Monday, 18 November 2013

Tirana Papers - Acknowledgements Page

The 'Rock Garden' of Albania 1

The story of the title. At first it was called 'travel journal'

then it progressed to Overlapping Times. The quotation at 

the beginning, by Paul Mojzes says that 'time in the Balkans 

is understood mythologically rather than chronologically'. 

Time was different there, no doubt of that. Near the 

beginning of the book, I wrote 'I begin to wonder if it is such 

a simple thing, future following on from past'. So when I 

came across the Paul Mojzes quote, I felt he had put his 

finger on this difference. 

And there was the albatross, a portal so it seemed – 

mythological time, or metaphorical 

time, similar to dream time, to Alice-through-the-looking- 

glass time, where you meet people or creatures who are not 

'real' of course they're not, you've only come across them in 

books or films and everyone knows such characters are not 

real – the Dormouse, the Mad Hatter, the Walrus and the 

Carpenter from Alice, Isolde, 'mein Irish Kind' and 'Marie' 

and the 'hyacinth girl' and even 'Madame Sosostris', all from 

The Waste Land. And the albatross, straight from The 

Ancient Mariner. Not real? Ah but they are, a reality

different from the familiar everyday one perhaps, but still, 

very real. And this mingling of characters from different 

realities, including the past, was what I was trying to convey. 

But I abandoned that title and went for a quotation from

Faik Bey Konitza's essay, where he called Albania The Rock 

Garden of South East Europe.  

But earlier this year, during one of the final edits, I decided 

to go for something simpler.  So it became Tirana Papers as 

my friend Rob had always called it, when referring to it. And 

I discovered that was just as well, as Konitza's quote has

been used for another forthcoming book of essays by him,

and since the title was his and has always been his, there 

could be no question of me using it too.

Llogara Pass - The 'Rock Garden' of Albania 2

I thought the book was finished at the end of June. The 

editing part anyway. I had read it and reread it, checked all 

the spaces between words and at the end of sentences. I had 

become acquainted with the difference between en dashes, 

em dashes and hyphens. Then I got to work with my 

wonderful editor and book designer. Cover – yes, I knew 

what I wanted the cover to be. She worked on the image. 

And the text. No, it was not finished, it turned out. It had to 

be proof read, not by me, not again. By someone else. Then 

again by me. Then there were these commas... Go and read it 

out loud she said, as you would a poem. Then you'll find out 

where a comma's needed, or not. And even after it had been 

proof read by someone else, minuscule – but crucial – small 

errors were found to have slipped through, so it had to be 

read through one last time. 


And these small but loud errors are something I notice now 

when I read other books which is why it is so important to 

have someone else look at the text, preferably an eye or two 

that has never read it before.

Book signing
 (Photograph by John Reiach)His website is full of lovely images.

I did not include an acknowledgements page in the book, 

because once started, I would not have known where to stop. 

How could I miss out so-and-so? The list would have

become ungainly. It might even have become something else 

entirely, a whole new chapter, or story. So I took the easy

way out. But I am indebted to Jennie of Main PointBooks 

and Textualities, for all the amazing work she put into it. To 

my friends and family who encouraged me all the way, to  

Robert Carver 

who made so many helpful suggestions, and to all the friends 

and colleagues who appear in the pages, particularly Rob 

Snashall who came up with the title, when we were in 


To Tom Bryan who encouraged me to keep a journal in the 

first place, and wrote me a letter every week in the days 

before emails had completely replaced letters. 

To P* who wrote long emails and sent me books and 

earplugs when I couldn't sleep at nights for the barking dogs. 

More recently, to Bejtullah Destani who has given me 

editing, translating and reviewing work that's been such a 

practical help while I was working on the book. 

To Sean Bradley, for including the launch in the Word Bank

programme of events in Edinburgh. 

And to all the angels, both incarnate and discarnate, who 

have given assistance, when energy and motivation flagged. 

You can read an excerpt from the book here - with apologies 

for the peculiar fonts which of course are not present in the 

book itself!

Design for a bookmark:Images of Albania

From top to bottom - 

Museum at Kruje, 

Bicycle Stall, Tirana, 

Museum at Gjirokaster, 

Donkey & Bunker, near Dhermis 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Flamingo Bridge & Other Autumn Ways

Leaderfoot Railway Viaduct and 2 other bridges

Recently I've been visiting bookshops which I haven't been to before. After a search on the internet, I've discovered some that I hadn't even known existed. Searching out these shops, using public transport, has also given me the opportunity, armed with a map, of exploring new walks.....

These colours meeting me everywhere, like familiar characters, these vivid trees, orange and wine-red, bright yellow, green, still – avenues of them, against the blue of sky. The 3 hills, the 3 bridges, the Trimontium and Tripontium, you can see why the Romans settled here. Pict-free presumably, as this is north of Hadrian's Wall.

Built in 1865, disused in 1940s, some of the 19 arches of the Leaderfoot Viaduct

The gorgeous viaduct on its slender pink legs, the Flamingo Way I decide to call it. You're not allowed to walk along it and I study the bars and barbed wire, decide it could be done, but – today I'm carrying a backpack of books and even if my clothes aren't precious, the books are and I think – not today but – maybe one day. Barriers have that effect on me – a stubborn small and elf-like part of me disputes the barriers humans have put up -
The other day, I went onto the railway line that's being renovated. Of course you're not supposed to go on it, but it was Sunday, no one was around, and the surface has been evened out and flattened, a little gravelly, good for cycling on. It was beginning to get dark, the machines, earth-diggers, gougers and flatteners, were all asleep. When I turned off, along a track leading to the road, there were 4 gates I had to go through. 3 of them were stuck fast, so I had to lift the bike over them. I come back home tired these days, but it feels good, out in the sunshine, among the wildly coloured trees, rows of them laid out like crops of colour, delicately shaded, rows of small fires burning by the path and by the river.

In the bookshop courtyard, drinking coffee with sun hitting my face and the silent valley just beyond. 

On another walk, the wind moves the dried seed pods still attached to the whin. Lots of little rattles, so reassuring – they'd pause, then start up again.

Beyond the pink-legged bridge, the path continued by the river. A solitary row boat beside the river bank.

Then the path vanished and the wooded hill rose steeply. I pulled myself up by the low branches of saplings. Slid sometimes, on the moist earth, loose and leaf-covered. I wasn't wearing the right shoes, hadn't intended walking today. But that's the joy of maps, I have discovered. They mark trails or paths, or dismantled railways, and that caught my eye, after I left the bookshop in the courtyard in the golden valley.

Following this trail, crossing a road, coming back onto the once-railway track – I discover this stupendous viaduct, that one is not supposed to walk over. I suppose the fear is for people's safety. My grudge is that people are not allowed to make the choice, whether to take a chance or not. And I am so far from being a person who takes risks. I'm too fond of the enjoyments of mobility to do that. I may attempt some difficult things, take on some challenges, but I don't take many risks. There again, it could be the fear of people bringing damages, if they hurt themselves – but surely, a simple notice saying something like – unsound structure, enter at your own risk? Couldn't we give some risk back to people? 'Society' or 'the government' seems to be held responsible these days – even in bad weather, floods or snow-storms, MPs can be toppled, keel over like trees in a high wind, if they are seen to be 'ill-prepared'. But at least the Matterhorn, Mount Everest and other very risky places have not been circled with a ring of barbed wire, put out of bounds, because they're dangerous.

The Sun makes a tiny arc in the sky, at this latitude, this time of year. Shadows are always long, sweeping, stately, territorial. They claim whole valleys. Frost on the path this morning. Ice like thin sorbet on the water in the bird dish. And on a puddle in one of those shade-gripped valleys by the river, beyond the Flamingo Bridge. I climbed out of the valley, through the woods with the helpful trees, across a field, back onto the narrow road to Trimontium. 

Trimontium, Three Mountains, old Roman camp