Saturday, February 13, 2010

Brownsbank - an anthology

This humble cottage, Brownsbank, thirty miles south of Edinburgh was the home of poet Hugh MacDiarmid (Christopher Grieve) from 1951 until his death in 1978, and his wife, Valda Trevlyn Grieve, until hers in 1989. During their occupation the cottage became a literary pilgrimage - visited by Ginsberg and Yevtushenko, amongst others. Afterwards it was preserved by the Biggar Museums Trust and a series of writers took fellowships based there, of which I was one from 2002-5.

Many visitors to the cottage have been inspired to write about the experience and the resonant sense of its past residents - the literary lion, the feisty Cornish wife, the infamous mice. And now, some of these writings have been collected in an anthology which collectively conjure the cottage, its occupants, the surrounding hills. Amongst the writers are James Robertson, Elizabeth Burns, Bill Headdon who comes from Valda's beloved Bude, and poet Michael Collier, who visited MacDiarmid from Maryland in 1976.

I was always intrigued by Valda's room in the cottage, her famous red hair and her part in the poet's life and success. In 2005, my play about her, The Best Snow for Skiing, was broadcast on Radio Four, researched by talking to people who knew her and by reading her letters to her husband (now collected in a book by Beth Junor, Scarcely Ever Out of My Thoughts). I'm proud that a short extract of my play appears in this new anthology. Gerry Cambridge's photo of me with Valda's portrait at Brownsbank in 2005 can be found on his website.

The anthology is available from Brownsbank Cottage Committee for £7.99.

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