Monday, 30 March 2015

Scottish Association of Writers

In my previous post, I mentioned that I was going to the Scottish Association of Writers annual weekend conference and how it was usually inspiring. Well this year was every bit as interesting and enjoyable.

Our current venue is the very good Westerwood Hotel just north of Glasgow, which provides everything we could want in good food and hotel facilities, especially for a conference. A highlight on the Saturday is the delicious mini pastries and muffins provided at the morning tea/coffee break and delicate little cakes at our afternoon break!

Friday Dessert!

This year, we had excellent speakers, adjudicators and workshops ranging from some of the elements necessary for short stories with Shirley Blair from The People's Friend, lots of great advice on the self-publishing business from Linda Gillard, traditional publishing and how to write a good letter to agents and publishers from Allan Guthrie, and studying story structure with Alexandra Sokoloff. This was only a selection of what was on offer in between the competition adjudications.

Alexandra Sokoloff
One of my favourite workshops was the one on structure with Alexandra, who is not only a novelist but was also a screen writer in Hollywood for many years. As a film fan, I really enjoyed the way in which she discussed several films as an illustration on how to use the three-act structure in story plots, highlighting this on a whiteboard. She was also our keynote after-dinner speaker on Saturday evening and held us captivated by her own story and the lessons she learned to apply to her writing along the way. If you're interested in reading more about her and receiving her tips, you can sign up to Alexandra Sokoloff's website.

Needless to say, part of the pleasure of the weekend is meeting up with old friends and new from all over Scotland and we only stop talking when having to listen to the speakers! It's a wonderful way for writers to get together and we always go home inspired for another year.  There is usually friendly rivalry between the writing groups to see who can win the most trophies, but everyone who enters any of the competitions receives a written critique from the relevant adjudicator. The Association is open to affiliated writing groups from anywhere in Scotland and individuals who don't have a group can join the Writers' Umbrella as a postal member. You can contact the secretary of the SAW through their website if you want details.

Maybe see you next year at the conference!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Weekend Inspiration

I'm looking forward to going off to the annual Scottish Association of Writers weekend conference from Friday to Sunday. Three days of inspiration, competition adjudications, professional speakers, wonderful food in a beautiful hotel, workshops and lots of fun and chat with writers from all over Scotland. Can't wait!

One of the workshop presenters is Shirley Blair from The People's Friend and I'm not surprised she has been invited back after her massively over-subscribed workshops last year. I'm sure the numbers will be more controlled this time. I'm looking forward to the story structure workshops with Alexandra Sokoloff as they sound very interesting. I'm even more looking forward to a break from domesticity over the weekend and I'm sure husband will enjoy a weekend on his own.

Talking of inspiration, I'm featured on Victoria Howard's blog today, outlining how The Highland Lass was partly inspired by its Scottish setting. Is setting important to you as a reader or writer?


Monday, 23 March 2015

Old Acquaintances

I love those totally unexpected moments when you've decided to go to a particular place and end up meeting an old acquaintance purely by chance. That's what happened to me at the end of last week when I was browsing in a shop and heard my name mentioned, only to discover someone I used to work with many moons ago. Both of us had gone to the city on the same day and ended up in the same shop, and I was originally meant to be doing something else that day which was postponed.

It was lovely to meet her again and we chatted for ages, as you do. We're both now doing what we love, she with a holistic therapy business and me with writing. Even better, I'm definitely going to book an appointment with her and she immediately friended me on Facebook and started telling her American friends about The Highland Lass! I must say that Facebook is certainly one of the best ways of keeping in touch with people you don't see very often, if at all.

That's my March newsletter now winging its way to subscribers. If you would like to receive the monthly newsletter (and don't already), you just need to pop your email address into the box on the side of the blog.


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

All Things Celtic

Since I have a lot of Irish ancestry on my mother's side, I'm happy to pay homage to St Patrick's Day. One of my earliest vague memories is a journey on a big ship to Ireland when I was very young - but I can't remember anything about actually being in the small village where my granny's family came from, apart from an old photo of me sitting playing on a beach!

Husband and I did visit several places in Ireland more recently and one of my favourite was Cobh, last stop of the ill-fated Titanic. It has such a pretty harbour and the magnificent 19th century Gothic St Colman's Cathedral which sits on the hill overseeing the fishing port. Cobh has a very interesting history which is highlighted in the harbour-side museum.

One of my publishers, Tirgearr, has been invited to showcase all their Irish-set books on the Celtic Rose Blog today, then tomorrow the Scottish-set books will be featured which includes Midwinter Masquerade. I believe our books are getting an hour each to be in the spotlight and mine is around 11am tomorrow - although I imagine they'll all remain on the blog for the day. If you like novels with a Celtic flavour, you might find some to tempt you.


Saturday, 14 March 2015

First Interview

Well, it's been a very exciting week and I think I've just about caught up with myself at last - not to mention tidying up my work area a bit and trying to concentrate on writing the next Aphrodite and Adonis novella!

Today, I'm very pleased to be interviewed by Canadian author Melanie Robertson-King whose father grew up not so very far from where I live. Please stop by her Celtic Connexions Blog if you have time and you'll hear a little more about The Highland Lass.

Meanwhile, I was delighted (and relieved) to see the first two 5* reviews on Amazon UK - this is the bit we long for with a certain amount of apprehension!

Enjoy your weekend - I need a very long walk this morning.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Morning After the Launch

I was overwhelmed this morning when my publisher, Crooked Cat, posted a message on Facebook to say that The Highland Lass was in the top #10 in two categories on Amazon UK! And here's the proof - must log it while it lasts! A huge thank you to anyone reading the blog who bought the book.

The official launch party was on Facebook and it was a wonderful, interactive day from before 9am until after 7pm. I was even featured in the Greenock Telegraph yesterday which made the day even more special. But even before that, I was absolutely delighted to receive an email from a writing friend who warmed my heart with the following extract from her message:

"Began reading The Highland Lass just after 7am this morning and very reluctant to stop reading but I have to go out! Your presentation for your novel is fantastic, what a lot you have got in it. I shall look at it again when I get home... I am delighting in the words I have read so far and can't wait to get back to the story."

Forgive me for feeling a little giddy today!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Highland Lass Launch Party!

A huge welcome to the online launch party for my new Scottish novel, The Highland Lass, which is released today by Crooked Cat Publishing and is now available in e-book first across Amazon. The launch party is also happening on Facebook today, if you're on there.

This is the 'book of my heart' as it is mainly set around my own area in the west coast of Scotland and I've rewritten and redrafted it many times over the last few years until I was happy with it. It also received a very good report from the RNA New Writers' Scheme before I was a full member, but I rather neglected it for a while. However, it's been worth the wait to see it now published by Crooked Cat!

First of all, pull up a chair, make yourself comfortable and enjoy a cup of coffee and a yummy pastry while you have look at what's coming up.

Here's the trailer I made which you might enjoy as an alternate blurb - at least it has pictures!

And if you prefer a slightly fuller blurb, here it is:

Eilidh Campbell returns to her Scottish roots from America with one main aim: to discover the identity of her real father. But her mother’s past in Inverclyde is a mystery with family secrets, a book of Robert Burns’ poems with a hidden letter and a photograph link to the Holy Loch at Dunoon when the American Navy were in residence. Was her father the American naval officer in the photo?

Staying with her childhood friend, Kirsty, while searching for answers, Eilidh begins to fall in love with handsome Scot Lewis Grant, but just how free is he? Together they trace the story of Highland Mary and Robert Burns, with its echoes to her mother’s story. In short historical chapters, Highland Mary tells her story from 1785/6 in her own fictionalised voice. From Dunoon, to Ayrshire, with a couple of scenes in Glasgow and Loch Lomond, and culminating in Greenock, Eilidh finds the past is closer than she realises.

I'm going to be giving away a few small Scottish prizes today so let's start with the first question to win a packet of Scottish wild flower seeds (two winners).

Question 1: What is the national emblem of Scotland? (Hint: it's not whisky or tartan!) leave your answer in the comments to be in with a chance.

How about a little snack? These are the famous Tunnocks Tea Cakes - delicious mallow covered in milk chocolate on a biscuit base! Have a glass of juice with it while I look out some Scottish music.

Amongst the venues Eilidh and Lewis visit during the course of the story, one of the most significant for them as their relationship progresses is Loch Lomond. This is a beautiful song to go with the beautiful scenery.

Time for another question to win a tartan pen from Glasgow or a ladies tartan handkerchief - and neither is the tartan in the question!

Question 2: What are the two main colours in the Black Watch Tartan?

For those who are ready for something stronger, how about raising your glass with a wee dram, or sparkling Champagne. And maybe some chocolate to go with it, or a piece of home made fruit cake.


While you imbibe, here's a short excerpt from the modern part of the The Highland Lass when Eilidh first meets Lewis Grant:

Finding the memory box had only added to her questions. Apart from the old black journal handed down through the years, and the photograph of her mother with an unknown naval man, it was the note hidden inside a small book of Robert Burns’ poems that had convinced her she must come back to Scotland. Part letter, part verse, the words were branded on her mind.
To my own Highland Lass,                         

Although I loved you deeply, I never loved you wisely,
And though we now must part, you are ever in my heart.

I’ll never stop thinking of you, or loving you both. It was never meant to happen this way. You are so much stronger than I am.

Yours for aye and aye,
At first, she thought she had found a rare letter from Robert Burns. Then the flowing black script made her hesitate. It was too modern and the verse too amateurish. But there seemed little doubt that whoever wrote the letter may well have been her natural father.
    “You do know we’re in the air now, don’t you?”
    Hearing the amused, rich Scottish tone, Eilidh frowned and opened her eyes. She hadn’t paid much attention to her travelling companions, apart from a cursory glance to acknowledge they existed; she’d been too busy worrying about take-off. She glared at the owner of the voice, indignant at her thoughts being interrupted. For all he knew she might have been in a deep sleep.

And now for another question to win one of two Celtic bookmarks.

Question 3: Which famous Scottish writer wrote The Waverley novels?

Talking of the Waverley - this is the name of our famous paddle steamer that sails up and down the River Clyde in summer, and further afield. Lewis mentions it to Eilidh at one point as it sometimes leaves from Greenock on its way to Dunoon or Rothesay or other island. One of the other elements in the novel is the mystery surrounding Eilidh's mother and the father she has never known.

During the 1960s and 70s and beyond, the American Navy was based in the Holy Loch and the families descended on the small seaside town of Dunoon. Lots of young men and women, like Eilidh's mother, enjoyed the touch of glamour with the dances both sides of the river - and this provides an improtant strand in the story.

While you imagine sailing on The Waverley, you can listen to some rousing Scottish pipe music.

Do we need some more cakes yet? Here you go.


Alternate short chapters of The Highland Lass are set in 1785-6 and are told in Highland Mary's own fictionalised voice. She is one of Robert Burns' great loves, partly because their love was short-lived. I've always been fascinated by her story as she's buried in my home town, Greenock.


Here's a short excerpt from the historical part of the novel, when Mary is living in Argyll before she goes to Ayrshire where she will meet Burns:

They say our land is so green because of the vast amount of rainfall but that’s a small
price to pay for such perfection. Besides, I love the rain and its softness against my skin.
One of my favourite games, when I have time, is to kirtle up my long skirts and run against
a light downpour, letting it finger my hair until the strands lie flat against my scalp. Ma
thinks I am soft in the head for liking the rain so much, but it makes me feel clean inside
    “You’ll be catching your death of cold one of these days, my girl. I’ve never seen such
nonsense. I’ll be finding you more work to do if you have a notion for wasting time.” That’s
what Ma says most days.
    There is always more work to be done. With milking the cows, cleaning out the byre,
feeding the pigs and hens, or helping Ma with the baking or looking after the little ones, it is
a rare thing to find a bit of peace. Is that not the trouble with families? Maybe it would be
good to escape for a while, to see what it is like somewhere else. My brother, Robert, is to
go away soon, to the town of Greenock away down on the side of the River Clyde where he
will learn his trade in the great shipyards. At least distant family members live there and
he’ll be glad to be doing men’s work in a busy town. Perhaps I’ll be able to visit him once
he is settled, and become part of the busyness for a time.
    “Mary! Where are you, lass? We have need of you in here for a moment.”
    There! I am summoned to be told my fate. What shall it be? A dairymaid or such like, I
have no doubt.
    “Yes, Ma, I’m here.”
    They are sitting at the big wooden table in the kitchen where Pa is drinking his wee dram
of whisky and Ma is sorting through her sewing cotton and needles for the never-ending
mending. We all grow so quickly that hems are always being taken up for the younger ones
or let down for Robert and me.
    “Pa has secured a post for you, Mary, at a big house in Ayrshire, where a Mr Hamilton
has need of a nursemaid for a while. It will be good for you to get away from these small
parts and mayhap you’ll make a life for yourself down there.”
    Ma’s voice is brusque, but I’m not deceived. That’s her way when she does not want to
show too much emotion, and I hear the slight wistfulness in her voice as though she wished
she could have such a chance to escape.

Each of the modern chapters in the novel is headed with a couple of verses from different Burns poems. One of the most beautiful songs with such lovely sentiments is My Luv's Like a Red, Red Rose. This video is particularly good as it shows a variety of images of Burns and some of his loves.

Time for another question to win a copy of this little book of Robert Burns poems.

Question 4: Who did Burns eventually marry?

I think I've made you work hard enough, so here's a fun quiz that even has answers. To win the final prizes of a magnetic notebook (two winners) or a fridge magnet with one of our Scottish dialect words - Dreich - tell me what the dialect word for child is. Click on the link for the easy peasy quiz!

Easy Peasy Quiz

I'm also featured on Terry Odell's Blog today - please drop by if you have time and find out which new colour I would be!

Well, I hope I've stirred your interest in The Highland Lass. If you should wish to find out what happens to all three women in the three different periods: Eilidh, her mother (Mary), and Highland Mary, you'll find the book available on Amazon UKUS, Canada and Australia and elsewhere and I'd be very grateful to hear what you think of it!

Don't forget to leave the answers to the questions in the comments along with your email address and tell me which prize you would like to win - I'll get my husband to choose the winners at random.

Thank you so much for helping me to celebrate the launch of my new novel.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

A Touch of Spring

What a difference it makes to see the sun at last! Even though I'm mostly an autumn and winter person, my spirits lifted this morning when I woke to a bright bedroom and no sound of rain or wind. It's been awful here the past wee while and I do hope we're over the worst. I love the sense of nature wakening up and the idea of renewal, of looking forward to whatever the next few months will bring.

The first excitement is the online launch of The Highland Lass on Tuesday, March 10th. Please come along and join in the fun on Facebook, if you're on there, or on the blog here - I'm partying on both! If you've been to one of my launch parties before, you know to expect a lot of interaction, a quiz or two and prizes. Here's the selection of small Scottish gifts I'll be giving away. Details on the day!

Then on the last weekend of the month, I'm heading off to the annual Scottish Association of Writers Conference which is now held in a lovely hotel north of Glasgow, from the Friday till the Sunday. I'm looking forward to it even more than usual this year, as I'm not adjudicating a competition or running a workshop. I'm aiming to relax, enjoy listening to others, catch up with friends and come home refreshed and inspired. That's the plan anyway!

Hope you're having a good weekend.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Half Price Reads for eBook Week

To celebrate Read an eBook Week, my Irish publisher, Tirgearr, is offering most of their books at half price on Smashwords from now through Saturday. You can see all the available books on the Tirgearr site and they each have a link to Smashwords. For instance my Tirgearr books are here.

Use the code RAE50 when buying on Smashwords - you can download in any e-format from there.


Tuesday, 24 February 2015


It's a while since I mentioned Pinterest on the blog (I think!) so I thought I'd update my thoughts on using this platform. Unlike many other social media sites, Pinterest is mainly visual - and that's what appeals to me as I love looking at images, whether that's photos, film or TV. Although I have several boards, I could easily spend even longer on the site at times as it's so interesting.

Evidently, it's now becoming the third most popular site with authors, after Facebook and Twitter. It's a simple idea: once you've signed up, you create boards of images - as many as you like. These can be anything at all you have an interest in from writing and food to history, and everything in between. The idea is to follow other boards and hope that people follow you. Whenever you pin an image to your boards, it's shared on the main entry page where everyone logs in. You can also share your images to Facebook if you wish.

You can either upload your own images to your boards or re-pin from other boards, which is kind of the idea behind Pinterest. The most useful idea for authors is to create a board for each of your novels, using images that have something to do with the setting, theme or characters, or anything else you can think of. It's also excellent for creating a mood board for a work in progress as images are often the best inspiration. You can find my boards here, if you want to see what I mean.

Let me know if you're already on Pinterest and we can follow each other!