Birdsong

At night, where I live now, I can hear church bells from town a mile away. In another direction, over a wooded hill – another church, still a mile distant. I hear my neighbours through the walls, and over garden fences, sitting on their back step smoking.

During the day, however: lots and lots of traffic noise. School run traffic, delivery vehicles from the freight distribution yards dotted around town, large lorries into and out of the supermarkets and factories and railyards.

Birdsong has to compete with this traffic noise, so birds sing extra loud to make themselves heard.

Under lockdown, with that traffic gone, that extra-loud birdsong soared over the gardens and woodlands, all the way down to the river. Birds who were used to challenging their near neighbours to a duel, or inviting the bird-next-door for a bit of hankypanky, yelling over now-vanished traffic noise.

Our local birds can hear birds from the other side of the valley now. More threats, more challenges, more invitations.

Those first two weeks of lockdown were more silent than I’ve heard this town since we moved here.

Late at night, even the distance was silent – the distance where the major A-road hums at all hours. Just a hiss, a breeze in the trees, and a gentle rumble of a taxi taking key workers to their shift. A zip-shriek of motorbike taking the chance to ride faster than light, maybe two miles off; heavy thunderous whine of aircraft engines dwindling to a whisper as it drops to land at the airport, fifteen miles north.

This is what life sounds like on the Scottish islands. This quiet – not silence – of the natural world, of which we are a part. On the mainland of the UK, in the heart of our cities and towns, we often don’t hear the world this quiet. Even behind woodland walks which seem peaceful I’ve noticed the hum of distant traffic, like a constant threat of rain.

This is the sound of modern urban life, the constant disturbance. A time-traveller from a hundred years ago would find our lives unbearably noisy.

Now the traffic’s back and it seems louder than ever. We kept track of how much was moving on the road outside the house, and noticed as it crept up week by week, and pedestrians fewer now than during that first month.

The birds are mostly quiet too, the songs and sounds to feed fledglings in summer much less intense than the proud boasts of early spring.

But at dusk the blackbirds call across the hedges. Near midnight, two types of owl pass by, muted by the woodland on the hill behind the house. At sunrise, and all day, sparrows chatter in the ivy on the wall between our house and its neighbour.

The birds are still singing. How many of us have stopped listening?

Everyone suddenly burst out singing; And I was filled with such delight As prisoned birds must find in freedom, Winging wildly across the white Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight. Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted; And beauty came like the setting sun: My heart was shaken like tears; and horror Drifted away… O, but Everyone Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done. (Everyone Sang, by Siegfried Sassoon)


I’m not an expert on birds, so what I say should be tempered with the understanding that I’m just pontificating here. The notion that under lockdown the birds were singing louder – was it just that we could hear them, for once?

Published in: on June 30, 2020 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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This New Hope needs a working title

Still working on the New Hope story. Not ready to begin writing the words yet.

oil painting of a woman in Victorian costume, thinking

Thinking…

I’ve decided to give it a working title, similar to Project AR for SHADOWBOX.

A proper title will come later, once I’ve worked through a few options.

THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN began as Whitechapel Women, and that name stayed until the story ended up as speculative fiction with a mystical theme, far fewer women and not so much Whitechapel.

SHADOWBOX began life as The Amber Room, then became Chamber of Shadows, then SHADOWBOX.

The Petticoat Katie novels began with their final titles: MAIDEN FLIGHT, BOOM TOWN and MONKEY BUSINESS.

N.B. I can’t find a suitable title for the fourth novel in the trilogy: the one with the many goats. It ought to fit into the sequence – two words, a common phrase. I tried GOAT WARS, but who the blazes has heard of GOAT WARS? And DRY SPELL is more to do with my writing output than the story.

This lack of title is only part of the reason I haven’t finished it. Although I am also tempted to veer wildly off track and name it ONE OF OUR GOATSUCKERS IS MISSING.

The New Hope story has a will of its own and has already chosen its working title: Project NEVADA, which is suitably memorable but also meaningless in the sense of it actually having any link to the story.

Look out for more posts when I have progress to report.

A New Hope

I’m writing again, after ages of not having a story I cared about enough to finish.

There isn’t scope in this brief post to cover why I stopped because the reasons are many and belong to the real world, not here. Maybe some time later I’ll cover this, when the need to explain exceeds the joy of writing. But…

…I’ve started preliminary work on a new story.

Illustration by Waltrich - a human figure reading a book

Trying not to be overwhelmed by stories outside the book…

It’s that phase of creative excitement where ideas pour out onto the page, spilling over into short passages of text and the sort of questions that just keep adding richness to the story.

Characters begin as silhouettes with no more detail than a line drawing. As I ask them why they are here, and what they want, their wishes and plans and needs start to fill in that outline. They become people, with hopes and dreams and guilty pasts, irrational urges, emotional triggers – recognisably real.

More characters appear. They have their own plans and urges and histories, and the ways they interact with my first characters reveals more about the story and the people involved.

Some of the characters are not really who they seem.

There’s a very real, physical threat to my protagonist, with the risk of destroying all those hopes and dreams I’ve just uncovered.

The location is charming, simple and a little shabby around the edges. It’s a combination of places I’ve been, places I’ve read about, and places you can really only see in the cinema.

And there’s a deep, dark mystery in the very foundations of the story.

There’s more work to be done before I can start to write up the story as a novel.

I’ll make up a storyboard to stop the characters from haring off into odd places beyond the story, or disappearing without trace. (Readers notice these things. I notice too, getting bogged down in backstory or sidelines. A storyboard allows all this to run its course at the planning stage, before I commit to writing 80K-120K words on the page.)

A map, too, of where interactions happen, so I can keep track of who knows what and which secrets have yet to come out. Hopefully not as complex as this one, from The Count Of Monte Cristo (click on the image to see full size):

Character relationships in The Count of Monte Cristo - from Wikipedia

Character relationships in The Count of Monte Cristo – from Wikipedia

When the ideas start to flow it’s best to let them. Rinsing out the duds can come later.

It feels good to be writing again.

Poem: The First Ten Thousand Dead

Sometimes I can only express myself in poetry.

There’s more to come on COVID-19. As the pandemic progresses, the stories we need to tell cannot be eclipsed by a desire to remain upbeat, or to turn away from reality. I’ve had a few months to think on this, and write, and shape my thoughts.

Sometimes I can’t let the words out.

Sometimes, I can’t hold them in.


Text of the poem, The First Ten Thousand Dead


The influence of First World War poetry, specifically Charles Hamilton Sorley’s “When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead”, is intentional. Isaac Rosenberg is a favourite, and Edward Thomas.

Published in: on June 9, 2020 at 11:22 am  Comments (4)  
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Earth Day 2020

A spot of doom and gloom for Earth Day 2020. I wrote this poem in 1989, when the most pressing global emergency was the hole in the ozone layer…

 

Poem - The Oldest - copyright Lee McAulay 2020

Delighted to be able to post this, so many years in the future from when it was written. It’s like having my own personal time machine (only goes forward, thank the gods).

Published in: on April 22, 2020 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Earth Day 2020  
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IWD 2020

Hidden Figure by Steve Breen

(Art = Hidden Figure by Steve Breen) INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2020

 

Published in: on March 8, 2020 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on IWD 2020  

December 2019

Poem: December 2019, white text on artwork showing a river in flood

Poem: December 2019 (c) Lee McAulay. Artwork adapted from “Marsh Creek” by the British-born artist and teacher Arthur Wesley Dow, whose pupils included Georgia O’Keefe and Max Weber.


I’ve been busy offline for the last year or two. This is in lieu of what now seems to be an annual update on this site.

Let me know in the comments if you’d like more poetry from me, because I haven’t published any for a long time. Novels are still available. Maybe next year I’ll get round to finishing the latest in my silly steampunk series, but I can’t promise anything.

In the meantime, especially if you’re in need of lifting up, please check out the delightful “Deeply Meaningful Poetry for Very Serious People“, by Dawn Abigail (author) and Gwyneth Hibbett (illustrator). You’ll enjoy it.


 

Published in: on December 15, 2019 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on December 2019  
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Project Albatross: Lost Again

After typing up half of the long-lost post-apocalyptic climate change novel I’ve code-named Project Albatross, I moved my writing desk.

Everything piled up on the desk went into boxes. The desk was dismantled, taped together, moved to its new location, rebuilt (mantled? re-mantled?). I unpacked the boxes.

The manuscript of Project Albatross was in there somewhere, but can I find the flippin’ thing?

Not yet.

Given that I wrote it in the late 1980s I don’t suppose another few months – or even years – will cause any harm, unless the paper starts to deteriorate; but as I pointed out in Why Print Will Never Die, paper outlasts pixels.

In the meantime, working on other projects has taken over my time, mostly non-writing.

Short pieces of poetry appear in my journal alongside pencil artwork: meticulous little drawings smaller than a playing card, patterns and structure gently shaded. Ideas for non-fiction proliferate; none of them go much further than an outline, a single Post-It note headed “Idea!”, the date and a line or two of text.

Prioritisation has to be my watchword if I want any of these ideas to see the light of day.

Albatross can stay in its box for now.

Published in: on December 12, 2018 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  

Five Festive Films For Yuletide – Again

With a gap in 2016 due to my sabbatical, this post picks up on the previous two –

Five Unusual Films For Yuletide

Five more unusual films for Yuletide

In keeping with that scant tradition, here’s my recommendations for this year’s festive viewing. I prefer to suggest interesting entertainment to contrast the seasonal dominance of cutesy cartoons and/or ubermacho explode-y violence, both of which have their place; this ain’t it.

1. Dr Zhivago. Snow, magnificent snow. One of the most beautiful films of the 1960s both in terms of visual appeal and story. Filmed in Canada and Spain, the cast includes Omar Sharif and Julie Christie and Tom Courtenay, often dwarfed by director David Lean’s huge landscape cinematography.

The frozen house in Dr Zhivago, actually filmed in Almeria

The frozen house in Dr Zhivago, actually filmed in Almeria

2. Historias Minimas. One of my friends described watching this gentle film in a form of mild anxiety, expecting that somehow things would take a turn for the worse (I suspect he was channeling Pulp Fiction too much). Another movie with gigantic scenery, this time of southern Argentina. (in Spanish with English subtitles)

3. Conversations With My Gardener. Gentle, sunny, charming film which – like Historias Minimas – hums along like a bumblebee amongst the honeysuckle on a warm brick wall. If you are the sort of person for whom the world in December is a non-stop parade of dull grey skies and cold winds, this one will warm you to the tootsies. (in French with English subtitles)

4. Last Orders. An ensemble cast of British actors in a gentle film about the lives of ordinary people, across decades. One to enjoy for the sake of viewing professional actors just – well, acting. The story has a nice balance, the sweetness blended with sadness in just the right measure. And there’s a camper van, for those of you who like that sort of thing.

5. Belleville Rendezvous aka The Triplets of Belleville. A modern classic. French animation, featuring an evil overlord, kidnappings, three weird sisters, a boy and his bicycle and his very determined mother. Worth viewing a couple of times to spot the small details you missed first time round.

Have a God Jul – and a happy Hogmanay!

Published in: on December 25, 2017 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Five Festive Films For Yuletide – Again  
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Project Albatross: Sources And Influences

Reading through Project Albatross, my long-lost post-apocalyptic novel, after a gap of more than twenty-five years, is a little bit of personal time travel.

#amwriting

I remember where I lived when I wrote the story – which city, which house, who I shared with, what my rooms were like, and a fantastic big writing-desk that must have come from a bank.

The music I listened to, which is a major key into certain scenes, is a strong influence.

Likewise the subjects I was studying – which included a scenic diversion from European prehistory into some British archaeology up to the early Mediaeval period. (It’s no surprise that was the year I had no exams, giving me the time and mental space to write a novel.)

The locations I’d lived in and travelled by then also played their part. Poetry, art and arty films.

But it’s the books I’d read, more than anything else, which show up in my memories.

Belmarch, a slim and peculiar novel of the First Crusade by Christopher Davis, an author whose other works I never sought out.

A good handful of Aldous Huxley, from school-years study of Brave New World to his light early comedies such as Crome Yellow, via The Doors of Perception (of course) and The Devils of Loudon*.

Educational gore from Stephen King, and magical horror from Peter Straub’s Shadowland (still one of my favourite dark fantasy stories).

Madness and oddments and weird structural components from The Ring Master by David Gurr.

All of these strands surface more or less in the story, which I’m still typing up and trying to make sense of my later additions (thank you, Scrivener, for making this easy).

Once I’m finished and have the whole story to push around, it might become clear whether I ought to publish.

Or not.

More to follow on this. Not sure when.


*Having searched Goodreads for this one, I find out there is a novel on the same subject by Alexander Dumas which, of course, I must now read. #fangirl

Published in: on April 19, 2017 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Project Albatross: Sources And Influences  
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