Monday, 3 December 2012

A Sense of Place

I decided to watch the new television series 'Last Tango in Halifax' and was treated, in the first episode, to some interesting drama set against the backdrop of Skipton. I had a number of mixed feelings watching it. Until last December I saw Skipton, a busy Yorkshire market town in the North Riding, on a regular basis. Most often, to be honest, I travelled by it. It was like a hub or a large planet, the orbit of which I was drawn into but then spun off again either towards Ilkley, Keighley or Gargrave. It's a lovely place and looked even lovelier through the magic of television. 
The last time I saw  Skipton was almost a year ago. It didn't look lovely then. It was between Christmas and New Year, a time to be jolly, to celebrate but I had travelled the four hour drive with my family for my mother's funeral. The weather was atrocious, icy rain turning to hail and the ground sodden. I was there to see my mother's coffin lowered into a grave at a green burial site just north of the town. The views on a good day are, I'm sure, magnificent but it was impossible to see much beyond the mud and the gaping hole. The hail rattled off the top of the coffin as the minister almost shouted the last words into the wind that blew umbrellas inside out, hats from heads.  I was rattled, my heart wrenched inside out. 
I haven't been back. For the first time in my half century of life I haven't stepped in Yorkshire for almost twelve months. It's an odd feeling. For the first twenty one years I lived in the county, first in the west and then in the east. It was home. I had a very strong sense of being a Yorkshire woman in that very innate pompous way that seems to run through people from the county like words through Scarborough rock. I still have deep affection for it but have lost my roots. My accent is scrambled from living almost half my life in Scotland. 
When I first met my husband I was fascinated by the fact that if asked where he was from, he would answer where he was living then. As we met in Nottingham and he answered in a strong Scots accent that he was from Peterborough this came as a surprise. My answer to the same question would always be the town I grew up in, not where I was then living. I felt my husband's answer was misleading to people but he had lived in so many places during his childhood that he felt no affinity to any. Having moved several times to follow his work, I now do the same, answering that I am from Galloway, though I still have strong Yorkshire vowel sounds in my voice. 
A sense of place is obviously something we can lose, discard or change throughout our lives. I always thought I would think of Yorkshire as 'home' but that's gone. Do we lose our sense of place, of home when we lose our parents? 
I have a friend who grew up north of London and only moved to Galloway in his fifties yet he has never been back, has no wish to return and feels no connection now to the place that he lived in for most of his life. His greatest connection is to this small Galloway village. My daughter, who has lived in this village for most of her life, feels no connection at all and regularly tells people she's from Harrogate in Yorkshire. 
I do not have any answers and would be interested to hear from anyone who has a strong sense of place or affinity to somewhere. Or any advice on how to get mine back!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Hemiplegia Awareness Week

It was a few days before Christmas, our first Christmas as parents as our son had been born in the spring of that year. But instead of shopping for presents for our baby, we were sitting in the waiting room of the Sick Kids in Edinburgh. It was busy and noisy, everyone hot and bothered in winter coats, babies bundled up in those all in one suits and prams causing chaos. 

It had been a difficult year. Just after I'd discovered I was pregnant my husband's job had been moved from Peterborough up to Edinburgh. We were delighted about this but the timing was terrible. I'd been left to sell the house and sort things out whilst still working full time, and odd hours, as a reporter with the Eastern Daily Press. I finally moved up to join my husband in the lower villa we'd bought just two weeks before our son was born. Apart from the stress of work, selling and buying houses and moving, I'd done everything I could to prepare for a healthy baby. I'd cut out alcohol, kept fit, eaten well, read everything I could find about pregnancy and babies. 

Our son was born naturally at the Simpson Royal Memorial Pavillion in Edinburgh in late May 1990. Everything seemed to go well, he was a week late but was a good weight. It wasn't easy being a new parent in a place where I'd just moved to and knew virtually no one. Neither of our families were nearby - the nearest were north of Glasgow and my parents were in Yorkshire. 

Our son was about three months old when I realised he wasn't using one hand as well as the other. The one person who I knew in the area was on old school friend who had studied medicine at Edinburgh and had stayed on in the city. She was also a relatively new parent and so was able to comment that at that age babies normally use both hands equally. The next time I saw the health visitor at the clinic I mentioned the difference I'd noticed, but it wasn't the usual one that I'd got to know and she obviously thought I was just an over anxious new mum. But the difference between his hands continued and the next time I saw my regular health visitor I mentioned it again. I was whisked in to see the GP. She said she would refer him for tests. I was thinking it was something like a trapped nerve but she vaguely indicated that it could be something else. We had know idea what she could mean and we remained naively hopeful. 

So when we were finally called in to see the specialist at the Sick Kids we had no idea we were about to be hit with a boulder of news from a great height. What the specialist had to say remains a blur. I went into the room believing a simple operation could solve this problem and came out with a disabled child. We had been given the news as if he was confirming something we already knew, starkly, without warning, your son has cerebral palsy; next patient please. We found ourselves back in the corridor with our lives turned upside down. Thankfully a physiotherapist made arrangements to see us a couple of days later and she then answered all our questions. But it was a long two days. 

As a journalist I had covered countless numbers of stories about disabled children, people campaigning, fundraising and, of course, these had been some of the most serious cases. I had no idea there was a spectrum, no idea what to expect at all. As we'd left the hospital to return home I found I couldn't look at my baby, as if the saying of those words .cerebral palsy. had cursed him, somehow transforming my son from the bright, healthy adorable eight month old baby I'd taken in to what? I had no idea. 

In June this year we attended my son's graduation. He gained an honours degree in history and politics and is now studying for a masters. He is involved in several societies at the university and also fences and is preparing to take his black belt in karate. We are immeasurably proud of him. 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Blethering at Wigtown Book Festival

I have to confess that I enjoyed the Wigtown Book Festival more this year than ever before, even more than last year when my book 'The Belties of Curleywee Farm' was being launched at the children's festival. I was pretty stressed by the whole thing then. It was an odd situation for me too. I was working at the children's marquee selling the books for the official bookseller G C Books - far too many books in this sentence - and then I had to suddenly appear as an author. Illustrator Pauline James and I had never done an event before and we attracted one of the biggest audiences of the children's festival. Despite being somewhat chaotically organised (can you be chaotically organised?) we had a fun time and the kids seemed to as well. I chatted about black and white animals, read the book and Pauline talked about the process of creating the pictures or 'colouring in' as she put it. This process included cycling round the Machars, the area of South West Scotland we live in, and sneaking up on Belted Galloways to try and draw them. As Pauline only wears evening dresses (I'm not making this up) this would have been a bizarre sight for any passer by. I think one of the 'Belties of Curleywee Farm' series should be about an eccentric woman in evening gowns trying to draw them from strange hiding places. 

So, last year's festival had it's pressures and that doesn't include the running around, juggling things at home and worrying about my elderly mother who was unwell. This year was great, there was a fantastic selection of authors and illustrators in the children's marquee including Jonathan Meres, Debi Gliori, Cathy Cassidy, Tony de Saulles, Stuart Reid and Damian Dibben  and they were all really friendly. Not a single snooty 'I'm an AUTHOR' amongst them. We even had a six foot hairy haggis appear in the tent. 

There were relatively few author issues this year. It's sometimes difficult dealing with authors, seeing the side of them when they switch off from performance mode. One chap grumbled about having to finish even though he'd been allowed to overrun by more than ten minutes and another author obviously has an internal stopwatch as she allowed people a limited amount of time while book signing and then switched off, the shutters came down, times up, that's your lot. And from what I've heard there was only one person obviously drunk this year, which is pretty good going. I know it cannot be easy doing the rounds especially for writers who live for the majority of the year in a garret creating their books, waiting for the silence so that they can hear their imaginations as Louisa Young so eloquently put it. Louisa Young was one of my favourites this year along with Tahir Shah. 

Wigtown, I understand, is now the second largest literary festival in Scotland. For buzz and friendly welcoming atmosphere it must easily be best. I wandered in to the Edinburgh Book Festival during the summer and quickly wandered out again. I know it's a different beast but it came across as a series of rooms closed off to the casual visitor. Apart from the book shop and a bar there wasn't much you could happen across whereas Wigtown is full of things that you can get involved in even if you haven't got a ticket for an event. Artist in Residence Joanne B Kaar could be found at the top of the building (and loose about the town at times) weaving with the Wigtown Waggers. On the way to her studio you passed through The Gallery, an exhibition space that was constantly changing with views across Wigtown Bay nature reserve as well. Photographer Kim Ayres took pictures of people dressed up as fictional characters and tucked in a little studio on Harbour Road there was a display of the 'Gifted' sculptures, little works of art made of books that have been anonymously donated to different bodies in Edinburgh. And, of course, as Wigtown is Scotland's National Book Town, you could spend all your time just browsing in the fabulous second had bookshops, or if you're Tahir Shah, running your hands along the leather spines. 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Leave Nothing But Footprints.

Yesterday I walked to St Ninian's Cave. It's a wonderful place, at the very tip of the Machars in South West Scotland. It strains to be the most southerly point, falling a little behind the Mull of Galloway, another peninsula, visible across the waves to the west.
It was a very windy day and as I walked down through the glen, the trees that have grown so tall searching for the light creaked and groaned, their crowns top heavy. The forecast was for rain but the sun was shining and the strength of the wind almost knocked me from my feet as I arrived at the beach, emerging from the shelter of the narrow glen.
It is a lovely place, a place of pilgrimage since the time of St Ninian in the fourth century. There is a path that will take you along the coast to the Isle of Whithorn, but most people follow in the footsteps of previous pilgrims as far as the cave and then retrace their steps. Taking away the memory of the place but leaving nothing. The cave, and the cobble beach featured in the cult film 'The Wickerman' but even this little piece of cinema history is not shared with visitors. There is no information board down at the beach, though there is something about St Ninian and pilgrimage at the car park.
Yet someone has left their own little plaque, riveted and cemented into the rock in this wild place. They felt the need to have something professionally engraved about how they 'chilled out' in this 'special place'. And there it is attached to the rock as you walk by on the way to the cave where many have scratched tributes and memories of loved ones into the walls. But not permanent memorials. People leave stones chosen from the beach or crosses made from driftwood. A number of small cairns trace the route to the cave, cairns that will change, grow, collapse and perhaps disappear with a high spring tide.
However special this place is to the family who left the metal plaque, whatever grief or difficulty they were having, I fail to understand why they needed to display this so publically in a place where so many remember in private.

Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints.
Kill nothing but time.
~Motto of the Baltimore Grotto, a caving society

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Queen of Frittering

'And this is so puritanical, but it's the idea of the parable of the talents. If you've got something you can do, it's very important to do it. I see at my age how swiftly my life has gone and how easily I could have not got serious and just frittered time away. But I didn't do that. I thought, "Actually, I have got this one thing I think I can do." And that's been very important to me.'
Rose Tremain 

I read this statement in a recent interview with Rose Tremain in the Daily Telegraph and was impressed. It struck a mighty chord that reverberated through my thoughts for a long time .That sentence 'I have got this one thing I think I can do' is the problem for me. There isn't just one thing I think I can do - there's loads of things I think I could have a crack at. I may not do them very well but the temptation is too great and so in flies the frittering.  

 I decided, age fifty, to finally try and be serious about writing, about being a writer, about owning the word, saying it out loud and meaning it.  But my problem is, and has always been, a lack of focus. I am the Queen of Frittering. I could fritter for Scotland if it was a sport at the Commonwealth Games. I'd have a good chance of getting gold. It's not just procrastination, a dreadful complaint common to many writers, my problem starts with the inability to decide what to do in the first place. This is why it's taken so long for me to decide that I am a writer. (Note that I am reinforcing this not for anyone who may read this but myself). 

I began writing, as most writers seem to do, as a child. I was constantly writing stories about ponies and show jumping. I wanted to be a journalist believing I could help change the world by reporting on the oppressed and ignored but I discovered that I lacked ambition. That intense burning zeal you need to get you to the top soon fizzled out with me, I couldn't scorch the people around me. I discovered that beneath the hard shell there was a warm fuzziness and I've been struggling to get out of that pond of compassion ever since. 

I retrained as a yoga teacher, going all out for the soft inner soul but I never gave up on words and four years ago I found myself writing a book. So here I am, a writer again. But part of me is constantly still thinking about opening a cafe, wool shop, cafe and wool shop, book shop perhaps wool, bookshop cafe complex...... you get the picture, um picture, always liked drawing, art, painting...... And at the same time I bounce like a woman in a giant pin ball machine, frittering time away as I start to hoover, then decide to tidy something, then think maybe I should take this lot to the recycling or should I keep it for a rag rug, should I start a rag rug, should I blog about rag rugs, oh look..... and I'm away again. I have frittered years doing this. How I envy Rose Tremain that she had the discipline to think 'this is one thing I can do.' 

Dealing with corruption

I finally got around to blogging on here yesterday only to see the post later on and find that it was gibberish. I know I have difficulty stringing a sentence together - not great for a writer - but this really was nonsense. It was hilarious apart from it made me look like a demented fool. It's something to do with my laptop but my timing was brilliant - my computer literate son has just gone back to university. So, I just scrapped the whole thing and I'm going to write it again, it's about faffing around so it may be some time, I've had a far too productive morning so far and feel I need to go waste some time like I normally do. 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Blethering Again.

I'm hoping to meet up this week with Shalla Gray. I helped Shalla get her first children's book published with Galloway Children's Books, an imprint of GC Books of Wigtown, earlier this year. Shalla wrote and illustrated a lovely story of a young sheep who wanders through the delights of Dumfries and Galloway while searching for her lost fleece. It's called 'Charlotte's Woolly Yarn - A Spin Around South West Scotland.
I'm hoping that Shalla will do some illustrations for 'Maxwell's Mega Mission' in case I do decide to self publish. Shalla did some lovely pen and ink drawings to illustrate an anthology I edited for Wigtown Women's Walk called 'Singing Over the Bones.' 

I also met up last week with James McCarthy who has written a number of books including a short biography of Sir Patrick Stewart - not the actor, a Victorian pioneer of the electric telegraph who came from Galloway. G C Books will be publishing a new book by James about another interesting character from Dumfries and Galloway called Sir John Richardson. I'll mention more about this book in future blogs. 

Monday, 27 August 2012

It will be no surprise to anyone that has been reading this blog that I havent' been writing, I've been blethering again, this time with my friend, writer and poet Kriss Nicholl. (Take a look at her blog The Diary of an Invisible Woman which is about to get really interesting as she's going on a six week road trip across the United States of America). The blethering was very useful though as she's also been preparing her first novel for publication with a print on demand publisher. I'm considering going down this route with my children's book 'Maxwell's Mega Mission' if I don't get any response from the publishers and agents I have contacted. Self publishing seems to be the way to go these days. 
  I'm in an odd position as some of the time I work with a small publishing company based in Wigtown, Scotland's National Book Town. Last week the director and I met with a local man who has written a book that is ideal for GC Books. We've also got two more local history books due out this Autumn. Although GC published my book 'The Belties of Curleywee Farm' my new one, 'Maxwell's Mega Mission' is for an older age group and not suitable for the GC list. It's fantastic to be able to help unpublished writers get into print. I just want someone to step up for me now to get my new story to a new audience. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Still Spending Too Much Time Blethering

Some years ago I was given a copy of The Secret by my sister. At first I was quite taken with this book. I realise a few people would just stop reading any further at the sight of that first sentence and now, quite frankly, I wouldn't blame them. I was going through a particulary spiritual phase at the time whereas reality has since bitten me really hard on the backside. So, getting to the point..... the gist of The Secret is the power of attraction, by stating what you want in life you will receive it. However, the downside is that if you have to control your thinking as well because whilst you may be stating one thing out loud, your thoughts may betray you. So here is the point... ta da... I called this blog Jayne Baldwin blethers rather than writes or creates or scribbles or, you get it, but by doing so I may have just enouraged my inner psyche to continue babbling. Since following Nicola Morgan's advice to build an author platform by opening a Twitter account I have spent valuable writing time getting sidetracked. It certainly is fun, but as an easily led,  undisciplined kind of person another distraction was not what I needed!
What I do need to do is get on with trying to find and agent/publisher for my fantastic children's book 'Maxwell's Mega Mission.'

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Still finding that I'm spending far too much time building my author platform but not enough time putting anything on it to display. Too easily sidetracked. Here I go again.........

Time to get back to some work after the amazing London 2012 Olympics. The advantage of being a writer (euphemism for lazy cow), is that I have been able to sit around watching the sport for the past 16 days. But now I need to get down to some work, especially as it was only in the spring that I decided it was time to take myself seriously as a writer. Like many people I have written since I was a child. Then my forte was the pony adventure and I dreamt of publishing my books under the pseudonym 'Chloe Lockwood.' The story usually went along the lines of a brave young rider from a relatively humble background - loosely modelled on myself, of course - somehow managing to buy a pony that somehow gets through to the finals of The Horse of the Year Show. My favourite book was about a girl who is able to finally get a pony when her mother writes a book that becomes a best seller and they can afford to move to a cottage with a paddock and buy the steed. I pestered my mother for months, constantly asking why couldn't she write a best seller that would earn enough for me to have a pony. My mother had no interest in writing, or reading for that matter. I don't recall ever seeing her with a book. My Dad, on the other hand, was a keen reader and writer in terms of keeping journals and diaries, though only after he retired. 
My parents were perhaps typical of many working class kids who had survived the Second World War, they were grateful to be together and still alive. My Dad was in Bomber Command and had lost many of his friends. They spent their lives being glad for each day and they quietly worked and supported their family and never, as far as I know, harboured any ambitions for anything other than staying in work and paying the mortgage. 
This stability enabled me to write of my ambition which was to be a champion show jumper. If that 'The Secret' stuff worked, you know, thinking positively about things makes it happen, then I would have been winning gold  along with Nick Skelton at the Olympics last week. God knows I so focussed on getting a pony and becoming a show jumper. I didn't think about the writing, the writing just enabled me to work through my dreams and fantasies. 
So, here I am at 50 finally realising that writing was the ambition not equestrian sports. In between then and now I edited the school magazine, was an editor on the university newspaper and then worked as a journalist for many years. 
Then, four years ago I came across the story of Elsie Mackay and my accumulated research slowly became 'West Over the Waves' a non fiction book that followed her attempt to fly the Atlantic from east to west in 1928. The book was published by GC Books of Wigtown and is now in its third edition. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Designing my platform

Although I've called this blog Jayne Baldwin Blethers I will be focussing on my writing and my adventures in the world of publishing. This is all part of my mission to give my writing my best shot. I went along to a writer's day in Castle Douglas recently which was all about using the social media to build your author platform. The main speaker was Nicola Morgan, author of more than 90 books and something of a guru now. She blogs at Help! I Need a Publisher and it's a source of great advice for anyone trying to get anywhere in publishing.
   Having taken her advice I've joined twitter, created an author page on facebook and now I'm starting a blog for my writing as opposed to whinging generally about life over the age of 50 on my ForwardFrom50 blog.
   I have no idea whether this is getting me anywhere. The only thing I can say for definite is that I haven't done any real writing since starting all this platform building!