Leaving St Andrews

Leaving St Andrews

Teaching is over for the year, and in fact, for me at St Andrews, forever as I decided this spring that it’s time to part company from that august institution. I feel wistful at leaving behind those beautiful old buildings and my wonderfully talented colleagues, but also excited at the prospect of new work and , above all, more time and concentration for my own writing. But my most important aim for this summer in Orkney is the lie fallow. In farming it’s important to allow the soil to rest and revitalise by growing weeds – and that is exactly what my mind needs to do too.  What the weeds might turn out to be, who knows? But eventually I’ll get back to writing my new novel, provisionally titled ‘This Day and Age’. Or maybe ‘Starling’. Or maybe ‘Ebb Tide’.  It takes place 25 years after ‘Blasted Things’ and isn’t behaving in quite the way  I expected.  I broke off in December, too distracted by Christmas/family and above all the prospect of teaching in a pandemic to do it justice  and at that point it had just taken leave of my vague plan. It is always a great and encouraging feeling, when a character  refuses to conform to his (in this case) writer’s ideas of who he is.  The trouble is it sometimes mean the scrapping of many chapters that suddenly aren’t relevant to this new man’s story.  But cut bits are necessary casualties. I must have written far more words that haven’t ended up in my novels, than ever have.

Below is a poem from my recent collection Nub, published by Mariscat Press. The first of a sequence about my relationship with a tree I met in New Zealand.


Do you know the Moreton Bay Fig?
Have you been introduced?
The one that spreads hall-sized
the one with buttress roots
that stretch like walls, head high or more
the one with little beads of figs
inedible, with patent leather leaves
the one that’s deeply littered underneath
in rustling clefts?

A human can press her lips
against that vegetable hulk
can eye the O’s and eyes
that stretch the bark
rear back her head to gasp
at massive boughs
(how do they branch so far, bear all that weight?)
the complex bulk:
in wonderment, in worship
– or in want?