Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Half Way Through the Writing Year

Since we're heading towards the Summer Solstice, the longest day, we must be almost half way through the year. It certainly doesn't feel like summer, though I don't mind not having too much sun since I'm more of an autumn/winter person. I seem to be more creative in the darker months so I thought I'd have a look at what I've achieved so far this year.

I've probably posted this Recipe for Success photo before, from one of our favourite little coffee shops but I always find it inspirational!

Much-needed Encouragement to Persevere
  • Adjudicator of the Pitlochry Award for a Romance novel at the Scottish Association of Writers Conference in March
  • Ran a workshop at same event
  • One article accepted by The Highlander Magazine (USA)
  • Two other articles submitted to different journals (awaiting decision)
  • Several poems submitted to various places (not heard anything yet)
  • Four short stories submitted to magazines or competitions (not heard yet)
  • A couple of letters sent to magazines
  • Two children's short stories being accepted for an autumn/winter journal
  • Two novels to finish (at least)
  • Attending the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference in July - having agent one-to-ones
It's been quite useful writing this down as I always think I'm not achieving enough! I've also enjoyed returning to freelance writing and searching for markets and opportunities. Although I enjoy being a novelist, my first love is shorter pieces, whether stories, articles or poems.

I've discovered how much I need the variety as it helps me to stay focused on creativity. Strangely enough, all this other type of writing doesn't distract me from the novel but seems to flex the creative muscle to keep me going.

Anyone else find it helps to dabble in different forms of writing or creativity?


Monday, 27 May 2019

Weather for the Ducks

After the too-hot weather at Easter and a few good days between then and now, we're almost back to winter up here! In between the rain and wind, we managed an outing as usual to one of our favourite spots for coffee and walks.

Aberdour on the Fife coast is a truly magical little village, beach and harbour. We took the risk of driving across there as it was so dreich here. Yet, once at the famous Silver Sands, there wasn't a drop of rain and we were able to enjoy a good walk after coffee and scones.

I amused myself by watching the three ducks that had wandered up to the patio of the café - which is next to the beach but raised so we can look down on the sea and sand. Not content with their little conflab on the patio, they then waddled round to the door of the café. The photos aren't so good as they were taken with my old mobile.

I discovered from one of the staff that the ducks have been doing this for many years and one of the girls goes out and rewards them with a little snack. Perseverance pays! Must say, they didn't cause any bother whatsoever and were not allowed inside of course.

There's something about a beach on a dull day that I love as it's more atmospheric when not too sunny or busy. We certainly came home all the better for having spent the morning in such a lovely place.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Celebrating 150 Years of The People's Friend

I was delighted to attend the afternoon event with two friends at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh to celebrate 150 years of The People's Friend magazine. And what a celebration it was! So many of us fondly remember our mothers and grandmothers reading this when we were small, and many of us have gone on to read it ourselves, or even write for it. The centre is just to the left of John Knox House which makes a better photo.

The afternoon did the magazine proud and the staff who had travelled from Dundee were every bit as friendly as we'd expected. The Storytelling Centre is featuring The People's Friend Exhibition from 10th to 25th May so it's worth having a look if you're in Edinburgh. The event I was at on Saturday was held downstairs in one of the theatres and we were treated to a wonderful history of the magazine from its first issue in 1869. We were all given a replica copy of this edition and the writing is so tiny, it's a wonder it could be read!

The editor, Angela Gilchrist, introduced the programme before sub-editor Margaret Scott took us on a fascinating journey through the past, present and future. This was followed by an enjoyable reading from one of their story writers, Jane Tulloch. Assistant archivist, Barry Sullivan, then took us up to the break with his portrait of WC Honeyman, a man who deserves greater recognition.
We all traipsed upstairs to enjoy the Friend's hospitality with tea, coffee and a variety of muffins. This was also a chance to enjoy a read of the displays and a chat with some of the Friend's staff, as well as the readers and writers milling around. I was pleased to see Wendy Clark's photo and story featured and I got to meet Suzanne Ross at last, after being friends on the Internet for years.


The final sessions were equally fascinating. A young PhD student, Charlotte Lauder, presented a snapshot of what the magazine has meant to women over the years, uncovering some previously unknown information. I was amazed to hear about one of the first female journalists and editors and her support of women in the 19th century.

Another enjoyable reading was given by Edinburgh writer, Kate Blackadder. This was followed by a presentation from archivist David Powell who reminded us that the Archives don't stop in 1918! We had time for a couple of questions before we left satisfied with an informative and entertaining afternoon.

Thank you People's Friend for bringing so much pleasure to so many people 150 years on.


Sunday, 28 April 2019

Filling the Creative Well

It seems weeks since I've settled down to proper work, partly because the Easter break stretched even longer this year. However, it gave me a chance to get out and about exploring, seeing new places and filling that creative well of ideas and inspiration.

As well as having time with the husband, we had three days with granddaughter which was great fun. Younger children certainly do keep the oldies young. It was a great excuse to revisit the steam train (my favourite form of transport), have a paddle in the cold Firth of Forth and become a child again at a brilliant local outdoor heritage site.

In between, we visited the impressive calendar House in Falkirk, where I was fascinated by the Georgian kitchen with its fantastic cooking range, It evidently was the first place to use gas in the kitchen, in the early 1800s. The 'smoke-jack' (fan) turned the cogs to operate the spit! Otherwise, only candlelight was used throughout the house.

I was delighted to see the 150 year-old ice chest which used to be kept in the cellar. The 200 year-old ice house, which was apart from the house, kept ice from the loch frozen for up to eighteen months. The lady telling us about the kitchen was dressed in period costume adding to the fun and she had prepared a basket of coloured eggs since it was around Easter.

These were dyed as follows:

Yellow: from the gorse growing wild
Brown: from onion skin
Red/pink: from beetroot
Green: from spinach

There was even an original Georgian recipe for Simnel cake on display and tiny bits of the cake to try - baked recently, of course! It was slightly different from modern recipes but just as delicious with its taste of almond.

Yesterday, we unexpectedly happened upon a vintage car display at Linlithgow where we'd gone for coffee and a walk by the loch. I love vintage cars and was over the moon when the owner of my favourite 1928 Austin suggested I sit in the driver's seat. I needed no second bidding and it was as gorgeous inside as out. Pity I couldn't have had a wee drive. My second favourite was the open-topped white MG, although I didn't get to sit in that one.


All in all, I've come back from the Easter break inspired to get on with various types of writing again, as well as trying to finish the full length novel so I can go back through and make sense of it. My creative well seems to have filled up with lots of ideas, so I guess we all need that break now and then.


Sunday, 7 April 2019

Writers' Museum Edinburgh

Now that we're a bit nearer by train, there's no excuse not to start exploring Edinburgh a bit more since we don't know it that well yet. And what a lovely day we had visiting the Writers' Museum and Museum of Scotland, both of which were well worth the walk from the station.

The building in which the Writers' Museum is situated was as much interest to me as the contents. Built in 1622, it is known as Lady Stair's House and after renovation in 1895, it was presented to the City of Edinburgh in 1907 for use as a museum.

It is now dedicated to the works and lives of three of our famous writers: Robert Burns (1759-1796), Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). What a wonderful place for a writer to spend time exploring the artefacts on show, including the printing press on which Scott's Waverley novels were printed.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos inside but I tried to get shots of the outside of the building with my make-shift mobile camera. I loved the low doorways and uneven stairs, fine for a shorter person like me. What a great use for one of Edinburgh's ancient buildings. The Makar's Court outside contains a series of inscribed stones celebrating the achievements of Scottish writers ranging from the 14th century to the 1990s and it's good to know further stones will be added as the Makar's Court grows.


Monday, 1 April 2019

Venetian Interlude on Countdown

A quick heads-up - my sweet novella Venetian Interlude is on Amazon countdown until 4th April, if anyone fancies a trip to Venice!

Will it be third time lucky for old friends, Scottish art historian Olivia and half-Italian Sebastian, when they unexpectedly arrive in Venice at the same time? Their lives have already diverged after university, then a few years later after a friend’s wedding. 
Why should this interlude be any different? Apart from Livy’s realisation that Seb is the only man she can never forget.
Available in e-book and print.


Monday, 25 March 2019

Scottish Association of Writers Conference

What a great SAW weekend conference I attended from Friday until Sunday afternoon, an annual highlight of my year. Full of workshops, competitions, guest speakers, great accommodation, food and company, what's not to like! This year was the 50th anniversary which made it even more special. Isn't this a fabulous cake that was made for the special conference?

This time, I was adjudicating the Pitlochry Award for a romance novel (first 15,000 words plus synopsis) and very enjoyable it was too. I absolutely loved the winning entry and really hope the author finishes and submits it to a publisher. On the Saturday, I delivered a PowerPoint presentation on 'From Idea to Novel' in my workshop slot, which seemed to go down well.

Over the weekend, I attended an excellent workshop on poetry where Sandra Ireland had us creating our own poems (or ideas) from an object and a piece of text. On the Sunday, I sat engrossed at the fascinating seminar from delightful Robin Cutler of Ingram Spark. She had come all the way from America to join us, and was taking the chance to visit some of Scotland for the first time.

I had been looking forward to this, since the rights to most of my novels reverted to me and I'm deciding on whether to make them available only on Amazon, or to use Ingram Spark for their wide distribution. One of the most important changes they will be making soon is to offer authors an easier template in which to upload their books. Think I need to have a serious discussion with husband about the way forward, as you do have to buy your own ISBNs.

The weekend wasn't all work and competition results, however. On the Friday evening after dinner we had 'Bookaversity Challenge' where four teams competed in a University Challenge-type quiz all about books - with great hilarity at the not very loud buzzer on each table and shouts of 'we answered first'! Afterwards, those who could go the pace, went up to the clubhouse to hear the various talent on offer. Whisper... I rashly decided to sing one song. Fortunately it was a great, informal atmosphere and we had plenty of variety. More than half the delegates had also gone to bed by that time - or the bar.

With my writer daughter!
On the Saturday after the gala dinner, we had the presentation of all the competition awards. After that, we listened to an inspiring speaker (crime writer Alex Gray) whose serious writing career had begun at the SAW many years ago. The highlight of the evening was a fabulously funny drama: Carry on Sleuthing (an hour long), performed by four amazing writers who took the various parts, complete with accents and silly costumes.

Most of them are crime writers so we were given time at the end to come up with the solution to 'who was to blame for the murder on the ship and how was it committed'. Some guessed part of it correctly but there was even a twist at the end! What a great way to end the evening.

Roll on next year.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Finding the Joy in Tidying

Where did February go since my last post? I seemed to look up and suddenly it was March. I imagine many of you will be very glad that spring is around the corner - in fact we had a few days of it last week before being at the mercy of rain and wind again.

One of the reasons the time has passed so quickly is all the decluttering I've been doing. Since the previous post on the subject, I've taken it to a new level! I was enjoying getting more organised so much that I bought Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. I think I was one of the last to hear about her, apart from the notoriously out of context reported 'only owning 30 books' comment - what she said was that we keep what is right for us that gives us joy. After seeing a couple of her videos on YouTube, I decided to buy and read the whole book.

I can now confirm it works! I love her philosophy, that you sort everything by category rather than room, that you discard anything that doesn't give you joy, then find a place for everything you keep - to which it will return after every use. We had already cleared out about half of our possessions before moving areas almost two years ago, even though we haven't downsized (yet). And I've been gradually decluttering since the beginning of the year. Well, I'm amazed to find that wasn't enough and a little disgusted about how much we still possessed.

Following the KonMari method of discarding and folding, I now have half the clothes I moved here with - out went anything I was keeping from too long ago, or that didn't suit, or certainly didn't give me joy to wear. I was a bit evangelical in telling husband all about it (I'm noted for my enthusiasm!) but he saw what a difference it made to my drawers and wardrobe space and he agreed to do it too. A necessary event, as it happened, since he was holding on to far too many items that would never see the light of day again, on him at least.

No wonder clothes is the first category as it gives the quickest and best results. Next was books. Oh, dear - I've managed to part with so many over the last few years that I really thought I'd have a problem. Not a bit of it. Out went all the books that were so old and musty that they were probably adding to my sinus problems, plus those I had never looked at for so long I'd forgotten they existed. But what to do with my OU books and material? Yes, even a lot of that went out, although I've kept what is most relevant for my writing research, plus the assignments. What a delight to see books I can now easily read or consult, though sadly not old falling apart paperbacks like those below. I did, however keep any decent hardbacks of my favourite old novels.

I've just finished the third category: papers and magazines and such like. My study drawers are now a lot easier to navigate and my mind feels lighter. As an add-on, I decided to tackle all my computer files, as some were a disgrace with all the different versions of stories, novels, articles and poems. What a relief to cut them down to size. I've had to pause now to catch up on my other work but next stop will be the kitchen. After moving, then renewing the kitchen last year, we could do with reassessing what we have, need and enjoy. Plus some of it is in the wrong place.

I can't believe what a great exercise this has been - it's meant to free our time once everything remaining has its own place. Now I can see at a glance what clothes I have and if there is anything I need to fill the gaps, rather buying something unsuitable because it's in a sale. So much of what we've discarded is good quality so we've given it all to local charity shops so someone else can benefit. Since husband pays tax, they get extra and we get occasional letters to tell us how much they've made from our stuff - quite a lot at times.

Perhaps now, I can get on with sorting out my writing projects and organising my workshop for the SAW conference later this month.

Enjoy March!

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Researching in Situ

We had a great day visiting Culross in Fife again, which is mentioned in my current Work in Progress. It's the most authentic 16th/17th century village in Scotland and much filmed in Outlander. Last time we explored the Palace, which is not really a palace - this time we walked right up to the top of the cobbled streets to see the old church and ruined monastery.

Culross Palace
It was worth the effort. The magnificent church is still used and I had great fun climbing the rail of the monastery ruins to have a look at what would have been the dining hall.

We, however, dined at the wonderful Red Lion Inn - a fabulous building dating from the late 16th century. Excellent food and ambience - fortunately we booked a table before getting there as it was inundated with people being turned away.

It's a real step into the past, wandering through the streets of Culross with its many painted dwelling houses beautifully restored, many of them with the date above the lintel.

I mention the Town Building as well in my novel but won't say why! Better get on with it, now that it's well past half way as I have a lot to sort out with the story yet. It's good to get away from the desk though and I always feel more inspired afterwards.


Friday, 8 February 2019

Tinkering with Book Covers

Yet more procrastination fun besides the decluttering, adjudicating and writing - tinkering with book covers! I wasn't satisfied with some of mine and I love the creativity of working on them, even though it drives me to distraction and is time-consuming.

I also sometimes have an idea of what I want but working out how to do it is the problem. Anyway, I've now redone two and will be leaving them this way (hopefully).

The first is the cover I've always had the most problem with since the novella Pride & Progress was published. I already shared a couple of earlier versions ages ago but was still not quite happy with the one I ended up using. Since I'm in a more energetic mood at the moment, I decided to have one last shot before getting new postcards for the SAW Conference in March.

It's a sweet Victorian novella which revolves around Miss Emily Morton's distaste for the new railway and her growing friendship with the new Scottish stationmaster. At their first meeting, Emily literally lands at Arthur Muir's feet at the bottom of a hill! Since I partly wrote it because of my love of steam trains, I've always wanted one on the cover - and this is the result. Maybe not perfect but I like it!

The other books I've always struggled with in my own mind ever since they were published as three separate novella by a small publisher, are the Aphrodite and Adonis series. The problem is that they can be read as stand alone stories - the only link between them is that Aphrodite and Adonis appear in each (as real people) to help the three different couples.

They're set on Cyprus as that's where I came up with the original idea while on holiday there many years ago. I loved the mythology attached to the island as well as the historic sites and had to use it. Aphrodite is said to have been born from the foam of the sea at Paphos, where we stayed, and I've always been really keen on Greek mythology.

I did think having three novellas was a bit messy, especially when the first is much shorter than the other two. So I decided to put them into one volume - not a box set as such, more a trilogy of novels. Again, I tried a couple of different cover ideas, changed my mind on Amazon and separated them again (giving away the second novella for a few days last year). But I kept coming back to the idea of putting them all in one book.

So at last, I'm happy with this latest result. The photo image is actually at the rocks where Aphrodite appeared but daughter thought it was too non-fiction/travel like with only that. After some thought, I had to agree though I still wanted to use that lovely image. So to make it more obviously a romance, I've added a couple plus made the font bigger and a different colour! It's been difficult to decide on a cover for this series as it combines real, contemporary romance with a touch of fantasy. Hopefully, I'll now leave it this way, as one volume of three novellas.

So that's why the blog hasn't been updated for a couple of weeks! No doubt I'll be tinkering with another couple of covers as there's still two at least that I need to improve.