‘It’s Yersel!’ Marion Emily Angus back in Arbroath, Angus

August 9, 2015

Yah! I can blog!

Last year I was asked to join a group planning an ‘Angus Writers’ Festival, and went to a few meetings at Hospitalfield. http://hospitalfield.org.uk/. We had ambitious plans, but unfortunately the funding didn’t materialise.  I was more than disappointed, because taking Marion Angus back to Arbroath has been on my ‘to-do’ list for years.

But I got on with other things, and forgot about it.

Just recently I got a phone call asking if I’d be able to do a presentation at Hospitalfield on 5th September. Yes, please!

The title is a reference, of course, to Marion’s poem ‘It’s yersel, Naomi’ which I think perfectly expresses her emotion regarding coming back to the place she spent her formative years.

It’s Yersel, Naomi.

… And the city was moved about them, and they said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ — The Book of Ruth

Naomi, Naomi, what wait ye for?

The elders have steppit the causey ower

Wi a sigh and a froon an a mounfu ee

Wailin, “Naomi! It canna be.”

The wives have lookit ye up and doon,

Yer trembling mou and yer faded goon,

Sorrowfu steppin the causey ower —

Naomi, Naomi, what wait ye for?

For some dear lass ye kent lang syne,

When days of youth were clear and fine,

To tak yer hand in the twa o her ain,

The tears upon her cheeks like rain —

Wi a word o comfort the hert to fill –

“It’s yersel, Naomi, and bonnie still.”

But the talk will be more joyful than the poem suggests, because I’ll be drawing on Marion’s ‘diaries’ of ‘Arthur Ogilvie’ and ‘Christabel’ – written in Arbroath, about Arbroath people, when she was young.

Angus archives http://www.angus.gov.uk/info/20023/archives/215/angus_archives have been marvellous – sending me lots of photos of Arbroath in the early 20th Century.


August 9, 2015

I’ve been shamed into updating my blog – tell you why in a minute. But this will be a short update. I’ll explain that in a minute too.

For the last few years I’ve been busy doing other things, although I have managed to keep the creative writing ticking away in the background – occasionally. I’ve started editing ”Blossoms on the Judas tree’, I’ve taken part in another two ’26 Treasures’ projects (maybe more about that another day), ‘done’ a couple of book clubs, given a Marion Angus presentation at Montrose library, and am about to take part in an event at Hospitalfield in Arbroath.

And that’s why I’ve been shamed into writing this blog. Laura, the arts administrator at Hospitalfield has put a link to my blog in the information she’s sent out … oops! Not much recent information there!

By chance I had an email from a friend yesterday who said she’d tried to buy my books form the website and couldn’t. Right, I said, I’ll look into that.

This morning I discovered I’m locked from my own website. So, this is a testing, testing, situation. I’m writing this on WordPress  and will now see if it posts. If it does, I’ll give you some more information next time.

If it doesn’t, I’ll have to wait for my daughter to come back from holiday…

Last Nicht

January 16, 2015

This is for the girl who is learning my poem ‘Last Night’ and dropped her copy in the bath… I think.

And this is the wee moose – Mr Hector McDiddle

Featured image

Last nicht

last nicht I waakened up and saw

wi muckle fear and doom

a wee moose squeakin at the taes

o a ghostie in ma room

whit the moose said tae the ghostie

I dinnae richtly ken

but he flegged it richt awa

for it’s ne’er been seen since then

it sidled aff alang the road

as quick as it cuid pack

the auld broon suitcase in its haund

and the rucksack on its back

the moose climbed up intae my bed

an snuggled at my feet

and noo I’m warm and safe frae harm

and winnae hae tae greet

I dinnae need ma mam or dad

tae came and save my skin

the moosie is my special friend

he’ll nae let nae ghosties in


October 20, 2014


A Leaf Before the Wind

December 15, 2013

Article published in Independence Magazine Nov/Dec 2013

I’ve known homeless people, and interviewed homeless women about their experiences, so was well aware that people who are homeless rarely match the stereotype. Nevertheless, a few years ago, it came as quite a shock to me to find out that the Scottish poet I was researching – Marion Angus (1865-1946) – had been homeless, at one point in her life. For almost fifteen years she flitted between family members and friends, took short lets of cottages and flats, stayed in ‘lodgings’ and private hotels.

The second child of seven, from a prosperous, educated and cultured background, she grew up in an affluent household – a daughter of the manse. As a child, one of her great pleasures was to wander the braes and beaches of Angus with a book in her pocket, looking for a quiet place to read. As a young adult, she wandered the nearby hills and glens, then strode further afield into the Grampians –  and beyond. She loved her land, her heritage and ‘her guid Scots tongue’ with a passion.


The Wee Sma Glen


The water dreeped frae stane tae stane

The wild rose bloomed and dee’d its lane

But lip tae praise it there was nane

Til Mary cam tae the Wee Sma Glen.


It wasna when she pu’ed the briar,

Nor lauched tae see the rowan’s fire,

But when her een grew saft and weet,

At sichts ower fair and soonds ower sweet,


The whisper gaed frae hill tae hill,

The very herps o Heaven grew still;

God minded on the Wee Sma Glen,

And kenned it wasna wrocht in vain.


Aye, she loved Scotland, and if she was alive now, I guarantee she’d be signing up to the Yes Campaign, even though – I must admit – she didn’t support the SNP when it started up.

So what went wrong in her life?

Her homelessness can be traced back to circumstances which were out of her control – as is very often the case.  Her two sisters fell in love with the same man – another minister in Arbroath. He chose one. The other developed mental health problems and was admitted to a private hospital. Marion’s father died, possibly as a result of stress caused by the scandal. The family had to leave the manse and the mother decided she could no longer pay the hospital fees. Marion had to give up her writing career, which had barely started, to become carer for her mother – by now also an invalid, and her sister, whose mental health problems persisted for many years.

In April 1930, when Marion was sixty-five years old, her sister was admitted as a private patient to Gartnavel Hospital, where she eventually died. Marion had to sell their house in Aberdeen and, from then on, had no home of her own. She moved to the Glasgow area to be near her sister though she longed to be back in the northeast.


Foxgloves and Snow


Two things have set the world a-twist

And spoiled the music of the spheres;

One is a lovely secret missed,

And one a wrong beyond all tears.


Sweet secret — I shall never know,

Though seas run dry, and suns turn cold,

How many purple foxgloves grow

This summer by the ruined fold.


And — sorry wrong — though roses red

By western waters bloom and fall,

No more I watch the last snow fade

On a dark hill above Glen Doll.


‘I feel like a leaf before the wind’, Marion wrote to a friend, ‘only – a leaf has no business worries, nor sleepless nights, nor human feelings of anxiety or grief’.

Little wonder her writing career stalled again. She was elderly and infirm. Her income had been reduced in the 1930s stock exchange crash. It was difficult to keep in touch with friends as she was constantly on the move. Both of the sisters were ill by this time. Knowing that the predominantly male literary elite patronised her as ‘an elderly spinster who communed with fairies’ won’t have boosted her confidence. It must have been a struggle to exist, never mind to ‘create’. ‘My soul has gone silent,’ she wrote. ‘You will see that like a pigeon with a broken wing I have perched here half-heartedly waiting in a hopeless kind of way for what will happen next.’

No, I’m not going to tell you what did happen next…


Ach well, but dinnae fash yersel. It’s nae like ye’ve tae puzzle it oot yersel. Whit I will say is that I’ve written twa books aboot Marion. Ane – The Singin Lass, Selected Works of Marion Angus, is a book o her ‘diaries’ and poems, wi a wee biography o her in it. It was published nae that lang syne. The t’ither is a wee bookie – a novel, Blackthorn, wi her ither life story…

Ither? How come?

Weel, I didnae just scrieve aboot whit we ken. If I’d done that, she’d hae been stuck wi the wey she’s aye been seen – a poor auld sowel. Sae I kept the banes o her story, but listened tae the hert o her, that speaks through whit she wrote. There’s plenty wee hints she kent mair aboot life than she was gien credit for. Sae my novel daes her mair justice than the wee biography in The Singin Lass… shows her gumption, shows the wey she was wi fowk… and mair.

I dinnae think she’d mind me writin aboot her. My guess is she’d be glad. She wasnae just a puir auld wifie. She was feisty, gallus and a bonnie fechter, richt tae the end o her days. And she was used tae makkin up things hersel oniewey, and was gey guid at it. In her ‘diary’ that was published ilka week i the ‘Arbroath Guide’, ye cannae hardly tell wha’s real and wha isnae. This here proves she wouldnae be bothered her bum:



March 3rd 1899           

And, if some curious searcher after things forgotten lights on this old Diary of mine, and smiles at the thoughts and doings and mistakes of a dead woman, will they write in pencil on the margin – as I found today alongside ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore’ at ‘and the moonbeams fitful gleaming’ –

‘Calculated that there could have been no moonlight on the date of these events.’


Ach, her poems is fu o the moonlicht!




The Singin Lass: Selected Work of Marion Angus (Polygon, 2006) is available at a bargain price of £4.99 plus postage and packing.

Blackthorn (Lumphanan Press, 2013) available (November) at £9.99, plus postage and packing.

The two books together £12.00, plus postage and packing (make a fine present for somebody!)

Available from my website www.aimeechalmers.com. All profits to the independence campaign.


Marion Angus deserved a better life, homeless people everywhere deserve a better future. The people of Scotland deserve a better future. Independence – let’s make it happen.


November 6, 2013

The Museum of Chidhood have highlighted on their homepage a wee coat and hat made under the Utility scheme in the 1940s. It was one of two objects offered to me as my ‘object’ for the 26 Treasures Exhibition held at the museum last year. The other was a highchair, which I chose to write my sestude (poem of 62 words) about, as readers of my blog will remember.

But I had a great affection for the coat and hat!

It brought back memories of ‘hand me downs’ and ‘Sunday claes’ and the guid Scots tongue ye’d tae leave behind when ye  went tae the kirk… Scots wasnae near guid enough for the kirk. I couldn’t resist doing a second sestude.

Very Fantoosh


 ‘Whaur’s yer Balmoral?’

She reads ma pettit lip.

  ‘Michty me! Daft wee besom.

  Set it … the side o yer heid. There. Fantoosh!’


 Lucky, am I nae?  Grannie workin for toffs.

Nae ither quine wi sic posh –



Mam taks my hand. Hurries me tae the kirk.

 ‘Mind and speak proper, in thae Sunday claes,

 Leave thae coorse Scots words ahent.’






Feels right, looks good!

November 5, 2013

What an exciting week!

The book ’26 Treasures’, published in 2012  by ‘Unbound’, won the Literary Category in the British Book Design and Production Award.

 I’m only one of more than 100 writers who contributed to the work. We each produced a personal, emotive response – in 26 words –  to a treasure in one of four different national museums. The museum set up a trail through the different departments which took in all the exhibits.

 In my case, the treasure was the fossil Westlothiana lizziae in the National Museum of Scotland. http://www.nms.ac.uk/our_museums/national_museum/past_exhibitions/26_treasures/the_treasures/westlothiana_lizziae.aspx

 I was privileged to perform my prose poem ‘Treisur’, at the opening of the exhibition in the museum. Richard Ingham’s evocative saxophone music more than enhanced my work. It’s always a privilege to work with him.http://www.saxingham.com/

 Two years later, I still feel great affection for ‘Lizzie’. And I’m delighted for Sam Gray, the designer of the book 26 Treasures. His attention to detail must have contributed greatly to his win. In a note about the typeface, he wrote ‘There’s a lot to love about Calluna, but most of all I chose it because it felt right and looks good.’

 I heard that phrase again, almost to the letter, when, a few weeks ago, I got the first sight of the typeface for my novel Blackthorn from the publisher. He sent me a sample, to see whether I approved of it or not.  At first sight it looked unusual to me: old-fashioned.

I’d said to Duncan I wanted the book set in print large enough for people to read – I struggle with small print myself.  Duncan set Blackthorn in Minion at 11 point, which, he said,  gave him plenty space to work with and allowed him to introduce more space between the lines. He has realised that when typesetting Scots writing, he needs extra space between the lines. Now why would that be?

 Minion 11 also allowed Duncan a better character count per line. It’s important to get as close to 65 characters per line as possible, he told me.  Research shows this gives the best reading experience.

 There were lots of other things to take in – ‘micro’ typography for example. Do you know what? It was lovely to be consulted, but I’m so glad I had an expert to help me publish my book.

 The typeface chosen?  Minion 11. Feels right, looks good. Something old fashioned about it.

 Thanks, Duncan.




My political activist role

October 28, 2013

Whenever I start a new job, I read and research as much as I can about the background, current situation, potential problems, proposed solutions. So with my current (self-chosen) political activist role.

Probably the most important part of my work for the moment is the reading I do – not newspapers, but books and on-line media. I can’t believe people think there isn’t enough information available – I can’t get through it all. And I’m constantly reinvigorated by the variety and quality of political comment available on-line which contrasts markedly with sterile debates on television and biased reporting and comment (with a few exceptions) that passes for ‘news’ in newspapers.

But when I first ‘came out’ as a supporter of independence, it was quite an intimidating experience. Friends, neighbours, acquaintances scoffed at my beliefs, derided my opinions. I was accosted by a householder though whose door I had posted an information leaflet.

I thought, ‘if everyone knew the real facts…’ and tried to tell them.

Eventually, I remembered my experience of working with people who had no ‘voice’, those on the verges of society. I found it was always better to lead someone to where they could take a decision for themselves, rather than try to take a decision for them. I thought that principle might be a useful one.

I stopped trying to ‘tell’ and became a ‘listener’. Yes, I asked questions. Yes, I offered the facts (as I saw them) when my opinion was sought. Yes, I organised meetings specifically for others to talk about independence issues. And yes, I offered information about where relevant facts can be found.

Have you read Stephen Maxwell’s book, Arguing for Independence: Evidence, Risk and the Wicked Issues? (Luath Press, 2013) That’s a good – balanced – place to start.

For a cause we believe in…

September 8, 2013

Some women struggle in traditional political meetings – which tend to be male dominated. Some of us find the cut and thrust a wee bit boring… some of us find it difficult to make our voices heard.

            Maybe for that reason, or maybe because we recognised that what we were particularly interested in wouldn’t be a priority for the main NE Fife Yes Campaign, a few of us in North East Fife got together to think about ways in which we could add our own distinctive contribution to the local campaign.

            What we wanted to do was make sure that women engaged in the constitutional debate and that women’s voices were heard in it. We’d picked up a copy of the Listening Toolkit produced by Women for Independence and suspected it might be very useful – all we needed were groups of undecided and no voters. Two months down the line and two listening exercises under our belt –  another coming up next week and three more at the planning stage –  we can say that side of the business is going well. To those of us who have been verbally abused while handing out leaflets or even when bringing up the subject with acquaintances, the listening exercises have proved that it doesn’t need to be that way.

            So how should we build on that experience?

            What skills do we have between us? How could we use these to build bridges? Would positive publicity for the campaign create even an inkling of goodwill for the cause?

            We decided to appeal to the creative in everyone in order to bypass the barriers. So, currently we’re working on a number of projects. We’re planning art exhibitions/ art installations/ craft workshops on a day of celebration at the Corn Exchange, Cupar on 21st June 2014. Most of these activities are not just for women… none of them are specifically for ‘Yes’ voters.

            One that is for women is ‘Scotland Hand-knit’. Catch up on our progress here. http://scotlandhandknit.blogspot.co.uk/

            And things have come full circle – the exhibitions are part of the NE Fife Yes Campaign’s ‘Hear the Nation’ event. Both groups are  working together. Need help with this? Need a contact? Need this done? Doing what we want to do, and helping one another – for a cause we all believe in. That’s what it’s about. 

Indy Women North East Fife

August 27, 2013

Indy Women North East Fife blogspot – the link I promised -probably not in the right place, but the best I can do. Thanks to Chrys, our IT expert , for her advice! And note how material gets recycled!