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February 2013 - Incoming Signals

When “Nottingham” was in its earliest stages of being “conceptualized” – the heady moments of characters and their names “coming” to me, and the beginnings of a plot line forming (although the line was hardly linear at that point) – 1994 was well underway. I was trading hours for money working at a Montessori preschool where my daughter finally accepted the setting, personnel, and surroundings (this preschool was “our” third attempt) as an acceptable alternative to being with her Mommy-Mama. Even then she was inventive with words!

Mrs. Anne was the lively, kind directress who was all ears when it came to hearing about my newly published first novel and this other historic novel that I was in the midst of conceptualizing. When I told her about Arthur Nottingham, the main character, she got the queerest look on her face. I asked her if this character bothered her in some way.

“Arthur Nottingham is the name of my grandfather.”

She then proceeded to tell me little vignettes about him!

“Don’t tell me!” I implored her.

Still, to this day, I cannot get the song, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” out of my mind whenever I think of Mrs. Anne or her British grandfather. The expression, “the monkeys are getting married,” and its meaning always come to me whenever it rains while the sun is out. Mrs. Anne, you did more than teach my daughter how to be away from her Mommy-Mama for three hours a day. And our little “shy child” has read the book that you loaned to me, Like Water for Chocolate. I now see how that book helped with the formation of “Nottingham.”

At about the same time, I told a neighbor about the female character, Camille. This female stared at me in a rude manner and informed me that the name of her dearly departed relative was Camille.

I shrugged: I wasn’t changing that name for anyone or anything or any coincidence!

In the fall of 2008, Husband somewhat derisively told me that the surname of Arthur sounded ridiculous. “There is no one named Arthur Nottingham!”

“Yes, there is.”

I then told him about the “incoming signal” that I’d received from Mrs. Anne more than decade earlier. The existence of a real person with that name did mean, however, that I had to come up with a different surname for Arthur. I decided to make him a true Scots, at least on the paternal side! I would finally be able to do something with that recipe for haggis, courtesy of Alton Brown.

I truly thought I’d left Scotland behind me when THE DAWN was published. However, within my personal life, events and situations of recent vintage (the past few years) prompted me to say to Husband and then to my very dear friend, “These things are dredging up wayyyy too many ghosts from my past. And some of them still have flesh on them!”

My very dear friend said, “You could always write about them.”

“Now why would I want to do that? I am trying to live in the present.”

“Aw, that’s no fun.”

My subconscious is a busy little bugger. This past fall, while eating breakfast (wretched bran flakes), there appeared in my mind the name, “Alexander Aberdeen,” something which sounds reminiscent of Arthur Nottingham. We all know what became of that character. But I am not dealing with a British grandfather; this character was somewhat inspired by my stern Scots great-grandfather whom I never met, but whose photograph I saw. Stern does not begin to describe the demeanour of the man! Fiercely severe is a good beginning.

When I recall the photograph, I can hear this man saying in a Scots brogue: “Miserable sinners will be hounded to their death.”

And by this man alone!

I also have decided that this piece of fiction is going to be a novella. (Something inside of me is already laughing!) How long can it take to tell a tale of two years, 1919-1920? I know: Whatever length it takes to tell the story is the length you must use. Don’t make your composition longer or shorter than is necessary to say what you must say fully and well.

I have also checked in life and on-line (the alternate universe) and there is no one with that name, not even on Facebook (where no one knows each other anyway). I then purchased a cute little travel poster of Scottie dogs and a gorgeous print of Glencoe. I framed them; they now hang by my desk as part of re-decorating the unfinished room that has become known as “my room.” I then bought tartan valances, vastly reduced, for my sunroom for the holidays.

Christmas of 2012 became The Tartan Christmas. By that point in time, I’d already begun reading about the history of Scotland (wars galore), and gathering background material on famous Scots; office equipment of the early 20th century; the years 1919 and 1920; Glasgow; Scots recipes; and music of various types. Foggy days and mossy rocks outside my windows were poetically described (almost annotated) in the green journal.

That entire green journal became filled. I went through it and sorted out pertinent usable material, writing the information onto the 8-1/2x11 legal pads. Those pages were put into appropriately labeled files. That green journal was then expunged. I started a Word file for “The Ghost.” I noticed that this process was not taking years, like it used to when I had thirty other things to do! Now there are only ten or twelve other things to do!

I then put the files into the storage box (along with the files on The Westerns) in the detached garage. I try to make it a rule not to work during the holidays. It is never my fault if someone gives me a book and it is a good one, and “they lose me” for extended periods of time.

Come the New Year and, one night, I wrote the first four pages of what jokingly has become “The Ghost.” I have often counseled my son, “In life, something starts out as a joke, and then it becomes quite serious.” This development is now occurring with this piece of fiction.

I input those four pages – the exciting beginning of this novel -- into the Word file, but then, thinking I was moving too quickly in the process and that things were developing prematurely, I printed out those four pages, deleted them digitally, and placed the four pages into a file. I put this file in the storage box.

The storage box is dark blue, made of hard plastic. It has a red top. It is sizeable. It sits atop three other boxes of the same type, in front of a large window at the rear of the detached garage. Lifting the cats off of the pillow on the top storage box (where the files are “hidden”) and thus depriving them momentarily of their sunlight became an annoying routine for them and for me.

Husband noticed that I was taking out and putting away the files from the storage box at bi-weekly intervals. “The Ghost keeps coming back into the house,” he commented.

“Yes,” I wryly agreed. “And he has more flesh on him each time.”

I thus have now accepted working on this novel. The files sit atop my desk. The cats remain in peaceful slumber in the rays of sunlight atop the pillow on the storage box. A large framed print of 19th-century downtown Glasgow at night, with eerie streetlights in the chiaroscuro, hangs in “my room.” I am reading a superlative book about film noir, The Dark Side of the Screen, by Foster Hirsch. Copious notes are being written into a new green journal.

I have cooked cullen skink (modified) for the second time and can say that this white fish chowder has lived its life. Dear daughter has privately informed me that “Dad” is a little worried about future Scots recipes, especially the desserts. Having eaten some of them as a child, along with mutton, which I never liked, I can attest that he has little to fear.

It therefore did not feel at all unusual when, after discussing “The Ghost” with my very dear friend, she chatted about her neighbor, a surgeon from Scotland who became transplanted to America twenty years ago. I blithely asked where from Scotland he comes. She confessed that she did not know much about Scotland.

“Well, there is Glasgow and there is Edinburgh,” I offered.

“He’s from Edinburgh.”


And Alexander Aberdeen is not a mature surgeon; he’s a young civil engineer!

I learn all the time, after having written fiction, the truths that are stranger than my fiction. I experienced an epiphany of sorts in December while riding up in elevation to a tree farm to select the Christmas tree. With dawning amazement, I said,

“I thought I’d written THE DAWN merely about the past. It is also about the future.”

Husband agreed and smiled. It is not easy for him to live with someone receiving incoming signals. And although I do get visions (especially while I iron and sew); and I do “hear voices,” they are assuredly not from saints. Husband has, however, told me that dear daughter believes that her Mommy-Mama is Joan of Arc. As for dear son, I recall his inscription to Eliot Cohen’s book, Supreme Command, his Christmas present to me one year (and they did indeed “lose me” for an extended period of time):

“To the supreme commander of the home and the school.”

In the eyes of this young civil engineer, I am a shorter, kinder, gentler version of General de Gaulle, wearing a beige sheath and ecru pearls, with hair upswept, serving scones and tea and a ruthless slice of the truth. Debussy’s Clair de Lune plays in the background.

Bon appétit!


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