When Inspiration Knocks

It has been said that any book is ten per cent inspiration and ninety per cent perspiration, but without that initial spark of something, any written work is drudgery. It is that ten per cent that gives the writer a chance to produce something more meaningful than a mere collection of words. It is the spirit that allows humanity to rise above mediocrity and aim for something to strike at the soul of the reader.

So why does this inspiration always come at the most awkward times?

With me it arrives unbidden and often unwanted when I am heavily engaged in other activities. For example, I can be in the shower or happily lying in bed, when an idea bursts into my dozing brain.

Now a idea coming at night gives me a number of choices:

  1. Leap out of bed and dash through the house shrieking ‘Eureka’ on my way to the keyboard
  2. Find pen and paper and scribble down the ideas there and then
  3. Ignore the whole thing, go back to sleep and hope to recall said inspiration in the morning.

Now: all of the above have drawbacks. Leaping out of bed may not be the best idea in our house. For a start that would probably wake my lady wife, who is averse to sudden wakenings and would respond with either extreme physical and verbal violence or, more likely, concern that everything was all right.

‘Is it Alex? Hannah? Lesley? What’s wrong? What’s happened?’

That level of worry is dangerous on a sudden awakening and cannot be allowed to happen.

That leaping around would also necessitate me charging around the house in a state of extreme undress, which could also create reactions if my younger daughter, who sometimes stays with us, was at home. Either she would be shocked to see her dear father in such a condition, or more likely she would collapse in fits of laughter. Neither are to be recommended. Therefore the leaping and yelling of ‘Eureka’ is a non starter.

Finding pen and paper is a much better idea. Except one needs light to write and a sudden surge of light would also waken the wife-woman, with the same results as in the leaping around process. So one must write in the dark. Now my hand writing at the best of times resembles the scribblings of a drunken three legged spider who has fallen in a pot of ink: writing without a light makes it like Egyptian hieroglyphs without the meaning. Which means that I would spend hours the following morning trying to decipher the unreadable.

That leaves option three:  ignore the whole thing and hope to recall it the next morning, which is exactly what I did when the idea for this blog struck me last night.

There must be a fourth choice



Posted in children, family, inspiration, nudity, wife, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Migrants

So here we are, with thousands and tens of thousands of migrants at the gates of Europe.  Every news report, every television screen is filled with pictures of desperate people clamouring to get in to the safe haven of Europe. And the same news reports show police with batons and tear gas, barbed wire fences, dogs and barriers to keep them out. Some of the letters in sites such as Yahoo are frightening in their responses: they advocate sinking the boats, sending them all back, putting gas in the Channel Tunnel: genocide, racism and slaughter.

Now roll the clock back a bit. Just seventy years, less than a lifetime, and look at Europe. It was a continent filled with literally millions of migrants – or refugees as they were known then. Displaced, scared, hungry, fleeing war and oppression. Go back a further thirty years and see the boats filled with Europeans migrating in their hundreds of thousands to the United States and Canada. For what? For a  better life, for a job, for hope.

Go further back: to Scotland, my country, in the 1850s and see the ships sailing for Australia jammed with hopeful emigrants. Or a few years before that to the rush round Cape Horn for Californian Gold, or the vast wagon trains that crossed the prairies of North America: migrants too but now lauded as people of ‘sturdy pioneer stock.’  Folk heroes to the United States, as the very similar Voortrekkers of South Africa were depicted as heroes, or the Overlanders of Australia who pioneered routes for cattle and people to follow. There are statues to these people and films about the wagon trains with the indigenous inhabitants of the land frequently seen as the opposition: the Other.

Think of the Irish emigration of the 1820s, 30s and 40s. It cost one penny to sail the Irish Sea to Liverpool or Glasgow and swap rural famine for urban squalor, to swap hopelessness imposed by a restrictive political, social and religious regime for some sort of hope. Oh there’s that word again: hope.

Now look again at Scotland, my very own small and imperfect country. There were forced emigrations here as well when people were herded to ships and forced abroad, when red-coated armies ravished the glens, when people had no choice but to leave their homes and chance the turbulent seas. They did not wish to go any more than the Syrians or Afghans or people from Iraq grew up wishing to leave their homes and country. Circumstances forced emigration on them, as it did to the Irish of the Famine, the Jews of the Pogroms, the unemployed of Europe and. . . probably most mass movements of humanity since time began.

Yes, some will be chancing their arm. It is easy to see fit and healthy young men with designer sun-glasses, I-pads and mobile phones that cost a year’s wages for a normal person, but look again. See the desperation in the eyes of mothers who have carried their children away from horror, in the faces of men who have shepherded their families across continents in the dream of work and safety. Not for riches like the 49-ers who sought gold, not even for Freedom, ‘which no man loses but with his life’ but for Hope.

Look at these people because that is what they are: PEOPLE. Just like our ancestors who came to this country in times past and our relatives who emigrated to Canada, Australia or the United States. The only difference is the time and the media coverage. They are scared, desperate, brave human beings that the world should be helping, not despising.

If they don’t come here, then where can they go? Back to Syria? Or Afghanistan? Would you want to bring up your family in the shadow of IS, that most evil of regimes since Nazi Germany? Or watch them live on the streets of Kabul or Kandahar knowing that the Taleban could swoop from the ragged heights any day.

This country of Scotland, this political union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, this continent of Europe, was founded and created through blood and trial and tribulation and horror. It took thousands of years to form but always since the vague notion of nation states, there has been a notion of Christianity, of helping the less fortunate, or alms houses and charity to those in need. Have we lost that? Has our acquired wealth and standard of living removed the basic Christianity and basic humanity that once was our strength and reason for existence.

Look again at the faces of these fellow sufferers and see, in the mirror of their eyes: ourselves.


Posted in Charity, Christianity, Emigration, Hope, Immigration, Iraq, Migrants, Scotland, Syria | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How does one feel after writing a book?

It is a strange mixture of emotions. On one hand there is elation that a piece of work is completed; on the other there is a sense of loss. Last night I sent my latest effort to a publisher: Fort Publishing of Ayr, a company I have never before worked with. It is called A Glimpse at Dundee and is over 100,000 words long, which is the longest book I have ever written. Or rather the longest manuscript as it is a long way from being a book yet.

The effort of creation gets no easier: the tearing of words from inside oneself, the anguish over style, the worry what to leave out and what to include, the long hours of research and the frenzy when words tumble in a rush, followed by the sheer mental agony of editing.  All writers know these things.

It is the parting that hurts. Is it complete or should I give it one last polish? Does it meet the requirements of the original contract? Is it too long? Too short? Does the style suit the subject?

Then there is the pain of parting with a child one has laboured so long to bring forth and the worry that one’s work is being critically scrutinised by another, who is thinking of commercial possibilities rather than literary flow or historical accuracy.

Mentally, physically and emotionally there is exhaustion, but also elation. That particular piece of work can be put aside now. It is out of my hands. Time to move on to the next. It is a machine-like process, this production line of words, of ideas, of dreams and phrases, anecdotes and historical reality, of the recipe of correct mixing of a thousand ingredients to create a reading cake suitable for all tastes.

Sent now.

God go with you, Glimpse at Dundee



Posted in Dundee, history, hoping, publishing, writing | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

We all have a function in the world

My grandfather came from the Island of Arran on the west coast of Scotland and I spent quite a lot of time there as a boy. As it is close to the central belt it attracted a lot of holiday makers who headed for the hills, but not all were experienced or equipped for the conditions there.

There was one occasion when a group of young climbers got lost on one of the western hill groups – Beinn Bharrain and Bheinn Bhreac [Ben Varn and Ben Vrack for the non Gaelic speakers among us] and the mountain rescue team was called in from the mainland. I remember standing with my Dad and the local farmer, Donald MacMillan as these experts got ready to do their stuff. They came in all the fancy gear and piled high with equipment as they discussed the routes and techniques they would adopt.

Old Donald MacMillan gave his advice, which was politely listened to and then ignored, and the heroes tramped off, brightly coloured and confident, into the dusk.

‘Well Tam,’ Donald said to my Dad, ‘they’re off the wrong way then. Shall we go and rescue the missing lads.’

My Dad nodded. I don’t think he said anything; he never did say much anyway. He and Donald put on their boots. Donald knew the hills; he was a shepherd and could read the weather and the granite and the heather after a lifetime of experience. He knew that in the prevailing weather conditions the missing men would have followed a certain ridge to a certain spot and then would have been unable to get back.

He took my Dad right to them and was back within a few hours. He had the missing men safe and warm long before the experts returned.

Is there a moral to this story?

Yes: we al have a role to play in life. Some have all the paper qualifications in the world and others have none, but that does not mean they have no skills. Everybody has some skill;  often they do not know what it is, or have not been asked to display it. I work with some lads who have no formal qualifications. They are not stupid, it is just that the world has not yet recognise their potential.

The ‘expert’ rescue team discarded Donald’s skills because they thought they knew better; they were highly trained and he was only a rural shepherd. I learned never to discount anybody. There are always hidden talents and skills. People are multi layered and often hide their potential.

We all have a function.

Posted in hills, life, Scotland, skills | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Feelings of publication

Today my Liverpool: Gangs, Vice and Packet rats is published. It is a strange feeling to know that people will soon be reading words that I have written, and not only reading them, but actually paying to read them.

It is humbling and very scary. All these months of research, these months of head scratching horror hunting for the right word, the telling phrase, the correct anecdote to illustrate a particular point; all on public view.

The reader will only see the result and not the labour. She or he will never know the effort required to get that final effect; she or he will not be aware of the copy editing, the searching of libraries and archives, the re-writes and re-re-writes, the despair when a chapter just does not work out or the utter jubilation when information is finally located that ties a chapter together.

I remember the characters as if they were old friends rather than long dead people from the past; I remember Bob Pembleton who said ‘damn thee; you little knew Bob Pembleton if thee thought to rob him and get off without a tussle.’ I remember middle aged Ann Crelin who was abducted and dragged to Gretna Green for a forced marriage; I remember the ferocious High-rip gang and the Packet Rats who sailed to New York, the sisters who poisoned an unknown number of victims and the police who bravely battled a sea of crime. For a while that was my world, but now it is open to all the world to view.

I hope the readers enjoy my work. I hope they smile as I smile, frown when I frowned, shake their heads in horror at the depths of evilness some people had and nod with satisfaction when the Liverpool police get their man – or woman.

So here we go; now my Liverpool Crime book is out there.




Posted in Abduction, crime, England, Gretna Green, Historical Crime, Liverpool, murder, New York, Shipping | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Attack in France

Shocking news from France. I am sure that every decent person in the world will condemn this attack on an office of unarmed journalists and writers.

There is little doubt that the attackers claim to be Islamists but equally little doubt that they do not represent the vast majority of decent followers of Islam. These were brutal, savage murderers. To judge by their movements and calm appearance, they were trained and professional – assassins rather than people motivated by sudden anger.

Unfortunately there are too many such creatures in the world today; we live in a society where violence seems to be the answer to many disputes. It is time we grew out of this school playground mentality and matured.

All thoughts are with the relatives of those people who were murdered or injured by these sub-humans.

Today it is a case of Vive la France


Posted in crime, freedom, murder, terrorism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Heritage of class

The first day of the year, so my wife hung up a new calendar. You know the type: big glossy picture on top and the dates beneath. I happen to like calendars but I have never really thought about the pictures before.

This month’s illustration was of a huge country house down in Herefordshire in England. There is no doubt it is a lovely building surrounded by beautiful grounds, but the reason for its existence and the power by which it was maintained tend to remove the gloss. This magnificent building was created as the home – 0ne home – for a single family who were looked after by a small army of servants drawn from the so called ‘lower orders.’

The class system, whereby one group of society literally lorded it over all others purely by virtue of birth. What a foul system of established inequality, and yet it still exists to some extent or another in many if not most countries in the world. Money, privilege, rank – among people or nations – what a sick concept when so many millions of people throughout the world are living on the cusp of desperate poverty.

This is 2015; have we not advanced beyond greed as a motivation for living? This world has enough resources to give everybody a decent quality of life, yet it is so unfairly divided that a very few have far more than many millions. I am not advocating any ‘ism’ as a quick fix, but I do think that we should all look at ourselves in this new year and try to advocate some more equality among our fellow humans.

Our shared heritage of care, concern and mutual aid in times of crisis should be lauded and celebrated. Anything divisive should most definitely not.


Posted in class, mutual aid. humanity, People | Tagged , | 1 Comment