The Internet and Research


I am re-discovering on an almost daily basis, just how engrossing, how enthralling researching on the Internet can be. There is so much information out there, so much to see, so much to learn. I thought that I had completed all of the research that I needed, but every now and again I am brought up short and have to go online to find some little factual item that I had missed. 

I found, some time ago, that using the Internet to answer one question inevitably leads to the asking of another one – or even more questions. One website leads on to another and another, ad infinitum. 

One can begin by asking about vitamins and end up reading about voyaging to mars. It is captivating and time consuming in the most fascinating way. 

There is, of course, an element of escapism in all of this. One is supposed to be writing but hitting that temporary impasse is an excuse to go off and spend some time grazing in the many fields of knowledge provided by the online community. 

The Internet is, at the same time, a life enhancing and time wasting experience. It is enriching and debilitating, satisfying and frustrating. It is, for a writer, a constant distraction. 

If only my will power were a match for it. 






Mist on the River

It was eerily quiet down on the estuary this morning; visibility was low with a curtain of early-morning mist struggling to maintain its grip in the face of the merest breath of a south-westerly, wave after wave of gossamer obliterating everything. The temperature hovered a couple of degrees above freezing and it was the sort of damp-cold that seems to penetrate through to your very bones, a cold that keeps most people indoors and, work permitting, in bed. 

But in weather such as this there is precious time alone, perfect peace in which to think and plan. The idea for the book came to me on just such a walk, the story growing and gaining substance each time I set out to walk the cliff-top path. 

This morning the tide was fairly high, with the river perhaps in the first sixth of the ebb, just beginning to show the very edge of the flats. With not another soul around to disturb my peace, I could hear a curlew somewhere out in the mist and just down where a brook runs through the farm fields to join the river, a pair of Dunlin scurried out of my way. There is a large patch of reeds where I fancied that I caught sight of Teal or Widgeon but I can’t be sure – and I am no naturalist anyway. But I do love it down there, especially when the weather is wet or cold and the faint-hearted stay warm abed. 

I stopped halfway through my walk to sit on an old log, take my flask from my pack and enjoy a hot cup of coffee. I was warming my hands on the mug when I saw her, just an outline in the fog at first, her hull low on the water. She was about twenty-seven feet, not counting her bowsprit, a gaff-rigged cutter, tan sails limp and wet, hull barely moving the water but to me she was beautiful. 

She’s an ex-shrimper, wide in the beam with a shallow draft, ideal for mooching around in rivers and coastal waters. Converted in the 1970’s with a four-berth cabin added and a low coach roof she still has a powerful engine and I know (she’s a local boat) that her owner and his wife still take her out beyond the bar and up the coast for a bit of dredging for shrimp in the season.

 She was struggling to make it back to her berth under sail with the tide turning against her, but her owners were obviously unwilling to spoil the peace of the morning by starting her engine. I sat for a few moments after I had finished my coffee, and the boat had drifted back into the mist, and watched a heron dip her head and pull out a wriggling half-pound of silver that she struggled to swallow – but she seemed pleased with herself once she had got it down. 

I moved on then, carried on toward the path that skirts the lighthouse and takes me back to my car. I had just reached the start of the path when from up river, where it narrows in a bottleneck and the tide is at its most fierce, I heard the cough of a diesel as it fired into life. 

Back at my car, I still had energy left over so I broke my journey home for a stroll along the canal towpath. There are several narrow boats here that have people living onboard all year round. A Narrow boat can be seventy feet long but they are usually only six feet-six inches wide so they are sort of cosy. Still, bright paintwork with decorated buckets and brass and copper jugs perched on the cabin roof make for a cheerful and welcoming sight. 

The morning was getting on but I caught the smell of frying bacon from somebody’s breakfast mixing with the wood-smoke from the stoves – even the thickest fog can’t hide the appetizing smell of frying bacon. 

In one of the boats, and there are about three that are lived in, I could see through the cabin window a guy sat at the tiny dining table with his laptop, pounding away at the keys, books open around him. It could have just been someone working from home but I know that in one of the boats lives a chap who is a writer and poet in residence for a local borough council. It’s a terribly grand title but it just means that he does the odd thing for the council as well as visiting local writing groups at the various libraries. The job brings in any expenses he incurs but he will never make a living at it – still, I envy him for some reason. 

Perhaps I am just getting restless; maybe I need some time away. I don’t want to go to France and the usual cottage in Scotland doesn’t appeal. I think I need to do something a bit more adventurous, a bit more demanding. Now, a tent in the rain alongside the river Etive in the Great Glen or maybe at the foot of Suilven with the freedom to roam – that does appeal. 

However, sitting here at my desk, about to carry on with my book, I’m happy enough. There is a feeling now that I am starting to get somewhere. A feeling that I have finally parted with procrastination and that my life is moving again toward the goals that I have set myself.

Writing to a Plan

Some time ago I carried out, over a number of years, the research for a book that I had had in mind for some time. By the time that I had finished that research I discovered that I had far too much material and that the story would have to be told over two books, the one forming a natural sequel to the other.

I have tried to write, at least, the first book and did succeed but I was not happy with the result and did not feel at all comfortable with it, as it was not what I wanted to achieve. So I dumped all of my work up to that point in time and decided that I would begin again.

This was almost impossible up to quite recently as so many things were going wrong in my life with operations for Osteonecrosis (a disease brought on by diving) and including both my son and daughter losing their jobs at the end of 2010. Things have settled down now, both my children have well-paid jobs with good companies and I have come to terms with the restrictions on me (such as they are – I have been very lucky) and I can now begin again.

It is a hard task that I have set myself, especially for an irresponsible nincompoop such as me. It requires a degree of discipline that I am still not sure that I have. The urge to look out of the window at the great outdoors and say ‘to hell with it’ is overpowering at times.

I do intend to keep trying, but it is a bit like trying to give up cigarettes (I gave up many years ago) you have to keep at it despite many failures.

This time I intend to work to a plan for the book. I did ask one of the other writers, who blog in WordPress, if they write to a plan (to my shame I cannot remember who it was) and, as I remember it, she told that she does, but not slavishly. This approach will do well for me, I think, working to an outline but being free to leave it when I feel like and maybe let the story take me off in a different direction from time to time.

(For me, writing to a plan means, having an outline of the story to work too and an actual plan for the work. This wil be things that I intend to achieve such as a minimum number of words per day, a time in the day set aside for writing etc. They, of course, have to be achievable as there is little sense in setting goals that I will constantly have to battle to achieve – probably failing in the process – small victories each day will do far more for my moral and keep me writing. AT LEAST, THAT IS THE PLAN!)

The problem that I have with the darn thing is that it keeps growing and I am in danger of spending more time writing the plan than I am going to spend writing the book. I know that I am doing my usual thing and putting far more into it than is actually required, again lack of discipline, and over-writing is a problem that I must work hard to overcome!

As an aside, I will put the first chapter of a book that I wrote some time ago – 14 years, how time does fly – on another page just to see how people react to it – that is if anyone is kind enough to read it. It is a book that my agent at the time tried so hard to have published.

I will try to keep up with this blog as well as the book as it is all a part of bringing a measure of discipline into my writing. I should, of course, be grateful to any writer who takes the time to share with me their own experiences.

A Ring of Bright Water – and a writer returning to haunt.


Any visitor who happens to pass my way and spend a little time reading may find my musings a little strange, perhaps nonsensical at times but then I find my thoughts wandering off in strange directions at the moment. In truth, I really don’t know why I am writing the blog; except perhaps that it is an attempt to express something so very will-o-the-wisp and intangible that it intrigues me to the point where I cannot put it aside – but then, nor can I properly explain it. How do you express the desire to write?

Although, in general, things have not been going so well of late; one or two of the things that I deem important to me have been progressing and in my confusion I find myself returning to an old subject, one that has formed the basis for a couple of those doodlings of mine that were not just a pathetic attempt at humour.

The subject is the writer Gavin Maxwell, author of, Ring of Bright Water, the story of his stay in the west of Scotland where he lived with his otter Mijbil – Maxwell died in 1969.

He was also a favourite of my ex-wife and once, when the world was younger, we did make an attempt to find Camusfearna, Maxwell’s home and the place where he wrote, Ring of Bright Water. But, my wife was unwilling to trek to the coast from the road, a walk that would have taken about an hour. That spat between us, I now know, was the very early signs of the weaknesses in our relationship that led to our break up years later.

We both admired Maxwell not only as a writer but also as a human being who had the courage to follow a dream, someone with the single-minded dedication to truly pursue a goal. Perhaps we both saw and regretted the fact that we were unable to find any sign of that sort of dedication in each other.

Maxwell was homosexual but his sexuality is only relevant in the context of his relationship with the poet Kathleen Raine who died in 2003. The title of his book ‘Ring of Bright Water’ came from a line of her poetry. He was the great love of her life, a love that was completely unrequited, and in the follow up book to, ROBW, he describes how, when they broke up, she threw her arms around a rowan tree at Camusfearna and cursed him.

She wished, on the rowan, that Gavin would come to be as unhappy at Camusfearna as he had made her.

(I take it as read that you are aware of the importance of the rowan tree in Scottish myth and legend.)

The subject of Maxwell tends to surface in my life from time to time, usually when something in happening or about to happen. The last time was at the beginning of this decade when Kathleen Raine was ailing – and because of that became the subject of a newspaper article that outlined her relationship with Maxwell.


My then agent, a lovely, and very professional, lady called Judith Murdoch was trying to get my first book published (sadly, unsuccessfully) and she, Judith, told me that Maxwell had been the subject of her exams in English Literature at college in South Africa.

I remember that we were sitting in her home near Regents Park in London. It was all very comfortable and the conversation was a long one – I nearly missed my train as a result.

That conversation with Judith came to mind quite recently as I was sitting with laptop in lap, doing some research and at the same time half-heartedly watching a recording of a TV programme that a friend had loaned me. After a load of commercial preamble, the programme proper came on and it was about the Marshes of Southern Iraq and the attempt to regenerate them as a wild life habitat.

Those marshes were one of Maxwell’s passions in life and it was while researching his book about the Marsh Arabs that he acquired Mijbil, the otter that was to play such an important part in his life at Camusfearna.

(In 1956 Maxwell toured the reed marshes of Southern Iraq with explorer Wilfred Thesiger. Maxwell’s account of their trip appears in A Reed Shaken By The Wind, later published under the title People of the Reeds. It was hailed by the New York Times as “near perfect”.)

Above extract from an article in Wikipedia

Sometime during his reign of terror, in an attempt to disperse and displace the quarter of a million Marsh Arabs whom he saw as a threat, Saddam Hussein authorised a multi-million dollar plan to drain the Southern Marshes of Iraq. To do this he built a complex of huge rivers and canals doing enormous damage to a very large and environmentally sensitive area in the process. The Marsh Arabs did indeed disperse but a New York based Iraqi is leading an attempt (financed by the Iraqi government) to restore the Marshes – and the native tribes are drifting back.

If there is one thing that the US-led invasion did achieve, if nothing else, it is the restoration and regeneration of those marshes. Had he been alive, I know Maxwell would have been devastated by their devastation and delighted by their regeneration.

So, at a time when I am trying to make up my mind about something the ghost of Gavin Maxwell once more appears – or am I just being a little foolish? ? ? ? ? ?

P.S below is a link to Kathleen Raine’s obituary printed in the Guardian newspaper – it attempts to explain her relationship with Maxwell – sorry to bore you!