Michael Hamish Glen
Finalist 2014, Aaron; Finalist 2015 Wrong side of the tracks, Club Members Prize 2016, Sheep Shape
I am, by choice and profession, a wordsmith, now largely working for organisations responsible for natural and cultural heritage properties.
I have been putting words on paper since childhood, writing stories, plays, poems and articles – and a half-finished novel. The BBC broadcast two of my stories when I was 14 and my Junior Producer playwriting entry was televised a year later. I wrote and produced plays for drama groups in my early 20s and then increasingly wrote for employers and, latterly, clients.
I printed by hand, and published, my first book of poetry in 1962 and followed this, more than 50 years later, with Words for Places. I write in Scots and English and work with Gaelic and Welsh.
The Scottish Arts Club Short Story Competition spurred me into writing many short stories, some of which I entered. I was a finalist in 2014 and 2015 but the story, Sheep Shape, which won the Club Member's Prize in 2016 is my favourite.
Some folk may be interested in stuff I’ve written for clients. Some chosen samples are on www.quitewrite.co.uk. The last few copies of Words for Places are still available @ £25.00. For the same price, I can provide a pdf.
I am a fan of farming, and farming folk. I am also interested in architecture, social relations, enterprise and language. These came together in Sheep Shape which I wrote in 2016, becoming so bound up with the characters that they lived with me for weeks. I still find them turning up in my psyche.
Gavin was a translator before he bought farmland, purchased Lleyn sheep and took on a local farmer’s daughter, Sandy, to help... Many seasons went by. Poultry arrived and departed, ‘slaughtered, de-feathered and eviscerated’. The Four Winds partnership prospered...
"The next day, the kitchen door swung open and her highness marched in. “Man, ye’re still at yer breakfast. Look at the time!”
“Good morning, sunshine. Tea? Coffee?
“Naw, Ah’ve juist had. Gavin, Four Winds is daein weel, Ah’m gettin a guid wage and ye’re no starvin. But Ah wis thinking …”
“And when are you not, hen?” Gavin relished Sandy’s company. “You’ll be the death of me.”
“Wrang chyce o wirds, Gav. Listen, ma brither Andy, he’s a trained mortician – weel ye ken that – he’s startin his ain business an wants tae dae green burials.” Gavin groaned at what was coming.
“Yon field by the burn. Coud we no hae a wee burial grund there?” Another die was cast.
And so, one afternoon, ten years after Sandy cast her spell over Gavin, a solemn – if bizarre – procession passed Hamepairts. A JCB, clean for the first time since new, a hearse, a taxi and a pickup entered the green sward under the sign Sheep May Safely Graze.
Sandy dug a grave, Andy and his assistants lowered a wicker coffin and the local sculptor gently placed, as a headstone, her carving of a Lleyn. The inscription read, simply: ‘sheep shape’.
The mourners raised glasses of Gavin’s Lagavoulin.
Whit’re ye gaun tae dae noo, lass? asked Sandy’s mother.
“Weel, Gavin’s left me Hamepairts an Four Winds. Ah’ll juist hae tae find a man an raise a wee herd o weans. We’ll be sheep shape, dinnae fash.”
Excerpt from Sheep Shape by Michael Hamish Glen
words inscribed in stone
Some of my ‘contemplative’ verse and other commissions have been inscribed on stone and timber, as ‘public art’, helping to interpret the character and significance of heritage sites. Most successful are the stanzas I composed for the Loch Leven Heritage Trail. Look out for them...
My son asked me for tips about writing which I found hard to provide as I generally just sit down and type into my laptop – I’m losing the skill of handwriting. However, before I put fingers to keys, I usually take time out to think through what I want to say, to ‘rehearse it’, to play with names and places and phrases.
Often inspiration comes in the middle of something else and I have to try and remember what it was. I am not a good note-taker – I wish I made notes in trains, cafés, restaurants, anywhere about people and their interactions. But I don’t. I do keep a book of memorable things people have said, usually to me but sometimes publicly. I weave these bon mots into stories if I can. I do care about accuracy and spend ages consulting Dr Google and Co to make sure that the information I include or the facts I refer to are as correct as I can ascertain. I also care passionately about good grammar and syntax.
As I revel in writing in Scots, usually in poetry and in reported speech, I take time to learn words I don’t know and, once, I created a word which I gather will be cited in the next Scots Dictionary as a ‘first use’. The word is hamepairts, about which I wrote a poem and which I used subsequently in Sheep Shape.
Yes, I often have writer’s block, but with a bit of time, contemplation and luck, all comes good. If it doesn’t, I try something else. Boringly, I work at my desk – I’ve been doing that for 60 years – and don’t have a favourite or inspirational place. Maybe I should try and find one in the hope that any inspiration will lead on to even greater things!
Our first anthology of short stories from The Scottish Arts Club Short Story Competition 2014-2018