1. The Ghost Residency

One day, many years ago now, when I was a child, my mother stood up from her seat in a crowded cinema and cried out, “West Sands! Oh, West Sands!” The cinema was the Dendy Brighton, in Brighton Bay, Australia, and the film was Chariots of Fire, which became famous for its soaring music by … Read more

2. West Sands Eidolon

My young self growing up in Australia regarded beaches as a waste of good reading time. I recoiled from their broiling heat, the sandstorms that whipped out of nowhere and that stung so much that the only solution was to dive for the nearest towel and throw it over my head, their seas full of … Read more

3. The Leuchars Ghost Train

The young woman on my screen smiles and tells me to hold my passport up to the camera. A bit to the left, she says, so we can see your face, and yes, that’s all done now. She’s taking screenshots, and this is my HR interview. After all these years and all my hesitations and … Read more

4. Uncanny in the Byre

There were two women sitting in the Byre Theatre cafe that day, and me. They didn’t see me, in one of the cafe’s dark corners, just another person sitting hunched over a laptop. A black and white cat wove its way between the chairs and disappeared towards the stage door. The first woman was thin, … Read more

5. The Spirit of School 6

My father rings to tell me about his days as a student in the English department. There was a lecturer there, he says, who really taught him to study. My father is proud of this. But after a moment he hesitates. We had our lectures in School 6, he says. I tell him I know … Read more

6. The South Street Double

In the book I’m writing there’s a scene where one character touches the face of her former lover and asks, but is this your face? This would be a perfectly reasonable question to ask of her treacherous lover, although the setting – a lunatic asylum – gives the question a different weight. Were it not … Read more

7. Once Upon A Time on North Street

Once upon a time there were three external examiners: the Examiner for Ancient Classics, the Examiner for Forensic Medicine, and the Examiner for Russian and Comparative Literature. Their paths had never crossed before that morning when they all came down for breakfast in the small B&B on North Street. They were all very smartly dressed, … Read more

8. Ectoplasmic

The woman fiddles with the bunch of keys at her waist, picking out a long-necked key as she comes to the door. Next to her are several buckets containing algae, krill, and anchovies. The door’s just a verdigris patch in the vast slab of concrete wall that looks over the West Sands. There’s no one … Read more

9. Spooks

The story I’ve been planning is about a spy, of sorts: a woman who passes unnoticed because she’s an expert in sleight-of-hand and the diversionary illusion. She started life many years ago as Charlotta Ivanovna – the rifle-toting, circus-born, orphaned governess in Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard. She has just a handful of lines: “my … Read more

10. Banquo at Northpoint

Meanwhile, the shade of a man is cupping his hands and peering into the windows of Northpoint café. It’s closed, of course, but it’s set up in there as if for a feast, or a banquet, with tablecloths patterned with sparrow-hawks and wild horses, and vases with sprigs of heather. He turns to the boy … Read more

11. The Spirit of Enterprise

Ada Lamb, PhD, has been in Toppings bookshop for several hours this morning, occupying her favourite sofa in the narrow corridor between Biography & True Stories, and Self-Help & Enterprise. The proofs of her bestseller-to-be, Dr Ada’s Guide to Leaving Academia (Vol. 9) are strewn across the two-seater, a teapot of the finest bone china … Read more

12. I, Myself, and Hamish McHamish

It is well known that cases of mistaken identity abound in St Andrews, and never more so than at the stroke of midnight. It’s dark tonight, and the town is still, apart from the distant, driving beat of grunge music coming from the writer-in-residence flat on South Street, and the sound of someone tapping a … Read more

13. Ich bin ein False Examiner

And so I ran down North Street, late for my exam board. As I ran, I heard a woman calling my name, and I turned. ‘Hello,’ she said. ‘I’ve been sent to meet you. We’re just about to start the subject exam board, and then we’ll have the all-school meeting later in the day.’ I … Read more

14. The Mapmaker of St Rule’s

When I was younger I lived for a time in Siberia, in a large industrial city which had a shadow city alongside it. I knew about this other city only because I would sometimes see people queueing to get on a bus with no number,  showing their passports as they got on. Later I found … Read more

15. The Thing at the Bell Pettigrew

Charlotta Ivanovna is spinning on the rope ladder she’s lowered through an upper window of the museum, her little dog tucked under one arm, a torch between her teeth. Her feet touch the floor, and she sets the dog down. ‘Stay close,’ she says. They move together through the rooms of glass cases, leaving a … Read more

16. The Troika of Destiny

The flat of the Writer-in-Residence is easy to spot these days, what with the troika that seems to be permanently parked on a double yellow line outside it. Three black horses stand guard, heads drooping, blowing hot air into the night, and the cabbie is to be found either asleep in his bundle of furs … Read more

17. The Last Train from Cupar

The day was dying as the cabbie dropped me at Cupar train station and went to resume his place among the ranks of taxis that now wait there all day and all night long. I climbed the bridge that runs over the platform, and at the top I stopped for a moment to look down … Read more

18. The Dying Day

And now the streets of St Andrews are quiet, stiller than they have ever been since St Regulus’s prayers died away. There’s no signalman, no sign of the dreaded Carol, no Cyrilla with her armadillo. There are no writers dancing the tango, no Thing in the museum, no women in the Byre sipping coffee, no … Read more

19. Dum spiro, spero

But then I think of the people of St Andrews – the lecturer holding a tutorial from under the stairs;  the student in a hall of residence, talking to her mother on the other side of the world; the children in Pittenweem, playing in a garden; the cinema usher, asleep, dreaming that this is all … Read more

20. Marie Celeste

I go into my kitchen, here in the Midlands. My empty coffee cup is on the table. I pick it up and frown at the rings it leaves behind. I put the cup in the sink, next to the stainless steel pot scrubber. Someone else will wash it up, I think. I poke a finger … Read more