CHRISTINA MACDONALD

I was having my bedroom painted recently. On clearing out bookshelves for the first time in years I decided it was time to put my writings – garden diaries, private memoirs, poems and stories – all in one place. There is a three-drawer chest that now accommodates most of these efforts. Assembling it all brought the realisation that I had ben writing almost all my adult life and now (at the age of 83) one can imagine the quantity – if not the quality – of such an output.

Looking back on the various decades since the 1950s there were a few periods in which I was less productive. Lifestyle crowded in on creativity and smothered or suppressed my writing while I was progressing on Life’s journey. However the various places in which I have lived over the years have influenced my writing considerably. I was born and brought up in Stornoway on the isle of Lewis. Both my parents were incomers but I have always regarded myself as an islander and I married one. During my years there up until the age of eighteen my writing consisted mainly of school essays, though I did venture into translating a poem by Goethe (Kennst du das Land wo die Zitronen bluhn?) for the school magazine. Though well received it was my first and last attempt in that genre. I recognised the difficulty finding the right word in another language, an almost impossible task.

A few years later I completed one of my first poems, inspired by a little bay on the west coast of Lewis called Dalbeg:

Little bay Atlantic tossed
Bursting wave
On weathered rock
Golden sand
Abandoned croft, deserted home
A sheltered place
where sheep are safe
And maram grass grows tame

A little bay
An April day
An island in the Spring

By this time I had left Lewis to study at Aberdeen University and was too busy fulfilling the demands of factual writing and the study of foreign laguages to express myself creatively. This blank period continued through the following eight years during which I taught primary school children in Paisley and Glasgow. During this time I married and had a son. Living in a Glasgow tenement was a cultural shock in the Sixties when smog reigned during the winter and I missed the fresh, clean air of the Hebrides. In 1965 my marriage failed and I moved to a teaching post in Aberdeen with my son. \in the ensuing years my creativity returned, partly due to being on my own for much of the time. \i have always since then found it easier to write when single.

I wrote poems about the Aberdeenshire countryside, observed in short excursions with my aunts on Sundays in their Hillman:

Sunday Afternoon Drive (Aberdeen 1966)

Up on the farm slopes
Field patters of patchwork
Square off the sky-line
Haystack daleks splay up the hillside
Cottages settle in flower hollows
Silver birches perch like delicate zebra
Amid purple wiry heather
Tinting the moorland … (extract)

Nature is my great inspiration and on a visit to Pitmedden Gardens I embarked on my first serious poem:

Pitmedden Summer 1967

A low-arched doorway gives access to a neat green lawn
An ancient yew thrusts upwards, spreading wide
A gentle fountain splashes on still lilies
Resting in the pool
While dull red fish flit, idly tranquil
In cool, still depths.

That other garden lies beyond
Walled against the wind
Within the ancient gateway
The scene below is framed
As in an ancient tapestry
Save that the hues are brilliant
Even garish here
Not subtle or dimmed by time… (extract)

Living on one’s own gives you the luxury of space and time to ponder and think deeply about the world. Although my teaching career was in full flight in the Seventies, with the added responsibility of an Assistant head appointment, I wrote quite prolifically. In 1997n a friend and I embarked on a Shetland walking tour:

Shetland Scenes

Where once a crofthouse stood
We trace the flat grey lichen – covered stones
Still resting gently one on other
Marking like recumbent tomb stones
The lives of those long gone away.
Silence is constantly filled with sound
Echoing, raucous calls of sea-birds
Noisily nesting in ledges of rock
While slient and dove-like
The fulmar wings, effortless
Gliding on spiralling thermals of air… (extract)

In 1980 I became Infants Mistress at Dingwall Primary and once again to a certain extent my creativity took a dive. Then life events changed again in the Millennium and I was once more on my own, retired from teaching and free from clocks and bells. One of the poems from that time was written at a time of the year when Scots are often engaged in introspection:

A New Year

Look there beyond the farm gate
A field of perfect snow
No trace as yet of human tread.
Look closely though and see
The light filigree
Of birds’ feet here and there.
We’re tempted now to mark with heavy tread
Our own design upon the flawless field.
So with the New Year
Before us still unspoiled
We stand in awe of the impression
we may make
upon its new and sparkling purity.

I had the good fortune to join a WEA creative writing course in Dingwall and out of that experience our current Ross-shire Writers Group emerged. We have existed for fifteen years. We have gone on to publish five anthologies to which all members over the years have contributed. Now numbering around twelve active members, our secret lies in their loyalty and the frequency of our meetings. We also encourage young writers in Primary 7 Ross-shire schools with an annual writing competition for which there are modest cash prizes (the outright winner receives £50).

At the other end of the age spectrum, my late husband joined at the age of eighty. He found a platform for his writing which he had never enjoyed before, giving him great pleasure at the end of his life. I hope to continue writing for as long as I am able. It is a constant source of pleasure, comfort and stimulation.