Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Written Scots

I recently read The Smiling School for Calvinists, a book of short stories and snippets from life in Broughty Ferry near Dundee in Scotland. It's full of surreal adventures and insights into urban Scottish life but also there are moments where the narrator takes time out to lie on the roof of his multistorey block of flats and watch the geese fly by.

What I didn't like about the book was the Scots. I love the Scots language, but it annoys me when a writer just uses variant spellings of English words to make us think we're reading Scots. Where are the real Scots words in this book? I think I counted four or five. No dippit, or glaekit, no haar or stramash. The value of Scots is surely in its unique, characterful and colourful words (see the sidebar links for Scots Language to find some of these words) not in the variant spelling of the words that are spoken by everyone who speaks English, particularly as there is no standardised form of Scots spelling, even within this one book there are two variant spelling for some individual words.... I know that using too many real Scots words would potentially put off a lot of readers outside of Scotland, but then so does the variant spelling and its always possible to include a glossary.....

What do readers think?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender by Dubravka Ugresic

This is a stunningly beautiful book focusing on the experiences of a group of women from former Yugoslavia as their country falls apart and they become exiles. It's a novel but not a conventional one as it has no actual narrative but is made up of fragments and stories woven together to make a patchwork of feelings and insights on ageing, identity, loneliness, homeland, belonging and loss. Certain images and snippets of stories appear again and again within the pages, making connections between different episodes. The whole book is wonderfully reflective and moving.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Arvon Foundation 2009 Brochure Competition

The winners of this competition, to write a piece inspired by a photo, have been announced and I'm totally delighted to be one of them! You can see the inspiring photo and the winning poems at:

Sunday, December 06, 2009


The underground room is full of people my parents would not approve of. Young men in make-up and bondage trousers. Young women in corsets and stilettos with eleborate hair and spiky jewellery. Leather and pvc.

Industrial noise fills the air; then loud German rock then Radiohead's Creep "I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo" gets everyone onto the dancefloor.

This is where I feel at home. I can dance by myself and no-one hassles me. I can hold my man's hand and kiss a girl and no-one looks askance at us.

It gets crowded in here but no-one ever makes trouble. If someone bumps into you on the dancefloor, you exchange smiles. If someone knocks over your drink they buy you another.

Leaving at 2.30am we hear the sounds of brawling in the regular bar next door.

Weird for Sunday Scribblings

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The relaunch of the Book of Hopes and Dreams

The Book Of Hopes And Dreams is a charity poetry anthology, featuring Simon Armitage, Margaret Atwood, Carol Anne Duffy, Alasdair Gray, Edwin Morgan and many others, including me!

The Book Of Hopes And Dreams has been re-launched as an e-book and is available for a minimum donation of UK £1 or US $2 (though larger donations will be gratefully received). For more information on how to buy the book, please visit:

All funds raised will go direct to Spirit Aid, a volunteer run charity that works in Afganistan. To find out more about Spirit Aid go to: