Thursday, December 04, 2014

Book of the Year

Nice to get wee bit of recognition. Andrew Greig chooses Other Creatures as one of his books of the Year.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Blooms on la Mur de la Memòria
colour running onto stucco and stone
like sun or bursting veins. 
Last time I saw the catalan flag
was in George Square
the night our hot Scottish summer
died. We don't want blood,
just our hearts desire,
says a drunk, or was it me?
"El desig del cor, 
guerra no, persones si,
es la via catalania, la via escocia."

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Commission over

80,000 words completed folks and handed in. Thank God. Next step another full collection of poems and a novel about Michael Scott, wizard. Watch this space.


I take off my specs
and the sea breaks to pieces
of brilliant glass,
each an electric pulse,
each a prism for the sun.
Cracking open a can of Estrella,
I take up my pen like Byron in Sintra,
or Ovid in Constanta, 
happy with the heat, the fish oil,
and the homage of innumerable fans
back home in the sleet.

Why do I think of the Solway then,
that miserable excuse for a sea,
with its rocks nudging out of the silt
like knees in a bath?
Stone upon stone I ignite a light
of a different sort, in memory,
pale on the gorse, hot in the heart.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Shannon the Sheep Shearer

On the way to Australia, I only have to go a few hundred miles at 35,000 feet to meet part of the Galloway diaspora, Shannon from Springholm on her way to train and work as a sheep shearer in New Zealand. She tells me with pride she was part of the ten "sheep shearing sheilas" who raised £14,000 pounds in a charity shearing event held in Newton Stewart in 2013, money that went to the local community hospital and the Royal Educational Trust. "800 sheep" she said, "and there were another 400 in reserve. It was gey tough, but we did it. It's something I could be guid at." 

Shannon worked in her fathers business installing stoves. "I had work, aye, I was lucky, but I'm looking for something else." "Adventure?" I ask. She nods. "Something different, onyways." 

Shannon can't contain her glee at flying off into the blue. She has somewhere to stay and work arranged after a few months of travelling but everything's up for grabs. "I'm going to make it up as I go along" she says, finally. It's a up for grabs", and she gives a deep long chuckle.

Thursday, May 01, 2014


Welcome to the World, Sexy Book

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Oooo-er Madam

Well these Canadians know how to do a poetry reading! I have absolutely no erotic poetry to read so feel free to send me any dirty ditties before I go to Edmonton.

Galloway Tales continue on my other blog

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Auchencairn, and Scotland, as it Should Be

Dick Hattaraik and Billy Marshall
are drinking at the bar.
It's blue and carved from a boat
and they are sharing some porky scratchings
smuggled over last night from Holland.
On the bay, the Black Pearl, no Prince,
rocks at anchor, carronades trained
steadily up the Dumfries road. 
Outside, in a blaze of grass and yellow vetch,
some of Billy's eighty six children
play with an exciseman's hat,
while the exciseman himself
sits blushing, winding yarn for the daughter
whose beauty like Helen of Troy's
is renowned from coast to coast.
It is June, the start of a brilliant summer,
they are breathing the air of Galloway
and it is rich in love and brandy and revolution.
Boundaries shimmer, shift like haze.
It's mathematically possible, in fact, 
for Burns to come in
and put the icing on the cake.
Should I speak? 
Tell my tales of a bit of baccy 
smuggled in euro lorries, 
the angry letters I've written to the Standard,
my hidden fear that in an independent Scotland
my pension might suffer?
Maybe not.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mid-Term Report

I am pausing for breath soon, off to Alberta to read at the Edmonton Poetry Fest then to Australia in May after the launch of my wee book from Mariscat. I'm about 50,000 words in but have much still to do, though this is the kind of project you could do for the rest of your life. This week I've been talking about camels, Lawrence of Arabia, Bram Stoker and the A75. Why? You'll need to buy the book! Ive designated the end of July as the finish of the project, or at least the handing in of a MS.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Some Meanings

Pockle or Pauchle:

Unfairly gain an advantage by underhand methods. For instance you will often hear that England pauchled the 1966 World Cup because not only were they at home, they also contrived to play all their games at Wembley Stadium. Also in the final they were given a goal when any idiot could see the ball did not cross the line. And they scored their final goal when the opposing team were filing off the park. So if you multiply the German score by two (because England were playing West Germany, only half of the country) and subtract the illegal goals, it's clear that if England had not pauchled, they would have lost 4-2.


Thin and cowed, like a dog that has been badly fed and treated. This term is often applied in private to small children you don't like the look of, because it is inpolite to say it out loud. People often say bonny when admiring babies and liken them to their mothers however mawkit these mothers might be but they never say shelpit when they don't like them. People can still be extremely rude, however, when viewing babies as in the old lady who upon surveying a child in a pram was heard to say "what a Bonny baby he's like none o ye". See Nathan for further misunderstandings with newly borns.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

A Conversation about Davie Coulthard in Dalbeattie

"Davie Coulthard gave us a lift up the road"

"Davie Coulthard that drives?"

"Aye, he gave us a lift up the road I said"

"Aye he's good at driving"


"I saw him driving in what's it called, Monaco"

"Never knew he'd been there"

"Oh aye, no just there, Singapore"



"Davie Coulthard?"


"You sure?"


"Davie Coulthard the butcher?"

Sunday, March 02, 2014


The longer I do this the more I realise that I don't have to go to Dumfries and Galloway but that Dumfries and Galloway comes to me, in all shapes and forms, in day to day reality and dreams. You can't move and function anywhere without some kind of interaction with people and place and where that happens it's sometimes a cause to write. However the process goes beyond that to a kind of magic or at the very least a succession of leading coincidences. Or has this obsession and sleep deprivation finally taken its toll?

Recently I got a parcel of William Macilvanney novels I hadn't read. As I set out yesterday I absent mindedly stuffed one in my bag. I had planned to have a wee search for Dirk Hatterick's cave, on the coast just past Auchenlarie. No car, but juggling with buses, a finely honed art form of which I think I am, by now, one of the world's finest exponents. I had a wee lunch in Gatehouse in the hotel opposite the Bakehouse, then caught the bus. It was a nice day on the coast, if a little overcast, and when I got off I wandered about on the shore. The road was invisible, and there was only silence and the Solway glittering and clouds running wool white overhead. After a while I sat down and for the sheer hell of it gave a loud howl, frightening the family I hadn't spotted that was walking along the shingle kicking a ball for their dog.

Out of embarrassment, I took out the novel, 'A Gift from Nessus', opened it randomly and began to pretend to read. I saw the word 'Dumfries', skipped a few pages, followed the main character, who I later discovered to be a window salesman from Glasgow, on the road south. A few pages later he was in a hotel, 'the Angel' in the middle of Gatehouse. Then, on the foreshore before Creetown "looking through a rock cleft that was open to a bay, where the wind was farming empty acres of dun sky." Of course, at the end of the chapter, he was disturbed by a family "throwing a ball that was being tirelessly retrieved by a dog."

Even if I hadn't just been sold a new set of windows, I would have found this a bit odd. I think I'll invent a new term for all this. Geofantaspsychiatry. There I've done it.

and in his brain,--
Which is as dry as the remainder biscuit
After a voyage,--he hath strange places crammed
With observation, the which he vents 

In mangled forms.

(As you Like it)

And what has that got to do with This book? Well everything really.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


The great tour of Wigtownshire designed to inform an eager public about the MacTaggart project gets off to an inauspicious start in Wigtown Library where the staff are shocked to see me, there is no audience, and I retire into the local collection to research furiously to overcome my humiliation. I look in a mirror and am shocked to see myself to tell you the truth: it's been a long bus journey without a toilet stop and a large man bound for the Stranraer boat has spent the whole journey telling me how desperate he is to get out of Scotland because it's destroying his liver.

This is not the first time this has happened to me. I was once invited to a reading in Wick when only the janitor came, and, unlike these discreetly embarrassed librarians, he insisted on making things worse by telling me Edwin Morgan had been the the fortnight before and they had been "queued round the block." Worse I suppose, is a story that Tom Pow once told me about a reading in The Edinburgh Festival at the Art College, entitled 'Bards o Gallowa' featuring himself and the great Willie Neill. In spite of extensive publicity no-one turned up at all and the poets were about to leave quietly and in a dignified way, when the organiser said "wait a minute" and pointing to the door of the bar from where extravagant noise and laughter issued, said " I'll see if anyone wants to come for free." After what seemed an eternity he emerged furiously shaking his head, muttering "no, no-one".

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bobby Dalrymple and the Science of Coincidence

Bobby Dalrymple of Newton Stewart, having just shown an approving gaggle of spectators the mark of an adder bite he'd got as a boy on Cairnsmore, moves effortlessly onto a discourse on the science of coincidence.

'Is it not bloody strange' he asks us, rhetorically, 'My Grandfather Bobby was in the KOSB, and was killed in Cape Hellas in Gallipoli on the 4th June 1915, his body was never found, though he's on the memorial there. My youngest brother is going in October to see it, by the way. Anyway, do you know the Turkish man who's got the cafe across the road?' Everybody nods. 'Aye a really good man. Anyway I was telling him all this and - this is completely kosher now, he showed me the proof- his grandfather was killed in exactly the same place on exactly the same day, except fighting on the other side. Is that no incredible now? ' Everybody agrees.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

On the Trail of the Wickerman


What has happened here?
Why are the cottages shuttered,
the streets primed for tumbleweed?
Where are the zimmers, 
the folk carrying parcels of fish,
the kids drumming on fences,
the men and women walking back
leaden footed from work?
Only the offices to prevent
rural depopulation are open,
their computer screens flickering
madly behind half closed blinds.
I am waiting for these small villages 
by the sea to regenerate, 
like in some film,
to be born of flame,
and while I do, public art sprouts
above me,
huge and mysterious like alien pods.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Clatteringshaws Hydro Electric System

The Clatteringshaws Hydro Electric System as described by Keith Downes in the King's Hotel Dalbeattie 21st January 2014

It's f...........incredible, see the loch we ca Loch Ken, it's an artificial loch, ye ken? On an old tidal system, 6 dams, a third o the power o the whole Stewartry comes fae that, ken, it's a f.........great system, I'm proud as f........of it. Built in the 1930s ken. It's incredible. I'd like you to see it. You'd be f.........dancing for joy when you see it, mukker. F.........dancing. Feenished in 1937, yon Tongland, what a great wee power station. See I'm a Stewartry man, born an bred. F........Dumfries . C'mon now Dumfries has stolen New Abbey frae us, f...........Southerness, f.............Creeton's awa. Shocking. It's a grab by Dumfries, it's a f.............disgrace. A f...............conspiracy pure and simple. I'm makin too much noise am I? Should be shoutin it frae the rooftops. F...............shocking. Pure and simple.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Burnsed Out

A Monday morning, and just finished my stint at one of Scotland's newest festivals, the Big Burns Supper in Dumfries, reading McTaggart and some possible extracts from this book on the Saturday and then, along with the poet Stuart Paterson, doing my own poetical response to the Bard on the Sunday. In between times, I was whisked by Burns Helicopter to Gatehouse for a poetry reading there. Great fun and liver bashing all round. 
 The parade in Dumfries, involving lots of weans who had created their own masks and giant puppets and formed their own drumming bands, was lively and dramatic and the town was buzzing in spite of the fact that for the second year running the weather did its worst to screw things up. To my eyes, most of the faces were locals delighted to be having acts like Big Country and Dick Gaughan on the doorstep and thrilled to see the town coursing a wee bit with unusual electricity. All three of our events had strangers and some kent faces in the audience and went well . Sometimes the creative life seems compelling. Sometimes.

On Sunday's events we read our poems by Burns and about him. Because I’m twisted and had just heard that a fellow poet was on a beach in Africa having been flown out for a ten minute role in a Burns Supper, I read my poem Suppertime

It’s that time again:
erubescent men are boarding planes
to Fiji and Azerbaijan.

They will blow east and west
on airs of malt. The world will be
necklaced by these ambassadors

preaching love of literature
and other stuff they say
they understand, or even claim

their nation has invented,
things like passion and equality,
humanity and pride.

Avoid them if you can
They come from a country
so stuffed with hypocrisy and cant

it explodes like this once a year.
The rest of the time
these man are sober

rotarians. Unionists. And that apart,
wouldn’t know a poem
if it bit them on the arse.

After that we rolled up to the Globe snug and witnessed Jane Brown, currently President of the World Burns Federation as well as the Globe's landlady, reducing the whole experience of a burns supper into manageable, and profitable, ten minute packages. I was totally impressed, and after it, felt compelled to read poems to a couple from Lochgilphead, even after they were clearly bored.

The Big Burns Supper is an attempt to regenerate a town whose unique association with  Scotland's most charismatic artist has always seemed to me both a curse and a blessing, and do it through art. It seemed to me, and mine was certainly not a scientific survey, that the community or at least a part of it was enjoying it hugely.

Maybe it was guid scots drink.

O Whisky! soul o' plays and pranks!
Accept a bardie's gratfu' thanks!
When wanting thee, what tuneless cranks
Are my poor verses!
Thou comes-they rattle in their ranks,
At ither's arses! 

Fortune! if thou'll but gie me still
Hale breeks, a scone, an' whisky gill
An' rowth o' rhyme to rave at will
Tak a' the rest
An' deal't about as thy blind skill
Directs thee best.

(Guid Scots Drink)

Under the influence of strong drink, and under the roof of the man himself's favourite pub, it was hard not to be suffused by a general bonhomie and believe maybe that in the face of all the evidence, it is actually comin yet for a that.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Boab and Shug

Boab and Shug

I'm engaging in  a few events to try and spread a bit of awareness of my project. As you know, I've been commissioned by the Wigtown Book Festival to write a sequel to the funny and notorious 'Gallovidian Encyclopaedia' written by John McTaggart in 1824, a hilarious and partly slanderous work which was withdrawn from publication as a result of the furore it caused at the time.
 Im going to hold a regular series of events across the region introducing people to the work of McTaggart and revealing some of my own eccentric vision of the region today. I'll be appearing in regional libraries from the middle of February but in the meantime you can catch me first on Saturday 25th January upstairs in the Coach and Horses at 3.00pm as part of the Big Burns Supper Festival. Entry is £5.
Immediately after that I'll be whisked by Burns Helicopter to Gatehouse of Fleet to appear with Stuart Paterson at the fabulous Bakehouse for their Burns Night Celebrations.7.30pm.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Nith Cross

Here's a thing. I'm standing in a muddy field one late afternoon. I've been diverted from my walk along the main road from Penpont to Thornhill, (a walk necessitated by the unnecessary closure of the historic Volunteer Arms in Penpont, though I may have mentioned this before) by a monument that no-one seems to care about but is quite remarkable. I'm nearly always diverted by it, trying to catch it when the sun is sliding across it for good photos or to best make out the carvings, because there are carvings, amazing zoomorphic shapes of winged beasts. It's remarkable for a lot of reasons but one of them is that nobody seems to care about it. No protective glass panels for it like the Kirkmadrine stones, or interpretation boards to tell us what we're looking at or what we should be thinking. The locals tend to think it’s a monument to people who lost their lives in an accident here, on the ferry that used to run before the Nith Bridge was built.

The truth is also remarkable because it dates from the 10th century and is the Ruthwell Cross’ poor neglected scabby cousin, a Northumbrian cross shaft, its bestiary of carved symbols and bible stories being slowly eroded by wind and rain, its warm stone turning smooth as a plum.

What it's doing here I don't know, but this appears to be its natural location. Its neglect is a history crime, but I also can't help thinking how romantic and lonely and enigmatic it is standing here with its necklace of rusty fence, and a backdrop of fields and gentle slopes and torn pink and grey sky furling round the dark fortress of Tynron Doon.  It seems a suitable sentinel for that strange quasi island between the Nith and the Scaur that I call home.

Leave the world between bridges:
the narrow one across the Nith
with its sentry box and the old
crossing at Scaur squatting on its Roman haunch.
There’s a shaded cup of fields between the bridges,
moss and trees darkened on every side by hills. 
The royal holm is here where Bruce camped on his way 
to heaven via Whithorn, and Penpont, still scratched 
on maps after seven hundred years. Penpont, 
an island, and The Nith Stone, totem of this pagan space. 
Rain has swept the dogma from its sides 
and smooth as a grape it stares from a bright clasp 
of weeds, sizing up visitors and their burdens,
daring them to stay for a night here 
in the blaze between the bridges,
below our thin, bright slice of moon.

 (Nith Stone)

 It's also a kind of totem pole for the forgotten landscape. Children, let us do a creative writing workshop standing here, ankle deep in glaur. Place your hands upon this cold stone and trace the carvings. Take your earphones out, Daytona, there is a place for Pixie Lott but this is not it. Take a deep breath, extend your arms against this chill January sky, imagine, imagine, imagine.......

Sunday, January 05, 2014

S for Stagecoach, an exerpt

Stagecoach- Once a hugely expensive, uncomfortable, unending and unreliable way to travel between destinations, and still is. I'm not talking about particular companies here, just buses in general. My ire while writing this is fuelled by standing in a bus shelter for three hours last week in sub-zero temperatures, my only company being a man with a huge slowly freezing drip coming from his nose and the electronic display, installed at massive expense by the Regional Council, which instead of saying something useful like ‘your bus is 40 minutes late/been cancelled/ or whatever, insisted instead on wishing me, repeatedly, a Merry Christmas.
Coach transport has always been tough.

“When the Marquis of Downshire attempted to make a journey through Galloway in his coach about the year 1760 a party of labourers attended him to lift the vehicle out of ruts and put on the wheels when it got dismounted.....when within 3 miles of the village of Freetown near Wigtown he was obliged to ......pass the night in the coach with his family”

(Thomas Telford; Samuel Smiles)

 I’ve often sympathised with the Marquis of Downshire, especially when sitting at the side of the road in a bus after the alternator’s packed up or the doors blown off, or a tree has tumbled across the road. I’ve never driven, as poets don’t drive, everyone knows that, so I judge myself an expert in public transport. Why should everyone need to have a car to live in the countryside?

Rural buses are a lifeline but the service is poor, though the drivers are often, though not always, men and women of great humanity and kindness. If you depended on the buses completely, though, you would evolve into a creature with no social life past quarter to five in the evening. I have thought this more keenly since my local pub shut down and often, at a bus stop, think of Henry Thoreau’s words, “It would be some advantage to live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward civilization, if only to learn what are the gross necessaries of life and what methods have been taken to obtain them.  I have a theory that in the centre of all this technological advance, some of the population are, through poverty or remoteness, living a medieval life, or a medieval life with some mod cons. Some folk embrace this lifestyle, of course, and become rekei therapists but most are just trying to have a decent life.

Difficulties in rural transport encourage depopulation and foster the ghost landscape. Mind you, there’s another way of looking at it. I was having a conversation with a young man about to leave school in Newton Stewart, but who lives some miles from there, and the talk got to buses. I was saying what a shame it was that there weren’t more services and he said “aye it’s a conspiracy to keep us here, they don’t want us to leave. Even the ones you get take you round in circles.”

It’s true of course. I used to get a bus that took 50 minutes to travel the 13 miles to Dumfries, and half an hour into the journey we were further away than when we started. There’s an inherent symbolism in the Region’s bus services which should not be underestimated.


We butt into the countryside.

Our bus is aggrieved:
it grinds through swamps and ruts,
between dykes and crippled hedges,
down miles of wet tarmac,
from one telegraph pole to another,
from one five bar gate to another,
from one muddy bunkered cottage to another,
criss-crossing land dank and paralysed
below an oatmeal sky.
There seem hundreds of miles,
thousands, but it is the same mean mile
circling, taking us back where we didn’t want
to come from, where we didn’t want to leave.
 (From Mean Mile)