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Showing posts from January, 2018

Banksy-like Loyal Corrections by PK

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A loyal friend has subbed my work over the years. Alongside a good few splendid editors along the way, he has stuck by me for whatever reason and has often kindly suggested changes to my words. Banksy-like he is known only as PK, and has been kind enough to suggest changes to my recent book also.
Sadly, and I say this smilingly, the book is almost sold-out and is on a fast-track to a re-print. February 8 is new publication day and Macmillan Distribution assure me that all outstanding orders will be fulfilled shortly afterwards. What a relief; and indeed, what an honour.
And that’s great. Except, of course, the subbed text and the thankfully very occasional howlers will remain unchanged until the revised 3rd edition which is due out sometime before summer.
In the best possible taste and with a stereotypically familiar nod – whatever that may mean - to those, including Paul, who have pointed out the errors of my pen, here is a small selection of the corrections:

‘A-Z of Curious Aberdeen…

A Good Hair Day

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Today was haircut day. The book is on reprint after all and even Waterstones are recording zero-stock. Plus, Deeside Books, a local Indie bookseller got in touch to say that they have none for sale at present. What could I say? Try Amazon wouldn’t quite cut the mustard – although the on-line giant seemingly still holds ample stock of my tome for delivery by 12pm tomorrow. Then there are the discounters. It appears that my barely four-week-old tome is available at a third off second-hand. Yeah right.
But back to the haircut. I usually travel the 17 miles or so to the nearby town of Huntly around four times a year for a quick haircut plus a stroll around the bookshelves of yet another Indie store in the form of Orbs Community Bookshop. It’s a pleasant day out and comes with the bonus of a slap-up lunch at the local Asda.
The barber, for that is what she is, is a pleasantly jolly lady who does an honest cut and does it well and speedily. On top of that, and this is important for me, she…

A One-armed Bandit

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This is the tale of Garioch local-lad 'old Dod Mutch' and was first published in the May 2015 edition of Leopard Magazine. I recall that publication resulted in a payment of some £50 and that it made it into the Leopard's Tale spot near the back page. Quite why I chose to publish using the name of James L. Ramsay still escapes me. I may have been trying to hide my talent behind a bush - but I am unsure if that was a good strategy.
In an effort to rectify the quirky 'nom de plume' e
rror, here it is yet again. The names of the guilty parties have in the main been changed however, in the big scheme of things, much of what follows is completely true. I can reveal that 'Birtybogs' is near the village of Oyne however and that 'the Gairnie Inn' was situated in a former bank building  near the Garioch settlement of Durno.


A one armed bandit - By James L. Ramsay Old Dod Mutch was found dead in his chair. It was a stroke apparently and probably happened in his …

Dinna bury me like a beast

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Jamie Fleeman lies buried at Longside churchyard. Alongside the usual information one might expect to find on a gravestone are his last words which read “Dinna bury me like a beast”.
Known far and wide as “The Laird of Udny’s Fool” Jamie was employed by a local laird who, alongside paying him to look after his geese, looked upon him as a kind of family jester.
Described as having a “large round head with dull hair that stood on end giving the impression he had been scared out of his wits", Jamie is specifically mentioned in various publications including the New Statistical Account of Scotland of 1845.
“No offence is meant by introducing here the name of an individual who had a county - if not a national - reputation, and whose printed memorabilia have gone through several editions. This was Jamie Fleeman, the Laird of Udny's fool, who flourished here about the middle of last century. His name appears frequently in the session's list of paupers and his sayings and doing…

A Bard Named Burns

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Celebrated each year on January 25th Burns night is an annual Scottish fixture extraordinaire. The supermarket shelves are full of the traditional and, of course, essential accompaniments to the bard’s memory. Not perhaps for the faint hearted, the haggis features strongly on eye-level shelves and on the dinner tables of those who choose to recall the impact the bard had on the folklore of the Scottish Nation.

In his short time on this earth, Burns commented on every subject known to man at that time - from winsome witches to wee timorous beasties. He even inspired an Inverbervie born ship-designer to name The Cutty Sark in his memory. Robert Burns was of course almost certainly a fan of a dram as this extract from John Barleycorn clearly illustrates:

“John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
'Twill make your courage rise.

'Twill make a man forget his woe;
'Twill heighten all his joy;
'Twill make the widow's heart to…

The Intrepid Cowboy Cyclist in his Wonderful Bicycle Leap through Space

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One of the greatest pleasures of writing about the North-east involves the discovery of the strange and unexpected. I mean, who would have thought that the devil had a wife and that – while she was wandering around the village of Midmar frightening the locals – he lobbed a giant boulder at her. He missed his spouse by a mile of course and the rock now sits in the policies of nearby Tillycairn Castle at Cluny. Seemingly, and this is according to no less a source than Victorian writer Alex Inkson McConnachie, ‘the credulous may yet see the mark of the Devil’s hand upon it’.
To top the Devil’s unlikely feat, Scottish super-hero and revolutionary William Wallace seemingly chucked a 20-ton rock all the way from Mither Tap to Oldmeldrum, a distance of some six miles. Seemingly his aim was good, but the missile, known as Wallace’s Putting Stone, overshot his intended target and now sits just north of the Hill of Barra.
There are many more tales such as this in my A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshir…

Unwitting Criminality and things to do with Poland

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Alongside the fear of having committed unwitting criminality as regards the penning of prose, one of a writer’s greatest fears is that the slaved-over book will never sell. Yes, we all know about James Joyce who penned the book we all aspire to understand, is now dead but graces every coffee table in the land. ‘Is that a good read then?’, ‘Oh yes, I particularly like his comments on Bono. Mind you I feel sorry for the Irish.’
Then there is that splendid Harry Potter franchise and of course the tales of the heroic David Toulmin who was first published some 25 years before his unpleasant death. In the big scheme of things however, literary fame comes in small doses and as in the case of famous artists, often arrives late in life or even afterwards.
I was however pleased to read a fine piece in yesterdays Sunday Post about Dundee bard Michel Marra. The Post is not my favourite tabloid and nor is it a paper I buy every week. But, as has often been the case recently, I half expected a rev…

Sneaky Blinders

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It’s really interesting to take an in depth think about links and friends on FB. Most folk are completely above board, completely honest and of course completely and utterly respectful. Why would they not be and what motive, if indeed they have one, would they have for being otherwise.
Mind you, there are what I think of as the ‘users’. You probably know a few. Post a comment and, like it or not, before long they start promoting a product on the back of it. When you ‘like’ their site or their page you become aware of some underlying issue or other. It might be entrapment, in which case those intent on capitalising on your comment will no doubt pounce on the opportunity. Or, it might be simply a case of being remiss. I don’t really know; and perhaps I am being completely unfair. After all, we all need to put food on the dinner table don’t we.
A very few FB friends, or indeed FB pages are guilty of the offence – so please, please don’t get too paranoid. I had a cull a few months ago an…

Victoria and Abdul

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I see that Victoria and Abdul - the movie - is available on both Blue-Ray and DVD from Monday. Starring Dame Judy Dench – yes, the same Judy Dench who was killed off in Skyfall – and Ali Fazal, the film seems to have attracted rave reviews. The Times gave it massively a huge four star review as did the Radio Times and Total Film.
The Daily Mail termed it ‘Brilliant’ and perhaps oddly Good Housekeeping used the word ‘Dazzling’ when reviewing it. Women & Home were less enthused, saying simply ‘Judi Dench is superb’ which could be a reference to anything. Perhaps Dame Judy is a superb painter & decorator or maybe she excels in interplanetary art. Who could know.
No matter, I am sure that the film is an entertaining one but I am a wee tad jealous.
I featured the tale of Abdul Karim in my new book and yes, I have had some really positive reviews – but nothing on the scale of those four-star commendations.
In case you can’t wait until Monday to watch the DVD, or indeed the Blue-Ra…

Wee snippets of history

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Much of the fun in the penning of a book is in the reading of the final published text. Newspaper articles and magazine features pale into insignificance when your tome makes those dusty and hallowed bookshelves for the very first time. Not that it beats child-birth and not that I have experienced that first hand, although I have a couple of sons and can vividly recall the exhilaration of getting to know them both for the first time. So, yes, a book is different and not quite on the same scale at all. But, and I say this with all sincerity, it is still a big rush to cast an eye over the published product and hold that thought ‘I made this happen.’
Here is the introduction to The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire in its entirety. On the re-reading, I might have wished for a couple of changes. But hey, in the big scheme of things, it’s not at all a bad piece of writing:

‘The folklore and the history of Aberdeenshire make for interesting reading. Invading armies have come and gone and the boo…

Fluff and Google make for a bright Boy

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Well, that’s the so-called author questionnaire filled out ahead of the proposed next book. I can’t tell you what it is about just yet since I’d have to kill you if I let the proverbial cat out of the bag, but it should be a cracker. Well, I would say that wouldn’t I.
What is the author questionnaire I hear you ask. Well, it’s a sort of collection of proposals intended to draw out ideas for both the substance of the tome and reassure the publisher that the author has at least a semblance of sanity and some idea of what they are proposing to write.
I recall early days promoting a few web sites on Google. The rules were a bit draconian and unless you actually paid the internet giant some readies – in which case they generally left you to simply get on with it – website marketeers were in constant danger of breaking unknown rules leading to outright bans or in most cases demotion from the safety of the early algorithms. In short, break the Google-law and absolutely no-one, even the CIA…

Curious Writings

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It’s been quite a heady week review-wise. On top of the – now four – feedback reviews of the new book on the Amazon platform several local and not so local newspapers have been brave enough to expose my curious writings to a wider audience. First of all, The Scotsman published a wide-ranging piece titled ‘7 gems from Aberdeenshire’s past’. Penned by Alison Campsie, whom I have never knowingly met – honest Injun’s – the article begins with the history of Aberdeenshire Alligators and concludes with a tale about Aberdeenshire toilets - I kid you not. And the full feature can be found on the Scotsman website at: https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/7-gems-from-aberdeenshire-s-curious-past-1-
On the previous Friday a good friend had contacted me to say that I had finally made it into the Evening Express. Now, to put this in context, I have been trying to get the local Aberdeenshire papers to take my articles and theatre reviews for ages but without much success. On this occasion however, I …

Stage Fright

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I am often amazed at human kindness. One of the scariest moments I have recently experienced was when I had to press a small green button in front of a bank-teller on Mid-Street in Keith. Keith, I hear you say. For the uninitiated, it’s a town in Moray just over the border from Aberdeenshire.
Known as the friendly town – and I can vouch for that accolade – the inhabitants are in the habit of saying hello at every opportunity. Even if they don’t know you from Adam, an upbeat ‘hello and how are you today?’ followed by a reassuring pause to discus the weather usually interrupts any High Street jaunt. A selection of traditional shops, including a butcher who, alongside selling the traditional range of animal body-parts also sells local-history books completes the picture.
But I digress. That scary moment involved the purchasing of a house and the button in question would, given the press of a single digit, send untold thousands of hard-earned pounds into the ether of the banking internet…

A Brush with Greatness - The 14th Dalai Lama

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Alongside the penning of books – and yes, there is yet another on the way – I have aspired to be a feature writer on occasion. As an avid reader of the weekend papers I have long admired the Observer Magazine’s ‘A Brush with Greatness’ column. Typical topics are ‘The day Van Morrison remembered me’, ‘The day Keith Richard joined us at the Test Match’ and ‘Back in my early 20s, I was a camera assistant for a photographer named Jeff Riedel.’ All good and all really interesting.
I got to thinking that I too must have brushed against some greatness. I have briefly met some Royals, but not intimately, and can claim to have chatted with Russel Grant in the basement of an Aberdeen hotel. Then there was that day when Margaret Thatcher’s limo almost ran me off the road on a return trip from the Isle of Skye.
Which to use? Then it hit me: I had met the Dalai Lama – or at least, I thought that I had met him. For reasons which completely escape me, the Observer Magazine have never used the piec…

Fame and Fortune Await the Hyperbolic Author

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Well that's the new book published and, to date, it's selling really well. In fact Amazon ran out of hard-copies over the Christmas period however I am pleased to report that this situation was quickly rectified by my ever-attentive publishers: The History Press plus Macmillan Distribution. Respect to the both of them!
Of course everyone should write a book at least once in their lifetime and I count myself one of the lucky few who have actually made it into print. Friends and colleagues along the way have contributed ideas for stories and relationships past and present have enabled it to happen.  In particular I would like to thank Nigel Lucas who showed me the value of being inquisitive. He is no longer around but is well missed.
Judy Mackie, editor of Leopard Magazine, and that stalwart of the Northern Scot, Mike Collins, have encouraged my writing and indeed have often funded it. Mike freely gave me a platform and when, on occasion, he was unable to use my stories willing…