Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Running... you know it makes sense!

Yesterday, I ran along the beach at Tyninghame with Harvey. It was early in the morning and the conditions were superb… bright sunshine and a keen frost. There was a haze over the sea and Harvey and I were the only ones around. It’s the nearest to running heaven I can think of.

Today is different. Harvey and I had a walk around Butterdean wood. It was raining, cold, windy and very muddy. Still there’s tonight’s run to look forward too. It might just be an 11k slog around the streets of Haddington followed by pizza and sandwiches at the Tyneside. I’ll be thinking about running on the beach!

Has anyone been watching ‘Being Human?’ I caught the series at the week end and have been catching the back series since then. The idea of house mates comprising of a werewolf, a ghost and a vampire is appealing but what I don’t understand is how do the vampires walk about in the daylight… they should be burning up. I think the writer is taking a liberty here.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Fence Key - Seven

“What am I going to do Johnny?” Jed said.
“Do you really want to get rid of your skill, I think it’s cute?”
“Yes, I do. Damien asked me if I wanted to get rid of it and I gave him the same answer. I want to be like everyone else.”
“Okay, here’s what we do. We get you some reasonable clothes and I can sub you £250, and then we are going to take a trip to the casino. You will play black jack and win £50k in no time.
“We’ll never get away with it”
“We will because you will be able to read their cards. The card’s suit and number will be written on their foreheads.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Well it’s your only chance.”

Later that night Jud and Johnny arrived at the Mayfair where they were able to join instantly. Within fifteen minutes, they were standing in front of the croupier.

“Can you see the numbers on his forehead?” Johnny asked
“Yes, 10 hearts and ace of spades.”
“No more bets,” the croupier said.
When he turned his hand over is was the cards that Jud had read.
“You see, you can’t loose,” Johnny said.
Over the next four hours Jed amassed £10,000 I chips.
“That’s’ enough for tonight, Johnny said, lets go.
The place was buzzing with excitement over Jed’s win, but he could sense hostility under the bonhomie.
“Did you see the way they looked when they cashed the chips?” Jed said.
“Yes, I saw that, but there’s nothing they can do, we won fair and square. But just to be on the safe side, tomorrow night we go to Casino Casablanca.”

The next night Jed was feeling nervous. He had never played with such a big bankroll before. That was why he accepted first one glass of champagne and then another as the pile of chips in front of him grew. He was aware of a sultry blond looking at him and a surge of excitement rushed up his leg as she brushed up against him.
“Darling, you are a winner,” she said.
Hmmm, he said.
“How do you do it?” she said.
“It’s just luck.”
The chip pile had grown well above £15,000 and Johnny wanted to leave.
“Don’t’ leave yet, darling, not before buying me a drink, the sultry blond said.”
”Sorry, but I have to go with Johnny,” he replied.
“But I haven’t even seen you properly,” she said and pulled off his beanie.
A collective gasp arose amongst the crowd. They were all looking at Jed’s forehead and it said Ace of hearts and Queen of spades. Jed put his beanie back on and Johnny scooped up the chips, they headed for the exchange.
“The manager would like to have a word with you” a security man said. Jed looked at the man and his colleague and decided not to argue.
“First of all, let me reassure you that we will honour yourtakings, but I hope you don’t mind having a little chat with me,” the manager said.
Jed and Johnny said nothing.
“Would you like to explain how you do it?”
“It’s just luck.”
Jed felt a sting on the back of his head and turned around to look at the fist which had delivered it.
“This guy is a real creep boss,” the second security man said.
Jed had heard that voice before. He took a proper look and saw his next-door neighbour.
“Yes, me… now tell the boss what you told me.”
“You wont believe this, but I’ve got special powers.”
“Oh, aye and I’m Spiderman, don’t waste my time laddie” the boss said.
“It’s true, that’s how I can tell what’s going to be played at the table.”
“I told you he was a creep,” the neighbour said.
“Now, laddie, I don’t want to hear anymore nonsense. You cash your chips and leave, before I change my mind. I don’t want to see you here again… understand?
“Yes, sir,” Jed and Johnny said in stereo.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Bike rides

Bike rides often produce, involve or are associated with good experiences. The physical act of going somewhere under your own steam is a kind of declaration. In the background is the thought ‘I can go to a place… lets say, Edinburgh, and I don’t have to rely on my car or the bus. Maybe that’s why I like going to a particular place, perhaps to visit someone, or on holiday, moving from one place to another. I like travelling to Pats place in Leith, on my bike. It’s about 20 miles and the route passes through countryside to Macmerry and Tranent and then on to the city and Portobello. There is the sea along the prom and the aggressive city driving, so lots of contrast and interest. Another thing… when I set out I know where I am going, but I don’t know the details of the plot… things happen en route. It could be a rude van driver gesticulating at me near Tranent, as happened this morning, or I could meet someone I know and stop at the beach café on the prom for a cappuccino.

The trip to Pat’s last night had all the right ingredients. There was bright sunshine, a cold breeze, and the miles slipped by. The sea at Portobello was calm apart from the constant arrival of perfect waves, which were a surfer’s delight.

Getting to Pats place was only the start of the journey. Once I had changed, we sped over to Wegieland and a party to celebrate the refurbishment of a Terry and Danny’s classically designed Victorian house. Good food and wine made for a relaxed evening and I got talking to Anne Marie Hughes and her husband Richard Cox. It turned out that Anne Marie is a very good runner and her husband is the sports psychologist of the Scotland rugby team. It was a pleasure to find out that Anne Marie has run in quite a few races that I have run and that we have a lot of mutual friends. Richard has also been a runner, but his passion now is rugby. Richard’s stories about his involvement in international rugby were a pure delight.

Cycling home through Musselburgh and up the hill to Tranent I thought ‘ the nights are getting lighter and I will be able to get out on my bike a lot more in the next few months.’

Saturday, 20 February 2010


Today’s Guardian has an article in the Review section called
Ten rules for writering fiction.
This immediately caught my eye because; I have to admit, I am a list freak.
  • If you give me a problem, I will write a list.
  • If I have too much to do, I will write a list.
  • If I think things are out of control, I will write a list.
  • When I am buying a house or planning a holiday, I will write a list.
  • When I am shopping, I don't usually make a list!
Lists have guided me through my life. The thing about lists is that they give a sense of being in control of things even when you have done exactly nothing about the object of the list. It gives a feeling that there is a plan. That’s the secret - planning. Of course, it’s important to rank order the list, preferably putting a number 1 next to the most important item and a 2 to the next most important item and so on. This approach is helpful because it means you do the most important things first and don’t spend lots of time prevaricating on a less important item on the list. It can be tricky deciding which order to put things in because everything seems important… but, hey, life is about making choices!

There, I’ve admitted I am a list freak, but what about other people’s lists, like the one in the guardian today? Again, I admit it, I like other people’s lists, but only if they are good lists. In my word documents I have a file called creative writing/writing tips/authors tips. I looked in it and found…lists. Here are some of them:

1. Ma's editing check list. Develop a hide of a Rhino.
2. Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer by Nathan Bransford.
3. 8 Writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut.
4. Top Ten Tips for Writing a Novel by Pearl Luke.
5. Seven deadly sins of novel writing by the book muse.

The lists in today’s guardian article are made in heaven. There are lists of ‘rules for writers’ from 29 well known authors. They include Sarah Waters, Margaret Atwood, AL Kennedy, PD James and Zadie Smith. Most authors have produced a list of ten rules, but some have less. Helen Simpson. writes that she has only one rule… ‘get on with it.’ Some lists are short -Ian Rankin’s, has only two words for each rule, or they can be long… Sarah Waters list covers a column and a half.

I’m travelling by train to Wegieland later, so I intend to immerse myself in top authors lists… mmmm.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Play scripts and Film scripts

Last night, after some deliberation about whether I should go running or to the Dalkeith creative writing group, I picked Dalkeith and it turned out to be a good choice.

It was the last night for our creative writing tutor, Brian Whittingham. My experience of Brian is that he is always well prepared and last night was no exception. The evening’s programme considered film scripts and play scripts. Brian brought along a couple of dvd’s to use in considering the art of writing in these genres. We spent some time watching the way the writer brought actors into and out of the scene and action in Abigail’s party. It was noticeable how the writer kept the action going, devising reasons for the actors to enter and leave the scene. Abigail’s party takes place in a lounge, and would transfer easily to a stage.

Next up was Gregory’s girl. Brian supplied us with a storyboard and the first few pages of the script. The storyboard is an interesting device, which is used to draw each scene in a box. The drawing is simple stick people and a brief comment on what is happening… a good way to transfer writing ideas into a visual format.

After that, it was our turn. We were given a worksheet, on one side we set down what a play of one of our stories might look like. We did this by:

• Describing the scene

• A brief description of the character(s)

• The setting

• A pictorial of how the stage would look.

We were asked to consider setting, props, placement of actors on stage and blocking issues.

On the flipside of the worksheet, we considered a films script. There was a bit more to do for this. We noted the title, characters and setting (internal – external, day or night) and then created a storyboard of how the scenes of the story might look. It worked like this:
1. Introduction

2. Inciting incident

3. Complication

4. Complication

5. Climax

6. Conclusion

For each heading, we drew a scene of our story. I picked ‘Bridge over the Panny,’ which is a story I have already turned into a play and had performed.
So all in all Brian's last night produced a good bit of learning.

On the way home I listened to the excellent Jazz House on BBC Radio Scotland with Stephen Duffy. A newcomer on the scene in Edinburgh, Claire Daly really impressed with a version of Resurrection Blues from her debut album, 'Claire Daly.'

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Harvey Here #4

Ray has taken me to some great places recently and I’ve met new dogs, ruff ruff.
Yesterday, I met Millie who is a one year old golden Labrador. She’s a great runner and likes to play fight. Arrf arrf
We ran up a big hill called Trapprain Law and just ran and ran and ran, woof, gasp.
When we got to the top we ran round in circles for ages. The humans just stood around talking, woof woof.
Millie is bigger than me, in fact most dogs I meet are bigger than me but it doesn’t matter, although humans seem to think it is quite funny, arrf woof.
There are quite a few things that humans don’t understand, so here is a list to put them right, ruff, ruff.

• Size doen’t matter – I will sniff a dog or bitch of any size and I will get them to run and play with me. There is no sizeism in the dog world, arrf.

• A ball is for chasing. What humans have to remember is that it is their job is to throw the ball, arrf, woof.

• I have found out that I can control humans. If I sit and offer a paw to Ray he will give me a biscuit… easy, woof.

• I’m a pack animal and I like to be in company, especially with other dogs or humans who play with me. It’s Ray’s job to make sure this happens regularly, ruff, arff.

• Gimme attention, that’s what I want and lots of it. In return I’ll give lots of attention to you.

p.s. I got into trouble again… I bit through the back of Ray’s Croc. He sent me to bed for ages. grrr

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Audax tour of East Lothian

Think of something different and do it! That’s what I did yesterday.

On this occasion, it was the Audax tour of East Lothian, a 66-mile trip from Musselburgh, taking in Pencaitland, East Saltoun, Gifford, Whitadder reservoir, Garvald, Dunbar, Haddington and back to Musselburgh.

Although the event is different from let’s say swimming and running, which is what I’ve been doing recently; it was not exactly unfamiliar because I did the event last year. The difference this year is that I wasn’t very well prepared. It’s true that I have done the odd spinning session through the winter, but I haven’t done a 350 mile trip around Arndra Predesh and Orissa in India, which was my preparation for last years event.

The first thing I had to decide was whether to take my race bike which is light and so has thin light tyres or my heavy bike, which has tyres with a better tread. The blurb from the organisers said not to use light tyres because the roads up in the hills would be tricky. I knew that if I took my heavy bike, the gears would leave me struggling on the hills, but I decided to go for the heavy option. I would have been better taking my racer, like many of my fellow Audax riders, and I was right the hills were a real bitch especially the switchback on the way up to the Whitadder reservoir.

Be prepared is a particularly important facet of bike riding and in fairness to me; I did check my bike and oil it, pump up the tyres and generally check it out. But I didn’t check well enough. I could blame Harvey for this because he disappeared for half an hour and I had to go searching for him. This may have contributed to the chain coming off on the first big hill. Luckily, it only happened one other time during the race. Later, when we hit the really big hills outside Gifford, I could have sworn that the brake was on as I struggled up. When I got to the top and was on the road to Garvald I discovered that the equivalent of the brake was on. The back wheel had slipped loose a bit in the frame, with the result that the wheel pressed against the the frame and made a hard hill, impossible These two irritations aside, it was a great event. The highlights were:

• reaching Umberto’s in Dunbar and downing a cappuccino and large chocolate muffin,
• getting to know some of the other guys en route and
• sticking in a group for the final push into Musselburgh.

Near Stenton I witnessed my first bike pile up. I had been in a group, when my chain came off for the second time. I stopped and fixed it and then set off in pursuit of the group. There’s a left turn before Stenton, and as I took it I saw, a cyclist lying on the road and a lot of others standing around her. The group I had been with had come across the local landed gentry taking dipsy, pogo and other assorted dogs for a walk, thereby filling up the narrow country road and causing the pile up. As I approached, I saw a woman cyclist move gingerly from the road, complaining of a sore arm. Fortunately, she was able to carry on and finished the event. I hope dipsy and pogo don’t feel too bad about it all.

Before the event, you have to predict how long you will take. I made a wild guess of between 5.30 – 6.00 hours. I took 6.10,  so considering my lack of preparation I was pleased with that. It has left me with the taste for a few more bike rides this year.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Fence Key - Six

Jed and Johnny were sipping their lattes when Damien arrived.

“What’s he doing here?” Damien asked, pointing at Johnny.
“He’s my friend, now sit down and tell us how to deal with this forehead thing.”
“Well, first of all, are you sure you want to get rid of it? It’s a unique skill you know.”
Jed nodded a yes and stared at Damien.
“Okay, but we have to go back to when you first got the skill… ability… what do you call it?”
“Yeh, I think of it as a skill and it appeared when I was twelve."
“At puberty, that’s interesting. When were you referred to the psychiatric services?”
“It seems like a life time ago, but it was at the same time as I developed my ability.”
“I’ve got something to tell you my boy,” Dr. Damien Kelly, said as he intruded into Jed’s personal space.
“You don’t have a psychiatric disorder."
“I don’t?”
“No, you don’t. There are two explanations available for a case like yours. Would you like to hear them?”
“Of course I would.”
“The first is put forward by the Church. They would say you are cursed and an evil spirit has entered into you. Their cure is exorcism. The other explanation and the one that I favour is more scientific. A friend of mine, Dr. Handsome Cab, is a leader in field of virology. He has discovered a virus, which has the ability to break down the mind – body continuum.
“A virus! Are you serious?
“Yes, I am. This is a very rare virus, which has allowed a few people to read minds, and they have invariably been wrongly classified as suffering from psychosis. ”
“Go on.”
“The virus enables people to read minds, but it does not put the thoughts on a forehead, that's something we as intelligent beings have created to deal with this phenomenon. The forehead writing is in fact delusional to the extent that it is not real; however, the mind reading is real. We have been able to prove it."
“This is all very interesting but is there any hope for me?”
“Yes, I have spoken to Dr. Cab, who is by the way, a close friend and luckily for you, he has developed an anti-viral at his own expense, the government would not condone such research. However, it comes at a price; £50,000 and a guarantee of normality for ever. With your skills, raising that will be difficult but not impossible.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Fence Key - Five

Under spiralling blue smoke, Jed and Johnny started on the road to a beautiful friendship. They listened to heavy metal and Jed told his new friend all about Dr. Kelly.

“I’d like to meet him,” Johnny said.

As the afternoon turned into evening and then night, the two pals had a great idea, they decided to go to a club

“What’s the blond thinking?” Johnny asked as he and Jed gyrated a drug-induced boogie.
“She thinks you… no hang on a minute, both of us are wankers.”
“Well she knows what she can do with that,”
Johnny said and started to rotate an imaginary lasso from his pelvis and throw it over the girls dancing with them. Jed’s mad laugh started. They both thought it was so funny that big tears rolled down their cheeks and they ended up a heaving shambles of arms and legs on the dance floor. They were still laughing when the bouncers threw them onto their backsides in the street.

Next day, Jed had an appointment with Dr. Kelly

“And how are you feeling today, Jed?”
“A bit rough doctor, but I’ve made a decision.”
“And what’s that?”
“I’m not going to take any more of your tranquillisers; I’ve read that they can turn off your sex drive.”
“Now, Jed, that’s not par for the course at all.”
“Not the right thing to do at all Jed.”
“Well I’ve got something to tell you, Dr. Kelly… I know how you feel about me nd it’s not very professional.”
“Take off your hat Jed.”
“But you’ll see…”
“I want to see your forehead. I know I can read your thoughts there. I’ve been hiding from the truth, but I can’t go on like that. I must see what you think of me.”
“You might not like it.”
“That’s a risk I’ll have to take.”
Dr. Kelly didn’t react to Jed’s forehead writing the way he’d expected. Maybe he can’t read it through my fringe, he thought. After a long silence Dr. Kelly spoke.
“I’m not all you think I am Jed, but I might be able to help you with the forehead writing.”
“You mean you believe it’s there… you’re not going to deny it?”
“I have come across this sort of thing before, but your case is more advanced than the others, they only had plain fonts, they didn’t communicate emotion. I know someone who might be able to help you, but it will take money… a lot of money.”

Dr. Kelly or Damien, as Jed now called him, arranged to meet at Cuisine Actuelle, a trendy café near the clinic, an hour after the clinic closed.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Fence Key - Four

Jed’s mind came back to the present .That’s it… money, he thought. He had to get some and fast. He had to get some cash, pay it to Johnny by Saturday and everything would be okay… his mind would be okay again, and he would overcome the dreadful power he had. At least that’s what he believed.

Johnny was the only person who knew Jed’s secret. He found out when he was doing a door-to-door survey. Jed answered the door but forgot to put his beanie on.

“Can you help me fill out this questionnaire… it won’t take long?” said Johnny.
“What’s it about?” said Jed
“It’s to find out, who in this area are due to unclaimed benefits.”
Okay, fire away.”
“Do you live in this residence and are you employed?”
“Yes, to both.”
“How long have you been unemployed?”
“Two years.”


“That’s a clever trick, but I’m not” said Johnny.
“Not what?”
“I not a silly twat.’
“Oh… you can see it can’t you?”
“Yes, it’s written on your forehead.”
“Listen, I usually wear my beanie and I don’t think you’re a twat.”
“Er, okay, but how do you do get the writing to go on your forehead.?”
“The only thing I can think of is that it’s something like stigmata. There’s no blood, I’m not a saint, and it’s the only case of spontaneous forehead writing I’ve come across. I thought that anyone who saw it would freak out.”
“Well, it is freaky, but you seem like on okay sort of guy.”
“Really! Dr. Kelly thinks I’m mad.”
“You don’t seem mad to me.”
“Well it’s a relief to talk to someone about it. Would you like to come in and have a cup of tea?”
“That would be great, I’m fed up knocking on people’s doors, you should hear what they say to me."
“Can’t be easy and although I’ve just met you, I feel as though I can trust you. Do you want ordinary or Lapsang Souchong?”
“Lapsang please. Now let me get this right, your thoughts are displayed on your forehead for everyone to read.”
“Yeh, but that’s not all. I can read other people’s thoughts too.”
“Bull shit… okay what am I thinking now.”
“You’re thinking I’d love some ganga, but can I smoke this mad geezer?”
“Amazing… you’re right… well do you want some.”
“Yeh, and you can see how it affects my font.”
“What do you mean?”
“I read people’s thoughts, because they’re written on their foreheads. But I can also tell what emotion they’re feeling by the type of font it is written in.”
“Get away… what sort of mood am I in?”
“You’ve got a lot of dashed lines and you’re suffering from a hangover… right?”
“Spot on, a good night it was too. Do you want some shit?”
“Love to.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Fence Key - Three

Jed looked into James eyes and his mind flew back to the clinic. He felt the same feelings as he did there and he couldn’t stop the thing that happened next. His eyes started watering and he coughed to try and cover up laughter. But he couldn’t stop himself. It wasn’t ordinary laughter, it was the laugh of someone deranged… a mad laugh Dr. Kelly called it.

Jed didn’t want to remember what happened next and concentrated hard. He had something to do and it was important. It was so important that it would sort out all his problems and get him through to Saturday. It wasn’t anything to do with Dr. Kelly for once. The big Irish doctor was full of good intentions, but they were all so much hot air. In the end, he always played by the book and prescribed the medication. He was the only doctor Jed knew who apologised for giving him tranquillisers. Jed had a strong suspicion that Dr. Kelly knew what the problem was, but it didn’t fit into a clinical diagnosis and so it had to be eradicated, otherwise, the whole medical edifice might crumble.

“We’ll get you some Cognitive Behaviour Therapy after we see how these work,” he said and they both knew it was a cop out.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Fence Key - Two

Jed looked down at his hands and they were trembling slightly. He stretched them and tried to get them to be still, just as they used to be, but it was no use, they only shook more. His fingernails were dirty - they never used to be. He looked out of the window and saw low, grey clouds. His mind went back to Monday morning. When he got home from Tesco’s his week started to deteriorate. He had gone into the back garden as usual and poked his hand behind the wooden fence to get the back door key, hanging there. Then two things happened. First, he looked over the fence and through next doors kitchen window but instead of seeing what was on the telly he locked eyes with James, his body building next-door neighbour. Then the second thing happened, he tried to unhook the key, but it wasn’t there.

“What are you looking at,” James said from behind a row of large teeth and a smile that drooled sweet menace. Jed watched a fine spray of spittle escape from James mouth and arc across the morning sky and then he imagined fists hitting him, one after the other until his nose was completely flat.

“Nothing… just getting my key,” he said
“Oh really, well show it to me then.”
“Ahh, now there’s a thing, it’s not on the hook where it should be.”
“You’re a creep, aren’t you, and you like looking through my kitchen window, don’t you?”

More tomorrow

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Fence Key - Jed was expecting a difficult week, but it turned out worse than he thought.


Jed wasn’t expecting to have a good day. He hoped he could get through it and make the end of the week and maybe things would improve. But it was only Wednesday and the end of the week would be Saturday night.

He looked in the mirror and saw red-rimmed eyes and a sallow complexion. Is this me? Is this what I’ve become? I‘ve got to change, he thought.

Two days earlier, on Monday morning, Jed had gone down the hill to the shops, as usual. He had been careful to put on his beanie before he left and when he got to Tesco’s he bought the Daily Star and some rolls. Everything seemed normal, only normal for Jed wasn’t what he wanted. The pain behind his eyes was like an old friend who whispered ‘larger… lots of lager.’

‘Par for the course,’ he thought and then got angry, that’s such an annoying little cliché why can’t I get it out of my mind? Ever since the idiot psychiatrist Dr. Kelly said ‘par for the course,’ during his last clinic appointment, it had bounced around in Jed’s head. What made matters worse was that Jed couldn’t take Dr. Kelly seriously any more, not after he revealed he was a flowery font. ‘He thinks I’m mad,’ Jed said to himself, ‘but what he doesn’t realise is that I can read his thoughts and they are inconsistent and ridden with guilt and self-loathing.’

Jed was clear about one thing - Dr. Kelly has a crush him.

More tomorrow

Monday, 1 February 2010

It’s 1st February already, where did January go?

I have more questions than answers. For instance, how can I find a good ending for the Fence key story? It looks like I have boxed the main character into a corner. I have given him an amazing ability to read people’s minds. I mean quite literally read, because thoughts not only appear on Jed’s forehead but on other people’s as well. It’s a bit like a stigmata, a spontaneously appearing phenomena. Jed has also learned to read other people’s emotions …they correspond to the font type that the thoughts are printed in. Comic Sans means the person is happy go lucky, monotype corsiva belongs to a person prone to flowery speech, whereas IMPACT belongs to an angry person.

Jed’s psychiatrist, Damien Kelly wants to help, (in more ways than one, if he got his way.) He knows a virologist and someone in the church who can cast out demons, but they want a lot of  money to do it. How will  Jed and his cool friend Johnny find a way to get the money? Will it be the Churh or science that save Jed?  Will there be a twist?… there has to be!!