Posting Rate warning

Dolina MacLennan reading her autobiography at Mainpoint Books.
Celebrity Gael Dolina MacLennan reading her autobiography at Mainpoint Books in August.

Posts on this blog are going to be intermittent. I hope to put one up at least once a month. The recent flurry of posts is not going to be representative. I doubt I can keep that pace up long term. Or I’d want to. When my book Literary Corstorphine finally appears in P.O.D. form it will contain much of the information on this blog (and more) in a more digestible form.

In the meantime, please check out these two interesting websites:

* Mark Jardine – Mostly about the Covenanters, but again, a good place to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. He finds items of historical interest in unglamorous places such as Shotts and Lesmahagow. Not quite in the range of this blog, but certainly some of the material deals with the Old Town and the Pentlands too. See -> Jardine’s Book of Martyrs

* Scottish Books – An in-depth, independent, and often controversial look at literature and publishing in Scotland. I find the site well written, and whoever’s behind it seems to be very dissatisfied with the literary establishment in Scotland. And it has reviewed my very own Bleeding Ink positively, which is a bonus. We need dissidents. See -> Scottish Books

* Tychy Blog – Literary Criticism with Cojones – I’ve no idea what Tychy means, or even how to pronounce the name of it, but there are some occasional good pieces in here. I particularly like their piece on Corstorphine Hill, which is relevant to our site. See -> The End of the Fringe Scattered

* Tales of One City – An Edinburgh Council  website. See-> Tales of One City

* Edinburgh Literary Blogs – See -> Edinburgh Literary Blogs (The Grauniad)

* Writer’s Bloc – See -> Writer’s Bloc


Bleeding Ink – grassroots literature, part 2

Bleeding Ink, issue 5. (The current one)
Bleeding Ink, issue 5. (The current one)

Another ego post, apologies. This luvvie self-congratulatory stuff must stop soon.

Here’s a guide to each of the issues of Bleeding Ink. Again, I’m making no claims to it being a major or significant publication, but as promised, I said I’d try and cover all levels of literature in this neck of the woods. If any of you know anything about other magazines put out by local writing groups, please post a comment. And of course, if this stuff bores you to tears, and you want to read more about better known writers… there’s always other posts to move on to! (I’ve just posted on Roy Campbell, and a one time resident of the zoo for example.)

Issue 1 – Summer 2012

Artwork – Fountainbridge Library, by Alan Savage. Ink’s leaking out from the building. The other pictures are stock ones off the internet. Alan is an architect by training so he was the one to go to for an illustration of a building!

Tagline – “Let it bleed” (Sorry Rolling Stones)

Highlights – There’s some interesting poetry in here, covering everything from skimming stones to the dangers of having a hot shave at a Turkish barber. My favourite though is Rory MacCallum’s Invincible Machines, which reminds me of some of the happier times in my teens. To my mind his piece was as good as a lot of writing by the likes of Ian McEwan etc. Julia Boxer’s Uncle Ray (!) holds some promise – I hope she continues the story.

Other stuff – The foreword was provided by the novelist David Fiddimore (1944-2015), a supporter of the group. He also suggested having a red cover. Also includes Slighe nam Facal, a rare example of concrete poetry in Gaelic.There is also a guide to Fountainbridge on the back, which reminds people of its original name, Foulbriggs.

Issue 2 –Winter 2012

Artwork – Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens, a drawing by Michael Conway, who also illustrated #4. It’s angled to look like a postcard. Again, used quite a lot of stock pictures in this one. Astronaut Neil Armstrong got commemorated on the back cover (and more bizarrely in Sadie Massie’s piece about club sandwiches).

Tagline – “About Bleedin’ Time”

Highlights – John’s story about a whisky drinking goat. (Which is tame compared to his poem about a bike riding unicorn.) Julia Boxer’s Little Pink poems, which deal with a woman’s childhood and adulthood.

Other stuff – Contains small print about the terms and conditions of bringing goats into Fountainbridge Library.The rural issue? Several of the stories are set in the countryside, and one gives instruction on how to poach from rivers. I think this is the worst designed one in certain ways. It was meant to have a red cover but didn’t.

Issue 3 – Summer 2013

This issue is our only themed one so far, and dealt with the looming Independence Referendum. Group members were on both sides of the debate. Again, making no claims for our importance – the idea was that ordinary people had the right to discuss the issue, and that there wasn’t enough creative response to it either. Interestingly, most of the unionist material was more subtle than the pro-independence stuff.

Artwork – Nick Baikie’s Scrabble Board, as photographed by me. The back cover shows a door sign in Dundee University written in Scottish English. I managed to find a sticker advocating independence for Venice – appropriate given our proximity to the canal!

Tagline – “Bleedin’ politicians! Bleedin’ referendum! Bleedin’ Union &Bleedin’ Independence. Who bleedin’ cares? We do!”

Highlights – Scotland Think It Over, a song by John Lamb who is a folk singer based in East Lothian. Alan Savage’s Seventeen Forty Five, a story about an alternate timeline in which the Jacobites won. John Robinson’s poem is a good summary of how citizens probably should relate to their government.

Other stuff – The one and only appearance of Geraldine Joliffe. Rory MacCallum’s poem Diet was a holdover from the previous issue, but was political enough to be included. Some of the material was, ahem, on the strong side. Probably the most anonymous material in any issue.

Issue 4 –Summer 2014

Artwork – Poet at Neu Reekie  painting by Michael Conway. Neu Reekie is the name of a regular Edinburgh arts show organised by Kevin Williamson and Michael Pedersen. It is named partly after Paul Reekie (See earlier on this blog.) The original painting is on a red background. One reader suggested it was a picture of Satan! The back cover has a picture of a very large rabbit being held up by a small man.

Tagline – “Bleedin’ Hearts (an’ Bleedin’ Hibs) Bleedin’ ’Eck! It’s back again! Batten down the ’atches!”

Highlights – The cover despite the problems with the ink rubbing off like cheap newsprint! Anne-Louise Lowrey’s poem about seagulls and Morag MacLeman’s about a pompous duck seemed to fit nicely together. Nick Baikie’s alternative take on what Bleeding Ink might mean.

Other stuff – Includes a little known quote from William Goldman’s Marathon Man which praises the beauty of Princes Street. First appearance of Anne-Louise Lowrey.Death and Graffiti is my personal favourite of all my own stories in the magazine, and is an extract from a novel.

Issue 5 – Summer 2015

Artwork – Exmoor Ponies on North Berwick Law photographed by me. I liked the image, but Dolina MacLennan when seeing it said she thought that the horses looked sad and underfed – each to their own a Dholaidh! The rest of the artwork comes from a number of photos I took of street stickers and unusual images like the monstrous Titan Arum flower that grew in the Botanics.

Tagline – “They ran as he fell and bled,/Slowly the black ace turned to red…” (from John Robinson’s poem Best Suit)

Highlights – Taking Notes by Morag MacLeman. Given that she had produced very short pieces in the past, it was great to see her tackle something longer.

Other stuff – The welcome return of Rory MacCallum.A short tribute to David Fiddimore. Regrettably this issue didn’t include regulars Julia Boxer, Sadie Massie and Alan Savage. Possibly the most facetious blurb I’ve written, but luckily some people do seem to have got the joke. Quite possibly the first time a Latvian language story has appeared in an Edinburgh writing magazine even if it was on a photo of a sticker. A lot of the copies only have one staple… hmm… The Alexander McCall Smith parody, No 44 Ladyboy’s Detective Squad, will raise a few eyebrows.

Five issues is pretty good going for a magazine which doesn’t get any state funding. Also the fact that there’s usually enough material by the deadline is a sign that our output is healthy.

Bleeding Ink – grassroots literature – part 1

Bleeding Ink, issues 1-4
Bleeding Ink, issues 1-4

Apologies for the ego post – I’m going to post occasionally about things I’m doing. Hopefully it won’t become too much of a habit.

This is where I get my ego trip! Edited by yours truly, Bleeding Ink is currently on its fifth issue. Another west Edinburgh based contributor is Nick Baikie, who appears in every issue. It’s the magazine/pamphlet/booklet of New Edinburgh Writers who are based at Fountainbridge Library.

It’s 24 pages long, costs a mere quid, and usually comes out annually in time for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. We sell quite a few there, although we have to hawk them outside the enclosure. One of the writers got escorted out when he tried to sell some inside the venue – ironically the theme of the festival that year was oppressed writers. On another occasion, we sold them using slogans like “support writers who won’t charge you twenty pounds for an autograph” and “read writing by writers” (there being a lot of books out there by celebrities and the like).

The good news though is that every issue has “washed its face”. We have got some copies into bookshops – not Waterstones and Blackwells – but most of our sales are face to face. We sell them on the street, as well as to friends& family. (I was recently lucky enough to meet some of the members of London-based Push who sell a lot of their magazines outside football games. Which is not the kind of place arts quangoes go anywhere near. Their magazine is thriving!)

Bleeding Ink contains short stories >1500 words, shorter poetry, and even in one case a play script. It has published material in Broad Scots and Scottish Gaelic, as well as English. It’s only available in hard copy. We did do a version of #1 in large print for a disabled friend of one of the writers, but otherwise we’ve stuck to the A5 format. I try and pack as much into them as I can so readers feel they’ve got good value, but poetry is problematic to format. It usually gets put into double columns and a slightly smaller font size. The graphic design could probably be a lot better, but I don’t have much expertise in that area.

Copies of the magazine have found their way into the hands of various writers and publishers who are a bit better known than us. Denise Mina, the crime writer has bought a copy (thank you!). Novelist David Fiddimore (RIP) bought the first four issues, and was kind enough to contribute a foreword to the first edition. Others include Joy Hendry of Chapman magazine, James Robertson, Ken Macleod, John Herdman etc. I just hope that they’ve read and enjoyed them! Needless to say, in my experience, some professional writers seem to remember their amateur days better than others.

So last but not least, what’s the point in it? Michael Conway, who did some of the cover artwork, has complained it could be seen as “vanity publishing”. Well, kind of, but not quite. We’re not losing money hand over foot. We don’t print it, but we do publish it. While I try to get at least one piece from each group member, it doesn’t always work out that way. Not everything submitted gets printed though. If it’s vanity, it’s vanity for me perhaps, because editing and selecting your own material is very different from dealing with other people’s. What else?

  • It gets the material out there. It may vary in quality and style, but it gets it seen. It has had positive feedback from some quarters, and there is a good chance that something in it may catch someone’s eye.
  • It helps the members of the writing group focus on producing material and working to a deadline, which is something that they’d have to do in a “real” situation.
  • It proves there’s life beyond the literary establishment. We don’t receive a penny off the state, our writers are currently unknown and the material’s different to some of the things mainstream publishers put out. Every issue is in the NLS for posterity.
  • I’d like to think that it’s good for the self-esteem of group members. If it boosts anyone’s confidence and makes them happier, that is never a bad thing.

In the past of the group (before my time), there were occasional volumes like Voices from the Bridge which included Nick Houghton (one time resident of Forrester Park). One member of the group went on to win the MacAllan short story competition, and others have ended up getting published “for real”.

External Links

Review of Bleeding Ink No. 4 on Scottish Books (This website is well worth browsing in general by the way)

Bears, Fascists and the War

Giraffes outside the Omni Centre. Few people seem to know much about the poet quoted at the bottom
Giraffes outside the Omni Centre. Few people seem to know much about Roy Campbell, the South African/Scottish poet quoted at the bottom

Did you know we have more statues of animals than women in Edinburgh?

Queen Victoria aside, it’s difficult to find statues of specific women. Even the one sandwiched between the Usher Hall and the Sheraton seems to be of a generic Soweto woman. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong.) What about the proposed statue of the bear in Princes Street Gardens? Does central Edinburgh need another war memorial?

Wojtek the Bear, a one time resident of Edinburgh Zoo, seems to have a lot of fans. Mainly for being a bear, and being the mascot of the Free Polish Forces during WWII. Whether military mascots are actually tasteful, is not a question that seems to have been raised much. Especially if they’re large carnivores.

Wojtek was gained by the Free Poles after being traded for a few cans of meat. Bizarrely, he’s been claimed as a war hero, and even a “Nazi-fighting bear”. Did he do paw to hand combat with the Wehrmacht? I don’t know. I do know that he was given beer and cigarettes, and was raised in squalid conditions in the Middle East. Sentimentality has overrun animal rights here, along with the constant British obsession with WWII.

Raymond Ross wrote a play about Wojtek. I’ve never seen it. Ross is part Polish, and this plus the fact said bear lived in Scotland for a while, has been seen as a way to cement Scottish-Polish links.

Down the road, and with no links (that I know of) to this part of Edinburgh, there is a statue of two giraffes outside the Omni Centre. These commemorate the poet Roy Campbell. Campbell was a South African, with some Scottish roots. Until the outbreak of war, Campbell was openly pro-Fascist. While not a Nazi, he was a big fan of Franco and Mussolini. After the war, he contributed articles to Oswald Mosley publications, and moved to Portugal so that he could live under the dictator Salazar.

So in Princes Street, we’re going to have a “Nazi-fighting bear”. and by the Omni Centre, we have a couple of giraffes commemorating a far right poet, which no one seems to have noticed. On George Street, there is a statue telling us the supposed king of Scots “visited here”. Bizarre… when are we getting statues of say, Muriel Spark or even Helen Cruickshank?

External Links

The Wojtek Memorial Trust

Prince Street Gardens statue of Polish army bear

Theatre Objektiv’s page about said bear

Roy Campbell on metapedia (far right clone of Wikipedia)

Roy Campbell on real Wikipedia

Picture Credits

Giraffes sculpture, outside the Omni Centre (David Martin) / CC BY-SA 2.0