Ready to Launch! Attending New Book Parties and Retracing Old Steps


'Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers ...' I have loved this line from a Tennyson poem ever since I first encountered it, scribbled in pencil at the edge of an archived (never exhibited) sketch by my all-time favourite artist Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. The poem itself is a quirky sort of epic: a young man stands at the sea's edge and laments his broken heart, complaining (over many, many stanzas!) about a woman who has chosen a richer husband-to-be. At this point in proceedings, however, I feel we can really hear Tennyson's own voice as his protagonist contemplates the ocean:

'Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers,

And I linger on the shore.

And the individual withers,

And the world is more and more.'

These (literal) words of wisdom were in my mind last week - as was Margaret Macdonald's artwork - when I was lucky enough to attend the launch party for New Writing Scotland! As I mentioned earlier this year, my short story 'MMM' was inspired by the knowledge that 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and expresses my belief that his wife Margaret deserves far greater attention and respect as an artist in her own right. I was hugely fortunate to have my story featured in this year's New Writing Scotland collection of prose and poetry, and felt even luckier when the editors invited me to read an extract on the launch night! I duly trotted down to the Byres Road branch of Waterstones in Glasgow, and (rather nervously) read an excerpt of my work to a crowd of about 100 people (including, thank goodness, my family and friends!) The audience were, without exception, supportive and encouraging of both me and the other writers, and it felt incredible to have people listen to, respect (and I hope enjoy!) my work. As at last I begin the second draft of my novel, it was a lovely way to pop out of my writer's bubble!

What also gave me pause for thought was the fact that the launch took place only a hop-skip-jump away from my old university campus. In a reflective mood on the drive over (of course I had to arrive slightly early!), I was struck by how often I'd made this journey before and how different it felt today. When I was studying, I trusted everybody but myself to tell me who I should want to 'become'. Devaluing what felt like the 'little' life I had, I was persuaded that this affluent and dynamic part of the city was the only place where 'knowledge' worth knowing could be gained. In the time that has passed, what has made the greatest difference to my life has been - slowly but surely - finding a stronger sense of inner value, grounded in wisdom rather than simply what I achieve. This time around, although I was making the trip for a very exciting reason, I felt clear that I was not simply 'joining' the world but already part of my own!

The reputations of both Macdonald and Mackintosh fluctuated throughout their lives: from hot young things to has-beens and back again (more than once!). None of us can control how people receive us or our work, and I've come to realise that it is vital for me to base my self respect (and my respect for others) in something deeper than surface judgements that ebb and flow with the tides. And do you know what happens then? The world really does become 'more and more'!

Line of the Week (my favourite line that I've written this week - although whether it makes the final cut is a different story!)

This week I have two lines from two pieces to share with you! The first are some of my personal favourites from MMM (while the piece stays fresh in my mind!) In this scene, an older Margaret Macdonald walks alone through the marketplace of a French coastal village:

'The women around me travel in pairs, elbows linked in the sweet sorority of gossip. I hear snippets of their speech, curt little sentences flicked off their tongues like a bitter taste.'

And from Ellen and Arbor (yes, I've changed my mind about the title - again!), here is a simple line from the epilogue set on the first day of Scotland's summer:

‘ "Warm," people will remark to one another when they meet; sensitive to the feeling that fragile good fortune grows stronger when it is shared.'

Bookmark (what I'm reading when I need a break from writing - otherwise known as often!)

It has been a tale of two Emily's this month, during which I've been reading books (both borrowed from the library!) that explore the lives and legacies of two inspirational writers.

I am Heathcliff is a fascinating kind of publication and one that I'd love to see appearing more often these days: a collection of short stories by contemporary writers, all taking Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights as their starting point. 'Curated' as opposed to 'edited' by Kate Mosse, these stories display real variety: not only in how each writer approaches the theme, but in their literary style too. We have everything here from murder mystery to contemporary text talk (although I'm not sure that Heathcliff really lends himself to LOLs!)

The other half of my literary month has been devoted to poetry: specifically '"Lives Like Loaded Guns": Emily Dickinson and her Family's Feuds' by Lyndall Gordon. My interest in this Emily was sparked by watching the Cynthia Nixon film A Quiet Passion, and this biography explores how family relationships impacted her identity as a writer and her work itself. Did you know that only a handful of Dickinson's poems were published during her lifetime, despite writing an estimated 1800 (which, without published titles, tend to be referred to by their first lines today)?

' "Hope" is the thing with feathers - That perches in the soul,' begins one of my personal favourites ... and I hope Dickinson never lost the conviction that her work would one day find its audience!

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