Walked down to Dunblane Cathedral yesterday morning to meet up with Garry Fraser of the Scots Magazine. I was smiling, and the world was smiling with me. The sunlight was glancing off the gravestones as I hurried across the grass. I was worried it looked a bit orchestrated – appearing between the graves – but I didn’t mean it that way. It was accidental. I just panicked when I thought I was late and so trod where no man or woman is meant to tread, on top of sleeping past residents of Ye Olde Cathedral Toon. “Mind where ye’re standin'” an ethereal voice cried beneath me, but I ignored him and carried on, later realising my feet were stuck all over with wet grass.
We decided the Cathedral Church Hall would be a good spot to drink tea and chat. It was empty at the time, a few comfy chairs – not open for coffee yet – but peaceful and quiet. So we thought! Garry leant forward and pressed PLAY on the iphone to record, at which point I became transfixed by the device and suitably tongue-tied. I’m so much better with a pen in my hand, I told him. “I’m the same,” he said. “Give me a pen and I can write for Scotland.” Garry had revised and done his homework, and knew exactly the right questions to ask. “When I looked at your website I detected a sense of humour. Have you thought about writing comedy?” “Not really,” I said. “I love laughing in real life, but when I pick up a pen it just comes out tragic.” I said other stuff – but forgot to say that my writing returns to the theme of unresolved injustices in Scottish history. He asked about my influences, the Brontes and Shelley, and how that might appear to contradict the idea of then ending up writing children’s fiction. I waffled on again, but afterwards realised I SHOULD have said that in actual fact Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein are both early examples of YA fiction, but there simply wasn’t a category called that back then. He asked me what inspired me to write the Mary Queen of Scots novel which is being worked on at the moment for next year, and I said “when you walk the cobbles, you feel it…” or something like that, whilst waving my hands about in a very expressive manner. I was particularly pleased with that line. But just as I was beginning to get into my stride the lady serving tea shuffled backwards and forwards – not just once, but FOUR TIMES – with plates of biscuits. She didn’t realise we were recording. It’s amazing how much background noise a pair of brogues and a banging door can make. “That’s me on duty,” she said. “What can I get you?”
Then she shuffled away – all of which was recorded – then came back just as I saying “Yes, my son is nearly 22 and..” At which point she decided to join in the interview. “Is he REALLY?” she said. “Well, I would never have thought it.” Meanwhile behind her the door banged shut with another slam and more shuffling footsteps, while both Garry and I were too polite to say “BE QUIET, you silly woman, can’t you see we are very important people and we’re working? He’s a journalist of the oldest magazine in the world, and I’m a struggling author trying to hit the big time. Be off with you at once!” I could deliver those lines with Shakespearean phlegm if you were allowed to act out in real life what’s going on in your head. But of course it’s not possible. Polite society doesn’t allow it. Life has a way of bringing you down a peg or two.
When Garry asked “what’s the biggest perk of being a writer?” I waffled on about the imagination when what I should really have said was “being able to start work in your pyjamas.”
I’m sure that Garry being the professional that he is will be able to sift through the contents of the interview – removing the bits where the lady serving tea joined in… if he can hear any of it for shuffling footsteps and the banging of the door.