Scrapefoot #2

Thanks for joining me on the blog! As promised, here is part 2 of Scrapefoot. Rebecca has simply gone to check on her mother’s empty cottage in the woods- but what will she find? Check back next week for part 3. Enjoy!

    Now, in the wood at Eel Beck, something strange occurred. I felt a little disorientated, giddy. It was like being hit by that first sip of glühwein when the air is cold and your stomach is empty. It wasn’t unpleasant, just a shifting of things, as if the cottage I was heading towards was no longer where I might expect to find it. The wood was white and alien and when I paused a moment to look back, my footsteps had been obliterated. Or maybe they had never been there. Where had that voice come from? It had broken into my thoughts, low and insistent. Catching my breath, I glanced at the tree beside me. It was a holly bush, grown to such a point that it could safely be called a tree. The snow had slipped from its razor leaves, leaving green, glossy spikes and berries the colour of blood. In this faded-out world, the red hurt my eyes. It looked positively gaudy, a distraction.

   In my peripheral vision, I saw something else- a slash of silver, a black eye, a slender paw. I gasped, but the more I looked for the creature, the more I saw only absence; twirling snow, ragged roots. It had been a fox, a white fox!

    I felt breathless, glorious and yet strangely cheated, as if I’d only been granted certain permissions, and was longing to learn more. How often does anyone get to see a white fox? Are you sure that’s what you saw? That voice again. I glared at the holly tree, but she was giving nothing away. She? Oh, come on! I shook my head at my own foolishness. The landscape was playing with me. The longer I stayed there, the more it would try to outwit me, like an owl waiting to sense the heartbeat of a mouse beneath the ground. Don’t fall for it, I told myself. My mother’s vacant home was only a five minute walk away. Go check on it. Turn on the taps, make sure there are no leaks or broken windows and get the hell out of there.

   Before ploughing onwards, I cast a last glance behind me. Despite the ongoing snowfall, the path was crisscrossed with tracks. Not mine, they were still missing, but I recognised the cleft print of deer, the spiky splay of some kind of bird, and paw prints of all kinds, from shrew-sized to dauntingly large. The one that stood out the most was the one I seemed to know by heart. Perhaps as a child, I’d learned to recognise it. This trail threaded back on itself, looping around the rest like a sheepdog or crime scene tape. Bold, self-possessed. Quick-witted. A slender arrow of five pads, with the indents of sharp claws. Fox.

   All those random impressions in the snow began to resemble a music score, an offbeat tune that filled my being and made my heart stutter an accompanying bass beat. Pressing my hand there, I tried to swallow my irrational fears and took a deep breath. I hadn’t noticed any of those tracks as I’d passed.  I hadn’t noticed them. That didn’t mean they hadn’t been there. It was absurd to think otherwise, that somehow these creatures had manifested behind my back like ghosts, I shook my head and walked on. The light was fading fast and I deliberated whether to activate the flashlight on my phone.

   My mother had always been a great one for an uncanny story. She knew all the old tales from this part of Yorkshire; the menacing Gytrash, its eyes like burning coals, Mother Shipton the prophetess, well-dwelling serpents and Scrapefoot the Fox, who gatecrashed a bear’s lair. Sometimes mum would sketch odd things in the evenings, straining her eyes by the light of the fire. As a child, I was fascinated and appalled in equal measure, but later, that turned to contempt. She made me despair. I wasn’t interested in her tales or her drawings and it was the 21st century. We had electricity, for goodness sake! It was as if she wanted to row back to an earlier, eerier time, when the fire played out such tales across the ceiling, the characters like shadow puppets, lurking in the cracks in the plaster. No wonder I was in such a hurry to grow up and leave. My current home is a newbuild; a swish apartment in Highgate, with artic white walls and high-performance lighting controlled by personal software which means I can illuminate the place from my I-phone. I never have to step into a dark room.

    I am no longer used to the dark. The trees seemed to be bearing down on me. Above me the sky was like a massive 3-D poster, a luminous chart of all the constellations I had ever known. I could even identify some of them; Orion and his belt, the Big Dipper. And the one that looks like a W. Right overhead was suspended the brightest of stars, or perhaps a planet. On the News, there’d been a story about a Great Conjunction, the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, but I hadn’t really been paying attention. Apparently, it hadn’t been seen for centuries and they thought (whoever they were) that this might have been the actual Christmas Star.

   Another of my mother’s stories flitted into my mind. In Finland, Artic foxes are said to race across the sky, brushing the mountain peaks with their tails. The resulting snowflakes ignite to form the Aurora Borealis. Like all of my mother’s stories, I’d packed it away with a sigh, impatient to move on, but out here, in the dark, below the vast dome of the sky and amid the hush of the snow, it felt like anything was possible.

  I tried to shrug off the notion. Any moment now, the cottage would come into view and I could do my duty and return to my car, which was parked on the main road. And then it would be back to my hotel for a warming mulled wine at the bar. By some strange quirk, the Christmas Star, or whatever that bright shiny thing was, seemed to be pinned right above me, above the cottage, like a bauble on some weird cosmic Christmas tree.

And then I noticed two things. That creature, that flash of silver fur I’d spied earlier, whistled past me again and in my mother’s cottage, lights were blazing. Lights which should not be there. Each pane of glass was a little square of flickering gold in the dark wood…

Each pane of glass was a little square of flickering gold in the dark wood…

Hope you’ve enjoyed part 2! While you’re here, do read about my writing journey, my books and my creative writing courses- and do drop me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Stay safe, Sandra ❤

The Joy of Collaboration

As a creative writing tutor, I‘ve been supporting fellow writers at every stage of their careers for quite some time now. For me, this began before I became a published author, when I was still studying at the University of Dundee. With the help of my own tutor, Mr Eddie Small, I set up an informal writing group (named ‘Scribblers’) in my home town of Carnoustie. As I recall, we progressed from the ‘snug’ of our local pub to the Scout Hall! I was certainly rather nervous about the whole thing, constantly questioning my ability to teach. I quickly realised that no one has all the ‘answers’ and passion goes a long way in communicating ideas. More than that, I was joined by an amazing bunch of newbie writers who boosted my confidence just as much as I boosted theirs!

One of those early participants was Dawn Geddes, now a successful journalist and Book Correspondent for the Scots Magazine. Fast forward another four or five years, and both Dawn and I found ourselves in cahoots again! Along with our friend and fellow writer Elizabeth Frattaroli, we embarked upon a new venture, Chasing Time Writing Retreats. Based at Rosely House Hotel, Arbroath, we have been running wonderfully quirky writing weekends since 2017, meeting some truly lovely people along the way. It is with a heavy heart that we’ve had to suspend our operation until ‘normal life’ resumes. As they say, we’ll be back!

This Autumn sees a new collaboration for me. I will be teaming up (virtually) with fellow author Nöelle Harrison (The Gravity of Love and The Island Girls) on a sparkly new venture- a first draft bootcamp! You can read all about it HERE but suffice to say it will be a pleasure to welcome you aboard. By pooling our skills, Nöelle and I hope to offer you our uniquely individual take on how to craft a fresh and original work of fiction. We will be offering masterclasses, live stream writing sessions, creative unblocking, meditation and author selfcare- in short, all the tools you will need to get those words on the page and smooth out any bumps in your writing road ahead. Are you up for the challenge?  Look forward to seeing you in November!

The Ticking Crocodile

One evening in 2017, I was sitting around a table with two friends, Dawn Geddes andbronte sisters Elizabeth Frattaroli. Our drinks remained untouched, tension was etched on our faces. We were trying to come up with a name for our new venture, and it was proving trickier than we’d ever imagined. We were on the verge of extending a hand to fellow writers, to offer them a retreat away from everyday life, from the domestic routine which kills creativity. Our vision was that they would be able to write, unhindered, in a glorious setting. We had the idea, the venue, the enthusiasm- but no name.

The name had to be catchy and writing-related. Perhaps even reflecting the rich literary 20170512_164307heritage of Angus, where the retreats would be held, and celebrating the idea that, for one weekend at least, the clock would be stopped. We even had a tagline, ‘Press pause in the heart of Angus.’!

Our thoughts turned to local authors- Violet Jacob, of course, from the House of Dun -but what about, arguably, the most famous writer in the world, who just happened to have been born in a tiny cottage at the foot of the Angus Glens? J. M. Barrie. Maybe Peter Pan might have a solution to our problem…

Unless you’re some kind of Hemingway figure, locked in your study eight hours a day while your wife micro-manages your life, you, the average writer, are going to be time-poor. Everything will crowd in to take precedence over your work-in-progress: kids, shopping, cleaning, demanding relatives. What is the writer’s greatest enemy? The snap of the clock at their heels. So perhaps this quote might fit?

“I suppose it’s like the ticking crocodile, isn’t it? Time is chasing after all of us.”                                                                                         ~  J .M. Barrie, Peter Pan                                                         

Sure, it’s about mortality rather than creative time, but surely the reason why we write is to get those words out while we still can? Perfect.

Chasing Time Writing Retreats finally had a name!crocLogo-WHITE-BG twitter

In the last ten days, I’ve been learning a lot more about Barrie the celebrated author, with visits to Moat Brae, Dumfries, and his birthplace in Kirriemuir, preserved and maintained by the National Trust for Scotland. I’ve even had the chance to compare crocodiles!

 

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                                  Books can be dangerous!

 

 

Elizabeth and Justin Davies, joint co-ordinators of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in south east Scotland, kindly invited me along on their group  visit to the enchanting Moat Brae, the house which is thought to have inspired Peter Pan and was a favourite haunt of J.M.Barrie during his schooldays.

Now a centre for children’s literature and storytelling, the once-derelict property has been extensively and sensitively restored by the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust. Moat Brae was designed by Walter IMG_1182Newall for a local solicitor, Robert Threshie in 1823. The house and garden were in private ownership from 1823 to 1914. The house then became a nursing home which closed in 1997. Thereafter it fell into disrepair and was subsequently purchased by a local housing association. In August 2009, Moat Brae House was due to be demolished to make way for new social housing.At the eleventh hour, it has been saved for the nation and is well worth a visit.

 

 

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My other jaunt this week was to one of my favourite National Trust for Scotland properties (next to Barry Mill, of course!). Barrie’s Birthplace is a delightful weaver’s cottage tucked away in the centre of Kirriemuir, Angus.

IMG_1277(Edited)E940BFFA-5BFB-4AC8-8547-E7991C81D509Charmingly preserved, you can see lots of memorabilia connected with the author, and some delightful quotes and photographs. Barrie returned to the cottage before his death in 1937, to have one last look at his old bedroom. The then owner was surprised but delighted to welcome him in to his old home and a poignant photograph commemorates the visit.

The old washhouse and outbuildings where the young Jamie staged plays for his friends still survive, and the garden is undergoing a makeover.

The ‘ticking crocodile’ is not to be missed!

 

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Time On Your Side

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.

Time.                20170512_165223

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!

 

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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!

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20170512_164729We 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.

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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!

https://chasingtimescotland.wordpress.com  

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