I didn’t make it, too huge waves washed over me and my shoes filled up. Straight after the rocks was a path of sand, which went up into some dunes. Undeterred, I started up the hill, tripped over something in the sand, and fell full length. A very nice woman asked if I was all right. By the time I got up and started running again the guy, I had overtaken went past me again… Ho hum... The good thing is that I finished the race and I'll have a chance to do it all over again next week at Gala.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Coming around

I don’t know about you, but I have some periods that are much more productive than others, or at least I think I do. It would be tempting to describe my life as one long creative journey, but I have to say that the journey can take a few wrong turns and there’s even the occasional break down on the way! I can admit this at the moment because I have been going through a productive spell this week. I have worked on the short story (Fence key) and I have completed a painting and I’ve been out running and swimming.

Could it be that my biorhythms are in tune or is it something else? The most obvious ‘something else' is that I’ve been more organised lately, but I think the underlying cause is that I have moved my working spaces. Simple really – if I sit in the kitchen, it's comfy and there are lots of temptations to stop writing. Another cup of tea or a biscuit beckon, but if I sit in my workspace upstairs at my desk, I don’t have the same distractions and I can get on with it. Another thing I mustn’t forget is to make a note of what I am going to do before I get started, it’s too easy to get distracted with all the interesting things that crop up.

Yesterday I took my painting gear to Tynepark and used their wonderful art room. There are lots of big tables to spread out on, the light is great and it’s peaceful, but there are people to talk to. It made me realise that I can get a bit of cabin fever if I stay in my house too long without any outside stimulation.

So, if I continue with this routine will I continue to be more creative and productive? Only time will tell, but I expect that I will find reasons to have that cup of tea.

Note to self:  Keep in mind the things that inspire you.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Harvey Here #3

Lots has been happening to me since I last wrote, Woof woof.
I had loads of Christmas pressies and got covered in snow!! aarff aarff.
My favourite pressy was a little stuffed cow, which I tore to pieces and got all of the stuffing out, grrr, grrr.
Ray said it looked like a horror film when I finished with it, aarff ,woof.
I got into a bit of trouble on Christmas day, because Ray left a plate full of turkey on the table. I tried to be good, but it was just too much of a temptation. No one would have known if it wasn’t for the sound of a smashing plate, yelp, yelp.
All that snow was fantastic. It came up above my shoulders and I loved bounding through it and sticking my nozzle in it… I couldn’t get enough, woof, woof.
I’ve had some great runs with Ray. My favourite is Belhaven beach and Tyninighame beach I always run twice as far as he does! aarff, aarrf.
Today I was in the bushes at Tyne Park and I saw a strange bird. It was huge and had long legs and a big beak. Ray said it was a Heron… I wouldn’t like to get too close to that, woof, woof.
Later we saw a Cormorant on the River Tyne. Ray says that was a sea bird, and it looked pretty strange in the river, aarff. woof.

Ray has been listening to Rin Tin Tin, the famous boy reporter on Radio 7 and he says I am just like the his dog called ‘Snowy,’ woof, woof, woof.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

"It's the story... stupid!"

What would you consider the best description of a person who writes stories? Author, novelist or playwright naturally spring to mind, but aren’t these merely titles on a par with doctor or manager? Maybe artist, craftsperson or artisan fit the bill. At least these titles give the idea that the person so named is trying to create something. But they don’t give us an idea of what the person is trying to achieve. To get at what that we have to dig a bit deeper. So maybe we should be looking at what makes ‘good writing.’
My idea of a good story includes at least some of these characteristics.
  • The story line pulls me in… it has tension and conflict. I want to know what happens next. 
  • I fall in love with the main character. I want them to overcome all the obstacles.  
  • I have a relationship with all the characters in the story. I find them attractive, funny, intriguing, disturbed or evil but I care about what they are doing.
  • I want the story to be clever with unexpected twists and turns. 
  • Situations must be real. If there is violence, I want to see the blood and feel the fear. 
  • The writer must know what they are doing. They should stick to a point of view and not be mixed up over which tense they are in. 
  • The writing must be immediate and hook me into the action. 
  • I want the story to be ‘about’ something… to have a premise and not only that I want to feel a sense of satisfaction when I come to the end and still want more. 
So, are writers born or are they made? Some people think that they can sit down and write a story that other people will want to read with no effort involved other than the writing. I don’t think that way. Writers have to learn about the art of writing. We should look for and give feedback and be thick skinned in the face of criticism. Take it as a learning opportunity. Most of all, we have to read, read, read and not only read but work out how the author has created the piece… why we love it or indeed, why we hate it.




Thursday, 21 January 2010

'The Promise of Happiness'

Do you keep a note of the books you’ve read and what you thought of them? No! Well I do. I have just finished reading ’The Promise of Happiness’ by Justin Cartwright. Ann from my creative writing group gave it to me because she thought it was along similar lines to my novel. They both feature families, which are going through problems.

I really enjoyed the story, but I was a bit irritated at times by the way, the author switched tenses and used the omniscient voice. He knew what was going on in everyone’s head. The story is about a grown up family. Ju-Ju is the clever one… the one that makes everything tick, but she ends up in prison. The other members of the family, her mother (Daphne) and father (Charles) and sister (Soph) and brother (Charlie) all have problems dealing with the consequences. Each person evokes a lot of sympathy in the reader. Individual characterisation is strong and in Ju Ju we have someone who acts out of character for once in her life. The cause is of course Love, but her actions put her in a tough US prison for two years.

Soph has a sex and drugs life style, Daphne takes comfort in arranging flowers at the church and Charles is haunted by past events. Charlie is everyone’s nice guy. At the centre is Ju-Ju. Her story is well paced and her time in prison is revealing, for one thing we find out what a keista bunny is.

The story is about the strength of a family who reunite in the face of adversity. However, I would be interested to hear from anyone who reads this story about their view of the twist in Ju-Ju’s tale.

A good read and three stars ***

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

In the Car by Roy Lichtenstein

In the Car by Roy Lichtenstein

I thought he was handsome
And got in his car.
A swell meal…some boogie,
he said – ‘a class restaurant.’
I should be at French lessons but
I’ve been led astray
this number…this night -
it just better be right!

This dame’s got something
I’m with her and it’s swell
A class broad on my arm and
I’m king … no mistake.
She said no, then maybe
and finally - Yes.
When I wine, dine and charm her
Then it’s back to my place.

© Ray Harris 12.1.10

Friday, 8 January 2010

Things to keep you sane when the weather goes mad

Apart from trudging through the snow to work every day I have been doing a few things to get me through to the end of this cold spell… there will be an end won’t there?

First off, I have visited the Dean Gallery to view the BP portraits competition. The paintings are high quality and interesting. The winners from last year (which I had seen on-line) are there too and it was good to see them in the flesh, so to speak.

The next time I was in Edinburgh, I went to the gallery of modern art, which is doing a retrospective of the last 50 years, so there are a lot of interesting works on display. I found it amazing that the abstract paintings, look very modern to my eyes, but they often come from the 1930’s!

An added bonus to these visits is the trip to the cafe afterwards… more later.

Another good place to visit is the new Botanical gardens building. The design of the place is astonishing. There are plenty of hands on experiences which are a great idea for youngsters. When we were there, children had covered an jungle hut with their drawings. There is a strong ecological theme to the building and lots of interesting information. There is also an excellent restaurant upstairs where you can get a meal for £8 to £10.

I haven’t been a complete slob during the holidays and post festive freeze. This week the Wednesday night club run involved, the two of us who turned up (Frank and me) running around the slush covered roads of Haddington. The surface wasn’t too bad and luckily there weren’t too many cars about!

The other thing I have done to cheer myself up, is buy a wireless printer-scanner. The print quality is excellent and it means that I can scan my paintings and print them off. Here is one I did earlier…


Cuisine Actuelle, Lodge Street, Haddington, only just qualifies as a café because until recently it had no tables or chairs. It’s raison d’etre (to continue the French theme) was to serve sandwiches etc to the office walla’s and the passing public. It now has a couple of tables and chairs, so it just about gets a mention. I have included it because it serves great bacon rolls and delicious homemade cakes. The fruit scones are delicious, I could have cried over the one I had this morning - yummy.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Snow, snow and more snow

It’s snowing outside and has been for over an hour. The flakes are the small to medium variety and there are millions of them, covering the big snow dump we had three days ago. I saw this one coming. Harvey and I were visiting John Muir Country Park. It was bright, sunny and very cold, the machair, between the beach and the car park was an ice rink. The beach was empty except for Harvey, the big breaking waves and me. We were enjoying ourselves, running along the edge of the sea, chasing sticks when I became aware of the dark clouds on the horizon. They looked ominous and were a total contrast to the bright sunshine. We continued our run around the headland and across the tidal flats to the woods and then back to the car park. By this time, the dark clouds had become darker, with a black centre. There was a terrific crash, which turned out to be thunder and lightening. It was turning into a scene from ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Snowflakes began falling and I decided against driving to Innerwick and into the blizzard; instead I high tailed it back to the sunshine in Haddington. It didn’t take long for the black clouds to catch up with us but we’ve not had any thunder and lightening... yet!

Harvey and I have been taking a rest over the Christmas and New Year holidays. We are now fully rested and will be blogging away over the next few days. A belated HAPPY NEW YEAR to all who follow blogs.