52and40/22 Uprising


Our wee extension’s starting soon and early signs say the plants are keen on change this summer too.

We’ve imposed new garden structure by getting rid of the decrepit shed, clearing the Krugeresque brambles and waving cheerio to 9m of mixed hedge which only ever managed to look tortured, despite optimistic pruning.


A winter project which leaked into spring was a new boundary fence.  With this came unexpected clarity about divvying up remaining space.  Digging awaits.

Clarity’s good in these mad Brexit times (as are friends with doors which make me smile).


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Writes and Wrongs


Until recently, whatever writing works I’ve had in progress were allowed to swim around my mind as they pleased.  From poetry to commentary to short stories and – the biggie – the possible first novel, I’m usually working on between 5 and 12 pieces at any one time.  Some months I finish several pieces and get to submitting – a great feeling.  Other months it’s just a case of nurturing, editing and thinking.  Every month though?  Ideas and inspiration everywhere.  Up character details crop in the fridge when I’m making a shopping list.  Over scenes go with my gaze when I’m staring at hills and listening to a podcast.  Down it’ll all go on a page when there’s opportunity.  And when there wasn’t opportunity?  Those ideas and inspirations kind of bottlenecked in a holding pen that became increasingly cramped.  Whenever I could, I’d lift out my clearest thoughts and liberate them in emails to myself so my inbox could be a holding pen too, perhaps a safer one in terms of things not getting lost.  Then it became impossible to deny that my inbox was becoming a mind boggling place to rock up in, too.  Ideas and inspiration everywhere are great but were they becoming too abundant?


All in all, the confusion of real world and fictitious worlds was becoming at best distracting and at worst, confusingly destructive.

At around the same time I noticed the failing holding pens, I finished a 5 month series of workshops for writers with big works in progress at Edinburgh University.  Lead by writing tuition supremo Helen Lamb, myself and another eleven students attempted to further nurture stories into the world.  Feedback was the order of the day.  A lot of the feedback that changed my work came from listening to other writers consider and adapt their work.  It was an incredibly valuable process but my lack of mental organisation lead to something of a creative meltdown when the workshops ended; the feedback pushed more ideas into the holding pens with the consequence of  my brain starting to forget everything I needed to remember to run my real world, i.e., the shopping list, kids’ schedules,  getting to the dentist, etc.

Then, much worse than the forgetting of fairy liquid or fillings, my writing started to suffer.  I’d sit down to type and find the conduit thoughts normally came through blocked.  Coffee and music coaxed a few paragraphs onto the page here and there but cognitive disorder made it hard to tell if they were any good or not.  Cue much deleting, restarting and a whole load of Word documents being saved with bizarre titles and not a lot of content.  More holding pens, damnit.  More doing of a thing that was clear in its intent to not yield good results.  An invite to insanity, some say.

This was a terrifying situation to have arrived at after going through the long process of establishing a consistent writing habit over the last two years.  The part of my brain that likes to catastrophise was whispering this was the beginning of the end.  ‘See?  You can’t handle it when the pace picks up’, it said, showing itself to be a callous little bastard with no vision, once again.

The part of my brain that believes everything’s possible kicked in about a fortnight later, thank fuck.  ‘You can do this’, it said, and, ‘you just have no idea how, yet’.  I had a little weep fuelled by relief and terror, picked myself up and asked for wisdom from more experienced writer friends about how they’d schooled their thoughts on world-building into forward moving productivity.

How had they dealt with creating worlds within a world?

With regards the novel there was a strong consensus in the advice: partition time for writing and world creation and stick to a plan as much as possible.  For short stories, the feel was to let them happen as you work and worry less about what comes and goes – they always work out in the end (or hit the bin with rare regret) – this tallies with my experience too, hurrah.  The rest of the time?  Be in the real world.  Stop taking the imagined world everywhere – keep it the fuck out of the fridge, especially; give yourself some headspace that isn’t a holding pen for anything, otherwise you’ll drown in your spiralling imagination and hold off new ideas from entering.  The truths of creativity are riddled with paradoxes, I find.

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I initially thought methods around disciplined partitioning were unrealistic for my messy, non-linear brain and kicked against them a bit.  I’m a difficult mum, wife and friend, at those times of frowny adult-tantrumming.  Pity those who encounter me when I’m not in flow.  But, like any muscle used repeatedly, I’ve found the energy within getting stronger for a more disciplined course, with practice.  I’ve stopped the hotch-potch method I was engaged in before of skipping from one part of the novel to another, sending ripples of change in every which direction that were hard to keep track of.  Now, instead, I’m making extensive notes in a planning spreadsheet to stop impulse from wreaking havoc.  I ultimately still don’t know if it’ll end in a book but, by fuck, I’m keeping on with the keeping on and definitely learning in the process.

So far, touch wood, the new method’s working.  When I sit down to write the novel now there’s a new energy – the story’s evolving according to a plan and still offers room for  spontaneity of the unreckless variety.  In the name of Clearing40 clarity and minimalist joy, I’ve taken things a step further, too. For at least a while I’ve called a stop to feedback and discussing the novel in detail while it and my process are shape-shifting.  This might sound counter-intuitive but the meltdown’s reminded me how easily influenced I am and that this plasticity is simultaneously a good and bad thing.  Yet, with 5 months of feedback from twelve folk in the bag for that particular piece of work, I feel confident in thinking I’ve more than enough to chew on already.

There comes a point when, like with all things involving change, from haircuts to house moves to what to make for tea, I think we have to draw a line and own the process; sit with all the contributions, stop subconsciously taking suggestions and move forward making the thing into our own thing.  Then…?  Hello, cathartic relief and onward journey.  Mistakes will be made, sure, but I find them more constructive in motion than stasis.

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52and40/20 Pigs Might Fly


We took ourselves to Raasay in February.

A proper road trip – a long time in the car, sweets, music, stops for the dog to wee, chats about memories.  Maniacs in white vans, eye-spy and the name game.

Does it all sound perfect?

It wasn’t.  We fought, too.  There were hideous tensions as well as laughs and Kodak moments.  Families trying to keep growing together at the same time as letting kids grow up are like that, I reckon.  The wood of the construction makes different noises in different weather.

Roots and wings.


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52and40/13 Staging Interventions

I’m battling to feel Christmassy.  The weather’s telling my senses it’s Autumn.  The bagels in the cupboard and alarm clock scream that school’s still in.  My diary’s saying it’s a few days before my annual crying at the song in The Polar Express which I love but will make the rest of the family roll their eyes in an agony of stretching tolerance.


Emergency measures are called for;

  1. Buble’ on Spotify
  2. Discussions with tiny nephew re Santa
  3. Deployment of horrific sweater
  4. Rising wine levels



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52and40/12 Venus in Tweeds 


When the bloke I fancied told me he lived on a west coast island and ‘commuted’ to Aberdeen for work, I pictured Father Ted’s Manse and grimaced.

‘How can you bear it?’, I’d asked.  ‘The flatness?  The wind?’

He looked like I’d spoken in Spaniel.  The following week I understood.

Sapphire sea in a white sand bay. The perfect cottage.

Mountains, seals, dolphins.

Sunsets, the Milky Way, mornings to make you feel reborn.

Him, in an Acid Croft T-shirt.

‘What about the commute though?’, I’d asked.

He put on Shooglenifity and drove.  52and40-1

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Of Mice and Men

Internalised misogyny’s kinda like the rat who lived in our back garden. Every now and then it poked its head out of a small hole in the dry stane dyke and scared the living shit out of me (but thrilled the dog).

For soooooooo long I believed the rat was simply a large mouse.  Then, faced with faecal evidence to the contrary, I spent some time simply telling myself the rat was a large mouse and willing away  memories of the enormo-shits by the bird feed in the shed.  Denial can be a really handy part of adjusting to an unpleasant reality, can’t it?


I did not want the rat to be as big a problem as it was – so I simplified it away and mentally minimised it to make it easier to think about.  La la la la la la.

Meantime, the rat had babies and I grew unable to continue deluding myself that the big pink semi-ropes intermittently hanging out the wee wall in the garden were anything other than rat tails.  Then, the sight of a rat climbing the 7ft clematis trellis turned out to be a moment even Instagram filters & wine couldn’t soften.

We are now minus a shed and a rat colony.  We found out the rats were living under the decrepit, old, rotting shed (very low air miles to the bird food) so it was time for the lot to go.

I’ve talked a lot about the rat now and not so much about internalised misogyny, haven’t I?  If you’d like to read me talking about internalised misogyny for reals, I’m chuffed as a rat in a slop bucket to say you can do just that on Bella Caledonia this festive season.



An Open Letter to Open Letters

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Dear Open Letter,

As is traditional for the format, I’ll start by expressing that it’s with deep regret that I write this to you.  I used to like you, Open Letter.  There was a time when you were useful; necessary, even.  But things have changed and here I am now, addressing you both privately and publicly with no clear intention as to what I might achieve by doing so.

Unable to cast my ego aside for even a millisecond, I’ve decided to grant you an audience as you read this, Open Letter.  You won’t know who they are.  I won’t know who they are.  Actually, considering my blog stats at the moment, ‘they’ might not even exist.  However, the very hint at their possible presence is enough to create the sense of drama I need to give this letter gravitas and, Open Letter, I do believe in your heart of lettery hearts, you want and need to hear what I have to say about you and what you’ve done (and not done), don’t you?

Yes. I thought so.

You see the thing is I have a bone to pick with you, Open Letter.  In this crazy life that Michael Buble sings so well about I find myself with not one but two email accounts, a Twitter feed, a Facebook account for work comms, a mobile phone, a landline and a letterbox that an inordinate amount of shit-mail finds it way through, demanding I sort it in pursuit of information that might in some way be relevant to my actual life.  I have also more recently acquired a WhatsApp app and an Instragram account.  Additionally, I have two children who come home with raggedy bits of paper from their school with (a) information about how I am supposed to steer their way into a secure future and (b) what their choices are for activities week and school t-shirts that they refuse to wear anyway.   I’m sure that you’re starting to see my problem here; there are the things I want to deal with, there are things I have to deal with and then there are just the absolute heap of fucking shite things that totally waste my time and concern me less than the price of jellied eels but demand to be dealt with nonetheless.

Can you guess which category you fit into, Open Letter, in 2016?  CAN YOU?stamp

Of course you can’t.  If you could I think we all know that this line would then be the natural stopping point for this open letter and, as we all know too, this open letter simply isn’t long enough, self-involved enough or whingey enough yet.  So I’ll continue and ask you to bear with me because, yes, that too is traditional for the format and I’m nobody’s deviant.  Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.  At least not in public anyway.

But I digress.

Open Letter, I’m not sure if I ever told you about the time I was walking through Cameron Toll shopping centre and a man was nearby his wee stall and shaking his can asking passers by if they’d like to donate to Guide Dogs for the Blind.  The woman who was walking in front of me hadn’t noticed the 12ft rigid photograph he was standing beside which featured a blonde labrador wearing a harness and happily leading its owner across a busy road.  She also hadn’t quite caught what the fundraiser had said when he’d shaken his can at her.  She stopped in her tracks and asked, ‘whit is it yer wintin money for pal?’ He smiled and replied, ‘it’s for Guide Dogs for the Blind, hen’.  She paused a moment and tilted her head to the side before nodding then replying, ‘Naw. I dinnae like dogs pal’, then walking off to carry on with her  life, apparently without a care.  Now, it may surprise you to hear this, Open Letter, but, in a way, I bloody well admired that woman.  She asked a direct question, got a direct answer and gave a direct response.  She took no prisoners.  She didn’t think too much about the entire malarkey.  She just thought about what she liked and didn’t like, said it like it was for her and went about her day.

Life would be simpler, Open Letter, if we all behaved in such a way.  If we all said the thing that matters to the person whom it most matters to or where it stands to make an actual difference, life would be simpler and more efficient.  Some previously pissed around things might – at last – get done.  We’d fanny about less and see a few more results, like in Scandinavia and Germany.  We’d get more good shit done with a whole lot less angst and misdirected, wasted energy, basically.

The thing that’s pissing me off, you see, is that while everyone is writing open letters their time might actually be better spent writing a real letter if they really want a real result.  It’s a novel idea, I know, but bear with.  I acknowledge, of course, your shock in reading this suggestion.  Open Letter, friend of yesteryear, this bit must be hard for you.  You’ll have realised straight away that what I’m proposing would mean your death.  I’m sorry and yet simultaneously not sorry at all.  Think of it as liberation.  Stuff would get done but you’d cease to be.  It’s hard, I know, but do you think you might consider it for the greater good?  You’d almost certainly be remembered for quite some time for your selflessness, don’t you think?

Shall I tell you how I (we) got here?  In the last six months I’ve seen open letters to the following;

  1. The terrorist organisation who call themselves ISIS
  2. People who don’t pick up their dog’s shit
  3. Jimmy Savile’s ghost
  4. Three of the Kardashians
  5. Chris Brown
  6. Jamie Oliver
  7. George Osbourne
  8. Mother Theresa
  9. A man who worked on a fish counter in Morrisons

and, finally,

      10.  The entire population of America.

It’s all left me with the feeling that open letters are the thing we do when we can’t actually be arsed doing a proper thing.  Reading open letters alongside all the other comms in my life has, basically, started to take up way too much time and my willpower is futile in the face of outrage.  Just like with chocolates, if open letters enter my mental space and awareness I will consume both despite knowing full well that both things do not actually bring me joy and are fairly disruptive to my bowels.

So yes.  We’ve arrived at the crux of things now.  I’m leaving you, Open Letter.  You’re not allowed in my brain or my browser anymore.  People say that sometimes the 140 character restriction count in a tweet isn’t enough and in reply I say to them today that actually, it’s fucking plenty.  If you can’t make your point succinctly, is it a point?  You wouldn’t take the point of a pencil and try to make it wider and flatter, would you?  No, you wouldn’t.  Because that would make it more fragile, less useful and entirely cocking pointless.

I’ve written this to you today, Open Letter, because it was that or use Twitter (again) to tell people it’s really bad form to Tweet at people and tell them how to Tweet but could they please all stop tweeting links to open letters.  The last time I did that I disappeared into a black hole of irony for a fortnight and banging around in there with Donald Trump’s claim of being diversity-friendly was less of a barrel of laughs than you might lightheartedly assume, I can tell you that for free.


Heather x

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