Archives for November 2009


I have in front of a me a six-page document in old fashioned typewriting. Its cover page is entitled 'My Life by John Cameron'. Below that is typed: Born.. 12th April, 1855  Died..20th March, 1939. It was typed by his daughter Kata, my great aunt. John Cameron was my great grandfather.

Whenever I am feeling unmotivated and the thought of sitting in front of the computer seems less than enticing, I think of this document. It describes my grandfather's life on the railways in the Highlands of Scotland: "I was on the mind of joining the railway service, and in my 19th year, on the 22nd June, 1874, I was appointed porter at Stromeferry at 14 shillings per week and a suit of uniform per annum."

He goes on to describe his marriage: "Well I was thinking of getting married now. I had a pay of 23 shillings a week and I thought I would manage to keep a wife, and the intended wife thought so also." He talks briefly of his seven children and the heartbreak of having to send two of his grandchildren away when they became orphans: "I had to part with Marie and Joan. At the time Marie went to Drummond with a Mrs Corbett and as she was fond of her I left her."

He describes in unemotional prose, but all the more powerful for its lack of gushing sentimentality, the death of one of his four sons, Alexander Angus Ewen, in the very last days of the First World War: "He was killed about 7 a.m. on the 21st September, 1918. He was a very fine lad of 23 years, upright in all his actions."

There is a note at the end from Kata: "The Life is as Dada wrote it (in pencil on the pages of a penny exercise book) except that I have paragraphed it for easier reading."

His was a simple life, full of hardship and yet he took the time to write it down in his little notebook. Why? To make his mark, to prove he had lived, to record things. I don't know. But the point is that he did it. And so I am left with this reminder of him and of a family all gone, but immortalised in his pencil written journal, transcribed by my great aunt, whom I also never met.

She left me her typewriter in her will. It is now at my mother's house, although I intend bringing it here to Italy at some point. It's an old machine with round black keys and a red and black ribbon. I can't recall the make now – maybe a Remington. You can see the indentations of things she typed on the ribbon. I like to think her legacy to me was a symbolic gesture. I got it, to my great surprise, many years ago when I was a little girl. An aunt I had never met had left me her precious typewriter. She could not possibly have known I would be making my living now as a writer.

And so when I feel the Monday morning blues and sigh as I look at the blank screen, I remember my grandfather and his little notebook, my aunt and her typewriter and think about how lucky I am.

Weaving Patterns

Did you know that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about the web?

It wasn't the world wide web, of course, but the concept stopped me in my tracks when I came across it while reading his book Essays in the Art of Writing.

"…it may be said with sufficient justice that the motive and end of any art whatever is to make a pattern; a pattern it may be, of colours, of sounds, or imitative lines; but still a pattern… the true business of the literary artist is to plait or weave his meaning, involving it around itself; so that each sentence by successive phrases, shall come first into a kind of knot, and then, after a moment of suspended meaning, solve and clear itself… the web, then, or the pattern: a web at once sensuous and logical, an elegant and pregnant texture: that is style, that is the foundation of the art of literature."

I love the idea that we writers are weavers of words and ideas,and that we are united in this act of creation with all other artists. We are all pattern makers intricately constructing a web. It's an inspiring idea that is as relevant in the 21st century as it was when Stevenson wrote it in the 19th.

And 130 years after he wrote the words I've quoted, writers are wrapped up in a very different kind of web. But despite the technology we are still making patterns, we are still putting words on paper, or  on screen. I wonder what Stevenson would have made of that?

Free ebooks for Writers

Following on from my post last week about my Amazon Kindle, I have been searching for free ebooks on writing to download. I have discovered that although the Kindle does not yet read pdf files well, if you download the Mobipocket reader  you can then convert all kinds of files to a Kindle-friendly format.

So after that I went on a hunt for free resources for writers, which I thought I would share with you.

The Career Novelist by Donald Maas is a literary agent and offers this book about the publishing industry on his site. I haven't read it yet but the reviews look promising.

Time Management for Creative People by Mark McGuinness is a useful little ebook about exactly what it says on the tin.

Holly Lisle's Mugging the Muse is a free download about the making mon ey from fiction and is based on articles and workshops given by this talented writer. Good value at 209 pages!

Assaulting a Writer's Thinking by Lea Schizas is described as a 'kick-butt adventure' and although I haven't read it yet I can do with getting my 'butt kicked' from time to time, so will let you know!

Hope you enjoy them and I'll post more as I find them.

A Really Magic Door

I am supremely aware of the irony as I read Arthur Conan-Doyle's words: "Come through the magic door with me and sit here on the green settee, where you can see the old oak case with its untidy lines of volumes… Would you care to hear me talk of them? Well, I ask nothing better, for there is no volume there which is not a dear, personal friend, and what man can talk more pleasantly than that? The other books are over there, but these are my own favourites – the ones I care to re-read and have near my elbow. There is not a tattered cover which does not bring its mellow memories to me."

You see, I am reading these evocative lines about the beauty and enduring pleasure of books on my birthday present from my sister and brother-in-law, an Amazon Kindle! The ultimate in electronic readers its black leather cover conceals a slim, elegant paper-back size piece of wizardry that enables me to download ebooks from the net and then sit here, on the settee (although not a green one) in front of the wood burning stove on this rainy afternoon and read.

I have always loved books, had a passion for bookshops, preferred to spend my hard earned pennies on volumes of text rather than volumes of clothes. Every return visit to the UK sees me ensconced in a bookshop or the local library rather than raiding supermarkets for teabags and Marmite.

You would imagine I might feel guilty, perhaps disloyal, as I hold my 21st century version of Conan Doyle's 'dear, personal friend', but I don't. Someone's brilliant idea means that I have access to thousands of books on this slender gadget. And I find myself getting lost in the text, just like I do with a real book. Reality fades away and I get caught up in the world of the imagination just the same. I absolutely love it and I'm sure Sir Arthur would be delighted that his words live on in a format he could only have dreamed of. This truly is a magic door.

Are you Right or Left Brained?

It’s a bit

of a trick question as people are very rarely just left brained or just right
brained, unless they have some damage to the hemispheres. It’s popularly
believed that the right brain is used when you are being more creative or
recalling rote learned things like tables and rhymes, while the left brain is for
more logical activities such as adding up figures and so on.

Although there is a lot of truth in that, it’s very simplistic. Brain activity
actually moves from one side to the other depending on what you are doing. When
I am doing my SEO copywriting for example, I probably use the left and right
sides of my brain throughout the writing.  I may be working on statistics
or key word research (very left brained) but then stop and imagine links
between words and phrases ‘in my mind’s eye’ (very right brained).

Anyway, all this is leading up to the intriguing spinning dancer puzzle that is
doing the rounds on the Internet. I immediately saw it spinning clockwise,
indicating a preference for using the right brain. But when I looked at it from
the corner of my eye while reading some text on the page it changed

Of course
there is a logical explanation, which is that the image is an optical illusion
known as a ‘reversible’ and that something in our visual system ‘clicks in and
switches the direction of the image. Sometimes I hate logical explanations, don’t

Whatever… it’s good fun.