It’s been a hectic couple of weeks in the blogosphere. No sooner had I been tagged than two other lovely bloggers nominated me for blog awards – JoAnna for Versatile Blogger and Pauline Barclay - herself one of the sunniest bloggers on the planet – for Friendly Blogger. I am grateful to both of these great writers and networkers for thinking of me but not sure I can actually accept as I will struggle right now to find bloggers to nominate who haven’t already held the prize or one that’s similar. I’m hoping if I give away a few family secrets, I’ll be forgiven and allowed to retain my friendly and versatile status!
Family secrets? My daughter, enthused by a certain TV programme, has started to investigate our family history and I’m being reminded of people and stories that had faded from my mind for a while, in particular our Victorian ancestor Charles Lowe, who was a writer.
He lived for many years in Berlin where he was correspondent to The Times and later wrote romantic adventures, one of which sits on my bookshelf and is decribed by contemporary reviewers in glowing terms: ‘surprisingly vivid and exciting,‘ ‘will delight all lovers of adventure‘ etc. etc.! Sadly I have never read it all the way through. Now that I’m involved in my own Victorian investigation, maybe it’s time to put that right.
Charles was actually my maternal Granmother’s uncle, not exactly a close relative, so I suppose it’s unlikely I have inherited his writing gene, but I think it must have been passed on to his daughter. Brought up in Germany (where she claimed to have been dandled on the Kaiser’s knee!) and later settled in Sussex, Blanche Lowe had no family of her own and became for us the ultimate eccentric aunt, renowned for her prolific letter-writing and occasional holidays in Edinburgh. Arriving on the Flying Scotsman, she employed a driver to take her (and sometimes us) on trips around the country she regarded as her home, providing us with lots of memorable treats like afternoon tea in the North British Hotel . (Now called The Balmoral, its clock tower still dominates the Edinburgh skyline).
As she got older and perhaps lonelier, Auntie Blanche’s letters became more frequent until they arrived almost daily. I have one she wrote to me in 1970 when I had a holiday job in a hotel in Glenshee. ‘I am writing to you,’ she says, ‘in your mountain fastness’. As far as I know she never wrote a book, but I’m sure she had more than one novel in her.
Following last week’s challenge, I’m now reading my very first Western in the shape of The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. That 19th century – so much going on!
St. Andrews, clinging to the edge of the Fife coast, is an oddity in so many ways. With a skyline to die for and a wind you just want to avoid, it’s overrun for most of the year by students and for the rest of the time by those who come to worship at the mecca of golf. And yet despite these shoals of visitors (not to mention royal affiliations) it somehow clings on to its small-town identity.
And what does it mean to me? Born and brought up in Fife, I knew it first as the bearer of a bucket, spade and swimsuit. Later, for four whole years, it became my alma mater, and more recently I’ve found myself drawn back there. A trip to Fife in 2007 sparked A Kettle of Fish, which in turn sent me digging up events that took place there long before as part of a new novel.
But soon it will be in the news again for very different reasons, and I’m taking the opportunity to launch a series of blog posts about St. Andrews, to acknowledge and celebrate its importance in my life as well as the lives of so many others.
Although I’ve missed the A-Z blog challenge I’ll probably keep to the same format, but won’t promise to finish in any particular timescale (and certainly not by April 29th!) as I’d like to take time over a trip which will be mostly unashamed nostalgia with a few digressions along the way.
I think I’ll call it Alumnus Alphabet and I hope to begin in the next few days. Of course I’d love any other St. Andrians out there to come along to add impressions or memories. Lords and commoners are equally welcome.
I’ll try to keep embarrassing photos to a minimum, but you might like to try guessing the year this one was taken.
Maybe because I had just finished the marvellous What was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn (my first ever five stars on Library Thing) I had trouble choosing a book to take away on our Gower trip. I ended up rushing into the library and choosing a handful almost at random hoping at least one would appeal.
In the event, the novels remained unread or unopened, but Silver River by TV producer Daisy Goodwin is still going strong. Daisy is the daughter of sixteis wild child Jocasta Innes and the opening chapters are dominated by her mother’s terrifying lover, an aging hippie called Joe whose idea of fun was to dangled Daisy over a cliff edge in Dorset and later incite her to extort free chocolate from the Mars company. Joe is one of those characters who could stand up in any novel. Now that he has left the scene I hope there are others coming along to take his place.
Meanwhile a thank you to the golf pro at Pennard who directed us across the course (sans clubs) to these fantastic views of Three Cliffs Bay and thence to the local coffee shop whose cakes were equally memorable.
As a child I hated Wimbledon. Why on earth were my parents glued to the TV when the weather was nice enough for the beach? But from the moment I picked up a racquet and discovered how hard it was to steer that ball between the white lines, I was hooked, and for most of my life Wimbledon fortnight has been an immovable feast during which the family have groaned ‘Oh no, Wimbledon again.’
I gave up playing the game after school, but started again in my forties, when I spent many a Friday evening slogging it out in Division 5b of the local ladies’ league. As darkness fell we were usually still out there, with aching legs and eyestrain, hoping a lucky net cord would put us all out of our misery.
The tennis might not have been great, but the will to win was intense, and so I understand how they felt tonight, Ferrer and Ancic, playing a tie-breaker at 9.15. I know how it was for the crowd too, the suspense of the game matched only by the worry that some referee would look at the gathering gloom and suspend play. But not tonight. Ancic got his man, and the crowd got more than its money’s worth.
In his interview Ancic looked pretty whacked. Still, he probably gets a day off tomorrow, and treatment from a professional masseur. Me? I had only a hot bath to look forward to and a trip round Sainsbury’s the following day.
For anyone who wants a bookish connection in all this, there’s a fantasy league tennis match going on between Dovegreyreader and Scott Pack’s team. (Having watched Ancic, think I’ll stick to the real thing).
When Pygmygiant sent out an email asking for non-fiction submissions, I was quick off the mark, and lo! you can see the result here.
It’s a piece I wrote a couple of years ago following a trip to my home town in Scotland. Looking at it now it feels a bit self-conscious and wordy, and I freely admit it owes something to an article that appeared around that time in the Guardian which is a wonderful evocation of the ‘Auld Grey Toon’ where I grew up. Its author, Ian Jack, was editor of Granta at the time, and I did approach them with Afterlife, which was unsurprisingly rejected, though I did get a polite note back (which as any writer will tell you is better than a curt standard rejection!)
It all seems like a long time ago now (the trip, as well as my chldhood!) but it was a big part of the inspiration for my current W.I.P. which is taking off at last, and so maybe it’s a good omen that the article is now, thanks to Pygmygiant, seeing the light of day. Here are the pictures of the fire at St. Paul’s that are mentioned at the start of Afterlife. They are from the Dunfermline Press of July 9th 1976.