To celebrate the launch of my new super dooper look website, I thought I would re-visit my first ever blog, which was basically me musing about Edinburgh being chockablock with writers.
I was sitting in Inverness at the time, working pretty much full time as a non-fiction writer, and writing my first ever novel – the one that sits in the bottom drawer and never sees the light of day. We’d just moved from Surrey with our three children who were all rapidly going native. I was loving being back in Scotland after too long away, but the lure of the capital was still strong. However at that point I never thought we would live there again. I envisaged the occasional day trip, maybe the odd overnight stay. But now here I am, firmly ensconced in my favourite city. In a Georgian flat too, by the way, but we definitely do use the central heating… And as I type, a kitten is on my knee, sinking her claws into my leg as I keep her paws off the keyboard.
This is what I said:
Have you considered why Edinburgh is choka full of excellent writers at the moment? Is it something in the water? Or the air? Perhaps we should all go there and inhale deeply. I have to tell you, having been a student there for four years, inhaling deeply between the months of October and February will probably result in a lung transplant. The air is seriously cold. I grew up in the far north of Scotland, in a ski resort which is a good 150 miles further north than Edinburgh, but it was tropical compared to the capital city. There, the wind howls off the North sea and funnels down those grand Georgian boulevards straight into your ears. I put a woolly hat on in October and didn’t take it off again till the spring. And on the subject of those beautiful Georgian buildings and being a student; when you can’t afford to heat them, and when the university only supplies meagre two bar fires whose measly heat shoots straight up 20 feet to heat the ceiling – well.. No wonder we spent so much time in the pub.
One student flat I spent time in had overseas students from N Africa. They took to their beds in November and didn’t get up again, they couldn’t bear it. Come spring they went home, or perhaps went to England – Edinburgh is not for those who are used to heat.
I assume these writers who choose to sit around penning their wonderful works have central heating because I personally can’t bear writing in the cold. I have to have lots of jumpers on, thick socks, and preferably a heater blazing close enough to give me mild burns. A couple of cats are useful, but mine will insist on sitting on the keyboard. Apart from the somewhat erratic spelling that ensues, I hate the cat hairs between the keys.
I think though, the reason there are so many fabulous writers in Edinburgh right now is that it is a heartstoppingly beautiful place. If you have never visited, then make it the top of the list of “places I must see before I die.” Actually scrub that – aren’t those books a seriously depressing idea even if they are stonkingly commerical? I don’t want to see Prague and croak it, really I don’t. I want to see Prague and then witter on about it to all my thousands of descendants until they pull their own ears off in despair, “Oh Great-granny, not Prague reminiscences again, please!” If you get through one of those lists, I am sure you are tempting fate. Someone up there is going to say, ok you’ve done it, now here is your well deserved rest. A tip: keep at least two, fairly uninteresting ones back to wave under the nose of the Grim Reaper and perhaps you can stave off the inevitable.
So back to Edinburgh and its beauties, and inspirations for writers. I’d like to know what other writers feel is the ideal environment for writing. For me, it is actually sitting looking at a great view, preferably Scottish mountains. I am so fortunate at the moment that my desk is in front of a big picture window which looks straight down the Great Glen. An added bonus is that this is where the prevailing weather comes from, so I can also see when the washing is going to need to be taken in.
When we moved here we created two studies – one for me and one for my other half. He refuses to share a study with me any more – says I am too noisy. Imagine! A writer who is noisy. Presumably it is the sound of rusty cogs. The choice was this one with the great view, or the other one which looks out into the small back garden and the dog kennel. So I get to muse the mountains, and he gets the dog staring soulfully at him all day saying, “please walk me now, please walk me now, please walk me now….. ”
I used to live in Rotherhithe in London and all I wrote was seriously bad, depressing poetry. I think vista matters. My ideal environment would be small croft (with 21st century heating) in a remote glen with views of mountains and sea, and not a soul within a hundred odd miles, but some good delivery services, ideally from Sainsbury’s. Anyone know of such a place?
So who are these great Edinburgh writers? Well of course apart from our dear JKR, there is Alexander McCall Smith (who spoke in Inverness a while ago and was very entertaining; recommended) Ian Rankin of course (who overlapped with me at Edinburgh – does this make me famous by proxy??) Irvine Walsh (I think) Christopher Brookmyre – any others? Apart from of course all the oldies like Walter Scott etc. And if you are a great writer in Edinburgh and stand still long enough, they’ll put up a statue of you. Edinburgh was the first city I lived in, and thereafter I thought all cities had statues, as well as banks on every corner. I couldn’t understand when I went to London and was unable to find a bank or statue within a few yards of my first digs.
So Edinburgh – go for it. But take your woollies.
(first published October 2007)
Additional thoughts – added in 2012: Since this blog was published we’ve moved house and my view is now of a large sandstone wall – the outer perimeter of Inverness Prison, built 1902. And I find it ok for writing, so perhaps vista isn’t as important as I thought.
And today – isn’t it cute that Alexander McCall Smith was relatively unknown? And why on earth did I miss off Maggie O’Farrell and Kate Atkinson, both of whom were great favourites of mine at that time? And now there are so many more to add, I’d run out of gigabytes before I’d reached the end of the list.