About Me

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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

EDINBURGH EBOOK FESTIVAL 2013


Here's a press release from writer and publisher Cally Phillips, who works incredibly hard to make this whole festival happen. I can't do better than let her tell you all about the festival herself - but please do visit and spread the word. I'm participating myself  - in fact I'm mid-list writer in residence at the ebook festival - and I'm also happy to be part of a discussion panel  on Being a Writer in the Digital Age at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year - that's what being a 'hybrid writer' means, I suppose. (Like the roses - hardier and more inclined to repeat flowering!) 

Everybody's doing it.
Now in its second year, the Edinburgh eBook festival is back from the Glorious 12th of August right through to Sunday night August 25th. This is a unique type of festival. Billed as ‘the festival that comes to you’ it’s available online any time of the day and night, with limitless audience capacity and everyone gets the best seat in the house. Dress code optional. And it’s FREE for all.

During the day a regular set of ‘events’ are posted up on the festival site. You access it via your ereader, smartphone, tablet, ipad or computer so that you can literally be in two places at one time. Wherever you are, as long as you have internet or wifi access, you can take part.

Our programme features individual slots at roughly hourly intervals throughout the day from the Short Story slot at 11am, right through to the ‘Conversations’ slot at 11pm. In between we will feature residencies, workshops, ebook launches, and sundry other ‘events.’ We even have the world’s first weathersheep ‘Derek’ who will be providing a ‘sheeping forecast’ each day at noon. Derek is this year’s internet phenomemon and his ‘Fifteen Grades of Hay’ trilogy is the talk of the cyber valleys.

Residencies include Catherine Czerkawska’s Mid-list, Cally Phillips’ Drama Retrospective and Chris Longmuir’s mammoth exploration of the Crime genre. For Sci-Fi buffs there’s David Wailing, as well as Travel with Jo Carroll, Horror with Mari Biella and Ghosts stories dissected with Dennis Hamley. Sue Price will inspire you regarding Functional Literacy and Ingrid Ricks will do similarly about advocacy. There’s a chance for you to participate too. Kathleen Jones will be running a Life Writing workshop and Bill Kirton a Comedy workshop.

There’s plenty more. Mr McStoryteller Brendan Gisby will host the Short Story slot and Roz Morris offers a new spin on Desert Island Discs with her ‘Undercover Soundtrack’ event while Jian Qiu Huang confirms the internationality of the festival with his ‘Conversations with the Universe.’

There are slots on ‘Market Choices’ where writers and publishers reveal ways they have approached publicity and sales and there’s launches of ebooks as well as talk about the relationship between narrator, author and reader. Our festival theme is Beyond the Margins and we hope to explore this concept in a way which will be thought provoking ,fun and open doors and minds as to the possibilities of digital publishing.

The festival opens with a look at Stuart Ayris’ unique, inspired and inspiring ‘Frugality’ Trilogy and closes with Peter Tarnofsky’s latest short story collection ‘Everything Turns Out Just Fine.’

And if that’s not enough, there will also be a FREE Goody Bag available throughout the festival.

Last year we welcomed over 9,000 visitors through our virtual doors. With over 150 separate ‘events’ and featuring oodles of writers – some you know and some you’ll want to get to know – we hope that there will be something for just about everyone. We hope to show you that the digital revolution is alive and well and that Beyond the Margins there’s a whole new world just waiting for you to read and read about.

Daily previews begin on 1st August with some background information about the main participants and events, giving you the chance to ease your way into the technology. But really, if you already know how to use an ereader, tablet, smartphone or pc it’s simple. Just go to www.edebookfest.co.uk and the events will come to you. You can catch up on events you’ve missed with a click or two to the appropriate category. Remember, it’s all free and everyone is welcome.

The festival has a facebook page where you can post your comments and you can follow on Twitter @edebookfest or have your say at #edebookfest.

There’s really no excuse not to visit this exciting new festival now, is there?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Can we all grow up now, please?

Can we all grow up now, please?
I don't know when I first became aware of the treacherous nature of the word 'nurture'. Well, treacherous when applied to writers. But it can't have been all that long ago. I think it may have been in one of the many well -informed comments on the Passive Voice blog. Somebody wrote 'Nurturing is for babies.'
I read it and saw the light.

Last week a few things happened which made me think about it all over again. The word cropped up in an interview with a very big publishing name. She was still talking about 'nurturing' as one of the desirable functions of a publishing house or a literary agency. She could have used words like facilitate, assist, or partner. But she didn't. She used the word 'nurture' with all its implications of cherishing an infant or other helpless being.

At the same time, a few colleagues reported a number of professional exchanges which had been a little less than businesslike, which had involved rather patronizing put-downs. We've all had them. They range from the vitriolic to the thoughtlessly rude: the slapped wrist, the long silence after the carefully framed professional enquiry, the manuscript returned with a curt letter and coffee stains, three years later, by which time it has already been published elsewhere, the endless hedging of bets. This is the unfortunate downside of nurturing. If you allow your publisher and agent to cast themselves in a parental, rather than a professional or client role, they will feel justified in imposing a little tough love from time to time - all for the infant's own good, of course. And they will be outraged, absolutely outraged, when that same infant, aka business partner or supplier elects to stop behaving like a humble supplicant, becomes grown up and businesslike and expects the kind of basic (not fulsome) courtesy which would normally be extended in every other area of life.

But this has implications for us as writers, too. We have to stop being so needy. We have to take responsibility for ourselves and our careers. We have to recognize that there are things we can and can't do all by ourselves - and that this will vary depending upon our level of experience and expertise, just as it does in every other profession. We should be prepared to buy in the help we need without giving away control of our product for a handful or even a hill of beans. If we are contracted to do work, we have to meet deadlines in a professional manner. And we have to maintain a certain level of courtesy at all times even in the face of intense provocation.

In exchange for that, we should demand respect. For the work itself and from those with whom we hope to work in partnership. You notice I'm not saying that we all have to go it alone all the time. We have to find out what suits us, what is the best way of making and then distributing our product - for us. For some people it will involve the pursuit of the traditional publishing deal. For others, it will involve writing for pleasure and disseminating for free. Or writing experimentally, pushing the boundaries without thinking commercially at all. For some it will involve a thoroughly businesslike analysis of the market, a five year self publishing plan and a series of useful partnerships. For others yet again, it will involve a hybrid model. But even this isn't fixed. I have friends who are working happily with three or four different traditional publishers without being tied in to any of them. Others who - like myself - are working on a mixture of traditional and self publishing. People who might like to write both experimental and genre fiction or something in between. There is no single right way. We have to work out what best suits us - sometimes by a process of trial and error.

What we can no longer hope to do, however, (unless we have the luxury of a private income) is to sit in our book lined studies and dabble in a little light writing while somebody pays us handsomely for a slim volume every few years while shaping our careers and generally treating us like a special snowflake who might melt away under the glare of professionalism. If they ever did. Which I very much doubt. I reckon it was always a myth. One of those publishing carrots that justified the occasional stick around the ears.

Time to grow up, folks.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ice Dancing


My novel Ice Dancing is FREE from today, 11th July, until Saturday 13th. You'll find it on Amazon Kindle, here in the UK and here in the US.  

I love the two main characters I created in this novel almost as much, I think, as they love each other!  Of everything I've written, I find myself going back to it from time to time, just because I can't quite bear to let Joe or Helen go. I already have a sequel planned, but it will probably be next year before I can write it. But I do want to spend just a little more time in their company. And like all writers, I want to know 'what happens next'  for them. Sometimes a story is complete. Sometimes there's more to be told and I think, for Joe and Helen in Ice Dancing, there is a bit more to be told. I keep 'seeing' them here and there. I could swear I saw Helen at a village dance last year, an attractive but unobtrusive woman of around forty with a very sweet smile. I followed Joe around Morrison's supermarket one day, intrigued to to find that when somebody is mildly scruffy but tall and athletic and that good looking they do indeed stand out from everyone around them, even in a crowded store! And 'what happens next' keeps nipping at me, even while I'm working on other things. Because I know what happens next and it probably isn't what you might think. 

All the same,  I'd be the first to admit that Ice Dancing is a book full of slightly unusual themes and settings. I'm not surprised it was a book that my agent told me she liked very much (she likened it to The Bridges of Madison County and I was flattered but I can understand why) but thought she would find it very hard to sell to a big traditional publisher. I think she thought it was a niche novel and maybe it is. But so far, all kinds of people have told me that they have enjoyed it and been very moved by it.

It's a novel about village life: supportive, strong and loving, but also stifling and small minded because people are connected and interlinked in ways incomers don't usually grasp for some years. It's a novel about the way in which small communities are so finely balanced that even a small change can create a major upheaval. 

It's also - of course - a sexy, unconventional and very grown up story about the lightning strike of love at first sight: ‘He came gliding into my life,' says Helen, 'And changed everything. He didn't intend for it to happen any more than I did. I think it took us both by surprise. Like a bolt of lightning. Like a puck to the head, as Joe would say.’ 

It's a novel about ice hockey. But you don't have to know anything about hockey to enjoy it. Helen knows nothing about it when she first meets Joe! She's a Scottish farmer’s wife, approaching forty, living in a rural backwater, with her only child about to fly the nest. She has almost resigned herself to the downward slide into mildly discontented middle age. But when she meets and falls in love with Joe, a Canadian ice hockey player spending a season with a local team, she realises that nothing will ever be the same for either of them again.

Hilary Ely, reviewing this novel for Vulpes Libris, writes, 'The narrative brilliantly describes the physical imperative they have to be together – not just the snatched times alone, but the magnetic pull they have towards one another when other people are around, their almost uncontrollable urge to touch one another and the risks that brings.'

Finally, this is also a novel about a shockingly dark side of an upbeat sporting world, for although Joe skates like an angel, he has his own demons to cope with, a sadder, more complicated and much more shocking past than Helen could ever imagine. 

If you're reading this on 11th, 12th or 13th July - why not give it a try?

Friday, July 05, 2013

List Making for Beginners: How To Organize Your Writing Life

I'm taking a little break this week from my Canary Isles Odyssey, mainly because I'm so obsessed with my Canary Isles novel, Orange Blossom Love, that I can't find creative space for very much else. Instead, I'm going to be writing about another obsession: lists. A recent excellent blog post by Laura Resnick all about the writing process and how we work as individuals (I can recommend it, especially if you've ever found yourself not so much 'blocked' as 'stuck') mentioned her liking for lists and I immediately thought 'that's me, too!'

I'm a compulsive list maker. A few years ago, I had a conversation with my lovely laid back sister-in-law, in which she mentioned, quite casually, that she 'never ever made lists.' It was my own response to this that fascinated me. I imagined doing without lists and instantly felt queasy. Then I felt a spasm of envy. Wouldn't it be nice, I thought, to be free from the tyranny of the list?  So I tried. I really did. I went cold turkey, tore up my lists. (Sneakily left them on my PC though, just in case.) I lasted about five days. Then panic set in. Just one little list, I thought. But you know how it is? One thing led to another and soon I was hooked, back in full list making mode again.

I sometimes go away for a few days and deliberately leave my lists behind. It's very liberating and I enjoy the break but I can only do it for so long and in specific places. My beloved Isle of Gigha is a pretty good place for doing without lists, a place where maƱana is a concept with altogether too much urgency about it. But once I get home, I'm back on them again.

Gigha: a good place for doing without lists.
On the other hand, list making may be a virtue rather than a vice. I'm so reliant on mine that I'm phased by people who - in a professional situation - seem to forget to do the urgent things while concentrating on the unimportant. Don't they ever make lists? Don't they know about organizing and prioritizing? Well, perhaps not. So in case you're a list making novice, and especially if you're a writer and a list making novice, let me give you a few tips from the depths (and believe me they are very deep) of my own experience.

One of our big problems as writers is that we often have an embarrassment of ideas, but don't know which to choose. Or we have said 'yes' to too many proposals and don't know which to work on first. Or we simply have too much to do and find ourselves trying to do everything at once, in a panic. We need to prioritize and the easiest way to do that is by means of a list. Or several lists. Ongoing, organic lists where nothing is fixed. And the easiest way to manage this is on your PC, because you can shift things around. Although I'm a compulsive printer-outer as well. I like to see my lists on paper! You should take a conscious decision to divide your lists into at least two kinds: work and life. If you try to amalgamate the two it will all go pear shaped. Writers love displacement activity and including 'mow the lawn' or (in my case, at the moment) 'sort out the flower pot mountain at the bottom of the garden' on the work list is inadvisable. Work lists are just that - professional projects which involve your business. And if nothing else, the list habit might encourage us all to be more businesslike.

First and foremost, I have a Mega List of planned projects. This includes all kinds of proposals and ideas, everything I may or may not be working on over the next few years, everything from the novel I'm working on right now to the tenuous ideas that intrigue me but may come to nothing. This is a long but fairly uncomplicated list, by the way. I keep detailed notes for each project, not just on the computer but in folders too. I'm paranoid that way. At the moment, my Mega List consists of brief descriptions of fiction, long and short, with one or two non-fiction projects. If I've promised an article to somebody, it might be on there too, but not blog posts like this one. They belong on a different list altogether. I revise the Mega List often and I use it mainly to prioritize but also to sort out my own thoughts about the work. The projects at the top of the list are what I'm working on right now. And they are important to me. The projects at the bottom of the list are interesting but non urgent. I may never work on them, and some of them will almost certainly fall right off the end but that's fine. If I grow bored with an idea, I shouldn't be working on it anyway. Also, outside factors will influence this list. If I find that I have a potential project which is pretty high on my list, and has suddenly become flavour of the year for reasons beyond my control, I can push it up the list. If I'm reluctant to do it, then that tells me something about my own commitment, so I'll think again. I will often add projected dates, but I do try to be realistic. And often - especially at the top of the list - there will be projects which I know will run in parallel with each other so this list will allow me to allocate time to each and to see where I'm overstretching myself. Most of all, this list allows me to focus, set some things aside but remember them and think about them from time to time. And sometimes, for no particular reason other than my own preoccupations, a project will leap over everything else and find itself at the top of the list.

Next is my Things to Do This Week list. 'This week' is a little ambitious, I'll admit. 'This month' would be a better title. This is also a work list, and again the trick is to be realistic in what you can achieve. (I give myself some very good advice but I don't always follow it!) And once more, you need to prioritize. At the top of mine, right now, is 'Short story proofs to be read and sent back' as well as 'Orange Blossom Love, onscreen revisions.' Everything else, including 'For God's sake do your tax returns' can be shuffled down the list a bit, because my accountant has gone on holiday for a few weeks. But he'll be back by the 21st July, so 'You have really GOT to do your tax returns' will probably be top of the list by the end of next week, and I'll bite the bullet and do them.

Finally, for work, I have a Today list and that really is all the things I need to do today in order of priority, including meetings, phonecalls etc. I sometimes allow other things to intrude on this list, but only if they're genuinely urgent and even then I always try to prioritize the work above the household tasks.

Because I sometimes sell antique textiles on eBay to help the budget along, I have an occasional 'Listings list' but the more I self publish, the less I trade on eBay and this is a fairly simple affair. Come October, though, when people turn to eBay for their linen tablecloths for the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday seasons, as well as quirky gift items, it might grow longer and more complicated.

Besides these, I have a House list and a Garden list and a Shopping list. (I told you, I'm compulsive) The House list involves all the biggish jobs that need doing. This changes - sometimes it's in order of urgency and sometimes, like now, when I'm having a bit of a clear-out, it lists jobs from room to room. It's a very static list! The Garden list is always in order of priority. And yes, sorting out the pot mountain at the bottom of the garden is definitely top of that list. So is the weeding. But even with the weeds it's quite a pretty garden, so the garden list can run and run and run, like the bindweed.

The garden manages quite well on its own!

Recently, I introduced another list. Ever since I started self publishing, I've been uneasily aware that I should be wearing two hats: my publishing hat and my writing hat. My Mega List is a writing list. But this second big list is a sort of Promotion and Publicity list and at the moment, it's in the form of a dialogue with myself. What exactly do I write? What do I want out of the business? What do I want to work on right now? Can I market everything at once? (NO) What's the solution? This has turned out to be the most useful list of all. I don't know where the answers to those questions are coming from, but they have helped me to organize the publishing and promotion side of my business, balancing it with the need to spend the majority of my time on the writing. And it has influenced my Mega List in all kinds of unforeseen but useful ways.

Now it may sound as though I spend all my time writing lists, but I don't. Honestly! Once you've set this up, it only takes a few minutes each day (or the night before) to adjust the To Do Today list, while the Mega List and the Promotion List are only revised once a week - if that. Once a month would probably be enough.

The benefits are considerable - but only if you like lists! You don't forget urgent things. You consciously send non-urgent things to the bottom of the list and stop pretending you have to do them now and using them as displacement activity. You can clarify things in your own mind and get on with what you need to do first. Best of all, you can tick things off!

I do have a small confession to make. I have been known to write things on the list after I've done them, just so that I can have the satisfaction of marking them as done. But I suspect I'm not alone.

So go on, are you a list maker or not? If you are, what's your system? I'd love to know. Why not post a few of your own ideas below!