dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Playing tourist

To my amazement, Doreen Leith managed to edit, tweak, and cut my ramblings into a usable contribution to Wick Voices. Click on the link to listen. Mine is the 150th addition to the family! I went over to the Heritage Centre this morning to sign the relevant form and have my picture taken.

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I chickened out of going to view a bungalow to the south of the county where the only instructions were coordinates, not post code. I was sure I’d get lost! It was so far away and out in the wilds, I realised if I was too scared to go to view, I’d certainly not be comfortable living out there all on my own (even with one cat or two).

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But Emma the Estate Agent was understanding and forgiving, and reckons she may have something more appropriate that might be of interest. So that meant I had today free, so I took myself off to the Lyth Arts Centre to look at the exhibition, “From Wifey to Wifie”, celebrating the centenary of the 1918 Act which gave some women the vote and charting the journey Caithness women have been on over those hundred years, in artwork of various kinds.

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For those who don’t speak Norn (the language of Caithness), ‘Wifey’ or ‘Wifie’, same word different spelling, simply means a human female. There is no reference to marital status.

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After Lyth, I took myself to Dunnet and a wander round Mary-Ann’s Cottage. Mary-Ann Calder lived there until 1990 when, aged nearly 93, she moved to a nursing home.

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Because of the historic nature of the buildings, she sought to have them preserved as they were – and the Caithness Heritage Trust was formed to carry out her wishes. Today, it is just like visiting a real home out of the past. Nothing has been added. Everything is as Mary-Ann would have known it, and used it. A real treat!

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Topped only by the delicious tea at the Old Schoolhouse Tearoom, John O’Groats, on the road to Duncansby Head.

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Or perhaps the sheer breathtaking beauty of the journey back to Wick.

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Day Twenty-five: Home

So here I am, back home. One thousand, five hundred and forty miles all told. The last lap was hard work with heavy traffic and squally rain showers. But the cat is pleased to see me. And I am pleased to be home.

The trip was enormously worthwhile – in so many ways. I met lots of lovely people – new friends and old. I saw some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain.

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I ate some of the best shortbread!

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I sang God’s praises alone in the car, in a beautiful Edinburgh cathedral, a quayside mission hall, two churches of Scotland and one precentor-led Scottish Free church.

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Wick Harbour Mission

And everywhere I spoke about my novel, I was received with warmth and appreciation.

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And the books sold out.

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I’d love to do it again! But not just yet! Now I’m glad to be home…

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What the dormouse found

The most recent marital bed was a wooden one from a very reputable London firm. Mattress supported on slats, originally it had four huge drawers underneath, just sitting on the floor, gathering dust and enticing the cats. Beds matter to me because basically I’m a dormouse and my sleep is important to me. So I need a comfy bed. The current one is a divan. No drawers underneath and no room for anything except lost earring keepers, tops of pens, and errant cats trying to avoid ejection.

 

Digital ImageNo room for book-length typescripts, although that’s seemingly part of the writer’s life. All those masterworks that never made the grade, or simply didn’t light the blue touchpaper in an editor’s heart (I’m not sure that Editorial Boards are allowed to have hearts?) that’s where they’re supposed to end up. Under the bed.

I have plenty of these typescripts. Enough almost to support the mattress without need of the divan base. Well, I have been writing for more years than many (most?) of you have been gracing this planet. I started in childhood. Falling in love with books at an early age, it seemed wholly natural and logical to write my own stories.

Clearing my mother’s house after her death, I found amongst lots of other writings, a fragment of a Scottish historical adventure at the time of Culloden. It featured a Highlander making his escape across a moorland as he fled from the English soldiers. I’ve no idea how the story was going to proceed!

But there are several completed works “under the bed” (actually in labelled folders still in packing boxes). My first full-length novel was science fiction/fantasy. It went out once and was rejected with great kindness that nowadays I would know was actually encouragement to keep writing and send them the next one. Alas, technology has moved on and superseded my imaginings so that one is not revivable.

I tried a Victoria Holt style gothic next (set in my home county). It dealt with love, alcoholism, adultery – ‘grown-up’ things it was many years before I encountered in real life. It’s not surprising I found myself floundering in the writing!

Another dozen or so followed. Some got sent out once. I was more persistent with a few others. Quite often another story would have taken root in my heart and mind and I was more interested in finishing the new one than pushing at stubborn doors on behalf of a previous work.

And so the pile grew, with non-fiction and lay preaching taking up most of my time and energy. Till the story of the 1921 Fishermen’s Revival took hold of me and I became immersed in the lives of new characters. ‘Following the Herring’ was a joy to research and write. I dearly want it to be published. I think it probably needs a US publisher as well as a British one. It may be too overtly Christian for many British publishers but I think US publishers might welcome its frankly evangelical flavour.

Meanwhile, tidying my study and rearranging books and folders, my eye hit upon one of the “under the bed” projects: a crime novel I wrote a few years back. I had originally started work on a different plot but found I needed a previous book for my amateur sleuth to earn her sleuthing credibility. And so I had written ‘Loose Ends’ set in the Somerset Levels where I’d been living. Tucked into the folder, along with the completed manuscript, were the contents of a ring binder in which I had kept ideas for follow-up titles. The plan had been for a series…

And so I wonder: maybe it’s time for Jill to come out of the dark under the bed and into the light?

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Trusting, despite the fog

We’ve had fog. Damp, dreich, grey.

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It matched my mood, where I feel I am in my life, unable to see the way ahead clearly. Like the cat peering through the murk.

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Yet there is something soothing about walking round the garden in the fog. There is beauty here, and I am reminded that so long as we are walking with God, all is well, as Julian of Norwich tells us. All things are well and all things will be well.

And in my perambulation of this December garden, I come across a sudden brightness. Yellow leaves and glistening drops of water. But more powerfully, this little bush is covered in sharp pointy alive buds! Buds that point the way to spring.

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Buds that assure of spring and reassure that what I’m going through now is not everything. There is hope and a future, because God says there is. He has planned it (Jeremiah 29:11). All I have to do — all we have to do — is trust.

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Making home

Widows (and widowers) are usually advised not to make any drastic changes in the first months of bereavement. Those hasty actions will be fuelled by their emotional disarray and probably won’t reflect who they are when they’ve progressed through the grieving to a place of acceptance and peace.

The two most likely drastic actions tend to be to latch onto an instant replacement for their lost spouse, and to move house – in a  futile attempt to get away from the grief and unhappiness they are currently experiencing.

I made both those mistakes when I was widowed very suddenly in late 1994. I did not realise that by moving house I was moving away from my support network, from the happy memories I would need to sustain me, from the familiar that would support me when I couldn’t think straight… So many extra – and wholly unnecessary – losses, and self-inflicted to make them worse!

I moved home recently and am living in rented accommodation ‘for the time being’. I needed to free up capital to pay my current husband’s care home fees and did not want to make a mistake that would have long-term ramifications by buying a property when not thinking completely straight.

At first, my lovely little rented house felt like student living: no responsibilities apart from paying the rent and keeping it clean! But now I am finding out the drawbacks – and being surprised by what I discover really matters to me about where I live.

I like to know I have nice friendly neighbours but I appreciate a quiet private garden. I do not like being bombarded by noise, especially other people’s ‘music’! And I like a real garden. My little maintenance-virtually-free yard just does not do it for me!

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So I’m debating whether to launch into a transformation with lots of pots full of plants and so on. And realising how spoilt I have been in the past!

I like to be tidy – which means sufficient storage space for my possessions. I’m now at the stage of trying to decide whether to get rid of more things (that I might later regret) or buying more bookcases and storage.

The problem is that I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. Yes, I know it’s up to me – or rather, God, who at the moment doesn’t appear to be telling me to pack up my tent again. I like living so close to town, railway stations, church, library and so on. The downsides are few… so why not stay?

I think the major problem is that I keep apologising to the cats! The conservatory has been reaching over 100′ and the ‘garden’ does not offer them shady places to lie out in the noonday sun. They haven’t left home yet but Bella, the talkative cat, certainly has plenty to say about it! So I apologise – and my memory floods with pictures of my gardens in previous homes. Crazy really when one of the reasons I was  happy about leaving the last house was that the garden was too big for me to manage on my own!

I know I’m blessed to have a roof above my head, to have enough money to pay for it and even be able to consider buying more furniture or pot plants!

And I know what this really is all about is a kind of grieving – for the life I had hoped for: home and marriage and all the hopes and expectations that come packaged up in those. It’s a kind of culture-shock, the realisation that this is where I am and this is what my life is now. I can continue to kick against it – whinge and complain – or knuckle down to make a life worth living. And that demands acceptance first and foremost. Not something I’m good at.

But despite what it looks like and often feels like, I’m not in this on my own because Jesus has promised never to leave me. What I need more than anything is His peace in my heart and then maybe I’ll be able to decide about pot plants or book cases – or both!

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Blessings indeed

I want to go and sit outside in the garden with one of the books I borrowed from the library this morning so I’m writing the blog earlier than usual.

The cats are flat out asleep on the conservatory floor, basking in the heat. I’m planning on a comfy chair and a large-brimmed hat … plus a long cool drink.

One of the benefits of this late hot spell is that all the roses are in full bloom. I prefer old-fashioned, gloriously perfumed roses rather than the modern plastic variety.

There are three roses in the tiny strip of garden alongside the path to my front door: one is producing yellow roses, one huge white roses, and the last deep red roses. All perfumed. Glorious!

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Since I discovered Ann Voskamp’s blog (A Holy Experience) and her book  (One Thousand Gifts), I’ve been counting my blessings every night determined to reach at least three I can wholeheartedly thank God for. I’m getting close to the thousand and tonight I’ll put in these wonderful roses.

I feel like the children of Israel in the Promised Land as I enjoy roses I neither planted nor pruned! Blessings indeed.

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Whatever the weather

I think it’s just possible that we’ve got summer today. I spent the morning holed up in my study working on next Sunday morning’s service, then had lunch in front of Bargain Hunt before going out to the supermarket to ensure the cats and I don’t starve. And that’s when I discovered the sun was shining, and warm.

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Is there something mole-like about writers? At least the kind who follow their noses, tunnelling their way along and discovering juicy morsels en route? I think that’s me. When I’m immersed in work – whether writing or service preparation – it really doesn’t matter what the weather’s doing. If I’m writing fiction, the weather is whatever I’ve made it in the story: sun or snow. Then when I come up for coffee, I’m invariably surprised to see daylight or sunshine or whatever isn’t happening on the page.

At the moment, in my story, it’s December, and Robbie and Chrissie have just got married. Their wedding day is a Saturday, and Christmas Eve.  Where I come from we don’t do Christmas much. Or at least, we didn’t when I was young. Maybe it was the influence of hard-line Calvinism. Instead, New Year was an important date in the calendar with lots of ritual house-cleaning on Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve), then the traditional laden table and tiny glasses of sherry to welcome in the New Year on the last chime of midnight.

My home town always had a massive bonfire to celebrate New Year and my research notes reveal that was the case in the 1920s. Usually an occasion for excessive drinking (we do have a distillery in town), rowdiness and fights, the New Year celebrations in 1921 were quite different from previous years. As usual a huge crowd had gathered but instead of drunken revelry,  the Dundee Courier of 11 January 1922 reported that ”well-known Salvation Army choruses were sung by hundreds of converts who gathered at the huge open-air meeting.”  I was amused to note that in the past some of the fuel for the huge bonfire was provided illicitly – in fact, stolen! But the 1922 bonfire was fuelled by donated materials.

It’s clear that the Revival had a major impact on all the towns involved and on the lifestyle of the people. In a world that seems to celebrate bad behaviour, the sordid and the scandalous, writing about these changes feels unfamiliar, and difficult to make interesting. But just this morning I was reading Tom Wright’s commentary on Colossians (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters). He writes: “Don’t be fobbed off with the idea that ‘sin’ or ‘wickedness means ‘having a good time’ when God wants you to have a rotten time. That’s a typical example of the muddled thinking that people get into when they ignore or forget the true God.”

Too often righteousness can appear to be equated with long faces and no fun. Wrong! God has the monopoly on joy and I need to get that across in my story – and maybe in Sunday’s sermon too!

 

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Making progress – with help

Happy to report a productive day! And Bella the cat is helping me by keeping my research books company!

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I’m beginning to draw the various threads of the novel together and building up to a major crisis between my heroine and the romantic interest so we can then get to the happy ending! That is going to be fun to write…

Meanwhile, I need to decide how much of that romantic interest’s story to tell.First off, I haven’t yet decided whether he’s a Methodist or a Baptist minister. I need for him to have been a chaplain in the First World War and a cursory glance at Wikipedia suggests I need to do a bit more background reading before I decide. There appear to be complications…

In my story I have inserted him into the real-life story of Jock Troup’s experiences in the Fishermen’s Revival of 1921. I’ve got loads of first-hand material from books and newspapers. Troup and his colleagues, Willie Bruce and David Cordiner, had an exciting time which is conveyed vividly in these reports. I’d like to weave some of those stories into my book but so far have only given them one chapter of their own. I think I need to provide another chapter for their time in Fraserburgh and another for Dundee before letting them get up to Wick for the denouement.

I know my book is an explicitly Christian book – which is why Lion Hudson’s new fiction imprint is probably not right for it – but would Christian readers be interested in the details of what Troup and co. did? Or to put it more accurately, what the Holy Spirit did? It is inspiring and I’m moved by how it affects me each time I reread the material, so maybe I should just go for it and do the best I can to convey the excitement of the time.

Meanwhile, I fit in laundry and lunch, a bit of shopping, planning next Sunday’s morning service and the following Sunday’s all-age worship – wishing all the time that my preaching could have even a small percentage of the effect of Jock Troup’s! He must have been marvellous to hear. I’m sure I’d have been one of the folk in floods of tears!

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Lots and lots of blessings

The birthday was great and became a full week of outings and lunches and general good things. Now it’s definitely time to get back to what is known in ecclesiastical circles as Ordinary Time.

I am not, however, convinced that such a thing exists. Especially once you get into the swing of blessing-counting a la Ann Voskamp.

Today my blessings include:

  • my two lovely cats
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Lucy at the water bowl, Bella lounging negligently

  • the glorious lilac blossom which has suddenly appeared everywhere

 

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  • my wild-flower-lawn!

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  • the blossom buds on the holly

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which reminds me that the prickliest person is a child of God and therefore beautiful, and that there will be berries by Christmas!

  • and I did get stuck into the novel today…
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Of cats and conservatories

My birth-day celebrations seem to be turning into a delightful week-ful of  happy events, with more to come. And the cats aren’t being left out!

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Lucy, the silky squeaky hinge, is on the left and Bella, the increasingly vociferous talking cat, is on the right. They love the  conservatory which is flooded with sunshine for much of the day. The plants are doing nicely too!

 

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