A month with Mum, Dad, and Marnie

My parents recently came to visit with my grandmother and messaged me a few days ago to say they were safely back in Australia. To say the last six weeks have been busy is an understatement, but they have also been some of the most joyous times of my life in Scotland – I was so pleased to show them the places I loved, and to discover new favourites with them that I hadn’t seen before. I am so lucky that they are adventurous and healthy enough to be able to come and see me – I know not all expats are as lucky as me. They arrived in Edinburgh on a Thursday, and the very next day we left, up through the Cairngorms on Friday night before breakfasting in Aviemore the next morning and heading to Culloden Battlefield. Then it was back in the car to drive north, stopping at the Coffee Bothy in Golspie for lunch before heading onto Thurso where we saw the Old St Peter’s Church. That night we took the ferry from Scrabster to Mainland Orkney, before driving to our (spacious, lovely) AirBnb in Twatt. The next morning, a Sunday, Marnie and I went to a church service in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. After lunch we dropped into the Sheila Fleet Kirk Gallery and then drove across the Churchill Barriers to the Italian Chapel, and onto St Margaret’s Hope. The next day was spent in Stromness, meeting an old friend of Marnie’s and poking around the shops (including the library and an amazing bookshop) and the following day we embarked into the heart of Neolithic Orkney – Skara Brae, Skaill House, Maeshowe, the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Barnhouse Settlement, and the Ring of Brodgar. We stayed overnight on the boat back to Mainland Scotland, and waved to the Old Man of Hoy the next morning on our way.

We drove back down south via Wick (to see the shortest street in the world) and stopped off at the Whaligoe Steps (with bonus cat). After lunch in Dingwall we continued driving through the tempestuous Storm Ali to our accommodation in Kyle of Lochalsh. The next day we continued onto Skye, to see Sligachan, Talisker, the Fairy Pools (just to look, not to walk), and then to Portree for lunch and a visit to the Post Office dog. The next day we drove to BEAUTIFUL Plockton via Duirinish (we even saw a wee hedgehog while having our coffee), then down to Eilean Donan for photos. On our last day in Kyle of Lochalsh, we took a walking tour of Eilean Ban, home of the Gavin Maxwell Museum. The island has accommodation, a lighthouse, a wildlife hide, and a lovely history – but sadly we didn’t see any otters!

Then it was home to lovely Edinburgh, with a day trip to the Borders to see Melrose, the Leaderfoot Viaduct, Scott’s View, and Dryburgh Abbey. We wandered the Water of Leith (from Stockbridge to Dean Village), had dinner at Teuchtar’s Landing, met friends of mine that I wanted to introduce to Mum and Dad, and had a jaunt to Cramond Village and beach. I also took a lovely day trip to Glasgow with Marnie to see the Kelvingrove Museum and the Charles Rennie Mackintosh rooms. In the mean time, my guests got up to plenty without me while I was at work or resting, including a visit to the Japanese garden at Lauriston Castle and a trip to North Berwick, as well as various shopping trips into the city!

Then it was back to the Highlands – Mum, Dad, Marnie and I were booked on a Great Rail Journeys trip that took us via Glasgow to Ballachulish, where we stayed for three nights. We journeyed up the West Highland Line, past Corrour, the most remote station in Britain, and found ourselves in a lovely hotel just up the road from Glencoe, with idyllic views of a loch beyond our window. The next morning took us to Oban (where I visited a lovely little museum), and then on the ferry to the Isle of Mull where we visited the beautiful Duart Castle. The next day was spent admiring Neptune’s Staircase before heading to Fort William for lunch and a very rainy cruise along Loch Linnhe! We even saw a couple of seals – it made the windy and wet conditions worth it. Afterwards we drove back past the hotel and into Glencoe for some photo stops and a history lesson – Glencoe is very atmospheric in the rain. The next day – HARRY POTTER TRAIN!! We took the Jacobite Express (first class!) to Mallaig, and even the weather couldn’t dampen our spirits. The route over the viaduct is truly gorgeous – and then we took the bus back and stopped at the viaduct to get photos of the train crossing back over!

That night we transferred to Inverness where we stayed for the next three nights, and headed off to Loch Ness first thing the next morning – another cruise, in beautiful sunshine this time, and a wee stomp around Urquhart Castle, before returning to Inverness for some free time (a rest for me!). The next day was the Kyle Line – I think even more scenic than the West Highland Line – all the way to Kyle of Lochalsh, and then onto Eilean Donan Castle. We actually got to go in this time, and it was wonderful – a really interesting history to explore and such good photo opportunities. The coach back took us via Glen Sheil and the grave of Roderick Mackenzie – a completely new area of Scotland for me, and one I am desperate to return to! The next day, alas, we were nearing the end of our trip, and headed back to Edinburgh. There was one final dinner to enjoy however, to top off a week of lovely food and accommodation. We had traditional Scottish food and a piper who told us some fantastic stories about Scottish history and culture. We even had a Highland dancer to entertain us! It was a very bizarre thing to stay in the luxury hotel and get up the next morning to walk to work!

Mum and Dad headed off for a few days in the Central Belt and Marnie stayed the night at our flat. The next morning I dropped her at the bus stop and she embarked on a journey to Lewis (yes, in the Outer Hebrides), where she had a fantastic few days in Stornaway. Sean and I had a relatively normal week before they all returned to us, and we spent a lovely Sunday at the Botanic Gardens before a teary goodbye that evening! They made their way down south and flew home from Heathrow. I spoke to Dad yesterday and their jet lag has worn off, thank goodness!

(Am I the luckiest woman in the world? I think I’m the luckiest woman in the world.)

 

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2018 has been mad and wonderful

I’m aware it’s not the end of the year yet, but I did realise how long it has been since an update, so I feel as though I should document it all before it grows even more unwieldy. I’ve thrown chronology out the window – it’s all already happened, so the order is not important (and I’m pretty sure about three people read this blog apart from myself, so it matters even less!)

New places I have seen in Scotland (and some I have revisited) include: North Berwick, Dunbar (and the fabulous CoastWord festival), my beloved Scottish Borders (especially Scott’s View and Dryburgh Abbey), my even more beloved Loch Ness and Glencoe, and the utterly fabulous Moniack Mhor writers retreat. We have also bought a CAR (huzzah!) which means we can take leisurely drives to lovely places (such as Dalgety Bay) whenever we fancy it. We have also had visitors, which has made some of this travel even better! The Moniack Mhor writers retreat has been long-awaited, and was even better than I imagined – brilliant people, feedback for my novel, interesting stories, wonderful food, and the most beautiful surroundings to write in. I must go back as soon as I am able!

Edinburgh has continued to delight us. We have moved house yet again, but hopefully for the last time in a decent while. Our new flat is gorgeous and very spacious, but I do miss living right by the Water of Leith (especially after brand new baby cygnets were born in May that we have watched grow up!). I was lucky enough to do more cat sitting, to see the beehives that my friend helps to looks after in Polwarth, and to take advantage of the enormous range of events taking place on a daily basis in Edinburgh – including a night with Caitlin Moran, the launch of my friend’s translation of German spoken word poetry, and the many glories of the Edinburgh International Book Festival! This year I saw Ruth Jones, Greg Wise, Alison Weir, the launch of the SPL’s new poetry anthology for teachers, and I was also lucky enough to run a Nothing But The Poem session on the poetry of Charles Hamilton Sorley.

Professional development has been a joy for me this year – I was accepted into the Knowledge Exchange Week 2018 run by the University of Edinburgh in June. This conference runs for a week, and I was one of two delegates from Scotland (the rest of the delegates were from Europe or Argentina). This also included my first ever conference presentation (just a wee one) and I presented on poetry indexing. I met some amazing people and saw some truly brilliant libraries in Edinburgh that I had not had the chance to see before. I have also tried to attend as many events as possible run by ELISA and CILIPS, including the Librarians Uncorked sessions, visits to local libraries and archives (again, several I have not seen before), and have enrolled in chartership. Exciting times!

Finally, I have had two brief but enjoyable jaunts down south. In June, Sean and I went down to Hampshire to meet up with some beloved colleagues (and special guests) from the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation. Seeing Chawton House through the eyes of the family that once lived there was a brilliant experience, and I even got to meet Simon Langton and Susannah Harker (the director of the 1995 BBC production of Pride & Prejudice, and the brilliant actress who played Jane Bennet in said production!) It was also a pleasure to meet my fellow JALF volunteers in person – wonderful women who I have corresponded with for months, but was not able to meet until now! Can’t wait to do it all again next year.

I also had a weekend in York, though did not get to see any of the city this time – because I was in a hotel all weekend taking part in the Bronte Society’s 2018 conference celebrating Emily’s bicentenary! What a treat – to hear some brilliant academics and speakers discuss Wuthering Heights, Emily’s poetry, and the various representations of Emily herself was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it was lovely to reconnect with some delegates I had met two years previously for Charlotte’s bicentenary conference, as well as meet new people.

Well, thats’s all for now. I am currently in the midst of a fabulous holiday with my parents and grandmother which involves traipsing all about the Highlands and other places in Scotland, but I wanted that to be its own post – hence my tardy update to bring this blog up-to-date for the rest of the year so far.

Until then!

Epic update time….

Tomorrow we head to Spain for five days, and I thought it might be nice to write a blog about our travels. I went back to check when was the last time I updated this site, and my last blog post was OVER SIX MONTHS AGO. Apols. So I thought I’d catch it up before Spain, as quite a few things have happened since then… It’s going to be less words, more pictures. A highlights reel, if you will.

London – the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library! A two-day conference titled ‘Reformation on the Record’ at The National Archives in Kew. And finally, Keat’s House, Hampstead.

Oh yes, a wee jaunt back to Australia for eight weeks. Christmas, friends, family, new babies, beautiful Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula, Macedon, Adelaide, and surrounding South Australia. The weather, folks. The weather.

And back to bonnie Scotland – more jaunts to the Borders, including St. Mary’s Loch, my first foray to Dumfries & Galloway (Grey Mare’s Tail), the Christmas markets (technically back in 2017), two lots of cat-sitting, Stanza Poetry Festival in St. Andrews, numerous other wee events/festivals/fairs, lovely Cramond beach, and SNOW. Lots of snow.

I am a lucky woman.

September, October madness

WE HAVE MOVED HOUSE! And it’s a beautiful wee flat in the very trendy area of The Shore, in Leith. Some lovely friends were moving to Belfast and looking for tenants, and it’s worked out so well. It’s an extra few minutes on my commute every day, but it is more than made up for by the view of the water, the swans, the ducks, the gorgeous bars and restaurants and the extra space!

I’ve been very busy at work and with the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, so I have let my writing practice slide and have been procrastinating like a star with some fabulous television (Strike, The Crown, and brand new Outlander, Will & Grace, and Broad City!). I’ve also been reading up a storm, cat-sitting, studying Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, voting with a big fat YES online for that ridiculous Australian marriage law survey, attending a meeting of the Richard III society (for a fascinating discussion of Perkin Warbeck), going to an event at Waterstones with MARIAN KEYES (and managed not to cry all over her this time), rejoined the walking group (I used to be learning to run, but I prefer walking!!), and attending a friend’s baby shower (just in time – she went into labour three days later).

We’ve used the last of the ‘summer’ weather to have a BBQ at Leith Links, and two weeks ago we headed down to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders. The Tempest Brewing Co. has an Oktoberfest event, and we were lucky to have a friend from Australia visiting as well. A good day was had by all, including an excellent selection of food trucks and stalls, quality cider and gin, and one of the best cover bands I’ve heard. We also said farewell to Sean’s sister after having her floating around Europe for two months. But we’re going to be in Australia in eight weeks, so it doesn’t feel quite as devastating as the last time we said goodbye!

Finally, the lovely Bec and I took a road trip down south. We stopped in Crosby to visit Belinda & Andrew, as always, lunched in Chester at a BEAUTIFUL restaurant called The Botanist, and then headed to an absolute utopia known as Gladstone’s Library.

My parents had bought me a voucher to stay the night – it is, I believe, the only residential library in the UK. It was clean and comfortable accommodation, but the library itself was simply magnificent. Historic, quiet, beautiful, and enormous. There is a lounge for residents with an open fire, lots of squashy armchairs, and an honesty bar, where you can read or chat or play board games. They have an onsite restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea – you can basically live there full-time and you would never need to leave. They offer scholarships and bursaries, a vibrant events program, and the friendliest staff. I think it’s a magic place and I can’t wait to get back there one day, hopefully for a longer stay!

The next morning after breakfast we jumped in the car and drove deep into Wales. We stopped for photos at Llyn Tegid and headed through the middle of Snowdonia National Park to the seaside town of Barmouth. This was a gorgeous little place, even while covered in mist and a light rain. We went into cosy gift shops, had lunch in a pub, and bought a banoffee pie milkshake for the road. After this, we headed back to Betws-y-coed, a picturesque village I had visited with Marnie and Mum several years ago. Drenched in rain, it was beautiful as ever. We drove back that evening to Belinda & Andrew’s place.

After brunch and a long walk along Crosby Beach to take pics of Antony Gormley’s Another Place, we jumped in the car and drove back to Scotland. It’s always a brilliant feeling crossing the border. It feels like home.

 

A very late update

August has been such a bizarre, wonderful month. The Edinburgh International Book Festival was such a great experience last year, and this year I got to be part of it! I was part of Story Shop 2017, which involved reading my work in the Speigeltent one afternoon. I met the nicest people while doing this – the lovely staff at the City of Literature, my fellow Storyshoppers (all 17 of us!), and previous participants who came to support us. It was even live streamed on Periscope so my parents could watch it from Melbourne. I even met one of the judges of The Emerging Writer Award – the award I was lucky enough to win second place in earlier this year. She was watching my reading totally by chance!

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I also was lucky enough to chair an event. The brilliant poets J.L. Williams and Rachael Boast were appearing together and I was privileged to introduce them and ask them a few questions after their reading. We had a small, appreciative audience, and the poets signed some books afterwards.

I went to so many events! It was wonderful to see such a wide variety of writers, and I can’t possibly list them all here, but a selection of the people I got to watch/meet/chat to includes: Geraldine McCaughrean, Katherine Rundell, Amy Liptrot, Donald Smith, Beth Underdown, Kirsty Logan, the contributors to the Nasty Women anthology, Jo Baker and the nominees and winners of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Polly Clark, Annalena McAfee, Meg Rosoff, Zadie Smith, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Brian Bilston, Daniel Piper, Hera Lindsay Bird, Vanessa Kisuule, Ali Smith, Sarah Dunant, Jenny Lindsay, Rachael McCrum, Sara Hirsch, Jo Whitby, A New International, Chris McQueer, Claire Askew, Marjorie Lotfi Gill, Russell Jones, Harry Giles, Jane Yolen, and Finola Scott.

Other festival-type fringey bits:

Edinburgh International Film Festival – we went to a screening of Final Portrait, Stanley Tucci’s directorial debut starring Geoffrey Rush, Clemence Poesy, and Armie Hammer. Stanley Tucci himself was there to introduce it! We also went to a screening of Born in Flames, the 1983 dystopian film written and directed by Lizzie Borden, who was also there to answer questions afterwards!

Edinburgh Festival Fringe – I saw Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, a one-woman show that resets the poem in the American South. I wasn’t sure how well it would work, but I was pleasantly surprised. Jennifer Jewell is a wonderful performer. We also went to Lilith: The Jungle Girl at the Traverse, and it was like watching a socially-conscious episode of The Mighty Boosh onstage. Loved every weird minute of it!

Golden Hare bookshop – I went to the Hear Hare Hear event with Christine De Luca, Katie Ailes, and Iain Morrison reading. These three poets are always interesting, and it was a pleasure to chat to them afterwards (and win a prize in the raffle!). I was also a guest on Bibliophile, the podcast produced by Golden Hare, where we discussed the modernization of classic texts. It was great fun to be involved!

Travel wise, we’ve had a wee day trip to St Andrews…

…and a few days in London. It was a pleasure to go with Sean’s sister, it being her first trip there, and I spent most of it wandering around the Brick Lane market or in the National Portrait Gallery, getting acquainted with history and saying hi to the Bronte’s.

We stayed in a hostel in Swiss Cottage for a couple of nights and saw Tim Burton buying breakfast in a delicatessen, then I stayed in Soho with a lovely couple I met at the Bronte conference last year. I saw Eddie Izzard walking down Carnaby St. I finished my trip with a visit to the delightful Persephone Books.

Brace yourself for a level of nerdiness that surpasses even my own past efforts: I’ve managed to join two book clubs, three societies (Jane Austen, Bronte, and Richard III), and am looking forward to the festival finishing so I can get back into the walking group as well. The 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death was marked with a church service and another meeting involved Dr Cheryl Kinney from the USA lecturing on Persuasion and Austen’s use of illness and injury in her novels.

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I have also been hard at work editing Pride & Possibilities and have been loving the contributions I get to work with! I’ve done two online courses – one that tied into the book festival and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize called How to read a novel and one on the life and times of Richard III – and have been working on my professional development for the scheme I am enrolled in, including attending a seminar at the National Library of Scotland on the RDA update and a workshop at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow on libraries, social inequality, and activism. I’m also about to embark on another online course focused on Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, and this can be claimed for my professional development as well, thank goodness!

And amongst all this, I have been attempting to take care of the everyday business of life, and prepare for a longer stay in Edinburgh. I had a haircut – bless the lovely hairdresser and her poker face when I told her it hadn’t been cut in almost two years.

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I’m going to run out of time to get my wisdom teeth out this year, but next year it will happen, mark my words! We are moving to a larger, more comfortable flat and we have booked flights back to Aus to take care of our visa requirements. I have been treasuring the Skypes and the correspondence from Australia, as well as the groups of friends I have made here – dinners, afternoon teas, and drinks have been some of the most enjoyable times in the last couple of months! We have had numerous visitors from Australia and from other parts of the UK and Europe and it’s been brilliant to revisit those friendships. Also, I am now a cat-sitter – spent a weekend last month with the handsome fellow below, and looking forward to next month when I get to sit for two kitties at once.

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Well, if you’ve got to the bottom of this blog post, congratulations. You must be my parents – hi, Mum and Dad! I’m off to rest my sore typing fingers in ice and to prepare for a hopefully quiet few months before we skip back to Melbourne for a visit.

Oot and aboot

Newcastle – a spontaneous day trip to Seven Stories, Baltic, and The Quayside Market

Abbotsford House – home of Sir Walter Scott, nestled in the beautiful Scottish Borders

The Georgian House – an Edinburgh townhouse beautifully preserved in the heart of the New Town

I had a birthday. Edging ever closer to 30 doesn’t scare me quite as much as it used to. It was not a big celebration, but it was a fun one. And good things are happening in my life (like this) and it makes me excited for more of it.

I hope everyone is well and happy xxx

A Highland adventure

The Habitat Café and The Watermill are two of Scotland’s best treasures and they’re BOTH in Aberfeldy and we visited both on our trip away from Edinburgh! We then had a rainy drive up the A9 before arriving in gorgeous, sunny Inverness. I finally got to visit Leakey’s Bookshop, after years of being told to by many friends!

The guesthouse staff were lovely and friendly, and breakfast was delicious. We hopped in the car and nipped down to Drumnadrochit where we went on a one-hour cruise of Loch Ness with the brilliant George Edwards, who has been guiding these tours for 32 years. He also discovered the deepest point in Loch Ness while diving in 1989, and it is named after him – Edwards’ Deep.He has photographed mysterious creatures in the loch and knows more than anyone about this massive body of water. His tour was recommended to us by our Australian mates and I am so thankful – it was a true delight! We went to Urquhart Castle and wandered its ruins. The weather was perfect.

Afterward we drove to Applecross via Lochcarron and I nearly wet myself on the crazy winding road – Bealach na ba – over the mountains. But we eventually arrived and found our accommodation – a tiny cottage in a quiet bay down the road from Applecross in a place called Camusterrach. It is completely and utterly idyllic, surrounded by other wee cottages with chickens, goats, pigs, and Highland cows. We went to Applecross Inn for dinner. It was absolutely booming, the food was a delight, and I met Graeme Macrae Burnett’s parents which was an exciting diversion! After we came home, full of fish and chips and cranachan, Sean and I went for a quick walk in the sunset. Scotland is so peaceful. I love it.

The next morning we headed off for Skye, via the Wester Ross Coastal Trail, this time taking the long way round rather than the Bealach. More amazing views and spine-tingling roads! We stopped in Lochcarron for a cake and some tea at The Waterside Café, winner of the regional UK best café award, before continuing onto Skye and finally to Portree. The sun was blazing for most of the day. We had lunch and a stroll around Portree peeking at all the gift shops and collecting some bits and pieces for dinner back at our cottage. We were home by 6.30 – enough time for a walk, a shower, a load of washing, and a lovely dinner.

We took one last spin over the Bealach on the way to Fort William for lunch and a stroll. We arrived at our lovely wee B&B in the Trossachs, on the spit of land between Loch Lomond and Loch Long. Tea with our hosts, dinner at the pub, and an early night. What could be better?

Our final day was spent traversing the Central Lowlands from Tarbet to Balloch to Doune Castle, where we listened to the brilliant audio commentary from Terry Jones (Monty Python) and Sam Heughan (Outlander). We stopped for lunch in a Doune pub, a lovely place called the Woodside Hotel, and then drove back to Edinburgh!

It was a busy holiday, but an enjoyable one. Next time I need to spend more time in the isolated places. The Applecross Peninsula in particular was wonderful. Would be great to get away there for a week or more!