Saturday, 24 January 2015

Celebrating Robert Burns

As many people around the world will know (and not just Scots), Sunday 25th January is Burns Night, when Burns Suppers will be held the length and breadth of Scotland and further afield. If anything, I think it's becoming even more popular these days, and this weekend there's even a huge party taking place on Facebook, hosted by a group of authors. Feel free to join in the fun with all things Scottish!

The pride of place at a Burns Supper is of course the Haggis, or 'Great Chieftain o' the puddin' race', as Burns calls it in his Address to the Haggis. It is normally brought in on a silver platter to the sound of the bagpipes and is pierced at the relevant part of the poem's recitation. Thereafter, you will probably hear toasts such as the Immortal Memory, and Toast to the Lassies, plus songs and poems to celebrate the Bard. And of course the odd wee dram of whisky, or two.

Here's the famous Selkirk Grace which is normally said before the meal:

"Some hae meat and canna eat,
and some wad eat that want it,
but we hae meat and we can eat,
and sae the Lord be thankit."

One of my favourite Burns songs is Ae Fond Kiss, beautifully sung here by the wonderful Eddi Reader.

My forthcoming novel, The Highland Lass, is very much set in Scotland. Although mainly a contemporary novel about family secrets, alternate short chapters from 1785/6 trace the story of Highland Mary, one of Burns' famous loves, and her romantic-tragic relationship with him, in Mary's own fictionalised voice. It is a meaningful story for me as she is buried in my home town and I've known about her since I was a child so I hope I've done her justice.

The most we'll be celebrating the day tomorrow is by having a haggis, neeps and tatties starter!

Enjoy your weekend, however you are spending it.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Cover Reveal!

I’m so delighted to reveal the beautiful cover for my forthcoming novel, The Highland Lass, from Crooked Cat Publishing! The book will be launched on Facebook on March 10th and I expect I’ll have lots going on here on the blog as well that day.

The cover image perfectly encapsulates the feel and setting of the novel, as my heroine, Eilidh, returns to the west coast of Scotland to find the answers to secrets from her past before she can move on with her future.

The story takes the reader on a journey around some of the west coast that I know so well and short chapters go back into the 1780s to trace the story of Highland Mary and Robert Burns. I’ll post the actual blurb nearer the time, once I've got it right.

The above photo is the snowy hills across towards Dunoon and Argyll from the area on this side of the Clyde where I had coffee the other day. These are the hills that Eilidh will be able to see in the novel. No doubt I'll be posting more photos on Pinterest and Facebook over the next month!


Thursday, 15 January 2015

Paths to Publishing

We all have different paths we take to reach that ultimate goal of publication and I always like to read about other writers' journeys. So I'm very pleased to take part in Melissa Snark's Paths to Publishing blog posts during January.

It's my turn today and I'd be delighted if anyone wants to read about my own journey from my early writing ventures to where I've reached thus far. I'm also giving away an e-copy of Midwinter Masquerade to one random commenter on Melissa's blog - just click on the above link to see the post.


Monday, 12 January 2015

Edits and Covers

I’ve been having fun the past few days going through the first edits for my forthcoming novel, The Highland Lass, due to be published by Crooked Cat this spring, although it’s also time-consuming and a strain on the eyes at times. This is the part I love, as the hard writing should be mostly over and the professional editor has hopefully caught anything I need to address or correct. It’s notoriously difficult to edit our own work and I can’t believe the silly things our eyes pass over because we read what we expect to see!

At the same time, I've had contact from my cover artist and we've started to discuss ideas for this important part of the book. Not as easy as it sounds, but I'm happy with the actual image we’re thinking about at the moment as it suits the flavour of the story. It’s even more difficult when the novel covers two time frames, but it’s mostly a contemporary story and that will be the focus, as well as a rough indication of the setting (Scotland). It won't be as chilly looking as my photo of Loch Lomond above!

It’s an exciting move towards the actual publication and makes it feel real. Can’t wait until I can reveal more about it. Meantime, I’d better get on with the novella I'm supposed to be finishing, although my heart is still with The Highland Lass at the moment.

Just as well the weather has been terrible up here for days at a time – gale force winds and heavy rain. At least it stops me from gallivanting too much! Hope it’s not too bad where you are.


Thursday, 8 January 2015

Author Inspiration: Gilli Allan

I'm delighted to welcome lovely author and artist Gilli Allan to my blog today. Gilli was recently taken on by Accent Press who have reissued the first novel, Torn, in a three-book deal. It is a realistic portrayal of a modern woman’s struggles with life and love. Gilli very kindly agreed to write about the inspiration behind the story, so I’ll gladly hand over to her once I've shared a little of what the novel is about.


Jess has made a series of bad life choices and all have let her down. Escaping London, she sets out to recreate herself in the idyllic countryside, and this time she wants to get it right!

She wants to lead a responsible, tranquil life with her young son Rory, but soon discovers stresses which pull her in opposing directions – conflict over a new bypass, between friends, and worst of all, between lovers.

Educated, experienced, and pragmatic, James is a widowed farmer whose opinions differ from, and enrage, Jess. His young shepherd, Danny, is an uneducated and inexperienced idealist. Jess is attracted to them both, and realizes if she wants her idyllic countryside life to survive, she must choose her Mr Right.

Torn is available now from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Welcome to the Reading and Writing blog, Gilli, and thank you so much for being a guest who writes her own post!

What Inspired Me To Write TORN?

For me inspiration is never a single bolt from the blue. I am an “into the mist” writer, and the process of coming up with a new story is usually uncertain and haphazard. The initial idea can emerge from anywhere - something seen, heard, read or remembered - and on the face of it, it might seem insignificant; often, under examination, it can fade and crumble. But sometimes an idea grows stronger, as one thought prompts another, like the links in a chain.

The original seed for TORN was a momentary impression on a car journey, which imprinted itself like a snapshot in my mind's eye. I was the passenger and had just a split second to register a turning on my side of the road. A narrow lane sloped steeply down to the centre of a village which the main road had apparently been upgraded to by-pass.

I bet those villagers were pleased to have the main road re-routed, I thought. Followed swiftly by, but I doubt the people who lived along this road were so delighted! I went on to reflect that life is rarely black and white. There are always two, or more sides to every story. 

I began to think about a woman, Jessica, who arrives in a small hamlet in the English countryside. Only after settling-in does she discover that a contentious bypass to the nearby market town is planned. On its own this sounds like a pretty thin and boring storyline. I agree. It is, until other threads are added, pushing the by-pass theme into the background. 

The first thing I needed was an explanation for why Jess had made the move away from London. The memory popped into my head of an altercation I’d witnessed, between a man and a woman, on the pavement of London’s SW16. I suddenly knew that Jess had a ‘past’ and was escaping an abusive relationship. But surely her instinct might then be to lie-low, avoiding social contact? If so, there wouldn’t be much of story there. So I decided to make her a single mother. For the sake of her young son, she has to interact with the local community. Inevitably she begins to build friendships, but the friends she makes have opposing views - not just on the subject of the bypass but about life in general - which pull her in different directions. Jess wants to put her past behind her, to devote herself to being ‘just a mother’, but she is attracted to two very different men. Will she resist temptation?  

So TORN is a cocktail. The primary ‘inspiration’ of the bypass is the basis of the plot, which is then enriched and deepened by many more ingredients - some of which are based on personal experience.  After all, if in doubt about where next to go with a story-line, what better than using a real memory to trigger a variety of “what if....?” directions? There was my son’s grumble about an unfairness at his nursery school; a night-time drive through a country town just before Christmas; an incident recounted to me by a friend who had taken her young child walking on a local hillside; that warring couple previously referred to, and many, many more. But all these memories and experiences have been nipped, tucked, tailored or embroidered until they are no longer recognisable as autobiographical... But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Thanks so much for such an interesting post, Gilli – it’s fascinating to see all the elements that have gone into the development of such a strong story.

Gilli Allan started to write in childhood, a hobby only abandoned when real life supplanted the fiction. Gilli didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge, but after just enough exam passes to squeak in, she attended Croydon Art College. She didn’t work on any of the broadsheets, in publishing or television. Instead she was a shop assistant, a beauty consultant and a barmaid before landing her dream job as an illustrator in advertising. It was only when she was at home with her young son that Gilli began writing seriously. Her first two novels were quickly published but when her publisher ceased to trade Gilli went independent. 
Over the years, Gilli has been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers, and a driving force behind the community shop in her Gloucestershire village. Still a keen artist, she designs Christmas cards and has resumed book illustration. Gilli is particularly delighted to have recently gained a new ‘proper’ publisher - Accent Press. TORN is the first book to be published in the three book deal and Gilli confidently expects to become an ‘overnight success’ any day soon.

You can connect with Gilli on her Blog, Facebook and Twitter

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Goals and Motivation

It's that time of year again, when many of us try and make a few resolutions for the year ahead  - and just as many of us fail to keep them beyond the first month or so. I long gave up on making any at all but I've been inspired to set some goals this year, partly through a series of short online videos I watched and partly due to one of my Christmas gifts. Both have motivated me to set specific goals and hopefully to see them through this time!

One of the most motivational speakers and writers I've come across this year is Michael Hyatt. I subscribed to his blog ages ago but over the past few weeks I've particularly enjoyed his online introductions to his major course for this year: 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever. Although I'm not doing the actual course, I've already got so much out of his little videos that I was motivated to set some specific goals for my writing and health. If you want to check him out, you can find details on Michael Hyatt's Blog - it's worth just watching the latest Question and Answer podcast he did.

The other motivator is one of the books my daughter gave me for Christmas: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I've been aware of this for years and I don't know why it's only now I wanted to study it - perhaps it's the right year for it, as study is the correct word. I had thought it was a book to read through, but it's actually more like a course. I've long been a fan of the 1930s book, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brand, and suspected The Artist's Way was a kind of modern version. It is in some ways but goes beyond the original concept of the earlier book.

From the Morning Pages and Artist's Dates to the weekly exercises, it's a book to inspire and motivate an artist of any kind. So far, I've had a quick scan through it and have read the first two chapters where she explains the idea of the book, but I can't wait to begin the course in earnest tomorrow (Monday). In light of this, and Michael Hyatt's videos, I've made a sort of timetable for my week and one of the most important changes is to start with the Morning Pages, then after checking only emails, I'll get down to writing before doing any social media or online activity.

I'm always quite excited about a new year, but I have to say I'm even more enthusiastic than usual this year! I hope my motivation stays high and that my goals are more specific and achievable now I've written them down rather than just keeping them inside my head, as I normally do. Watch this space and I'll post an update at some point.

All the best with your hopes and plans for this year.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

From Hogmanay to New Year

Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas, or winter break if you don’t celebrate anything in particular. I had a great time with the family and I'm now stocked up with books, CDs and chocolate, amongst other lovely goodies.
Today is the traditional Scottish Hogmanay and although we now enjoy the main part of the evening with a meal at the village restaurant before ‘bringing in the bells’, at one time this was a huge annual holiday up here. When I was young, each housewife cleaned her home from top to bottom, everyone in the family had a bath and hair wash and the ashes from the open fire were taken out, ensuring we met the New Year as clean as possible. I'm afraid I didn't follow that tradition for long!

Having always lived near the River Clyde, we used to open the back doors at midnight to hear any ships on the river toot their horn to welcome the New Year. One tradition that still thrives in some places is the dancing. Many halls up and down the country host a ceilidh for Scottish country dancing. The best have a live group with fiddles and accordion – the most toe-tapping sound you’re likely to hear all year! With energetic eightsome reels and dashing white sergeants, jigs and strathspeys, very few people sit still. And even more young men now wear the kilt at special occasions, pleated tartan swinging at each turn. Enormous fun.

For those celebrating at home, our television channels bring us the evening’s entertainment from Glasgow or Edinburgh, with singing and Scottish dancing. As twelve o'clock approaches, the ‘bells’ are counted down until the stroke of midnight when we wish each other Happy New Year with a handshake, a kiss, and a toast. In the past, we used to then sit down to our first meal of the New Year: steak pie - at just after midnight! I still make a steak pie as the first meal of the year, but we have it a more sensible time on New Year's Day.

But another old tradition must be observed if possible. Each home should have a ‘first footer’ – a tall, dark and handsome man as the first person to enter a house any time after midnight on Hogmanay. He should bring a lump of coal for luck (not so common now!) and some shortbread or cake. Anyone visiting homes over the New Year period will always take something for the host. And of course, it wouldn't be Hogmanay without the ‘wee dram’ of whisky to toast the New Year. Cheers!

So here’s my toast to you all:

Wishing you a Happy, Healthy 
and Successful New Year!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas Greetings

Wishing all my fellow bloggers, readers 
and writers a Happy and Peaceful Christmas.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Winter Solstice

It's the Winter Solstice this weekend and the days have been gradually getting darker. The shortest day of the year, normally December 21st, is still a magical time for many people in the northern hemisphere. This time of year partly forms the background for my full length historical novel, Midwinter Masquerade, which is set in the Scottish countryside in 1816.

The Winter Solstice is the day when the sun appears to stand still before changing direction, although it's actually the earth which tilts around the sun. The days will slowly begin to lengthen again until reaching the longest day on the Summer Solstice. The word solstice is thought to stem from two Latin words: sol, meaning sun and sistere, to stand.

The days leading up to the Winter Solstice were known as Saturnalia in Roman times, marking the moment when the sun was reborn after the shortest day and longest night. To celebrate the occasion and to welcome the coming of light, most people left aside their work to enjoy as much merriment and feasting as possible.

Another important part of the festival was the winter greenery brought inside to decorate homes around this time, such as ivy, holly, laurel and mistletoe, all illuminated by the light from candles. The evergreen ivy and the holly with its bright red berries have had many myths and legends attached to them over the centuries, often to do with new life and rebirth.

Here in Britain, there is a wealth of carols and poems celebrating the place holly and ivy have in our December traditions, both pagan and Christian, from Advent, through the twelve days of Christmas to Epiphany, such as this poem by Robert Herrick from the 16th century.

The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is we find a room
To welcome him. The nobler part
Of all the house here is the heart.

Which we will give him, and bequeath
This holly and this ivy wreath,
To do him honour who’s our King,
And Lord of all this revelling.

Many people still celebrate this special time at the Winter Solstice and it is especially sacred to the Druids and some pagan beliefs. Stonehenge in England is one of the most significant ancient spiritual sites where hundreds of people will gather to watch the sun set on the shortest day tomorrow and will welcome the new sunrise after the longest night of the year. 

Do you celebrate the solstice at all?


Monday, 15 December 2014

Greek Food and Christmas Concert

I had another special birthday treat yesterday, which will probably mark the end of all the celebrations for reaching a new decade! What a very lucky woman I am to be blessed by so many lovely friends and family.

My friend Liz booked us dinner at a Greek restaurant which I hadn't known existed, right in the heart of Glasgow. Wonderful food, absolutely bursting with Mediterranean flavour, and quite different from any meal I've had since holidays in Greece or Cyprus. A great venue too, with our table overlooking the magnificent George Square, which at the moment is adorned with Christmas lights, big wheel, carousel and such like.

For afterwards, Liz had bought us tickets for a Christmas Charity Concert at the beautiful Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, one of my favourite places in Glasgow. They had opened it up last night especially for the event which was to celebrate and fund-raise for one of the best cancer centres in Scotland, the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre.

Around 600 people attended the event where a fabulous award-winning primary school choir, a young former patient with an amazing voice, and the swinging Rock Choir took turns to sing beneath the magnificent organ and ornate ceiling. We even got to join in couple of Christmas songs at the end. Although we were reminded a few times about the reason for the event and that very few of us won't have been touched by this terrible disease in one way or another, it was an evening of celebration. I even won a box of chocolates on the fun tombola at the interval!

Now it's back to some semblance of work during this week before Christmas is upon us.