In late 2020, on saying goodbye to four decades of work in academia, I resolved to devote time to something that had been bubbling up in my thinking for quite a while: the desire to continue writing, but to do so in a more creative and inventive manner. True, I’d recently written a biography which allowed some scope for imaginative interpretation, and in my academic blogging I was finding the confidence tentatively to break out of social science conventions. But now I wanted to bring about a more visible shift, from the data-driven and rational orientation of the scholar, to an approach to writing organised around personal reflection, imagination and careful observation of things around me.
I decided to give some context to this by focussing on the universe of possibilities that exists in our day to day preoccupations. I created this blog, named it Quotidian, and embarked on a series of new prose pieces. Some of these have been reflections on aspects of my own life, in certain instances quite explicitly biographical. In time, and encouraged by like-minded friends, I have ventured into short fiction, finding inspiration in personal experience and then increasingly in my own imagination. I’ve also realised a growing wish to write about the natural world, inspired by some of my reading into the new wave of nature writing.
Without travelling beyond my home parish or the parameters of my internal world, I have found much to motivate me. Some results of these endeavours, composed over the two calendar years 2021 and 2022 and previously published on this site, have now been brought together in a short volume, which can be downloaded free here.
Containing 30 compositions in all, the book is divided into three sections.
First comes a group of reflective works where I attempt to dig deeper into some experience or issue. A few of these have pretensions towards the essay format, written from a personal perspective and focussed on a particular subject. There is an account of a walk down a Dumfriesshire burn, which seems to capture a moment in my own life and my disposition to the world around me. Another piece is the product of a long-nurtured desire to write about the post-glacial landscape around my home. The account of the eel and another about weeds, again draw on direct observations in the natural world, but also set in train thoughts about migration, and of human inscription on the landscape. There is a deep dive into the value of quotidian life, inspired by pandemic logics. Some pieces explore a recently encountered experience and then find themselves leaping back in time, or start in the past before jumping forward to the present. One or two hover between ‘non-fiction’ and ‘fiction’. Another is simply a log of an exciting week when my first play was brought to the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe.
The second group of writings is comprised of stories. I regard them as fiction, though they too sometimes draw on my own biographical source material. These can be quite personal in character and have perhaps been inside me for a long time, waiting to break out. Others seemed to emerge from hidden corners of my imagination with no specific sense of their source. A couple of Christmas mystery stories come into that category and there is also a story for ‘children of all ages’ set in my Dumfriesshire garden.
Writing about the garden in a more observational way has been something I’ve been enjoying a great deal. Indeed my book From a Dumfriesshire Garden brought together writings from the whole of 2021 along with photographs I took throughout that year. The third section of Heading Home therefore comprises musings written during 2022. These pieces celebrate what’s good in the garden in a given month, try to capture a mood or atmosphere from a particular moment, or offer a progress report of some kind. They contain little or nothing by way of horticultural advice, but I think they reveal the dialectic between a garden and a person who makes it.
Cicely Saunders once observed that time is a matter of depth, not of length. Entering into the after-employment and post-institutional world of later life has also shown me how to measure time differently. I’ve spent large parts of my life giving time in various ways. I’ve been privileged to have been able to do that for other people and for things I consider worthwhile. Now I see myself taking time, by allowing a moment to deepen and expand, and thereby gaining new insights and inspirations.
Heading Home is just one of the results.