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!

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Curiosity Cabinet - On Special Offer Now!

Cover image by textile artist Alison Bell.
I wrote The Curiosity Cabinet a long time ago - in fact as I've already said elsewhere on this blog, it began life as a trilogy of radio plays inspired by the real historical story of Lady Grange (but very different from her story) and set on a small Scottish island a bit like my favourite Hebridean Island of Gigha. The plays involved two intertwined parallel love stories, one modern, one historical. But when I decided that I wasn't very happy with the modern day story in the plays, I started all over again with the novel. It was one of three books shortlisted for the Dundee Book Prize and it was subsequently published by Polygon. Lorraine Kelly read it and sent me a lovely note about it which I still treasure. Later, when it was out of print, I published it on Kindle myself, where it has been sellling very well ever since. It has had some fabulous reviews from readers here in the UK and in the US as well. My very favourite review was from a US reader who said that the writing was so tight you could 'bounce a quarter off of it.'

You know, as a poet and playwright as well as a novelist - not to mention as a reader too - I've never really subscribed to the notion that a book has to be over complicated and inaccessible in order to be good. I suppose what I'm always aiming for is an accessible and readable book which is nevertheless thought provoking. Some of my favourite writers - especially short story writers like William Trevor and Bernard MacLaverty - are clear and readable - but their work stays in your mind afterwards and works away like yeast, changing the way you think! That's always what I'm aiming for - but I know I don't always achieve it. And if you can read any of my books and say that you've enjoyed them, then that's good enough for me.

The landscapes of the Curiosity Cabinet were inspired by the wonderful little island of Gigha which I've been visiting for years. Even the ferry in the novel is very like the Gigha ferry.

As for the historical story - well, as far as I know, there is no Manus McNeill, sadly, though there were and still are lots of McNeills in the Western Isles and some of them may have been called Manus and may even have been a little like my lovely, irascible but honourable hero. But there is an ancient grave in the old ruined kirk at Kilchattan on Gigha and somehow, in my mind, I always associate it with my fictional Manus although I know that it's much older than the hero of my novel and even though it's nothing like the grave described in the book.

All the same, every single  time I visit the island, I go to the old kirk and leave a little posy of wild flowers on his grave. I can't explain why I feel the need to do this, but I do.



The Curiosity Cabinet is on special offer on Kindle now and for the next five days. You'll find it for 99p here on Amazon UK and also at a reduced price on Amazon.com in the US.


Monday, November 04, 2013

Something Magical About My Kindle

These guys think so too.

Right from the start, let me say that I love paper books. Always have, always will. We have books in every room in the house. Too many, really. Periodically, I'll have a clear out and send a few boxes off to my charity shop of choice, but they creep back in again, especially non fiction books that I come across and know I'll need for reference: illustrated books about textiles and Scottish history and folklore and cookery and gardening books and lots more.

I'm currently reading a big, brand new hardback book. It's an extremely good book, but I'm not going to name it here, because that doesn't matter. It could be the best book in the whole wide world and I would still feel the same about it. How I feel about it is this.

The very peculiar smell of time.
It's a really beautiful, well produced artefact. Contrary to popular myth, it doesn't actually smell of anything at all, other than a faint odour of new paper, (but then so does bog roll). Actually, I think old books smell lovely, but then I think antique paisley shawls smell lovely too, have been known to bury my face in these gorgeous old textiles and breathe deeply - the slightly stale and very peculiar smell of time and use and dust and old scent and ... well, you know. Not everyone feels the same, but I don't care.

Back to books. This book in particular. It is driving me nuts. Not the content, which is excellent, but the delivery system. I keep wishing it was on my Kindle or at least as a nice, soft, bendy paperback. It may be beautiful, it IS beautiful, but it's also big, heavy, unwieldy, spiky at the corners and difficult to handle. The book itself keeps getting in the way of my undoubted pleasure in the contents. I read a lot in bed, but to cope with this one, I have to prop it on a pillow in front of me, and even then it keeps sliding about. The weight of it sets off my carpel tunnel syndrome and I get pins and needles and have to hang my hands over the edge of the bed to recover.

I'll finish it, because it's so good, and I'll treasure it and I may even want to read it again. But as soon as it's available in paperback or as an eBook, I'll probably buy another copy. Wrestling with this object made me think again about eBooks, and the reading I do on my Kindle, made me think about the uses of books and why we might want them in a particular form. As a part time dealer in antique textiles, I'm all too horribly aware of the transience of fragile things, the need to preserve some important or beautiful objects against time and change. Similarly, some books are so crammed with wisdom that you fear for their transience and want to see them in as robust a form as possible, disseminated as widely as possible.

But as far as reading, experiencing, absorbing the contents is concerned (which is, after all, the real purpose of writing and publishing) there is undoubtedly something magical about my Kindle.

In the way that a really good radio play, well acted and produced, seems to be transferred straight from the mind of the playwright to the mind of the listener (and can therefore be uniquely disturbing, when the themes are distressing or highly emotive) - there is something incredibly immediate about the experience of reading a really good, intense, well written piece of fiction on a Kindle or other e-reader or tablet.

Over the past year or so, I've been doing more and more reading on my Kindle and have noticed that the experience can seem more intense and more immediate than anything I've experienced for a long time. Maybe I've been lucky in my choice of reading matter. But it seems to me to have something to do with the medium itself. I can only think it's because there is so little to get in the way of the words and images and ideas. I've found myself more intensely involved with fiction than ever before, even dreaming about the books I'm reading, about the events and the characters - vivid, disturbing dreams in which I'm the character in the novel, or I'm witnessing and participating in the events in the book. It reminds me a bit of the way it used to be when I was very young and stories were so fresh and new and exciting that I felt as though I were completely absorbed in this amazing new world. I love it.

I'd be really interested to know if other readers feel the same way!