Calder Wood Press – the final week


After nineteen years publishing, Calder Wood Press is now completely wound up, and this past week I’ve been doing transfers and disposals of residual stock, closing my PayPal business account and my RBS business account. I think the only thing left is to cancel the two domain names I have for the press – the and .com ones.

I’m not going to go on about how proud I am to have published so many outstanding writers (which I am), or how pleased I am that so many of them have remained my friends (and they have). But I will give you one financial fact about my publishing activities. All the ‘profits’ over the years went into subsidising loss-making publications, and to investing in new ones. I never took any money for myself out of the accounts. I didn’t charge anything for the time, effort and expertise I put into the publications. I didn’t set out to make money from publishing, and in that aim I was completely successful. But if I was twenty years younger I’d do it all again. I enjoyed it – well most of it – enormously.

Thank you to all those who have supported the very talented authors I’ve worked with over the years. Here’s a selection of covers.

Posted in Calder Wood Press, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The tat


I have a short story on the Scottish Book Trust’s Confessions and Secrets website. It didn’t make it to the final anthology, which will be published during Book Week Scotland in November, but I’m OK with that.

Having been on a website it has technically and legally been published, but this gives me the chance to revise it, expand it, and to correct some of its defects. It was, after all, one of my early short stories. Hopefully when it’s been rewritten it will be sufficiently different from the original version to effectively constitute a new story.

It concerned a man who has an obsession with getting a tattoo, and I have to confess now that the original version was partly autobiographical. I did have an obsession with getting a tattoo, and shortly after my 74th birthday I got it. The design above is the tattoo artist’s rendering of my vision, and the tat on my right shoulder is very close to it. I wanted an open book, because that’s how I see myself, and because it represents the books I have yet to write.

Of course, like most of those who have tattoos, I now want to have another. This one will definitely be a tenor saxophone, to represent my other passion for making music. After that one, who knows?

Posted in tattoo, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The pamphlet


I’m familiar with most of the poetry magazines I might wish to be published in, and I had a system for managing submissions, acceptances and rejections. With short stories I’m much less certain where to send them, apart from short story competitions, which I’ve been entering.

Now I have a short story pamphlet in the offing, to be published by Postbox Press in the autumn. The title is Getting On, and the title story is about an old man getting older, something rather closer to my own experience than I might like.

During the CoastWord Festival back in May I went to a fiction workshop run by Catherine Simpson. I found it inspiring, and I’ve completed two short stories based on prompts suggested by her, so I was very pleased with that, and grateful to Catherine. The stories are very different. I like to think all my stories are different, and I’m determined to keep my own interest alive by trying to write in different styles, different points of view, and different subjects.

One writing handbook I’ve found useful is Rust Hills: Writing in general and the short story in particular. There’s a lot of sound advice in this book. Another good one is the Writers’ and Artists’ Companion, Writing Short Stories, edited by Courttia Newland and Tania Hershman.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Learning the trade

While writing my own short stories is relatively new to me, I’ve always read short stories. Staring to write short fiction again, I looked again at the writers I had liked over the years, but this time with a more analytical eye – seeing how they get from Point A to Point Q – looking at voice, technique, subject, point of view, and all the other ways these writers worked.

I’d always liked Hemingway’s short stories, but if I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t have liked the man behind them. Not that you have to, of course, it’s just what I’m saying. Back in the 1960s I liked Robert Cheever, but I haven’t read any of his for ages. I loved Raymond Carver’s stories, and I’ve enjoyed re-reading them. I admired Katherine Mansfield, of course, and William Trevor, plus the Russians – Chekhov and Turgenev.

Flannery O’Connor was recommended, and he’s been a revelation. Grace Paley knocks me out, from the early ones influenced by her Jewish background to the later ones where it seems she can tackle any subject. And then I found Alice Munro. She’s a very moving writer, and the characters she creates are wholly believable. I can read one of her stories and think, Yes, that’s how it would play out, if this was real life. A wonderfully imaginative and versatile writer. No two stories are the same.

So I’ve got two writers who make me think, I wish I could write as well as that, and they are Raymond Carver and Alice Munro. You’ll notice I didn’t say ‘write like that’ because that wouldn’t be true. I write my own way, and if there are influences in my work, so be it, but I don’t aim to write like anyone else.

To me, the short story is the perfect form for fiction. Some years ago I did attempt to write a novel, but it fizzled out. I recycled some of the themes and feelings into poems, and those turned up in The floorshow at the Mad Yak Café. But I really love writing short fiction, anything from around 800 to 6,000 words.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Where I’m bound…

I was a bit scared by one of my friends saying I’ve gone over to the Dark Side, and by another glad that ‘I haven’t completely deserted poetry’, so I’m starting to wonder where my writing is taking me just now.

It’s true that I haven’t written a poem since April, but I did jot down some lines for a new poem while I was at the Platform reading last Saturday. And it’s also true that I haven’t looked at my ‘submissions’ file lately. I just can’t summon up the energy to read through them and think about sending some out, although I probably should. Also, I was reading some magazine issues yesterday, and I found myself being becoming very critical over some of the published poems. Why on earth did the editor choose these ones? However, I did find some others extremely interesting and very good. I particularly liked the last issue of Iota, but I was bored by The Rialto.

But I have to admit that the satisfaction I’m getting from writing and editing my short stories is quite intoxicating. I can’t stop writing them, and the ideas just keep coming. I’m writing about subjects and situations that are totally suited to this medium, rather than to poetry. It may be the novelty of it all, but until this current rush of enthusiasm dies down a bit (Will it? I don’t know), I will keep writing them. I’m entering competitions and sending out to magazines, and although it’s too early to receive feedback I’m not stopping. Not yet. Not for a while.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

The shed




This is maybe going to sound like a short story, but it’s true. A couple of years ago I got a new allotment neighbour. She seemed very nice, very keen. Her plot was overgrown with weeds, and she didn’t have the time or the energy to dig it over herself, so she hired a couple of likely lads to do it for her. I was there most days while they worked; i.e. drank beer, smoked, sweated and dug pretty ineffectively. They didn’t go deep enough to get the weeds out properly, but they did shift a lot of stones. They left them piled in a heap at the front of the plot. Then they scarpered, in their white van. I discovered later that they they had broken into several sheds on the site and nicked tools. They didn’t take any of mine. I figured it was because they saw me working on my side of the fence, and didn’t want to risk anything.

So the weeds grew again, and my new neighbour figured she would torch them to clear the ground. I wasn’t around the day she decided to do it, but I heard all about it from my allotment pals. She had not only set fire to her weeds, but to the railway embankment just over the fence. Apparently she’d made half-hearted efforts to put the flames out with a watering can, but the neighbours had persuaded her to call the fire brigade. By this time the flames had reached the area behind my shed, where I had some plastic mesh netting stored. That caught fire too. The fire brigade closed the East Coast Main Line because of the smoke, but they managed to dowse the flames pretty effectively.

The next time I saw her my neighbour was very apologetic, and offered to recompense me for the damage to my property, so I told her £20 would cover it.

She cultivated the rest of her plot quite effectively that summer, putting in raised beds, garden furniture and a very gaudy scarecrow. However, after my Canadian trip last October, I returned to find she’d done nothing since the Autumn, not even harvesting her sweetcorn. The plot was overgrown with thistles, fireweed (appropriately enough) and other weeds, whose seeds were blowing across into my plot. The heap of stones was now a weedy hillock, and there was no sign of anyone doing anything. Over the winter the scarecrow blew down into my fence, and the heaps of timber and building materials were lying about weathering.

I don’t know if she’s abandoned the plot, but I’ve seen nothing of her since last summer. Yesterday I decided to repaint my shed with the usual timber protection paint. The front and sides were fine, but it was when I tried to squeeze between the shed and the railway fence to do the back of it that I discovered just how badly the fire had blackened the back of it. It must have come very close to being totally consumed by the fire, but thankfully there isn’t much permanent damage, just a hole in one corner where the voles got in to nibble my plastic containers of slug pellets and weed killer. I’ve plugged it up with wire now, but it’s amazing what the wee beasts managed to consume over the winter, including several of the onions I had hung up for storage. I finished the painting by tying the brush to a long stick.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The way I write

I’m in week 5 of a free 8-week OU course on Starting to Write Fiction. I thought it would help me move seamlessly into the world of short story writing through learning more about the process, structure, and methods of fiction writing. And some of it has been useful, like the sections on character building. I think we move on to plotting soon, and that will be handy. But, like many other creative writing courses these days, it is obsessed by the need to keep a fucking notebook, where you note down ideas, observations, characters, favourite quotes from other authors and other random thoughts flying through the presumed vacuum of your tiny writer’s skull.

Some days days I want to shout at the screen: THAT’S NOT HOW I WRITE! AND I’M TOO FUCKING OLD TO CHANGE!  But what good would that do? The next unit tells me how useful the notebook is for overcoming writers’ block. I DON’T HAVE WRITERS’ FUCKING BLOCK! It’s so presumptive that it’s beyond irritation. There are so many other ways of writing, and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for someone else. End of rant.

I do have a notebook. I use it to note down lines I might use in poems. But these days I’m not writing poems, or not as many as I used to. But I might note down ideas for short stories, in among the shopping lists, to-do lists, user names and passwords (PLEASE DON’T STEAL MY NOTEBOOK. MY FUTURE WELL-BEING DEPENDS ON ITS CONTENTS)

But I don’t use it for the stuff mentioned above. Harm can come to people who depend on notebooks for their writing practice – I’ve seen it happen. So how do I do it differently?

I learn through the writing itself, and the subsequent re-reading, editing and revision that results. A first draft, as I know from writing poems, is never a flawless and completely realised masterpiece. It needs to be considered, reflected on, modified or rejected. I know that. I learn through reading the works of others, but not through quoting them or attempting to rewrite them. I have my own voice, and happily it’s as strong a voice in fiction as it is in poetry.

So far, my short stories have been restricted to a single milieu, the world of amateur drama, because I had a lot of experience in that world, and I have lots of memories that can be exploited to colour the stories. But these are fictions; I’ve made them up. Andy Pandy and Luby Loo didn’t really have an affair in the toy cupboard when the lights went out. But I can write about that affair, and the effect it had on poor Teddy when the cupboard door was opened in the morning. But it’s not what happened in real life.

When I write a poem I just sit down and start to write to write a first line. When I write a short story I sit down and write the first sentence. If the first bit of text interests me, suggests possibilities, I’ll take it further, and just go on and on until the draft is finished. If I have ideas for future plot development I’ll make notes at the end of the text, and then incorporate these ideas as I come to that bit of the story – thinking ahead. When the poem/story’s finished I read it aloud, to see if it works. If there are problem bits, I make slight corrections, then I put it away for a few days, print it out and go through it with a pencil, writing in amendments as I go. If it needs more drastic editing I write this in too. The thing about putting it aside is that I come back to it with fresh eyes and a different mindset.

Also in the course there have been a couple of opportunities to give and receive criticism. That’s welcome, and I’ve had a lot of experience of this through membership of the School of Poets critical group, and through giving feedback in the many workshops I’ve led. But these have mostly been with peers and near-peer poets. It’s clear that many of the OU course members are new to this kind of malarkey (I know I overuse that word these days, but it’s handy). But of course no writer has to accept criticism he or she doesn’t find helpful, and that’s true here too.

So, am I learning anything new? A few things, but not many. Is it helping my writing? Naw, no really. But I’m happy to take part. There are some really interesting people doing the course – I’ve read their postings – and the OU was always a big part of my life. I was one of the first graduates, back in the 1970’s and it changed my life for the better. As their current advert says, ‘The most important thing you’ll learn from the OU is what you’re capable of.’ And in my case, that is absolutely true.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment