Meet the Nethergate Writers – Roddie McKenzie

Welcome to first of an occasional series of Q&As, where we will get to find out a little bit more about the people who make up the Nethergate Writers.

First up is Roddie McKenzie.

1. How long have you been a writer?

I have written poetry for eighteen years, fiction for thirteen years and non-fiction (technology and biological science) professionally for thirty eight years.

2. Have you had anything published?

Eighty one peer-reviewed scientific papers, six book chapters and five book reviews in bioscience; also seventeen letters in the press; eight short stories in books, nine on line and one in a magazine; ten poems on line, two in books, and twelve in magazines; and finally, one song in a magazine.

3. Do you have a writing routine?

Every day I try to spend at least an hour on writing projects, even if it is just revision or editing of previous pieces or polishing grammar skills.

4. Who is your literary hero or heroine (real or fictional) and why?

Iain Banks, for bringing prominence to post-modern Scottish literature; Hunter S Thompson, for the irrepressible, irrational and selfish character Raol Duke, his alter ego; Alan Warner, for the brave and courageously beautiful survivor, Morven Caller; Irvine Welsh for bucking the trend that said vernacular in prose was death to a writer; Herman Hesse for spiritual despair and beauty in “The Steppenwolf” and “Narziss and Goldmund”; PG Woodhouse for mad satirical delights and Raymond Chandler for micro-characterisation, rapid action and noir atmosphere.

Roddie (Far right, back row)
Roddie (Far right, back row)

5. Do you prefer working in a particular genre?

Interlinked short stories, prose poetry, rhyming songs/poems and rap.

6. Do you have any writing ambitions?

To publish collections of poetry, short stories, children`s novels and novels.

7. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Take note of constructive criticism, but believe in your ideas; read voraciously-including what established writers say about the craft; establish a writing routine; try to get your work in front of an audience and see how it flies; and write principally, because you enjoy it. If that doesn’t ring your bell – save yourself the agro… and give it up!

8. What are you reading at the moment?

Denis Johnson`s “Jesus` Son” and Liz Lochhead’s poetry, “Fugitive Colours”.

Wittering from the Webmaster – 5th April 2017

Our Chairman, David Carson, was off performing Grandfatherly duties in the heart of Europe this week, so it’s still me with the latest update.

7 members of the Nethergate Writers faithful made it along tonight, for this extra, hastily arranged meeting.

We began with a discussion of a variety of different writing contests that members had brought along details of. Fiona began, with information on the Friends of Broughty Ferry Library Poetry and Prose competition, which is open to local writers and is looking for 500 words of prose or 5-20 lines of poetry on the subject of ‘Time and The Seasons’.

Roddie mentioned the various contests being promoted on the Scottish Book Trust website, and also the recent call for submissions from Gutter Magazine of new Scottish writing.

Craig also raised the Scottish Book Trust’s ‘Nourish’ contest – 1000 words of a true story on the theme of ‘Nourish’, to be included in an e-book to be published for Book Week Scotland 2017.

Moving away from contests, Rosie also mentioned the upcoming Scottish Association of Writers club representative meeting in Perth on 22nd April. No one present was able to attend, but Rosie has more details if someone would like to be the Nethergate Writers’ representative.

We then moved on to discussing the writing that people had brought along.

We began with a piece from Abby, which was the beginning of a longer story and based on a recent real life experience. It was well received, but there was some discussion of possible confusion regarding the various viewpoints used. It lead on to some interesting discussion of the possible motivations of one of the main characters, and her real life counterpart!

Roddie had brought a long a selection of 50 word poems for consideration for our upcoming collection. One the subject of ‘The Nethergate Writers’ and another composed entirely of song titles went down particularly well.

Ray read us a small poem about Bobbkin Bunny, who met a rather unfortunate end, but still managed to raise a laugh.

Craig also had some 50 word stories that were enjoyed by all. One prompted a discussion of the possible side effect on sales of an uncomplimentary mention of Fife, though!

And we finished up with Tom reading the introduction to a short story – a dark entry into a story of a not quite so dark dream. This lead to an interesting discussion of people’s various experiences of dreams, night time conversations and sleepwalking.

Wittering from the Webmaster – 24th March 2017

We had our first Friday night meeting last week, and as David couldn’t make it, I’ll provide the feedback this time.

Our usual Chair, David Carson, wasn’t able to make it along this evening, but 9 of us did, including two new folk who had seen Abby and Rosie’s presentation at the Creative Dundee Petcha Kucha event and decided to come along and see what we are like.

As we had new visitors, we started with some quick introductions, with each of us describing a little of our writing interests and what original brought us along to Nethergate Writers.

We then moved on to discussing upcoming dates, and Rosie agreed to check that we could secure the room for our next meeting.

Craig had brought along some questions for a proposed ‘Meet the Nethergate Writers’ section for the website. A couple of additional questions were suggested by other members, and Craig agreed to send them round the group.

After the boring business was out the way, we also had some work to discuss. Roddie had brought along two poems – Justice is an older poem, which became sadly topical following the dreadful events in London last week, and lead to some interesting political discussion. Frustration looked at a situation we have all been unfortunately familiar with at one time or another – the inability to make the transfer of thoughts and ideas to the written page, and was very much enjoyed.

Craig had brought along two possible entries for this month’s Scottish Book Trust 50 Word Fiction competition, on the subject of campfires. They were both well received, but the second was seen as being more of a ‘story’, while the first seemed a more descriptive piece. Craig agreed that the second would be the best option for submitting.

We finished our evening with a short writing exercise. Richard said that he had been thinking about memorable opening lines, so we each tried to come up with an interesting or arresting opening. Richard’s own was seen as particularly amusing ‘It was a wet Wednesday morning when my goldfish bowl caught fire’.

We agreed to meet again next on Wednesday 5th April.

Poetry: Definitions

Today is World Poetry Day and here’s something from Roddie McKenzie to mark the occasion.

Book Page Definition Paper Dictionary Word Text

Poetry: Definitions

Life is a machine

and poetry is its ticking.

Life is a jewel

and poetry is its sparkle.

Life is a dance

and poetry is the music.

Life is a journey

and poetry is the wineflask.

Life is  the rainstorm

and  poetry is the rainbow.

Life is the man

and poetry is his madness.

Roddie McKenzie  21/3/17

And That’s Not All

One of our members, Richard Gillies, presents this short piece, which he assures us is not entirely autobiographical.


And That’s Not All

When you are young, your personality is new formed, and if there is anything wrong with its construction you take a long time to accept there is any need for improvement. That is why, when trying to impress, you will go to any length to put a sticking plaster over what is on the outside, rather than dealing with what lies within. Take myself: I used to buy Falcon hair spray to improve hair that probably did not need any improving, yet something sold me into using it. I must have thought it made me look better, but whether it did was never been clear. Studying the evidence as impartially as recollection affords, I cannot thing of a single benefit that came my way as a result of its application. It may have had the opposite effect, and acted as a deterrent, yet the data is not there to pass judgement, and all I can say is that the advertising won through. This was at the time when people did not like their hair to move. Hats were becoming a bit, well, old hat and so people were using their hair as a surrogate certainty, and like most surrogates they required to have qualities similar to the original.

Not only did I want my hair not to move, I thought I could do a better job of cutting it myself. I am being a tad disingenuous here, as the real reason I was giving the barber a miss, was because I could not stand hair going down the back of my neck, and if I could cut it myself I could institute appropriate measures to reduce such an event taking place. I had challenged the hairdresser, a Mister Flockhume, on this but he protested that not a single hair had ventured south of my white polyester collar, yet I could always sense the occasional follicle escapee, either in reality, or in my head. Anyway, it was the uncertainty that troubled me most and with this in mind I bought myself a hair trimmer. This was the time when infomercials were beginning to appear on T.V. and people like K-Tel and Ronco were pushing their wares at every turn.

So I ordered one, and when it arrived, I unwrapped the brown paper and found a small box that once opened evoked great promise.  Though it looked like a lice comb from hell, with its double sided line of teeth and razors embedded, it resembled a serrated guillotine, curiosity of the unknown prevailed and won me over.

From the start difficulties began to become apparent. As each side of the device had a business end, handling proved rather awkward and, in addition, it soon became obvious that cutting your own hair required standing outside of yourself. That was only possible metaphorically, so plan B saw me with a mirror in hand, held in such a way as to reflect the reflection of the back of my head. This was where the hallway mirror came in useful. But this was not plane sailing, for as well as the fact that one hand was already employed there was the problem, which the nautical phrase invoked, in that the sea was not a plane flat surface and neither was the mirror, which had a fish-eye glass. So this was where dreamy theory and real reality began to part company.

I commenced to cut my hair, with large swatches falling to the floor like frayed cloth. After two or three cuts the blades were showing signs of becoming dull, causing further tugging, which brought forth the occasional yelp as the blade dug in. Yet everything seemed on track and as I finished off, the inspection that followed did not seem to disappoint. The occasional sight of blood was written off as work in progress: something that would be resolved by practise. Overall I was pleased with my first attempt, and being my own barber gave great satisfaction. And so, with this in mind, I went through to the kitchen. Though not looking for a second opinion, nevertheless I was given one anyway. My mother dropped one of her Aynsley Bone China tea-cups, collateral damage that would later be added to my charge sheet, for it broke the integrity of the set I was told, and caused her to shed tears, but whether the cause or the effect was to blame, for the origin of her precipitation remained unclear, I never could fathom. My father took a different tack and found it all very amusing, so much so, he hurried off and returned armed with his Instamatic, firing off all four sides of his flash cube, just to get “that special moment.”

So, like most gadgets, the DIY hair trimmer never lived up to the hype, and was filed in the ashcan. I was sent off the next day for some damage limitation, an exercise the austere Mister Flockhume carried out without any comment save to ask if I wanted something for the weekend.

Although looking a lot older than my years, I was still quite young and in my naivety I said.

“Do you have any smoky bacon flavour?”

At first he looked confused, lifting his scissors from my hair, he paused for a moment, looking at my reflection, he then returned to his industry replying in his monotone voice.

“I can see sir is a man of the world.”