The First Artist’s Date: Shall I join in?

The thing about having friends who write is that they are wont to encourage you along when they have committed to doing some jolly practice to help their own creativity. ‘Do come and join me’, they cajole and do it on Twitter, so publicly, so that others can join in. I want to say, ‘no, not just now. Actually I’m beetling along quite nicely revising the second draft of the novel and I don’t think I can take two hours out to do this thing.’ But because it is Alan and I like the piece he has written in his response to the challenge I give the invitation a little more thought.
The activity comes from Julia Cameron’s well-known cheer book, The Artist’s Way. I know it is much loved as a bible of the creative spirit movement but I find her tone loud and her assumptions about me off the mark. ‘Stop shouting at me!’ I want to squeal as she pours scorn on my limp attempts at creativity. She is at her shoutiest in the section, early in the book, when, having got everyone doing their morning pages (which, for me, are just the same as those morning stretches; I’m simply not built to operate first thing. I take a run up at the day and see if it surprises me, like Bertie Wooster) she launches her second assault – The Artist Date.
The book title is ‘The Artist’s Way’; why is this not ‘The Artist’s Date’? ‘Artist’ is not an adjective. I am riled already.
There is a straightforward description of the structure. The artist is looking to set aside a two-hour block once a week to nurture the inner artist by allowing the inner child to play. No interlopers are allowed; this is YOUR time – do something frivolous, playful, adventurous! In short, free the spirit! Fine but don’t then come at me with what couples with marriage difficulties are often asked by their therapists. This is of no relevance to me. In trying to illustrate the separation of ‘self’ from ‘inner creative self’ she sounds like a column from Women’s Weekly.’ There follows a parade of all the other excuses Julia thinks that we might come up with to deny our inner creative self the freedom it needs to fully express itself. Sorry – don’t presume to make my excuses for me. My response to all of this is to say, ‘this is not me so please stop assuming that I’m in therapy.’
Laying Julia Cameron aside, I know, nonetheless, the benefits of allowing playtime in one’s creative life. I knit without patterns, cook without recipes and read randomly without reviews or recommendations. It is, though, some time since I wrote without a particular aim in mind; the completing of a novel or a short story for a competition or an anthology. So, I accept the offer (I’m not going to see it as a challenge – that way leads to the success/failure cycle and if anything destroys creativity it is surely this) to join in writing a more or less weekly piece generated from my playtime.
Here endeth the first date with my inner self who needed to get that lot off her chest!




We are delighted to announce that we shall be launching Linda Cracknell’s new book “Doubling Back”. We shall be absolutely the first place the book will be available at a reading – it is published the day before. It will also be Radio 4’s Book of the week that week. We have clinched another exclusive evening. There is more information on the poster – click to the right – and if you can pass it on or print and stick one up in your locality please do so as Linda should not be missed!

Trees in the North: One – Alder

Are you weary, alder tree,

in this, the age of rain?  

extract:      Kathleen Jamie    ‘Alder’   collected in Into the Forest ed Mandy Haggith (see below)

Alnus glutinosa

The only broad-leaved tree to produce cones…Image

Alder wood is called ‘Scots mahogany’.

Much of Venice is built on alder piers.

alders…give secret lovers protection from discovery.

You can see the past, present and future on an alder branch



Visit my blog introduction for more information and go here to order Mandy’s book –

Trees in the North Introduction

Mandy Haggith ( visited the Skye Reading Room ( last Tuesday and introduced us to her marvellous Anthology – Into the Forest. Inspired by her love of trees, knowledge of  them and how man has used them over millennia she has gathered together not just a collection of tree poetry but a jewel box full of sparkling gems and intriguing nuggets.

The structure of the volume is grown from the Celtic Ogham script alphabet of 18 letters written as runes – that somewhat twiggy script. Each rune had a tree associated with it and  with the tree a wealth of folklore.

The book is simply BEAUTIFUL from the hard cover designed by Carry Akroyd (, please make this into fine silk) through the end papers to the sketches of  Kate Cranney (www.Kate to the 100%recycled grey tone paper and publishing prowess of Glasgow based, Saraband (

Because I cannot lay this volume aside and would like to have it alive with me through the year I am going to follow my local trees here in Skye and add a picture and a reference to the book with each blog. The photos taken by Pete, my husband, will probably not be classical shots of standard trees  – we’re looking for something else that the tree illuminates in response to Mandy’s book. We can walk to examples of seventeen of these trees and I’m working on the last – the Scots Pine – which for all sorts of controversial reasons is scarce in Skye.

The book is available from Mandy at her website and if you get it direct she will donate £5 from every sale to Trees for Life – regenerating the Caledonian Forest in Scotland ( If you buy it elsewhere they miss out. Would you prefer to see a chunk of your book-buying fund to be used to re-invigorate Scottish woodland or would you prefer to see it hived off abroad through that well-known gargantuan website that sadly carries the name of one the World’s great forests, indeed its left lung. Please buy direct and, trust me, you will not be disappointed.


If this has tempted you please look for my first tree blog(not in Celtic alpha order but as each tree become interesting through the year). The first is the Alder.


Knitting and, more precisely, makings with real wool, has become my fascination for these last few years. The more I look for ideas and yarns the more I look to the Islands and producers from the north. I think it is the way in which the keeping of sheep and other hide and fleece bearing animals has been central to the culture as well as the whole livelihood of northern peoples.

Perhaps at the moment when rural and island communities felt they had lost the wool market for good – with centralised fleece buying making it uneconomic even to transport shorn fleeces – a welcome revival in interest and demand for real wool is spurring people to revitalise their home production. A new spinning mill in the Uists, Shetland Wool Week going from strength to strength (serious plans to make it there this October), Alice Starmore’s amazing pattern books, natural dying ideas and knits from Isle of Harris and a particular favourite from the Faroes (see below).

I have been knitting with some Icelandic wool that a friend is thinking is spun as a single ply. Although it is thick and sturdy equally it is silky and easy on the fingers. Here’s the cuff of a sock on the pins for The Great Welly Sock Challenge.

AND the truly amazing  the mission – row stkilda  and Facebook page



From the Shetland Wool Week pages I linked to by The Island Wool company which promotes wool from the Faroes. And not just that – they are translating traditional Faroese patterns into English and sell the patterns on line via pdf. There is much much more. Do visit this fascinating site at The Island Wool Company- Faroese By Design – Nordic By Nature – Faroe Islands, Faroese wool, Faroese yarn, Faroese, knitwear. I have my pattern and my wool is winging its way island-to-island as I write.


These patterns resonate across the northern latitudes but the identity is in the detail, I’m sure. Is this Faroese snowflake different from a Norwegian one?

Why 56N?

I find myself increasingly drawn to, fascinated by, linked into all matters originating in the northern latitudes of our beautiful planet. It doesn’t seem to be uncommon to feel drawn to the north either because it is home by birth and upbringing or for some more intangible reason. Here, in the Scottish Islands, there is a strong sense of homecoming whether for a family occasion, a tracing of family or, often, to retire back to one’s roots. For me it was a long term longing. When working in London in the late eighties I would find myself wishing it was King’s Cross Railway station and the Edinburgh train I was heading for each night rather than my westbound one from Paddington. I moved to Skye in 1996.

This blog is for thinking aloud about that sense of North and I put no other limits on subject matter than that 56N latitude.