Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Sunday 31 May 2015


Spring greens!

Sometimes MayFest creeps up on me too fast and I do nothing, but this year I managed to be organised enough actually to book three events and drop in to a couple of others. The first event was Farm to Fork with the Kilted Chef, Craig Wilson. I’m not a watcher of cookery programmes, for the most part, but Craig has a column in our local magazine, The Leopard, and I’ve enjoyed his recipes – and in addition, this was a cause close to my heart, using local produce. A nutritionist from the university was on hand to tell us how the food was good for us (while we salivated), and there were also a couple of farmers, one of whom makes Ola oil, a great Aberdeenshire product. I fancy pursuing the Aberdeenshire Diet – like the Fife Diet, I think it should consist only of what is produced in our local county. Aberdeenshire includes Mackie’s, who make superlative ice cream, crisps and chocolate – surely this must be part of our local diet? (particularly the crisps).

I took the opportunity to pop into the festival’s food fair, and picked up some Ola oil, soap and hand cream, and some wonderful smoked haddock and hot smoked salmon.

Next slot was a quick reading by Helen Lynch, author of the short story collection The Elephant and the Polish Question. Helen teaches literature and creative writing at the university – as well as being a quarter of successful local all-female ceilidh band, Danse Macabre. Apart from the opening of The Elephant and the Polish Question, she read us parts of her current work-in-progress. She has recently published an academic work on Milton but up to now has not felt willing to try historical fiction – people in the past did not think like us because they did not write like us, and did not write like us because they did not think like us, she said. However, with this new short story she has ventured into the field, writing in seventeenth century prose. She was anxious that she might have rendered it completely incomprehensible, but I don’t think anyone in the audience had a problem with it – it flowed along in her usual colloquial, thought-provoking style.

This afternoon the wonderful poet Kathleen Jamie gave a reading of both her poetry and her prose.  I like her poetry very much but find her two prose collections, Sightlines and Findings, completely inspirational. Her descriptions of nature (particularly birds), travel amongst the Scottish islands, archaeology and ecology, and the messages she derives from them, make me want to paint and write and just be, with so many more layers than I seem to achieve in everyday life: she really makes you look twice and three times at the world around you and find new value in it. She also came across as a really nice, humorous person!

After that I popped back into the food hall only to find it transformed into a hands-on science festival with occasional craft stalls. I managed to find a kindly lady who showed me how to make a hairst (harvest) loop out of straw, weaving it into a ribboned plait that looks much more complicated than it is! No doubt Kathleen Jamie could derive a profound poem from a complex, simple, harvest ring where the ears of corn fan out amongst its own stalks, but I am a shallower person, and brought it home sheltered under my coat from the bucketing rain, to show it off on the bookcase.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Who needs to track changes?

Well, once upon a time there was a radio play. Nothing ever came of it, and no actors ever spoke its lines, so one day its author, who was putting together a collection of short stories and had always liked the plot, decided to rewrite it as a short story. So she started to rejig it, using track changes. The whole layout was of course designed to be a script, not a narrative, so there was a great deal of red ink over the screen, but of course she could hide that any time she liked - or so she thought.

But the demons lurking behind the track changes button knew otherwise, and no matter how well she thought she had hidden all that red ink, they had the power to make it resurface, with all its crossings out and italics, any time they liked - particularly when she cut and pasted the document into the larger document of the short story collection. It looked all right to her, but when she published it on Amazon ... then the demons chuckled, and reinstated all the nasty bits all through that short story!

So I apologise to the readers who were quick off the mark and bought Thrawn Thoughts and Blithe Bits! and thanks to Kath who pointed out the problem. It's now down until I have completely retyped the story in an uncontaminated document (of course it would be the longest one in the collection). If anyone who has bought the book would like a free PDF or other copy of that particular story, let me know!

Saturday 16 May 2015

Thrawn Thoughts and Blithe Bits

Here we are - off my To Do list at last! A collection of short stories, some featuring Scottish Georgian detective Murray of Letho, some not; some seen before, some not; some long, some very short. Find a whole new dimension to car theft, the life history of an unfortunate Victorian rebel, a problem with dragons and a problem with draugens, and what happens when you advertise that you’ve found someone’s leg.

It's just on Kindle for now, but should be out on Smashwords and Kobo soon. Hope you enjoy them!

Monday 11 May 2015

Another day, another beach - and lots more wildife

After Saturday spent putting together a short story collection (a mixture of published or not, Murray or not), yesterday was spent at Torry Battery on the outskirts of Aberdeen.

If you want to live in a city but watch wildlife, Aberdeen is high on the list of candidates. You can see grey seals from the bus as you cross to Bridge of Don, the northern suburb; there are roe deer around the university, and foxes too: red squirrels encroach from the west on the urban grey population (hooray!), and a wide variety of birdlife including gulls, oystercatchers, the sparrowhawk on the conservatory roof, red kites on the outskirts (over Allotment Major, in fact), and so on and so on. If you want a fairly comprehensive safari, read Esther Woolfson's Field Notes from a Hidden City (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Field-Notes-Hidden-City-Nature/dp/1847082769/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1431328430&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=fieldnotes+from+a+hidden+city), though as she lives in the West End she doesn't see the university foxes.

Torry, however, is the place to watch dolphins. From April to August, you can watch them nearly every day, if you're lucky, and yesterday we were lucky: herding fish, chasing the bowwaves of the oil rig supply ships, hurling themselves in the air like emergency punctuation marks, the black bottlenosed dolphins were everywhere. These northern bottlenoses are the biggest in the world, growing to fight the cold to four metres long. In the pod yesterday were two calves, one palest grey, but if you watch these creatures on a sunny day they are silver as they leap and curl.

Seals, too; eider ducks with their Kenneth Williams remarks; cormorants airing their wings; Arctic terns piercing the grey waves at tremendous speed; oystercatchers' urgent cries; larks calling above. Even the sun came out. We collected small seaweed samples for an RSPB survey, and were well satisfied with our day, glad to accept a lift back to the city to catch our bus home.