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A Kind of Autobiography

I suppose a poet should have an interest in words and in having some kind of audience. At school in Edinburgh in the 1960s I enjoyed novels, but poems were strictly things that were sent to try us and to be written about in exams. Get a poem wrong and you risked being belted. I do recall, though, that in my fourth year I wrote a sonnet about the dangers of smoking: hypocrisy, as I was sucking my way through ten Churchman’s Olympic a week.

I wasn’t considered university material but after a brief career (1966-1967) with the Scottish Widows’ Fund and Life Assurance Society, I got myself into the Honours English course at Edinburgh University. My parents thought this was a bad move. Students were wasters.

It was at university that poetry first touched me. The teaching was sometimes uninspired, but Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hardy and Yeats reached out to me across the years. I graduated in 1971 and drifted on into Moray House College of Education (after marrying Mik in August). Nine years were spent teaching at Edinburgh’s Telford College. During all this time I wrote next to nothing and it was only after a motor-bike accident that I decided to quit teaching and try a bit of writing.

My ‘career’ as a writer began in 1981 when I was 33. My aim was to be a success in a year. Mik had serious doubts, but poems, stories and articles were soon accepted for publication (I found this amazing and exciting). I got my first Scottish Arts Council bursary in 1987 and felt I’d arrived: I officially became a self-employed writer.

None of my friends were writers so it was a solitary occupation in many ways. This was changed dramatically in 1989 when I was made the SAC Writer in Residence for Stirling District. There, I found myself discussing words with writers, famous and unknown. I thought my job was teaching but, actually, I was learning lots.

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