Monday, 20 March 2017

Scottish Association of Writers Conference 2017

I'm just back from another wonderful weekend conference at the excellent Westerwood Hotel north of Glasgow. I've been going to the Scottish Association of Writers conferences for many years and actually won my first competition there way back when. This then led to my first publication in My Weekly since it was their editor at that time who had chosen my story as winner!

with members of my writing group
This year was as enjoyable as ever. Part of the pleasure is meeting up with writing friends from all over Scotland and each year we add new friends to the mix. It is still very competition led which allows members to enter different categories for which they receive a written critique - most valuable when adjudicators have taken time to offer constructive suggestions.

Although I've adjudicated a few times in the past, I was more than happy to relax and enjoy the weekend without entering, or judging, or running a workshop. However, I was even more delighted to support my talented daughter, Victoria, who was a competition judge for the first time. She was also first on after dinner on the Friday evening! She needn't have worried as she was every bit as professional and helpful as anyone else I've ever heard.

Victoria's workshop
Another highlight of the conference is the provision of workshops which run all day Saturday and Sunday morning. There is usually something for everyone and this year I spent Saturday at the following (after the remainder of the adjudications): Learning from Mistakes as Novelists from Michael Malone, The Pot of Gold in Poetry from Alison Craig and Writing Historical Fiction from J David Simons - I picked up a few gems from all three workshops.

On the Sunday morning, it was Victoria's turn and she assured me she didn't mind me attending hers - I couldn't resist the subject: Inspiration Everywhere. And it truly was inspirational as many of the attendees told me afterwards. She's experienced in delivering workshops to secondary pupils but this was her first to adults and I'm certain it won't be her last! We all came away with excellent ideas on how to creatively use what we see and how to build a story.

Of course the weekend is also about the eating and chatting and this year we were honoured to have Helen Lederer as our after-dinner speaker on the Saturday evening. Helen also kindly adjudicated the drama competition and she is as funny, engaging and approachable in real life as she is on screen or in print. Victoria managed to get a photo - it was Helen who suggested a selfie together!

It's back to reality today but I'll take a few days to absorb all I learned and enjoyed, as well as follow up any opportunities that were shared amongst us. Roll on next year!


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Historical Romance and Crime with Bill Kirton

A very warm welcome to an interesting and hugely talented writer, Bill Kirton, who is based in the north of Scotland. It is many years since Bill was featured on the Reading and Writing blog so I am very pleased that his new novel, The Likeness, is now available. I’ve read the prequel, The Figurehead, and look forward to catching up on Helen and John’s story some years later. I love the blending of crime and romance set in Victorian Aberdeen. Here’s a little about the story.

The Likeness

Aberdeen, 1841. Woodcarver John Grant has an unusual new commission - creating a figurehead to feature onstage in the melodramas of a newly-arrived theatre group. Simultaneously, he’s also trying to unravel the mystery of the death of a young woman, whose body has been found in the filth behind the harbour’s fish sheds.

His loving relationship with Helen Anderson, which began in The Figurehead, has grown stronger but, despite the fact that they both want to be together, she rejects the restrictions of conventional marriage, in which the woman is effectively the property of the husband.

As John works on the figurehead, Helen persuades her father, a rich merchant, to let her get involved in his business, allowing her to challenge yet more conventions of a male-dominated society.

The story weaves parallels between the stage fictions, Helen’s business dealings, a sea voyage, stage rehearsals, and John’s investigations. In the end, the mystery death and the romantic dilemma are both resolved, but in unexpected ways.

The Likeness is available on all Amazon sites - the link will take you to your own country.

Thanks for sharing some of the background to your latest novel, Bill!

I’ve been writing for decades and yet I keep learning new things about how to do it. That was brought home to me by my latest novel, The Likeness, which was published last October, It’s the sequel to The Figurehead and I only wrote it because a few readers said they wanted to know how the central relationship between wood carver John Grant and Helen Anderson, the daughter of a successful ship owner, developed. So, despite the fact that I’m labelled ‘crime writer’, the impulse for starting The Likeness was largely concerned with romance.

To my puzzlement, it took four years to write (which is three years longer than any of my previous novels). Then there was the fact that I only got the ending right after six attempts at it. Why? Probably because of Helen, who wasn’t just the central female character, but the central character, full stop. The crime element is still there because there’s still a mystery death to be explained but, alongside that, the story of Helen’s first steps in becoming part of her father’s business took me to some interesting, and highly enjoyable situations.

The book is set in Aberdeen in 1841, a time, of course, when women of a certain social status took piano lessons, sewed samplers, deferred to their men, ran households and were comprehensively trapped in roles which many, probably most, found oppressive. Despite the fact that Mary Wollstonecraft had written A Vindication of the Rights of Women some 50 years earlier, men were still writing books with titles such as Advice to Young Ladies on the Improvement of the Mind and Conduct of Life. Helen not only operates in such a context, she aspires to equality in her commercial dealings with her father’s associates. All of which I loved writing about, getting much enjoyment from her easy, witty successes over one in particular.

But then, having described how John solved the  mystery of the dead woman discovered at the beginning of the book, I was left with the job of resolving how John and Helen’s love could be developed, realised, consummated, or whatever the appropriate verb is. And the repeated attempts at that resolution came about because Helen was as clever and stubborn with me as she had been in her business meetings. I tried various compromises but knew they weren’t acceptable to her. I found myself putting words in her mouth which she just wouldn’t say.

So, gradually, the ending evolved and reached a point at which I, Helen and, fortunately, all the other characters were in agreement. However, I may not yet be free of her charisma and energy because the first Amazon reviewer wrote, ‘the ending is one that intrigues the reader about what will happen next – I do hope this is not the last time we’ll meet these powerful characters’.

Another four year haul ahead?

You can find out more about Bill’s books on his website.  

Bill Kirton was a university lecturer in French before taking early retirement to become a full-time writer. He's won two 2011 Forward National Literature Awards: The Sparrow Conundrum was the overall winner of the Humour category and The Darkness was runner up in the Mystery category. His historical mystery, The Figurehead, was long-listed for the 2012 Rubery Book Awards.

Most of his novels are set in the north east of Scotland. Material Evidence, Rough Justice, the award-winning The Darkness, Shadow Selves and Unsafe Acts all feature DCI Jack Carston. The Figurehead is a historical novel set in Aberdeen in 1840. The Sparrow Conundrum, is a spoof spy/crime novel also set in Scotland. His comic fantasy novella, Alternative Dimension satirises online role-playing games.

His short stories have appeared in the Crime Writers' Association annual anthology in 1999, 2005 and 2006. In 2010, one was also chosen for the 'Best British Crime Stories, Vol. 7' anthology edited by Maxim Jacubowski. His non-fiction output includes Brilliant Study Skills, Brilliant Essay, Brilliant Dissertation, Brilliant Workplace Skills and Brilliant Academic Writing. He also co-wrote 'Just Write' with Kathleen McMillan.

Bill also writes books for children. Rory the Dragon and Princess Daisy was published as a tribute to his great niece, Daisy Warn, who lived for just 16 weeks. Proceeds from its sales go to a children's hospice in South-West England. The Loch Ewe Mystery is a stand-alone novel for children aged 7-12 and he's been writing a series about a grumpy male fairy called Stanley who lives under a cold, dripping tap in his bedroom.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Blog Visit

I’m delighted to be a guest on Lizzie Lamb’s lovely Scottish blog over the next few days. Lizzie writes wonderfully humorous novels, mostly set in Scotland with interesting heroines and very appealing heroes. Look out for her being my guest sometime in April

My post is about the west of Scotland setting in my two Scottish novels, The Highland Lass and Return to Kilcraig. Please come and say hello if you have time!


Monday, 27 February 2017

Tirgearr Publishing 5th Birthday Bash

One of my publishers, Tirgearr, is celebrating its 5th anniversary just now and you have the opportunity to win some great prizes, from print books, to a box set, to the grand prize of a new Kindle Fire Tablet!

Lots of e-books are reduced to 99p (99c) for the event, including The Aphrodite Touch, the first novella in my Aphrodite and Adonis series (as Romy).

If you would like to enter the giveaway competition, just click on the banner to go directly to the Tirgearr page where you can enter via Rafflecopter.

Good luck!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Easy Design Options

I love playing around with photography and design but still hope to do a proper course at some point, if possible. However, I thought I’d highlight two of the design programmes I presently use most often, as neither is particularly difficult if you give them a go and both can enhance possibilities for indie authors.


I mainly use Canva for creating lots of small social media posts. Pictures and photos always attract more attention on Facebook and Twitter, while Instagram is all about the visual. Here's one I use on twitter - if I remake this one I would probably enlarge the text a little.

All you need to get started is to sign up on the Canva page and remember your password for repeat visits. Here you’ll find all kinds of design possibilities, from FB author page headers, to twitter visual posts, to even designing your own e-book cover.

I sometimes take part in the RNA twitter tweets day on a Tuesday and it certainly helps a promotion post to stand out if you make a nice little visual caption. You can upload your own photos, book covers and so on to use, or you can use their own backgrounds and elements, many of which are free. Others cost only a dollar or so to use but I haven’t needed that option yet.


Picmonkey is my favourite programme for creating book covers so far. To get started, again you need only sign up and away you go. This is more like a photo editing programme, so you would upload your own photo or image then crop, change and enhance it to use as a book cover. This is one I made, as are my short story collection covers and a few others.

Picmonkey has lots of good fonts, effects and special elements. The basic tools are free to use and you then download your completed masterpiece to your computer. There is also a paid Royal option which gives you more tools – I still use the basic so far and have found it quite adequate.

Although I’ve used both these programmes a lot, I’m still learning as I go so it’s another great way of procrastinating while picking up new ways of creating covers and promoting social media posts!

Hope you enjoy trying them out.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Changing Genre with Myra Duffy

I’m delighted to welcome fellow Scottish author, Myra Duffy, to the Reading and Writing blog today. I’m already a fan of Myra’s Isle of Bute series of cosy crime novels featuring Alison Cameron, and I love this new departure into romance with a touch of suspense. The horse livery story line, Scottish setting and enigmatic Russian hero make Love is Another Country a very enjoyable read!

Welcome, Myra, and thank you for sharing your inspiration and background to changing genres. First a little about the book.

Love is Another Country

Isla Scott is devastated to learn that her beloved Kilrossie livery stables will have to be sold to pay family debts, leaving her with the problem of finding somewhere to live and to stable her horse, Destiny. Help arrives in the person of Andrei Petrov, an enigmatic Russian, but Isla is suspicious of his motives for wanting to buy the property.

When Andrei offers her accommodation at the Lodge House and a job looking after the livery, Isla reluctantly accepts. But is her decision to stay on at Kilrossie because of Destiny, or is there another reason? And how exactly has Andrei made his money, what is his true relationship with the glamorous Marta and why is he so interested in helping Isla, when the sale of Kilrossie should be no more than a business transaction?

Love is Another Country is now available on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Changing Genres

Although I’m probably best known for my series of cosy crime novels set on the Isle of Bute, I have written short stories in a number of different genres, including romance and even science fiction.

I like to challenge myself when writing and like many authors, I’ve a number of novels started, but not yet finished. I decided that I wanted to publish Love is Another Country as a way of moving some of the characters out of my head! This novel was well received in the category of Romantic Novels at the Scottish Association of Writers conference a couple of years ago and it seemed the natural place to start.

I really enjoyed writing the story of Isla Scott’s attempts to keep the family livery stables as a going concern and the hero, Andrei Petrov, provided a bit of a challenge. Of course one of the main characters is Destiny, Isla’s horse. If she loses Kilrossie, will she have to sell Destiny?
Inspiration for the story

Although I don’t ride, my daughter has long had a love of horses and I spent a lot of time when she was younger taking her to the stables where her horse was kept, not to mention driving all over the country to equestrian competitions and helping to look after it. I well remember winter evenings roaming over pitch dark fields with a torch trying to call her horse in. Fortunately my daughter can now drive herself!

As I learned more about them, I grew to realise what interesting animals horses are and the fictional Kilrossie, where my heroine Isla Scott lives, seemed a natural setting for my story. Her horse, Destiny, is an amalgam of various horses I’ve met over the years.

As for my hero, Andrei Petrov, I’m not sure where he came from – nor why he’s Russian. But that’s the way a writer’s imagination works sometimes, I guess!

And a very good hero he is, Myra!

You can connect with Myra on her website, Facebook and twitter: @duffy_myra 
About the Author
Myra Duffy writes both fiction and non-fiction: her first success was winning a national writing competition at the age of thirteen.
Her non-fiction (a series of fifteen Management and Training books) was very successful, but in recent years she has returned to her main interest of writing fiction and has had short stories featured in a variety of magazines and journals.

She is best known for her Isle of Bute cosy crime novels. Her latest, Bad Blood at Rothesay Castle, was published in November 2016.

Myra says, “Love is Another Country is my first romantic novel. There are no dead bodies in this story, but there is some suspense and I enjoyed the challenge of writing in a different genre.”

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Language of Roses

Flowers often have different meanings and in Victorian times, when young ladies were seldom alone with a suitor, the language of flowers became a secret form of communication between them. Here are some general meanings associated with different colours of roses.

Red Rose

This was the sacred flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and has been a symbol of love and beauty from ancient times to the present day. Nothing epitomizes romantic love as much as a dozen red roses on St Valentine’s Day. Robert Burns’ famous song, My Love is like a Red, Red Rose is famous throughout the world for its romantic sentiments of constant love.

In some countries, the red rose means marriage while in Christianity, it is sometimes symbolic of Christ’s shed blood. The red rose represented the House of Lancaster in the English Wars of the Roses from 1455-1485.

White Rose

Regarded as a symbol of purity and secrecy, the white rose represents water and is the flower of moonlight. In parts of Scotland, a white rose blooming in autumn was thought to herald an early death. A white rose bud often symbolised a girl too young to love. The white rose represented the House of York in the Wars of the Roses.

In Saxon times, red and white petals were showered on newlyweds to represent their union of passion (red roses) and purity (white roses).

Yellow Rose 

The yellow rose is mostly associated with jealousy and infidelity. Today, it is also sometimes regarded as a symbol of joy and friendship.

Pink Rose 

The pink rose often represents innocent love and happiness. Less intense than the red rose, it can be a symbol of poetic love and admiration. Often among the most fragrant of roses, they are sometimes given as a token of thanks.

Tudor Rose 

With its red outer and white inner petals, the Tudor rose symbolizes unity, from the union of the two royal houses of York and Lancaster. It was adopted by Henry Tudor as his standard when he married Elizabeth of York in 1485.

The rose is still the emblem of England and few gardens are complete without its fragrant beauty in one form or another, from old-fashioned, perfumed damask roses to the smallest patio rosebud. The rose can even continue to give pleasure when it has died through the use of its dried petals and buds in fragrant pot-pourri. Definitely one of my favourite flowers!


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Roses: Myths and Legends

As we head towards the romance of Valentine’s Day, I thought it might be fun to look at some of the legends and meanings attached to roses and I’ve adapted this article I wrote several years ago. Of all flowers, the rose is perhaps the most symbolic, often representing purity, perfection, love, marriage or death. Its essence has been well used in love potions, perfumes and cosmetics.

According to a charming medieval legend, the first roses made a miraculous appearance in order to save a ‘fayre maiden’ who had been sentenced to death by burning. Falsely accused, she prayed for deliverance and the fire subsequently went out. The logs which were already burning became red roses and the unlit logs became white roses.

In Christianity, the rose is the symbol of the Virgin Mary and is also often attributed to various saints, such as St Dorothea, who carries a basket of roses. The rosary, used in Catholicism, was once made from wild rose hips strung together.

Other myths attached to roses
  • In past times, ladies often used rose petals to make a face pack to help get rid of wrinkles 
  • It was thought that rose petals in wine avoided drunkenness
  • It was good luck to throw rose leaves over a grave
  • In Roman times, rose petals were valuable currency

Sub Rosa

Sometimes an emblem of silence, sub rosa (under the rose) means keeping a secret. It was believed that Cupid gave Harpocrates, the god of silence, a rose to bribe him not betray the many amorous encounters of Venus. The rose thus became the emblem of silence and was eventually sculpted on the ceilings of banquet rooms, still seen today. At the dinner table, all confidences spoken under this were held sacred. In the 16th century, the rose was also placed over confessionals to signify absolute confidentiality.

Rose Windows

The famous stained glass rose windows depicted on many cathedrals and churches originated mainly in 13th century France and are often a symbol of eternity. Their perfect geometry was regarded as being similar to the eastern mandala, a meditative symbol signifying the paths to enlightenment and the human desire for wholeness.

In another post, I’ll look at the meaning of the different roses according to their colour!


Monday, 23 January 2017

Notebooks, Newsletter and Robert Burns

I saw a strange idea on a little video on FB the other day about a new type of notebook that seemingly can be re-used by putting the notebook in the microwave to erase the words. If you’re anything like me and all other writers I know, that is NOT a good idea!

I love my notebooks. Even when I have too many, it’s reassuring to know they’re ready and waiting in my drawer when I find the right use for each one. All those blank pages and beautiful covers – lovely to look at but practical too. So, no, I don’t know any writer who will be rushing to try a reusable one!

Before January is over (gulp!), I’ve sent out my latest newsletter. As always, if you wish to receive a copy, you can pop your email address in the box on the right hand side of the blog. There’s the chance for subscribers to win a copy of a wee book of Robert Burns poems to mark Burns Night on January 25th.

I’ve written a few articles about Burns over the past few years that were published in the American magazine The Highlander and a long-time fascination was with Highland Mary, one of the many females associated with him - and he had many! But several of his poems were dedicated to Mary Campbell, seemingly with a sense of remorse at how things ended.

That was the main reason I wrote The Highland Lass, so I could tell their story from 1785-6 in Mary’s fictionalised voice. She is buried in the cemetery of my hometown and I had passed her grave since childhood. Obviously, she got under my skin until the day I finally wrote her story!

However, the contemporary part of the novel is as much homage to Inverclyde with its beautiful scenery beside the river. And of course their story takes my modern couple on a journey of their own to other parts of the west coast. This was truly the book of my heart.

Happy Burns Night on Wednesday!


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Alphonse Mucha Exhibition

Last weekend, I finally got to the Alphonse Mucha Exhibition, ‘In Quest of Beauty’, at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. I’d almost forgotten about it and it ends mid-February. As many of you will know, I love art as well as music and literature, and it often inspires my writing, plus I’m always happy to visit one of my favourite venues in Glasgow.

Czech-born Mucha became famous in the latter part of the 19th century when he began designing advertising posters for the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. The exhibition has a wonderful selection of Mucha’s art which inspired the beautiful Art Nouveau style of images and design.

After returning to Bohemia in 1910, he started creating his many paintings that made up his Slav Epic, some of which are on show. I was surprised to discover, however, that his work was hidden away during WWII and Mucha was largely forgotten until rediscovered in the early 1960s.

As well as the art work hanging on the various walls, a few glass fronted cabinets contained other items from the period, such as original perfume phials and a Houbigant perfume bottle from 1899. I was fascinated by this as I remember loving Houbigant Quelques Fleurs many, many moons ago, although I don’t remember the actual scent now!

Another cabinet held an original copy of Mucha’s Documents Décoratifs portfolio from 1902 which contains 72 plates of his decorative art, showcasing his varied design work. But it is his tall Art Nouveau images of beautiful women that draw the eye, such these four paintings that each depict a different flower: Rose, Iris, Carnation and Lily. They were seemingly inspired by the popular Victorian book, The Language of Flowers.

There was even a little fun boudoir-style area where visitors could don some of the clothes and jewellery and recline on the sofa. I thought it perhaps resembled the kind of dressing space Sarah Bernhardt once enjoyed. Unfortunately, my husband had gone off for a wander outside so I would have felt mighty silly dressing up with no one to photograph or laugh at me. Shame as I love dressing up when I get the chance!

All in all, it was a lovely start to our 2017 weekend outings as husband then took me into Glasgow for a delicious Chinese meal at one of our favourite restaurants. Hope the year continues as it began!