I used to write, meaning I used to write every day. I used to get stories and poems published in literary magazines on a fairly regular basis. But I would never have called myself a writer. I have only ever been someone who writes, sometimes for publication, sometimes not. Much as I am also someone who sings, as opposed to a singer. Sometimes for live performance, sometimes for record release, most often just to annoy my family. It is an important distinction I think, the invisible line between a writer and someone who writes and a singer and someone who sings.
Anyway…..I used to write every day, not quite from the day I learned to write, but certainly from about the age of 11 through until the time had children in my early 30s. Sometimes it was just a few lines, sometimes a song, a poem, a quote or a diary entry….as a child I invariably listed what I had for dinner and what I watched on TV, whether I’d washed my hair or not….as a teenager the focus was wholly on boys and who I fancied. I’m not vouching for any literary quality, as my teenage poems in school magazines attest, just that I wrote. Every day. It’s a good habit and one that I’d like to get back into. Why did I write every day? Why does anyone write? I was a shy child who loved books and was utterly rubbish at sports. I cried at every dancing class my mum took me to whenever the teacher raised her voice. Its family lore that my mum dragged me round every dance class in East Kilbride before giving in to defeat when it was blatant that I still couldn’t skip in a circle by age 5. At the P1 parents’ evening however, the teacher commented on my stories. She said I had imagination. My mum told me this and I think it stayed with me. I was good at something. I couldn’t skip, do handstands, run or do any sums at all, but I could write interesting stories. I was good at something. That’s definitely what got me writing in the first place.
When I was at high school in the 1980s, creative writing was a big part of the English curriculum. I did ok at school, leaving after 6th year with 4 Highers, but English was the only subject I cared about and excelled at. It was the only subject I was competitive about too, vying with the brainiest boy in the class for weekly essay marks. Specifically, it was the creative writing part of English that really stimulated me. I could take or leave the close reading and the report writing. I loved studying poems and novels and discovering the likes of Sylvia Plath and Harper Lee for the first time and studying their work, but it was the freedom and discipline of creating something within a strict time framework that honed my writing and got me used to writing every day.
Why then didn’t I go on to study English? Not through choice. While I managed to get an A band 1 for my Higher English, my other grades weren’t high enough to study English at university and I found myself, at 18, forced into accepting my second choice, studying Publishing at Napier in Edinburgh. Accidents of fate are often great things in retrospect and so this turned out to be. It was hard to tell at the time though, with my homesickness and crippling shyness. A shyness that meant it was impossible for me to refuse the offer of joining a band when asked/told to be at band practice next day by one of many cool punks in my publishing class of ’84. I was a very young just turned 18, in dungarees and chiffon scarves, wearing my dad’s old golf jacket and looking about 12 , in a class of backcombed, white faced, punks and plenty of anorak clad indie kids. My college class was at the forefront of the C86 movement, comprising members of bands like The Shop Assistants, Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes and what became The Fizzbombs, the band I joined because I was too shy to say no.
The band practice was terrifying. Like many singers/people who sing, my shyness doesn’t preclude me from taking to the stage and showing off, but here I was being asked to do just that! In reality I was only asked cos the cool indie kids in my class recognised my surname and my brother Stephen was then a guitarist with Altered Images. Added to that, I had the distinction of being from East Kilbride, same hometown as Aztec Camera and The Jesus and Mary Chain, and nicknamed by NME as feedback capital of the Western World, so I was in. It had absolutely nothing to do with ability. It was all to do with look and vibe, but it was the best thing to happen to me at college. The drummer couldn’t drum, the guitarist couldn’t play guitar, the bass player couldn’t play bass and the singer couldn’t sing….perfect, all learning together. Within a month I was writing lyrics and the Fizzbombs, as we were called, were playing our inaugural gig at Wilkie House students’ union. Terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. Over the next 3 years we played many gigs in Edinburgh and a few in Glasgow, supporting the likes of The Pastels, The Vaselines, Tallulah Gosh and The Television Personalities, recorded a 7” single, went down to BBC Maida Vale in London to record Janice Long and John Peel sessions, did a photo shoot and were featured in the NME, shot a video and toured England in the back of a very smelly Transit van. Edinburgh was the epicentre of indie homemade pop right at that point in the 80s and I don’t think I’d have had that experience anywhere else.
When the time came to leave college my friend and Fizzbombs’ bass player, Ann and I both went on to study for a Post Grad in English at Strathclyde University and left the band behind. It was great to finally get to study English, English and more English. I did my dissertation on Sylvia Plath while continuing to write and have short stories and poems published in various magazines. I then went on to pursue a lifelong ambition of teaching English abroad after completing my TEFL course. I shipped myself off to Southern Italy which was a complete culture shock and not the fantastic experience I’d imagined at all….30 years ago it wasn’t a comfortable place to be for a young woman used to a life of freedom. More of that at some other time…..I survived three months then decamped to Bologna in the north of Italy with friends, where we lived and worked for a year. I spent the rest of my 20s travelling and working in various places from Italy to San Francisco, London and Prague. I continued to write but life was getting busier and writing was slipping in priority.
In my late 20s I found myself back in Glasgow working at Waterstone’s booksellers and with more time to write. I went part-time there, joined a band with my new boyfriend/now husband, Douglas and found myself with more creative outlets once again. I had the time and space to write and better still, I was the vocalist and lyricist in our new band The Secret Goldfish and this time everyone could play! It meant Douglas and I could write songs together and there was an immediate outlet for creativity, where a story or poem might stay under the bed for 10 years, a song is sung straight away at band practice and then you’re on stage singing in front of an audience or it’s committed to vinyl/cd. The Secret Goldfish went on to release a handful of albums on Creeping Bent, the record label run by Douglas, record two John Peel sessions, and play The Royal Festival Hall in London as part of John Peel’s Meltdown Festival. A highlight for us all was being invited to be part of the Scottish Arts Council’s cultural exchange trip to Budapest, where we spent a fantastic week playing local rock clubs to audiences unused to our particular brand of pop. Our final gig was in late 1999 when we supported Vic Godard and Edwyn Collins at Dingwalls in London. I was pregnant with child number 1 and we were ready to move on to new ventures.
In 1999 I knew I’d had enough of the bookshop and wanted to get back into studying, so I started a Masters in Adult and Continuing Education at Glasgow University. It took me 4 years to finally graduate, by which time I had 3 kids, was married and had moved from Glasgow to the Strathaven area. So life and its priorities changed just a bit. In the first year of my Masters though I ran a creative writing course as part of my work placement at Langside College and this gave me the writing bug again, but from a different perspective. The feedback I received from both students and tutors made me realised this was something I could do – encourage and feed creativity in others.
When I graduated shortly after my third child was born I was appointed Creative Writing Development Officer at North Lanarkshire Council. However, with 3 pre-schoolers at home, it wasn’t long until I bowed out of the workplace for a few years and continued to procreate at a rate slightly unplanned. The twins were born when my eldest was 6 and a number of chaotic years ensued with only some fraught scribbles making it into journals. However, all stages pass and when the kids all eventually went off to school, I took a course in literacy tutoring. As a result of this I did some voluntary work with South Lanarkshire council as a volunteer literacy tutor which led me to running some creative workshops for the family learning department. I ran a song lyric writing workshop and a history of Scottish music workshop, and I also worked as an ESOL (English as a second or other language) tutor for the council.
As life goes on and the kids grow up, bizarrely life becomes busier instead of quieter….they all still live at home and 3 are still at school, which means lots of evening activities and with work thrown into the mix writing has been somewhat lost along the way. There has been a rekindling of music over the years and The Secret Goldfish played its first gig in almost 20 years at Celtic Connections last year, released an album and performed in a BBC 6Music live broadcast.
And so that brings us right up to date. Spring 2020. A time we will all remember….forever, because who knows how things will be after this? Perhaps I have some space to write again, and perhaps you do too?