Monthly Archives: October 2014
An old Scottish sea captain’s lament reveals how a life of utter isolation on the Isle of Soay begins to change the island’s only two other residents.
“I suppose the strangest thing about them is their telephone booth. When they moved to Soay, they brought with them on their boat one of the old red telephone booths. Part and parcel as they may be to the London cityscape or even Edinburgh, it’s quite strange to see one standing alone in the middle of a field with pink puffs of blooming thistle grown half way up the sides.”
It’s often said reality is stranger than fiction. I completely agree. This very short story (only 570 words) pulls much more from a specific experience than my usual stories. I’ve done my best to appropriate the voice of a captain I met on a boat trip off the Isle of Skye. He actually was one of only three permanent residents of the Isle of Soay. The dog was a genuine wildlife spotter. The rest is my own pondering over how that level of extreme isolation would dredge up deep and personal truths about ourselves.
There are many things I love about Scotland and many things I will miss, but since this is a blog dedicated to my writing career, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to the amazing city of Edinburgh for all it has done to inspire me as a writer.
Edinburgh is a writer’s dream. It is built around a stunning medieval castle perched high on the crags of an extinct volcano. Its narrow, windy streets full of ancient buildings and churches are at one moment gothic and brooding and the next enchanting, but they’re always stunning. There are parks and green space everywhere. There is a mountain (another extinct volcano) to climb right smack in the middle of the city where you suddenly, improbably feel like you’re in the middle of the Highlands. There is a beautiful beach along the Firth of Forth, its mouth gaping open to the North Sea on Edinburgh’s east side. .
In short, it is a city that endlessly inspires, and there are stories in every nook, cranny and crag. Stories old: Body snatchers, ghosts, witches, deeds great and terrible of Scottish kings of yore. Stories new: thousands marching for Scottish Independence, visits by the Queen and Will & Kate, celebrities roaming the streets and pubs because they don’t get harassed here the way they do in the States.
It’s a city that, unlike most, also tells a good story about its writers. It supports its writers, cherishes its writers, incubates its writers. It is, after all, the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature. It is home to a wonderful writer’s museum and one of Europe’s top creative writing programs at (my soon-to-be alma mater) the University of Edinburgh. It is the only city in the world whose largest monument memorializes a writer: the Walter Scott Monument, aka ‘The Gothic Rocket.’ There are also wonderful monuments to the great Scottish poet Robert Burns and Sherlock Homes author Arthur Conan Doyle, who was born here.
And for all that, it feels like the perfect home for a writer, which is why so many writers seem to make it home.
Edinburgh’s sort of like L.A. for fiction writers, in that way. If you bother to talk to anyone in the pubs or on the street, you’re like to meet an author every day. Maybe they’re like me — struggling to get a start, looking to get that first manuscript published. Maybe they are Ian Rankin or J.K. Rowling – both known to still prowl the streets of Edinburgh. Even my dog introduced me to an up-and-coming writer in this city. My wife and I often take Uli for romps in a nearby fenced-in park, where she has made great friends with Buster the greyhound. It just so happens that Buster’s owner is Lucy Ribchester, whose first novel, The Hourglass Factory, is being published by Simon & Schuster in January 2015 (Lucy, if you read this, I’ll be ordering a copy and everyone else should do the same if for no other reason than you are exceedingly kind and the type of person who rescues racing dogs!).
It seems like everyone is working on some sort of writing project, and I can’t adequately sum up how important it is as a writer (perhaps the loneliest occupation in the world) to feel that sense of community and others being in the fight with you. It’s a great support group.
You know what else makes for great support? Knowing that the things that have inspired much of my writing this last year also inspired some of the greatest and most successful authors around.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had what I think is the best new story idea ever while walking through the Meadows, listening to the magpies squawk or watching the gaggles of school kids in their Houses of Hogwarts uniforms horsing around on their way to school. Then I think of how Muriel Spark must have been inspired by the very same thing when she expertly sent ‘Miss Brodie’s set’ through the Meadows near the beginning of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
I developed a love for Edinburgh’s many hidden places, usually haunting in one sense of the word or another. Anyone would because Edinburgh is at its best upon closest inspection, so it’s no surprise that a deep back corner of the Greyfriars Kirkyard would overlook an old school building that became Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts and be curiously populated by gravestones featuring names like McGonagall, Moody and none other than Tom Riddle. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter and plotted out the series in Edinburgh, in case you didn’t know.
I’ll miss the monuments to writers, the respect and appreciation for writers, the little hidden inspirations for writers that make Edinburgh a city of literature. Mostly, I’ll miss the writers themselves and the community. I know I’ll carry the inspiration wherever I go, and hopefully in this 21st century world of constant connectedness, I can even hold on to a bit of the community.