Having been granted an award by Creative Scotland to enable me to undertake a creative residency at Barry Mill, Angus (please see the About page for all my thank yous!) I am really looking forward to the challenge of the coming year.
As part of this project, I will be delivering five community writing workshops, documenting reactions to, and interactions with, the mill and its environs. I suspect this is not going to be a task for the faint-hearted. Not only is there a certain level of expectation surrounding my own work, but I’m also conscious of the weight of almost 500 years of history at my back! I have to do the mill justice in terms of the wealth of literary tradition associated with it.
But for my first post in the Barry Mill Blog, let’s begin at the beginning, and like most good things in life, this idea/project/mission begins and ends with a book…
Book number one is Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, which was first published in 1802,just twelve years before Barry Mill was rebuilt after a catastrophic fire. At that time, the meal mill was an integral part of the community, processing oats, mainly; a grain which, according to Dr Johnston, ‘in England is given to horses, in Scotland generally supports the people’. With a mill in every village, and possibly at every crossroads, it is unsurprising that mill life features heavily in Scottish literature, and I’ll blog more about that in the future. The piece which caught my eye in Scott’s collection is ‘The Cruel Sister’, a version of a border ballad which describes the rivalry between two sisters. Their argument over a suitor escalates and ends tragically on the banks of the mill pond. But I’ll come back to that too.
Curiosity aroused and inspiration tweaked, I set about plotting my own version of this narrative. As a writer who likes to explore themes of landscape and atmosphere, I didn’t have too far to look for the perfect setting.
Which brings us to book number two; my second novel, The Bone Harp. Set in and around a fictional version of Barry Mill, the book uses the traditional tale of ‘The Cruel Sister’ to explore a dark narrative of modern relationships, sibling rivalry and betrayal.
Like the novel, this blog is really a story within a story. This is the story of the making of The Bone Harp; a journey through the creative process in the most inspirational of landscapes.