Hemingway Advises Fitzgerald

I was trying to get him [Fitzgerald] to write his stories as well as he could and not trick them to conform to any formula, as he explained that he did.
‘You’ve written a fine novel,’ I told him. ‘And you mustn’t write slop.’
‘The novel isn’t selling,’ he said. ‘I must write stories and they have to be stories that will sell.’
‘Write the best story you can and write it as straight as you can.’
‘I’m going to,’ he said.

A Moveable Feast
Ernest Hemingway



Zen Thought for the Day


I picked up a beautiful little edition of a book called Zen Buddhism in a shop in the west of England recently. No author or editor is credited (and there’s something Zen-like about that). The book was published by the Peter Pauper Press (Mount Vernon, New York) in 1959. This publisher was so named because it sought to publish elegant editions that ‘even a pauper could afford’ (you can find out more about the Peter Pauper Press here).
The book is subtitled An Introduction to Zen with Stories, Parables and Koan Riddles with Cuts from Old Chinese Ink-Paintings. Some of the stories will be familiar to readers of the popular book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, edited by Paul Reps.
Here is a quotation from a good (again, uncredited) introduction:

Each of us is the apex of a cone of past ancestors, and the beliefs, acts, and events which determined them. Each of us is also a point from which a new cone of individuals and events will arise, each in some part a product of who we are.



Bike Adventures


The Dolan fixed-gear bike is having some adventures this summer! First of all, the Ness to Leverburgh ride I did in my native Hebrides in May raised an amazing amount of money for Stornoway’s Bethesda hospice (where my mother passed the last weeks of her life). Ullapool Book Festival, a favourite of anyone who has ever attended it, generously donated money from one of their famous coffee mornings this year, plus they had a charity bucket during the festival to which many people kindly donated. These lovely gestures boosted the monies raised by £470-00!
So, the bike-ride raised £2687-01 which, with Gift Aid of £433-00, totals £3120-01. I am humbled and grateful and want to say to everyone who contributed what they could and who supported the ride for this cause:

Back to the present! This week the Dolan and I are back in Scotland, delivering a film as part of the Hansel of Film project (part of the Cultural Olympiad, and brain-child of Shetland Arts, Mark Kermode and Linda Ruth Williams. It is a UK-wide relay (Shetland to Southampton and back!) of screenings of short films made by the public as part of the London 2012 Festival.
You can find out more about it here.
I am delighted to be taking part. Shetland runs two brilliant concurrent festivals every year – WordPlay (books) and ScreenPlay (films). I’ve had the pleasure of participating in a number of events at these great festivals and so it feels good to give something back to Shetland Arts and its associated individuals and communities.
Some info from the Hansel page about my involvement:
Kevin MacNeil
Cycling from Ullapool to Ayr, with an occasional bus, cadged lift or train journey thrown in!
“The only thing better than a moving picture is a moving moving picture. If it’s quite a poignant film then it’ll be a moving moving moving picture. I’m riding a fixed-gear bike because it’s a physical counterpart to the mental exercise writing demands. I also want to support Shetland Arts as I lived in Shetland for a year and I reckon WordPlay and ScreenPlay are two of the best festivals in Scotland.”

Cycling through one of my favourite places in the world, the Isle of Harris. You might recognise the landscape from 2001: A Space Odyssey! (“Tinted shots of parts of the island were used by Stanley Kubrick as the surface of Jupiter in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.” -Wikipedia)


Info on Gigs and the Debut Album


It’s a busy week. Generous, lovely people have already donated £2377.51 to Bethesda Hospice following my 130km fixed-gear bike ride from Ness to Leverburgh on Monday.
The fantastic folk at Ullapool Book Festival have kindly decided to donate the proceedings from their Sunday coffee morning to ensure that Bethesda gets even more money! How great is that!
Talking of the Ullapool Book Festival, I am teaching a Writing Workshop on Dialogue there this evening (I think it’s sold out, though).
Tomorrow, Friday, Willie Campbell and I do a gig at the Festival to promote our debut album, which we launch officially on Saturday in Stornoway.
Kevin MacNeil & Willie Campbell Are Visible From Space is already getting brilliant reviews. It features the Guardian Single of the Week Local Man Ruins Everything, which was also Single of the Week in The List and on Steve Lamacq‘s radio show, plus many other tracks Willie and I have written together. We are very proud of the album – how it sounds, how it looks, what it is. 🙂

“This is the kind of album that once you’ve put it on you play it to the end because you’re held captive by the sheer audacity and skills of the performers in melding together cohesive use of poetry and ‘out-there’ music…Inspiring…I found myself mesmerised by the articulate detail and storytelling much like that of a child bewitched by a tale from the Brothers Grimm. Buy it and see what I mean.
Pete Fyfe

From Saturday it will be available not only as a physical album but as a download on iTunes and Amazon.

Thursday 10th May
Ullapool Book Festival Village Hall Committee Room 7.30pm Kevin MacNeil writing workshop (Moniack Mhor event) Limited places. Booking essential £7

Friday 11th May
Ullapool Book Festival Ceilidh Place Clubhouse 11pm Willie Campbell and Kevin MacNeil £7

Saturday 12th May
Album Launch An Lanntair Stornoway 7.30pm Free!

Thanks for all your support, folks.


130km Fixed-Gear Bike-Ride for Bethesda

Some of you will know I’ve been in training for a gruelling charity
cycle to raise money for the Bethesda Hospice in Stornoway, which
cared for my mum in her final weeks. And, yesterday, I did it. Here’s
how it went…

My big plan was to cycle from the lighthouse at Ness – the northernmost point of Lewis –
to Leverburgh, in the south of Harris: 130km in all, and a route that
involves a lot of daunting hills. Being a man who likes to push
himself (or who is borderline insane, depending on your point of view), I
decided to make it that much more challenging by doing the ride on a
fixed gear bike. That, for the non-bike-nerds among you, means you
can’t change gear to help you climb, or even freewheel when going
downhill. You must pedal every inch of the way. (I love fixed gear bikes and don’t own a bike with more than one gear).
I trained hard and felt reasonably confident, but, although
I’d done long fixie rides before, I hadn’t tried anything serious involving
this sort of terrain – so I didn’t quite know how it was going to be.
I reckoned it would take me six or seven hours.
Yesterday – the allotted day for the cycle – dawned bright and sunny –
a relief, as I’d feared a rain-soaked, wind-buffeted ride, which would
not have been much fun. Instead, I was lucky with, and grateful for, the weather, and the ride, past some of the islands’ most stunning
scenery, was actually enjoyable in places. And, yes, it was tough – the Devil’s
Elbow just outside Tarbert stands out as a particularly difficult
section. The Clisham – the highest hill in the Outer Hebrides – was not too bad. I didn’t stop for lunch or for any meaningful rests, just had the occasional energy gel or chocolate bar along with a good drink of water.
I pushed through, and cruised into Leverburgh in the mid-afternoon
after just 4 hours 51 minutes of cycling. I was truly elated with that
But, most importantly, thanks to everyone’s generosity I’ve almost doubled my original target of
raising £1000 for Bethesda. I’m currently on £1960, and now really
hoping I can make it to £2000. I’m humbled and awed by the response to
my ride, which says so much about the way the hospice is regarded both on the island and elsewhere. Last summer I saw at first hand what an amazing job the
Bethesda staff do, and it made me determined to do my bit to help
raise money for this wonderful place. Thanks so much to everyone who helped me (Dad, Charlotte, Francis, D.R., Innes, Norrie) and to everyone who sponsored
and thus supported the vital service in the community Bethesda provides.

If you wish to contribute a donation, please click here. 🙂


My Favourite Bike (and a gratuitous picture of a deer)

With my epic bike-ride for Bethesda Hospice just a few days away I thought I would say a few words about the bike that will be hinderi- I mean, accompanying me, and offer a few observations on biking, components, etc. Oh, and don’t get me wrong, I love this bike more than is seemly. But it is going to be a tough day in the saddle, what with the weather (I’m going against the prevailing Hebridean winds) and the hills (which are all in the last third of the ride) and, y’know, the whole fixed-gearness of it all. The last time I checked there were no fixies on Lewis/Harris and, apparently, just one on Skye. This is probably because of the aforementioned weather and hills. Still, I began riding this kind of bike when I lived in Shetland and that really is a windy and hilly place.
Anyway – this bike is a custom build around a Dolan Champion track frame. It’s a beautifully designed frame, aerodynamic and fairly light. I don’t have a bad word to say about this frame (except, perhaps, that it’s a shame there are no colour options. I wouldn’t have chosen a white frame, though now that I’ve had it a while I have grown fond of it).
By the way, there isn’t an ounce of carbon on my bike (I gave up carbon and multigeared bikes at the same time. In fact, I sold a Cannondale C6 to build up the Dolan. Swift and nicely engineered though the C6 was, I have no regrets at all.)
The frame comes with integrated track forks and headset, and an alloy seatpost. I’m 5’10” and I like to ride a 54cm frame, though some people my height would opt for a 55cm or 56cm frame. It’s all about individuality and preference. (Remember when buying a bike, especially if it’s your first bike for a while, go to your local bike shop and try out different size bikes, don’t just order a bike on the internet because it ‘looks good’. And be equally aware of the importance of frame size when buying a second hand bike. An ill-fitting frame is as good as no bike at all – worse, perhaps, since you could end up doing in your back, knees, etc).
Saddles are very much a personal thing. Don’t believe anyone who tells you ‘X is the best saddle around’. What they mean is ‘X is the best saddle around for me’. You really have to try out different saddles until you find one that suits your anatomy and riding style. I use an Adamo saddle with an unusual design; it has a cutaway at the front. I like it because, being a Time Trial saddle, it is constructed with the kind of rider in mind who sits quite forward on the saddle (as I tend to do). The Adamo is a ‘Marmite’ saddle – many riders positively hate it. I’m very happy with mine. It relieves perineal pressure in a way no other saddle in my experience does. If they were (significantly!) cheaper I’d consider getting an Adamo for each of my three bikes. That said, a little variety is not a bad thing in cycling.
The bars are unbranded and were one of the less expensive components on my original custom build. I liked how they looked.

However, 38cm drop bars are not ideal for climbing so out came the saw and soon the drop bars were bullhorn bars.

I covered them in Bianchi’s trademark celeste bartape as I often cover myself in Bianchi’s trademark celeste clothing! The bars are lighter now and way better suited to climbing.
I use a Gimondi crankset as a mechanic in my local shop was praising it to me one day. So – I had to get the Gimondi! The crankset on my Dolan’s original incarnation was second-hand and I had always intended to replace it. I love the Gimondi’s retro look. The chainring is 48t, the crank arms are 165s.
I tend to use platform pedals ever since an incident I won’t go into here. (Though as an aside, I will say this: quite a few cyclists have told me how realistic they found the bike crash scene near the beginning of A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde. A potentially lethal bike crash I had before that book came out actually happened after I had written that scene!) The pedals are MKS Sylvan Track Pedals. Japanese coolness. I teamed them with MKS steel toeclips with leather detailing. It’s useful to have toeclips as sometimes my cadence on the downhill is ridiculous because of the gear size I’m using.
I mentioned the 48 tooth chainring. I usually ride a 48t/15t but for the purposes of the Bethesda ride I am, on advice, using a 48t/20t. This gear is to make the Cliseam (highest mountain in the Outer Hebrides) and the Devil’s Elbow (short sharp shock of an incline going South out of Tarbert) manageable. But in many ways this easier gear makes life more difficult. How? Because on the flat I can’t sustain the same speeds that I can with a larger gear like my favoured 48t/15t. This means my 130km ride will take longer, and use many more pedal strokes, than it otherwise would. And as for the downhill. Well, downhill is always fun on a fixed-gear bike as, of course, you have to pedal, pedal, pedal. But when you have to pedal so quickly your legs blur like in a cartoon – that’s a challenge in its own right. The toeclips will help ensure my feet don’t slip off the pedals. My cadence does go up to alarming levels on certain downhills in training. Sometimes I have to concede there is nothing for it but to brake on steep downhills, which is frustrating as it wastes energy and kills flow and momentum.
The brake – I only use a front brake on this bike, though you could convincingly argue that pedals also provide useful brake power – has a Campagnolo Veloce brake mech (I believe in using good quality brake mechs and pads) with a little black and white Goldfinger brake lever that suits the bike’s look and more importantly does a good job of doing what it’s meant to do.
The front wheel is a Halo Aero Rage, the rear a Halo Aero Race. They seem pretty good wheels: sturdy, not too heavy (though definitely not light either), good at staying true. I used to swear by Armadillo tyres (having used them without a single puncture for thousands of miles on my Danube bike), but now I use Schwalbe Marathon Plus as the puncture-proofing on them looks impressive and, so far, is impressive. I don’t mind paying a slight rolling-resistance penalty if I am less likely to puncture.
I use a Cateye Micro computer and a Polar FT4 heart rate monitor.
As well as training on the Dolan outdoors, I have been training on rollers with my Viva fixed-gear, an inexpensive bike I also love, but that’s for another blog.
When I was doing circuits of Richmond Park earlier today I just had to stop an jump out of the saddle to get a quick picture of this fella:

If you wish to sponsor me or just to find out more about my charity bike-ride, please click here. I hope you enjoyed the blog. It’s probably a little late to warn you that if you aren’t a bit of a bike nerd, this blog might not excite you too much. 🙂

The view that awaits me in Leverburgh. Love it!

Literature photography

Haiku to get you through a wet day

Here’s a haiku to get you through a wet day.

fierce rainfall soak in
contemplate every single
drop shake out the mind






New York City Photo Blog

I was in New York City doing some readings and enjoying a city I consider one of the friendliest, safest and most vibrant in the world. So I took some photos. Hope you enjoy them.



















Leaving New York’s never easy. Thank you, everyone involved, for a memorable trip.


Reading in New York City this week


I’ll be reading poetry in New York on the 3rd. Please come along if you’re in the area. It’s my first reading there for a decade!

Three Gaelic Poets: Reading “The Great Book”

April 3, 2012 – 7:00PM
Kray Hall
Free and open to the public
Three eminent Gaelic poets — Aonghas Dubh MacNeacail, Christopher Whyte and Kevin MacNeil — will read a selection of poems from The Great Book and selections of their own work.

This is a great opportunity to experience 1,500 years of traditional and contemporary poetry in one of the oldest languages in Europe. The readings will be bi-lingual – in the original Gaelic with English translations. Refreshments will be available.


Culture/Arts in General

A photo blog

I went home to the Outer Hebrides and took some photos along the way. I did a 100km single-speed bike-ride to maintain my training schedule. I confess I am insane for doing my charity cycle against the prevailing Hebridean winds! Anyway, here are my photos. Enjoy! 🙂 x