Hazel McHaffie


Falkirk KelpiesI frequently travel along the M9 to Stirling, so I’m very familiar with the sight of the giant heads of these Falkirk Kelpies rising into the skyline just beside the motorway. Indeed, I watched them being assembled on site over a period of a mere 90 days. However, this past week I took a disabled friend who loves horses to see them up close for the first time.

For those who don’t know, kelpie is the Scots name for a mythical water spirit inhabiting our lochs and pools. The creature most commonly takes the form of a horse (a magical one possessing the strength of 100 ordinary horses), but can adopt human form. In the case of the Falkirk Kelpies, the horses are Shires or Clydesdales – the powerhouses of the early industrial revolution who pulled barges along the nearby canal for years. They were chosen to represent the endurance of the inland waterways and the strength of the local communities.

The finished product is stunning: two perfectly formed horses heads, one looking down, one up. The sky was deep blue behind them as we arrived, the sun making the metal glint. A perfect view.

Closer up you get more of an insight into their composition. Essentially there’s a metal scaffolding, with 990 unique stainless steel skin-plates rivetted to it to form the shape, the bulging muscles, essential bone structure and flowing mane.

Close up showing platesClose up of mane


Marvelling at their intricacy and cleverness, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities with writing books. The first impression a reader gets is that of the finished product, an attractive cover, a neat block of pages perfectly assembled to create the shape we recognise and love. Only when we draw closer, start to explore the contents, do we glimpse the foundations, the component parts the author has spent so long assembling: the plotting, the symbology, the careful writing, the narrative threads, all neatly dovetailed together to form a recognisable story.

Sheer size of the sculpture

As with the kelpies, it depends where you stand what kind of a perspective you get of the whole. I was awed by the sheer scale of these sculptures; they stand 30 metres high – the largest equine structure in the world. My friend in her wheelchair was even more overwhelmed. (We’re the tiny figures in the centre of this photo.) But the designers had made our access easier with ramps taking us into the very heart of this monument.  Is there a lesson here for authors? Some tomes are so vast we don’t get beyond feeling the heft of them. Some are so dense and impenetrable they put off all but the most determined and obstinate amongst us. Even some less bulky ones would perhaps be more accessible with signposts and gentle guidance.

After a while we had space to notice other niggly things about this magnificent structure. Weeds were growing over the floodlights. What kind of weeds do perceptive readers find if they linger long in my writing, I wonder? Slime was accumulating in the water in places. Is my prose as fresh and clean as I initially intended? The wind was keen and chilling out of the sun. How hostile or warm is the context into which our precious books are being launched? Have we chosen an auspicious day?

We lingered a while, fingers wrapped around hot chocolate, watching the changing effects of clouds and wind bringing the mighty heads to life – they appeared to be turning towards us! – awe-inspired by the majesty, by the creative mind and hands that could produce such beauty. I inwardly resolved to truly value my library of books as I had valued this metal masterpiece.

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