As some of you know, I love to draw and paint, and I’ve developed a love for Chinese Brush Painting. I don’t know much about it yet, but I’m learning! The Chinese refer to such paintings as ‘writing a picture’, in other words, capturing the essence of scene and story in the simplest of terms, which kind of reflects my writing. It’s all about the imagery. Here are a couple of my early attempts. The first ‘Heron’ is firmly rooted in the Chinese brush technique and the second ‘Seagull’ is more my own take on it!
‘I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests.’
– Pablo Neruda
I love these lines. They describe perfectly the creative connection between the landscape and us. Recently, I have been devoting my energy almost exclusively to novel-writing,
and I must admit I miss the process of creating a poem, the makings of which swirl around the brain in a totally different way to the plot of a novel; the words are liberated somehow. There are no rules, no expectations.
On National Poetry Day, perhaps we should all be taking a moment to write a few lines, as a way of connecting with what’s important to us, or simply to recapture the joy of writing for the sheer pleasure of it. I was delighted to find myself in the Angus edition of The Courier today alongside some proper poets! Feeling rather rusty, I decided to look out some of my poems inspired by the landscape. The first was written at Barry Mill, and the second is rather seasonal. Happy National Poetry Day!
The wheel turns.
Dust falls from every wormhole;
every sandstone pore. Spores slacken
with the thump and thrum;
the din of timber.
The mill exhales, expands,
loosening old lives
like buttons on a waistcoat.
The wheel turns.
Shapes shift in the dark;
sparks blue as eyes;
the scent of old smoke.
The re-formed flour ghosts
of old men settle
beneath the faint silver of
The wheel turns.
The damsel in the machinery,
skirt dappled with
paw-prints, slack-jaws gossip
down through generations;
until the past
meshes with the present.
On and on.
the wheel turns. Sandra Ireland
Signed by the artist
With gloomy brushstrokes
Guardi paints Venice. All
pale piazzas and falling skies;
lagoons breathing gunsmoke.
Adds a signature fleck of red.
All winter I wait, colourless,
under snow-bruised clouds;
breathing ice cobwebs on glass.
Until, at last, Nature adds
a bright splash
I can’t believe it’s been two months since Crime at the Castle (and two months since I last updated my blog…hangs head in shame) so let’s hit the ground running with a look at what’s been happening in my booky world!
My second novel Bone Deep will be published at the start of July, so in the run-up to the big day, please join me on Twitter (@22_ireland), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Sandralowireland/) and Goodreads. I’ve not been very active on Goodreads, so please follow me- I need all the friends I can get!
We decided to get the celebratory ball rolling in April with a concert in the atmospheric surroundings of Hospitalfield, Arbroath. My friends at Hypercoaster Music had the tricky task of bringing together nine virtual strangers, with only an ancient murder ballad in common…and they nailed it! The audience were enthusiastic in their praise, and appreciated how well the performers ‘gelled’, which demonstrates the power of music and art to unite us. It was stirring stuff, as each artist interpreted the ballad of The Cruel Sister* in their own unique way.
The highlight for me was reading from Bone Deep accompanied by the harp! I’d never attempted anything like this before, but I knew I was in safe hands with super-talented writer, poet and musician Rebecca Sharp. When you read the book, you’ll understand that a very special harp is pivotal to the story, so it was quite emotional for me, not only to hear the instrument playing in the background, but to experience each unique and haunting interpretation of the theme of the evening.
Author, actor and director Heather Osborne helped me to set the scene with our take on the history of The Cruel Sister ballad. Rebecca, and Emil Thompson treated us to a deliciously dark interpretation of the theme, which involved a Crow Box, a Singing Bowl and a little bit of magic! Spoken word artist Stephen Watt delivered a thought-provoking and poignant set, exploring the darkness of our own psyche, while folk duo Shamblestone wowed us all with a raw and powerful rendition of the Twa Sisters (video on their Facebook page!). Lisa Rigby and Stuart Clark finished the night off with a fantastic set, including a most haunting and memorable version of The Wind and Rain.
Huge thanks to Tash and Andy at Hypercoaster, to all who took part, and helped out on the night and beforehand. I really hope we can do it again some time!
Next week, I’ll tell you a little more about the story behind the story, and we’ll look at the history of the ballad itself.
*The Ballad of the Cruel Sister was the inspiration behind Bone Deep. I wanted to show how the past can impact on the present. Strangely, there’s a link between Hospitalfield and this book! In 1813, Sir Walter Scott visited the house, and was inspired to use it as the setting for his novel The Antiquary. Some 11 years previously, Scott had published a collection of Border Ballads, entitled The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders. As a teenager, I chanced upon this tome while rummaging through an old bookshop in the Borders. The Cruel Sister ballad, with its powerful themes of sibling rivalry, betrayal and murder really captured my imagination. Little did I know that some forty years later I would be standing where Scott once stood, talking about my own novel!
Buying a gift for a writer is easy. An elegant pen, a bespoke notebook. A new edition of a much-loved classic. But ask a writer what their dream gift would be, and it might well be something you can’t pick up online.
We crave it, can’t get enough of it. We want time that is elastic, time that stands still. Time that will work with us, and allow us to craft that perfect chapter before the kids come home, or the dog demands to be walked.
We all desire it, we’re all chasing it. You can’t buy it, but you can make it, if you allow a little space in your hectic schedule. Last month, three intrepid scribblers set out to do just that!
In the company of fellow writers, Elizabeth Frattaroli and Dawn Geddes, I booked into the fabulous Rosely House Hotel, Arbroath. Better known as the ‘home’ of the Angus Writers’ Circle, the hotel is a Baronial-style country house. Think old oak and stag’s heads, firewood in the hall and electric blankets on the beds. It has turrets, stained glass and the most gorgeous period furniture. It is Writer Heaven!
We began our stay with a wander round the grounds, beneath Scots pine and willow, through drifts of bluebells. We passed the 18th c. ice house, and climbed ancient stone steps that lead to nowhere. Afterwards, we relaxed in the parlour and wrote, fuelled by endless coffee (the family who run the hotel are SO understanding!) and, I admit, a bottle of wine. After a delicious meal – served in the parlour, no cooking, no washing up!- we wrote some more, shared some ideas and climbed the amazing Gothic staircase to bed.
It was tranquil, therapeutic and inspirational. For once, Time was on our side. With no domestic demands, no to-do list and no stress, it was the perfect venue for a writerly retreat. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we thought, if everyone could experience this?
If you’re chasing time, and would like to follow in our footsteps, head on over to our brand-new website!
Regular readers of this blog may have noted that the last few months have been frenetic, although the past week has more or less wrapped up my bookish events for this year. On Thursday, I took part in Dundee’s first ever Noir at the Bar, along with Kings of Crime James Oswald, Russel D.Mclean, Jay Stringer and David Wishart, plus those Dangerous Dames, Chris Longmuir and Wendy H. Jones. This is an American phenomenon ( read about it here) which is spreading rapidly and with great success. Watch out for NATB events in Glasgow, Newcastle and Edinburgh…and definitely Dundee in the New Year!
Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and indulge in something creative for the simple pleasure of being creative. On Saturday I attended a Poetry Apothecary workshop, which was every bit as magical as it sounds. This is the brainchild of poet Rebecca Sharp, who gave us free rein to experiment with lots of lovely perfume oils and encouraged us to add words to the blend. As always, it was a pleasure to meet with a bunch of like-minded folk, and it felt good to ‘play’ with ideas, minus the pressure of producing a finished article. However, Rebecca’s Apothecary, and the fascinating mythology and history of perfume, worked its magic. Here’s a poem- enjoy!
Perfume: a love spell.
(A scent is made of base notes, middle/heart notes and top/head notes. ‘Notes’ of perfume oil go together to make a ‘chord’…)
the sharp heart notes
of clove and myrtle
with needles of pine.
jasmine and juniper,
with rind of bergamot,
drop by bittersweet drop.
musk, light-fingered frankincense;
a riff of vetivert;.
the bass grumble of oakmoss
the secret chord.
. Sandra Ireland, 2016