Furious Justice

International Women’s Day started brilliantly for me, just after midnight, with a seaside rendezvous of intercontinental friendship.

ScalesTwo of my best friends, research partners, and professional allies were meeting up for the first time over in Australia and – along with one of their daughters – they Facetimed me from their beach café. It was daytime, light, windy, early autumn. They were drinking coffee and eating ice cream. On my, other side, of the world, it was too dark and dreich to remember the day’s earlier spring-time sunset. I was drinking night-time tea, already in pyjamas. I couldn’t really hear all they were saying, but the discussion covered emus and ostriches, travel plans and mutual acquaintances, and seeing them was an amazing feat of technology and an emotional gift.

The next day (or at least one night’s sleep later) it was the dawn of International Women’s Day in Scotland. I set about my work, slightly lacklustredly, checking social media a little too frequently. I saw an outpouring of shareable images and narratives of women current and historical, real and mythical. Untold stories, retold stories, hidden stories bustling to whisper, shout and sing their piece. People celebrating and congratulating, passing around statistics and pressing for action. I thought about my friends and my female colleagues, the way we lift each other up, support each other, console each other.

I saw brands aligning themselves with messages of equality. Good, I thought. The more capitalism can get on the side of feminism, the better, I thought. Despite the socialist origins of the day. Continue reading

26 Memory Maps

I’ve contributed to the 26 Memory Maps project, in which a set of writers were asked to create a map, then an accompanying 150-word text and explanation. Here’s my map of the landscape outside my English grandparents’ house in North Yorkshire, and a link to the piece I wrote.


Should authors’ unfinished works be completed?

I recently wrote an article in The Conversation, following the news that Terry Pratchett’s laptop hard drive had – as he’d requested – been destroyed. Here it is, after meeting the Lord Jericho, a 6 tonne steam roller. Read the full article here.


Brexit and the Cultural Sector

Brexit and the Cultural SectorI’ve written a piece in a volume published by Berlin’s The Literary Field Kaleidoscope and the Centre for British Studies at Humboldt-Universität, It’s not just the Economy, Stupid! Brexit and the Cultural Sector, edited by Sandra van Lente and Gesa Stedman.

My piece is called ‘Haud Oan to Europe’, and was inspired by Scottish textile artist Jane Hunter‘s work on the day after the EU Referendum. It also takes some inspiration from Innerpeffray Library in Perthshire, and the work that University of Stirling PhD researcher Jill Dye is undertaking there. The volume includes work from politicians, writers and academics, including Ali Smith, Ben Bradshaw, and Rachel Seiffert.

The volume is accessible via The Literary Field Kaleidoscope’s post here, with direct links to an EPUB version here (Dropbox link), and to a pdf here.

Passing Place

This week I’ve been on writing retreat, at the beautiful Moniack Mhor. I’m working on the beginning of a sequel (and consequently thinking about some of the changes that might need to be made to the first!). I’ve got a few, tentative words on the page, when not staring out of the window at the view…

PassingPlace2But while here I became intrigued by the number of PASSING PLACE signs (which, I later saw, illustrate the ‘Work at Moniack Mhor’ page – none currently available, I’m afraid). These diamond-shaped signs reminded me of a couple of other recent journeys, in Cumbria, Perthshire, and Shetland. The signs dot the landscape as the roads narrow down to single track, some faded, some only 50 metres away from the next, some a little further away.

I like passing places – they require a bit of negotiation between you and the oncoming car. Both must slow down, as one draws into the passing place. A wave of thanks goes between the drivers. Occasionally, on a sunny day with the windows open, a few words are exchanged. On a long straight road, the passing places are bulges on either side, pregnant ripenings along the way. At a few parts of the rail network trains, and their passengers, must also be patient. Recently, I saw a northbound train its southbound counterpart before it could proceed on the single track. One of the passengers called over to the platform, wondering how long he had to wait, perhaps wanting to sneak a cigarette in before the journey began again. Continue reading

The F Word

404InkI’m away on writing retreat at the moment (about which more here…), so it’s good to have something announced for publication in 404 Ink‘s second issue, The F Word.

I’m not a big fan of fancy dress-themed parties, and worry about the over-emphasis on dressing up during the UK’s World Book Day (yes, I know this sounds a bit bah humbug, but I’d rather concentrate on words for both events…). And so, somehow, this frustration has transmuted into fiction in a piece, inspired by those clever Oulipo types, called ‘Fucking Fancy Dress’.

Continue reading

Philip Pullman and The Book of Dust

fullsizerenderPhilip Pullman announced this week that he’ll be publishing the first in a new trilogy of novels based in the worlds of His Dark Materials this autumn. I wrote about the announcement in The Conversation, thinking in particular about the expansion of existing fictional worlds by both fans and authors, and also the contemporary political resonances.

I wrote a reader’s guide to Pullman’s trilogy in 2002, and a longer critical book on Pullman – Philip Pullman, Master Storyteller: A Guide to the Worlds of His Dark Materials – in 2006. The cover of my book was a design by a fan.

Like many other fans, I’m keen to see what he writes next!

The First Pancake

fullsizerender-2Happy 2017!

I was staying at a friend’s over New Year, and on the morning of 1 January, she offered an egg-based breakfast: scrambled? poached? pancakes? I chose pancakes, of course, and she asked if I minded having the first pancake.

‘Of course not,’ I said. The first pancake is often not quite right – the pan not hot enough, the chef not quite reaccustomed to the required pour and turn. But how can you have pancakes two, three, four and five without that slightly sub-standard first pancake?

A different egg-based homily has it that you can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg or two along the way. The seemingly innocuous saying – which came into English in the late 18th century from the French – has long been connected to political upheaval, with those eggs being broken bodies. It’s a metaphor, a Slate journalist argued in the dying days of 2013, ‘born of blood’, and one that we should dispense with.

To eat the first pancake is a softer metaphor, though, and one which could apply to any number of situations. The pan warms, the technique improves, the senses clamour for more.

fullsizerenderIn the writing life, no book could get written without the first draft. It will never be the best version, but it has to be made. In literal, pancake terms, you could simply throw it away, I suppose, though that would be a shame – it’s never that bad (and often, as was my case on 1 January, it was rather good). In metaphorical terms, the first pancake is entirely necessary. A bit misshapen, undercooked, the technique not quite yet there in the roll of the wrist, the joyous toss into the air, the gulping down (for me, always with lemon and sugar), mmmmm…

It takes a bit of practice, and a lot of redrafting, to write well.


IMG_1284My alter ego, Central Belt Shuffler, reported a couple of weeks ago on a visit to the Tramway‘s Glasgow International exhibition.

One of the artworks on show is Amie Siegel’s Provenance. In the lushly-shot film, the (wordless) narrative works backwards from chairs, desks and tables in beautifully designed western homes to high-cost furniture auctions, and finally to the crumbling, arch-modernist buildings of Chandigarh, where the furniture is shown in everyday contexts: offices, a library, a classroom, abandoned in a store. The exhibition also features a shorter film about the selling of the film itself at Christie’s, and includes the auction catalogue in which it featured.

Inspired by this, and also Lawrence Lek’s work QE3, I signed up to do a workshop based around these artworks. We were asked to bring in an object with some sort of history, and a photograph of a place. I took in a fossilised rock, and a photo of the aptly-named Stair Street, which is round the corner from where I live.

Led by Tramway’s Public Engagement Coordinator, we quickly got down to a series of writing exercises that culminated in our own filming of the objects and their (semi-fictionalised) provenance, as if for an auction . My imagination quickly turned to the turn of 19th and 20th century Glasgow, and the bloodcurdling murder of a prostitute.

Here’s the video we made – my piece features at c4:40, but my disembodied hand makes a sneaky appearance manoeuvring some of the other objects at various points.

GI Provenance Workshop from Holly Rumble on Vimeo.


On the rooftops

It’s the turn of the year, from 2015 to 2016.

2015 saw the mass movement of refugees of Syrians, fleeing violence in their homeland (and their adopted homeland, in the case of Palestinian refugees who had already been forced from their homes). The images of perilous sea journeys, dead children, barbed wire at borders, welcoming crowds at train stations, are etched on our minds.

Part-way through the year, I wrote this response to the situation in Calais’s ‘Jungle’, and of my own experience volunteering with young refugees and asylum seekers who had made it to the UK. Despite the manifold suffering of people of all ages, it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s the images of the children: dead, living on the street, at last reaching a place of safety, that are the most heart-rending.

One set of images intensified the focus on the refugee crisis – that of Alan [Aylan] Kurdi, washed up, face down on a Turkish beach. The author Patrick Ness was moved to action, setting up (and promoting via Twitter) a fundraiser for Save the Children. Match funding offers from authors, illustrators and publishers (mostly from among the children’s and young adult writing community) meant that within a week, more than $1 million was raised.

I was one of the many who donated to the fundraiser, and hit lucky. The comic artist and illustrator Sally Jane Thompson had decided on a draw to win a commission from her, from among those who had donated. I was delighted when Sally contacted me to say she’d picked me – I like the clear lines and liveliness of her style. I asked her if she would draw an author portrait with a difference. The characters of the book I’m writing spend much of their time on the rooftops of Glasgow buildings, so I thought it would be great to have me up there too! Continue reading