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  • Down the Rabbithole

    I have been down several rabbit holes since I last posted. Many of them are to do with the updated translation of the Charm of Nine Herbs I’ve been working on in a random fashion for a while. I have been pondering words like ‘poison’, ‘venom’, ‘plague’, ‘in-flying infection’. I’ve been thinking about ‘elf-shot’ and the notion that tooth-ache is caused by worms gnawing at decayed teeth. I’ve been wondering what it was like to try to heal people when you didn’t know much beyond the basics of anatomy, and didn’t have access to microscopes.

    I discovered historical records of a ‘yellow plague’ that ravaged this area in the 5th and 6th century, killing at least one local king, which led me to wonder about the other colourful diseases mentioned in the text. Epidemics, food poisoning and diseases caused by polluted water must have been common – are the words ‘plague’, ‘poison’ and ‘venom’ just the best guess for the causes of illness too small to see without the naked eye?

    I’m also querying my identification of atterlothe – I went for ‘burdock’ for what seemed to be good reasons – it is an alterative, native and well-known, exists in more than one species (because the only other use of the word refers to the ‘smaller’ atterlothe being used with betony for coughs) and generally fits the bill. But on the other hand, there is another Old English name for burdock – ‘clate‘, and down the rabbit hole I went. I looked at speedwell, which was indeed used with betony for coughs, self-heal (no mention in Old English texts), bistort, cockspur grass, Viper’s bugloss, which Culpeper says was used as a substitute for speedwell, and now I’m eyeing up cinquefoil and vervain (I would love it to be vervain!). The trouble is that Old English scholars tend to be poor at botany, and botanists tend to blank Old English. And both are a bit rubbish about monasteries. But that is another rabbit hole, and yes, I did go down it!

    I’m following up Kapka Kassabova’s excellent book Elixir, and some poetry following my venture into Irish last year. Obviously you’ll know Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, but can I recommend Doireann Ní Ghríofa? Brilliant!

    I have now deleted my Mailchimp account, following their decision to scrape all newsletters for AI content, and I’m in the process of building a new letter at Buttondown, which seems to be free of all such shenanigans. I kept a list of all my contacts, and when the first issue is ready I will email everyone ONCE to invite you to sign up. I won’t harass anyone after that, and I will delete the address of anyone who doesn’t, so there will be no spam.

    Ceasing Never has taken a back seat as we try to sort out some accommodation problems for a family member, and I’m knee deep in judging the William Bonar Competition. Also Celtic Connections is coming up, and I have a significant birthday fairly soon. But in February I hope to add some new essays and reflections – please feel free to comment or add to the discussions.


  • A Few Updates

    bookshelves floor to ceiling, two wooden steps in front of them

    I have a new computer, which is very lovely in many ways, but I am struggling to find the photos I uploaded yesterday, so until I learn the file management system on this beast, there will have to be old photos. This is one of my library, which was set up last year. Although it has a lot of books in it, it is mostly used for a chill out space for those of us who need a break from the chatter when we’re all together, and for crafting. Sometimes I feel rather uncomfortable about having so much space and access to books, when some people, especially the younger generation, find themselves struggling with access to resources to support their writing, so I’d like to find a way to share this. If you are a writer who needs to borrow or consult books that I have, let me know and we’ll see what can be done.

    This is a bit of a distraction from my main intention which was to remind everyone about the poetry event at the Little biggar Festival on 28th October. The Facebook posting reads:

    Biggar-based publisher Red Squirrel Press invites you to an afternoon of Red Squirrel Press poets and friends in aid of MacDiarmid’s Brownsbank, held in Biggar & Upper Clyde Museum on 28th October.

    Featuring some of the best-known names in poetry, WN (Bill) Herbert, Dundee Makar and Professor of Poetry, Sean O’Brien, multi award- winning poet and Emeritus Professor, Colin Will, writer, musician, former Scottish Poetry Library and StAnza International Poetry Festival Chair, award winning Biggar-based poet Lindsay Macgregor, Andrew Forster, poet and literature development worker and was previously Literature Development Officer for Dumfries and Galloway. Elizabeth Rimmer widely-published poet, reviewer and editor, author of four collections from Red Squirrel Press and editor of the eco-poetry discussion website Ceasing Never.

    Tickets available from https://www.biggarlittlefestival.com/literature/red-squirrel

    There is another upcoming reading in Stirling on 4th November as part of Paperboats Day for Nature, but I will post more about this later when further details are available.

    Also, I am sorry to announce that I am going to stop sending out my newsletter. I used Mailchimp, but as the parent company has announced its intention to scrape content in order to train AI, the potential for copyright infringements eems too high to be worth it. I’m looking for alternative ways of keeping in touch, as there are some subscribers who don’t follow me elsewhere on social media, but in the meantime, I can be found on BlueSky, (mostly poetry) Mastodon (mostly politics and environmental stuff) and Instagram (herbs, cooking and gardening). That’s a lot, and I’ll probably refine it as the platforms develop, but that’s where I am just now.


  • Haggards in Stirling

    Here we are at the launch of Charlie Gracie’s first novel To Live With What You Are. I was lucky enough to get an early copy, and I can tell you that it is a beautifully written account of the lives of two thoroughly dark characters. How he manages to make them so understandable, and to convey their darkness so completely without using the kind of language that would give you nightmares I don’t know. It has a delicate precision and careful balance, so you’re dragged into places where you would rather not be before you notice.

    As you can’t really see, it was a well-attended event, full of friends and family and writing buddies from our shared experience with Stirling Writers. There were spiced orange squirrel cookies – a flavour I was very pleased with – and fig rolls because they feature in the novel, and we talked about poetry and prose, and where they overlap and how they differ, and about haggards and wild places, and I’ve made a date to go and see the wild angelica on Thornhill Common with illustrator (she’s worked with David Bellamy) and children’s book author Jill Dow who lives there and are inspired by it. There are more herb poems to come! We sold lots of books, which was very welcome.

    And while I think about it, may I remind you that you can buy my books from the shop on this site (if you don’t like using Paypal get in touch and I’ll sort out another payment method), or from the brand new shiny Red Squirrel Press website. Neither Red Squirrel Press nor I charge for postage within the UK, but if you are further afield, please email and I’ll check the postage to where you are.They also appear on the Waterstones database, so you should be able to get them from there, and you can also get Wherever We Live Now and The Territory of Rain on Amazon.

    There will be a newsletter going out shortly to all my subscribers, with news of something I’m going to try from March next year. I had a Facebook group called Herbs and Poetry, and this has gone a bit quiet lately, but I thought I might do some herbs and poetry newsletters, with a herb of the month, and a poetry prompt and short discussion related to it. Please sign up to the newsletter if you’d like to get it.

    me, reading in Stirling Library



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