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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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)  

2016: Sabbatical In Review

Welcome back. It’s been an odd year.

Yes, I have been busy, spending much of the summer whittling spoons in the shed, badly.

No, I haven’t written much, and certainly not anything I thought worth publishing.

Yes, I have read quite a few books.

No, I didn’t read as many as I hoped.

Yes, I found Albatross.

No, I didn’t think it was worth publishing. Not in its current state. As a part of my body of work, it stands alone, although probably less so than I think. (Apparently writers are not great judges of their own work.)

Will I publish it, and the dead novel from 2012, at some point in the future? Maybe.

The fourth Petticoat Katie novel is still waiting for me to iron out the kinks in the storyline and find a decent title that makes it stand out from the other three (Maiden Flight, Boom Town and Monkey Business), while showing that it’s still part of the series.

New stories beckon. Other craft and creative pursuits whisper to me, when my hands are idle. The garden always needs attention, one way or another.

So, in sum: life goes on. Raise a glass of whatever you fancy to the year’s end, and a new beginning. While I can’t promise to post every week, to quote Sam Gamgee:

“Well, I’m back.”

P.S. Another reason for posting again: it keeps the spambots away from the regulars.

Published in: on December 31, 2016 at 12:00 am  Comments (4)  
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Goal for 2016: Sabbatical

I have one – and only one – goal for 2016: taking a sabbatical.

I might post if I publish something, but for now, I’m off.

Have a good year!

Published in: on January 1, 2016 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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One Down, Many More To Follow

A couple of months ago I wrote a post justifying why the wordcount’s low on my current work-in-progress.

Basically, my creative time is limited – as is my creative energy. And I’ve been busy paving over my garden so I can free up more of my creative time and energy to write, instead of controlling parts of the garden that aren’t productive.

This work is now over, thankfully.

Summer is heading full-tilt towards us, less than a week before the solstice. The grass has gone, the paving is laid, and the remainder of the work falls under the heading of general pottering about – in other words, no heavy lifting.

Like finishing a novel, it’s been a long task, enjoyable, stretching, with a few false starts and moments of trepidation. Now it’s done, I can sit back and admire it look at all the bits I’d do differently if I had to do it again.

Bee on white oregano flower

My imagination hasn’t been idle, though.

I’ve sketched out a few short stories on rainy days when working outside was impossible, and pondered the work still to be done on the fourth Petticoat Katie novel with a view to finishing it as soon as I can.

More stories await. Characters clamour to say their piece, to have their lives imagined into being, to take me on their travels as if I were their own personal Boswell.

And now, of course, I have a neat and tidy garden space within which to imagine new tales while watching the bees amongst the oregano.

Published in: on June 17, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on One Down, Many More To Follow  
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Nope, still under the weather.

Fitzgerald's Very Thin Mints, an essential plot device in the Petticoat Katie novel Monkey Business. (C) Ms Vita Tugwell. Thank You.

Really. I know it’s April Fool’s Day, but really. Move along please, nothing more to see here.

Honest (although for some reason my hands wanted to type that as “Hornets”. Go hands. Yay.)

Published in: on April 1, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Nope  

2015: The Story Begins

2015: A brand new year to play with.

The year is already seven days old, so it seems remiss to write greetings* when most of us are already back at work.

However, there’s an ideal opportunity to use this first post of 2015 to set out my goals for the year ahead, insofar as writing is concerned.

Day Job Rules state that any goal – any objective – should be SMART:

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

(I made my own graphic for this. Click on the image to see it full size in a new tab. There’s a touch of Lovecraft about the definitions… BTW the lovely font on the capitals is SchnorkelCaps by Manfred Klein)

Steampunk SMARTs - the SMART principles for Cthulhu and Project Yog-Sothothery (c) Lee McAulay 2015

And so to:

The Plan for 2015

  1. Write. First project planned is a new Petticoat Katie novel, which I’ll try to take shorter than the last three.
  2. Write some more. Subsequent projects are lined up like dominoes. Each has their own place on the Kanban chart, and on my Five Year Plan.
  3. Specifically, I’m aiming to write at least a thousand words of fiction each day, four days a week on average (hehe, that should give me plenty of time for this and that and gardening and conventions).
  4. Post here every Wednesday. The WordPress schedule facility is excellent for this.
  5. Learn to write better stories. Guidance is available from seasoned professionals.
  6. Post a series of linked posts around THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, like I did for SHADOWBOX in 2014. This has to tie in with the events that took place in the novel around the Spring Equinox, so that’s a nice set of deadlines.
  7. Keep up with social media. I don’t do Facebook and rarely venture onto Twitter (waves) so blogging is my main outlet. I have places I regularly comment (you know who you are :)), but I’d like to increase the variety.
  8. Publish (at least) two novels. I did it last year. I don’t see obstacles right now to doing this in 2015.

I might add a few more as the year goes by, but that’s enough for now.

* I’ve commented (on Myth & Moor: “2015, a whole new year to play with. It will hold its own sorrows, but also provides the opportunity to make fresh delights and new art. Hope yours is fabulous!” – and at The Daring Novelist. Sigh. I need to get out more).

Published in: on January 7, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on 2015: The Story Begins  
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Been A Busy Bee

Bee on a white oregano flower

I have been a busy little bee since my last post.

Editing continues on the current project. I aim to have this finished by the end of August.

In the meantime, just before the weather broke, I got out early in the morning to pick brambles. Not normally a mornings person, I realised that instead of lying in bed wide awake waiting for the alarm clock, if I got up I could pick a kilo or so before I had to go to the Day Job.

So I did.

And then I did this:

Home made bramble jelly, August 2014

Home made bramble jelly, August 2014

According to folk legend* you’re supposed to pick blackberries before the end of September, when the Devil spits on them.


But now I am feeling somewhat smug, with two kilos of bramble jelly (seedless jam) in my store cupboard, wobbly and purple and slightly sharp, ready for the onset of winter.

Youse can all spit on the blackberries now, whenever y’like.

And while waking early and then getting up removes the possibility of roaming that lovely half-asleep state where stories seem to spring from the imagination, you can’t spread dreams on buttered toast.

*[mentioned in my jam recipe book and also in Crafts From The Countryside by Patricia de Menezes, which I encountered some months ago in a second-hand bookshop in Hay-On-Wye (although I first read it in Smethwick Library, IIRC)]

Published in: on August 6, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Solstice Supplementary

Woke early this morning. Got stuff done.

Strawberry jam, Summer Solstice 2014, in the sunshine.

Happy solstice, friends!

Published in: on June 21, 2014 at 6:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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2013: The year of three novels.

2013 was a remarkable year. The year I wrote three novels.

Let me state that again, for my own sake as much as yours.

I. Wrote. Three. Novels.

This is on top of a full-time Day Job and more than a dozen minor life events that took up weeks, weekends, time and emotional space I could have been writing. I should also give thanks to my partner for the times I’ve been lost in a book, either reading or writing or research.

Three novels.

Sure, I have to finish two of them. The plots are in place and I’m at the stage where I sift layers of colour and texture over them like a Buddhist sand painting, pulling scenery out of the darkness. I’ve made a start on one and have until the end of January to finish. Then the next, by the end of Feb. (First readers, you have been warned…)

The other surprise about my Year Of Three Novels is that my ability to write – 212,000 words, not including blog posts or emails or other writing not connected with novels or short stories – was focused by planning ahead. I have a five-year plan which shows me what my next writing projects are, well in advance, so I don’t have to worry about running out of ideas.

My aim for 2014 is to keep up the pace. On my plan 2014 has two novels scheduled to be written.

However, writing three – or two – novels in a year only adds to my Body Of Work on one condition: they must be published.

And that’s the first writing challenge I face in 2014.

Published in: on January 8, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  
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