On the books that helped in the writing of Marram

On the blog: Leonie Charlton on the books that inspired Marram, published on www.sandstonepress.com, March 2020.

Sitting by the fire on this sleety 'Storm Jorge' day I am treating myself to some Pablo Neruda time. This line from 'The Song of Despair' calls me back again and again:

‘Y la ternura, leve como el agua y la harina’/‘and the tenderness, light as water and as flour’. 

Largely it was poetry that that I turned to for inspiration when I was working on Marram. I limited myself, in the most liberating of senses, to contemporary Scottish poetry. Before writing each chapter I spent time with my poetry books finding a few lines that resonated with where I was in the book. These lines would set the tone and help me feel my way into that next chapter. Poems by Niall Campbell, Chris Powici, Kathleen Jamie, Jen Hadfireld, Kevin MacNeil and several others resourced me in my writing journey. The lines I set before the prologue were from Em Strang’s 'A Poem Before Breakfast’. And chapter two, where we ride through Barra, began with several lines from Chris Powici’s poem ‘Lapwings at Sherriffmuir.'

These extracts of poetry were eventually removed from Marram - ‘less is more’ generally being a good call - but the poems were a huge help in the writing of the manuscript.

There were also non-poetry books I went to for inspiration and guidance. In particular Kathleen Jamie’s essay collections Sightlines and Findings, and two very different books both titled Wild - one by Cheryl Strayed and the other by Jay Griffiths. Skating to Antartica by Jenny Diski was another book that inspired me; she tackles the subject also at the core of Marram - a difficult mother and daughter relationship - with great humour and humanity. 

Before making the trip to the Hebrides I had bought several books for reference, but there was only one that I read cover to cover. This was Poacher’s Pilgrimage by Alastair McIntosh. His erudite, visceral and spiritual relationship with the Outer Isles gripped me. My copy is well-worn and well-loved having travelled through the islands in the pickup, before sitting on my writing desk and being much referenced during the completion of Marram. Yet it was the poetry books I went to most of all, the poems that I leavened my writing on, chapter by chapter - poems that I was so glad for, and all their ‘tenderness, light as water and as flour.’