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Friday, 22 September 2017

Nebraska Book Tour

Sadly, I don't have time to go canoeing on the Niobrara this time. That was an adventure to savour.

In three days I'll be flying out to Lincoln, Nebraska for the start of a short lecture tour spread over four weeks.

I have eight dates in all. The first, out in the Panhandle, is at the Mari Sandoz Conference in Chadron, Nebraska. I'll be putting up at the magnificent 19th century Olde Main Street Inn (

 I have two speaking engagements in town. On Saturday at 9.00 a.m. I'll be at my favourite hang-out, the Bean Broker Coffee House  ( talking about my six-month spell, alone, in a hunting lodge on the banks of the Niobrara. I'll try to explain how it mirrored the early experiences of Mari Sandoz, daughter of Swiss Pioneer Old Jules, and what it taught me about living in this elemental landscape.

Later, at 11.30a.m., I'll be at the Public Library. The subject of this address is my new novel, my first. (How many debut novelists aged 67 are there out there, I wonder?). Cody, The Medicine Man and Me is the story of a boy growing up in post-war England whose life is changed when he is visited by Great Uncle Bill, an American showman who claims he is the son of Buffalo Bill. In adult life, still fascinated by the west, our hero becomes a professor in American Lit and History. Then he decides he needs to get away from the world of books, and experience the land of his dreams for real. He sets off to locate a plot of land he believes Bill may have owned. Nothing could have prepared him for what he finds as he travels through Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.  I'll be talking about how the book came about, and why it took me 25 years to complete it.

I'll put out further posts about my later engagements - in Red Cloud, Aurora, Lincoln and Omaha - over the next week or two.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Announcing the launch of my new website

I have been busy. Over the past few weeks I have been putting together a new website which, I think, better reflects what I'm about these days. I could say plenty, but would rather let it speak for itself. So here's the link:

It hasn't all been work, of course. We're just back from a week on the wonderful Knoydart Peninsula, just across the water from Mallaig in the western Highlands.

See the house down the bottom there? We were about a mile along the shore to the left.
The weather was rather typically Scottish, and we got wet most days. So here's a picture from my archive, taken on a previous visit. It's 'downtown' Inverie, home to the majority of the peninsula's 120 residents and their one pub.

Back soon with final plans for my Nebraska tour, which starts soon.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Fingers crossed as a new book goes off to the publisher.

I've been busy since I got back from Australia. First there was the launch of  Cody, The Medicine and Me. Then there was P*** Up In A Brewery ( And then I was straight into a new project - pausing only to reflect on my great good fortune in having one. 

For some years I'd wanted to write something about all the many jobs I took over the years before my writing career took off. Indeed, I'd written somewhere between fifteen and twenty vignettes, and tried to convert them into single stories. Some I liked; others seemed to hang like jelly-fish in a sea of time. I knew I wanted to incorporate the whole lot into a single narrative that 'said something' about the world of work - particularly in the 1960s and 70s, when the unions held sway, there was always another job waiting, wages weren't bad and life was a breeze. I produced several versions, none of them satisfactory. It was so hard not to wag the finger and preach - and respond to that impulse that dogs me, to rant about the current state of affairs in the workplace.

And then something clicked. After another long period of thinking over the past I came to see all those jobs - somewhere between forty and fifty - not as a series of false starts, rather as a young writer's attempt to get to know the world and accumulate material. I remember telling a friend, back in my early thirties, that although I was writing, and writing quite a lot, I wasn't particularly interested in sending it out to publishers. (a) I was only interested in writing to a very high standard, and I knew I had a long way to go before I reached the level I'd set myself, and (b) I didn't feel I had the authority to write about life until I'd lived it, gathered a breadth of experience and, to be blunt, grown up. (When does a person grow up? Well, at 68 I would say the process is going along nicely.)

So there I was, sifting through the various accounts I'd written of choice moments from my working life. I had them in chronological order, and I'd woven into those episodic stories a parallel account of my slow growth from aspiring to published writer, from sending out articles and stories on spec to writing whole books for money. Then the title appeared, out of a solitary brainstorming session. Writer: Must Have Experience. Once I had that, the entire thing seemed to gel. I went through it, editing, polishing and reorganising here and there. It's with my publisher now, and I await their verdict. I just hope they don't ask any questions about what genre it is. 

Monday, 19 June 2017

First Visit to Australia, Pt 3: Out West

It has taken me a ridiculous amount of time to get around to this. My excuse is that over the past few weeks I have completed a new book, edited and sold another one, and struggled manfully to get two allotments into shape at a time of year when vegetables, fruit and weeds are growing, visibly, every day - and in our part of the country, if there's no cloud cover, a day lasts around 20 hours.

Our camper-van, parked, with great skill, in a cousin's garden
From Tasmania we flew into Perth and picked up a rather splendid motor caravan. This was a first for both of us, but don’t run away with the idea that we have crossed some kind of age divide. The fact is, that with eight cousins to visit, some of whom A hadn’t seen in 50+ years, we were in for a lot of travelling, would be visiting several scattered towns around W.A., and we wanted to ensure that we could get out into the country as much as time allowed. However, we enjoyed the van, and indeed it did feel a little like proper camping, at times.

We didn’t linger in Perth, but headed east intro true WA country. Our destination was Kellaberrin, where A’s cousin has run a bush hospital for thirty-odd years. We were treated to a tour of the place, a highlight being the room in which patients who might be traumatised in a road traffic accident can be treated under the direction of surgeons 300 miles away in Perth through the medium of two CCTV cameras. The equipment has enabled them to save a number of lives that might have been lost in earlier times.

Western Australia is a dry country, and we were to discover that many of the towns along the highway that links Perth and Kalgoorlie are only viable thanks to the remarkable Goldfields and Agricultural Region Water Supply Scheme. The man behind it – and the big, fat pipe that carries water hundreds of miles east from the Mundaring Weir near Perth, and the lesser pipes that run to smaller towns – was C.Y. O’Connor. Sadly – tragically – he didn’t live to see his vision implemented. For some time it was mocked as delusory and impracticable; and it seems that the final straw for him was a newspaper accusation of corruption. He took his own life in march 1902, shortly before the scheme was completed. And it worked: many towns and settlements in that part of the state rely entirely on his scheme for their survival.

The old pumping station at Cunderdin, now replaced by an electric motor...

...and its identifying sign

From Kelleberrin we drove down to Wave Rock, a wonderful natural formation:


It's part of a huge outcrop of granite. As well as being a scenic wonder it is used to collect water, via a series of crude rock walls that direct the flow into a sizeable lagoon:  


Our next stop was at one of the family farms, down near Mount Barker. We stayed there three nights and got a thorough immersion in the day-to-day running of the place. They grow canola, wheat and clover (as a a fallow crop, to plough into a soil that basically consists of granite-based gravel and an inch or two of sand), as well as sheep – for meat and wool.

Hard to believe that this "soil" yields an excellent crop of wheat or canola

We arrived after harvesting, and right after the stubble-burning - the peaks of the Stirling Range in the background
After our tour of the farm we had a day of in the nearby Stirling Range, climbing to the top of the highest peak, from where we had a view, in the far distance, of our next destination, Albany
Not exactly a view of Albany, but we were able to see ships at anchor outside the harbour
At Albany, as in a number of places we visited, we dedicated time to catching up with relatives and weren't able to do more than capture a flavour of the town.

It was almost impossible to get the whole of Albany in a single shot, but this gives you an idea - of a modest sized place scattered around a series of natural harbours 

From Albany we returned to the Stirling Range for a couple of days' rest in a beautiful, peaceful camping ground. Our aim was to climb Bluff Knoll: not a great height, but one of those walks which offers very little in the way of resting-places. You just keep climbing and climbing for three hours or so and there you are, at the top. A picnic, a few photos and then it's time for the long, non-stop descent.

We got lucky at Bluff Knoll. The peak was obscured all morning, but as we made the last few hundred yards the clouds were swept away, leaving us with superb views
From Bluff Knoll we made our way to the coast again, at Bunbury. More cousins, more stories of the old days, and a memorable evening stroll along a huge deserted beach lapped by warm waves.  

We were due to fly home from Perth, after rounding up a couple more cousins who took us out to the Botanic Gardens, from where you get a wonderful view of the city.


And then  it was off to the airport and home. A wonderful holiday, during which we were blessed with kind weather - never too hot or too cool - magnificent natural surroundings, and good company.












Thursday, 18 May 2017

The kind of review you hope for

I'm slowly starting to get a review or two for my new novel, Cody, The Medicine Man and Me (click on the picture, right). And this one cheered me immensely. The reviewer had delved beneath the surface narrative and thought about what I was trying to say under the cloak of the story.

"This book's weaving of historical, mythical and contemporary 'Westerns' is highly entertaining, but also a very touching reflection on loss, and the consolations of the imagination in a boy's mind. It vividly evoked in me the 'bendy' reality of being 12, when what I had last read was at least as real as the day to day. The fluidity of that experience is beautifully reflected by the inflections of 'cowboy' language drifting through the remembered boys' speech, and the dry, kind tone of the man's recollection. The book is also very funny, and it takes real authorial nerve to set up a showdown in Last Gasp Gulch and make it persuasive!"