Archive for March, 2012

At 14:46 on March 11 2011, an earthquake shattered Japan. The tsunami which followed was even more devastating with over 15,000 deaths, 3,000 still missing and many thousands injured or left homeless. The brunt of the disaster was borne by the north east of Japan, known as Tohoku, an area of mountains and forests with many towns and cities on the exposed coast.

The disaster shocked us all, but my family have connections with that region. My wife was there for a year as an English language teacher from 1997 to 1998, with many friends in the devastated Ofunato City. Waiting on news was agonising, as communities were shattered with no communications, and the reconstruction efforts are still ongoing. Thankfully, friends were safe, but so many others lost so much.

This prompted an idea, discussed at the Glasgow Writers Group: why not write an anthology in aid of the Japanese Red Cross? The idea took wing, with four editors working together, and we contacted writers in Glasgow and Scotland. The response was overwhelming, with writers including David Simons, Raymond Soltysek, Helen Sedgwick, Kirsty Logan and many others on the literary “scene”.

What was more surprising was the range of connections writers had with Japan. Kirsty’s recollection of smoking peach cigarettes in Tokyo, wearing a dinosaur suit. Helen’s memory of a haiku class in Maryhill. Eammon Bolger, Jackie Copelton, Ewan Gault, Paul McQuade and Sam Porter, who all lived in Japan, as did David Simons. Others used their memories and imagination: Andrea Mullaney’s tale of Isabella Bird’s sister, recipient of letters from 19th century Japan. Alan Gillespie told of the “ninja turtle” influence on many childhoods.  Katy McAulay has a thumping memoir of the time she met the legendary Geno Washington after a taiko-drumming session. Literally!

The project was enthusiastically welcomed by the Consul-General of Japan in Edinburgh, Mr Tarahara. It was given life by Cargo Publishing and Mark Buckland, who gained the endorsement of the First Minister, Alex Salmond. The name chosen was “A Thousand Cranes”, symbolising the legend that a person can have their wish granted if they fold a thousand origami cranes. Sadako Sakai, victim of Hiroshima, folded a thousand cranes with the help of her friends before she died of leukaemia caused by radiation exposure, and the legend is an enduring symbol of peace and hope.

We launched the new edition of the anthology with the First Minister’s foreword at the recent Margins Festival, in front of an audience of forty people. The readings were well-received and mentioned in the Scottish Review of Books. “A Thousand Cranes” is on sale through Cargo Publishing, with proceeds donated to the Japanese Red Cross. Although it is now a year since the disaster, there is ongoing reconstruction and relief work in outlying areas, and there is a continuing spiritual need to reach out and remember. This was a focus of the recent anniversary ceremony in Edinburgh led by the Consul General, Mr Tarahara, which focused on remembrance, gratitude and hope.

So, please buy our book, “A Thousand Cranes”! It is a wide-ranging vision of Japan as well as a worthy cause of support.


This blog has risen from the ashes of my previous blog, thanks in part to a session on “www.writer” run by writer and IT  wizard Cat Dean at the Write Now conference. This was part of Aye Write, Glasgow’s literary festival, and organised by the tireless and indefatigable Bryony Stocker. I went along for both days and had a very interesting time. The downside is that I have tons to do!

The best feature of the conference was its linkage with Aye Write. The Edinburgh International Book Festival has a series of workshops but these don’t link up with the main event. The Mitchell Library is a great literary venue, better than the tent city in Charlotte Square, and has more of a cutting-edge feel. I’ve always found EIBF to have a “Sunday newspaper supplement” feel to it, a bit like the Festival versus the Fringe, and Aye Write has that more democratic feel that is characteristic of Glasgow versus Edinburgh.

The sessions were excellent, and kicked off with a good overview of publishing in Scotland. We had a “trade fair” over the middle of the day, and my publishers Wild Wolf sold a good few books and made some new contacts. Sara Sheridan gave an excellent talk on author and book promotion in the afternoon, and the next day had more of an academic focus, featuring some fascinating discussions on teaching creative writing and the role of the historical novelist. I think writers are learners and, to an extent, teachers, and this is an area of academia that stretches beyond professional education. I found two particular sources of inspiration: Maeve Tynan spoke of her approach to teaching creative writing using known examples rather than the myth of “originality” and Raymond Soltysek provided a powerful critique of the teaching of creative writing at secondary education level. I’m not an educator, but I plundered a short story idea from Maeve Tynan’s paper (“Reflections”) and Raymond is a towering inspiration to all who meet him:  a passionate advocate of writing at all levels, and an enormously talented writer himself.

We had a seminar from the Scottish Writers Centre: I’m a member and all Scottish writers should be. This is the greatest opportunity to advance the craft of writing in Scotland for a long time: by writers, for writers. It is only £10 and there is now a physical home on Sauchiehall Street, in CCA.

The closing session was great value: Ewan Morrison, Zoe Strachan, Alan Bissett. Ewan’s book “Tales from the Mall” will expose the damage wreaked on society and the economy by out-of-centre shopping malls, and he focussed on the “death of the book” with a deluge of fascinating evidence.  (I do wonder if the market will differentiate between his Amazon-equal examples of 5 authors selling 5million books each and a million authors selling 5 books each). Zoe is a great advocate of the renowned creative writing course at Glasgow University, and has mentored many excellent writers. I can’t help wondering if this has a potential downside, homogenising writing and excluding grassroots writing, but I can’t fault the idealism and demonstrable quality of the course. Alan tells great tales from his own publishing experience, as the Angry Young Man of Scottish Writing, and he wears the bovver-boots and leather jacket to prove it! The downside of this session was the  lack of discussion, as we ran out of time and, in general, it would have been better to have more opportunities for talking, as that’s what writers do best when they aren’t writing or reading!

It was a great weekend. I hope this conference will happen again next year, in whatever form, and it is a “must” for writers interested in developing their skills and making contacts out there in the writing world.



Posted: March 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

This is my writing website and blog.

Today, I was at the Write Now! conference in Glasgow, part of the Aye Write! book festival.

Thanks to Cat Dean for the guidance on website design.