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!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Kindle Countdown Special Offer and a New eBook Release as well


I have so much going on at the moment that it's hard to find the time to blog about it! 

But if you're reading this post any time between 30th January and the 5th February, you can download my novel Ice Dancing for less than the price of a cup of coffee. It will be on a Kindle countdown deal for a week. In fact you could get the book to go with your cup of coffee and read about Scottish  village life in all its engaging reality at the same time.

I'm seriously considering rebranding the way this novel is presented. I think the cover, which is very beautiful, actually gives the wrong impression of the book. This is not the artist's fault, but entirely mine. She had much better ideas but I wanted the hockey player. I think I was wrong. I often am! We feel our way into this business and sometimes we make mistakes. So later this spring, I'm going to ask her if she can redesign it for me.

Anyway. What IS it about, if not about hockey? And why the Ice Dancing? 

 It's what I would call a very grown up love story with a lowland Scottish village setting, a novel about the lightning strike of love at first sight, a story of past suffering and the possibility of healing. I think it's quite literary, but then what does that mean? It's intelligent, I hope. But not inaccessible. And - glory be - it has a slightly older heroine. She's approaching forty. And she falls in love. With a younger man. 

Which is probably why this novel just HAD to be indie published. 


It's set somewhere a bit like this.
Helen - who narrates the novel - has almost resigned herself to the downward slide into mildly discontented middle age. She's a Scottish farmer’s wife, living in a rural backwater, with her only child about to fly the nest. 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. 

Joe is nine years younger and a hero to die for, attractive, polite and articulate. But like many of my novels, which so often deal with friendship and betrayal as well as love, this is a story with a dark side. 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. 

A bit like this as well!
The title is all to do with partners. Helen has been doing Line Dancing in the village hall. You don't need a partner for Line Dancing. You don't have to touch anybody. But if you're dancing on ice, and you're unsure of yourself, a partner can certainly come in handy.

Anyway, if you'd like to give it a try, and you have a Kindle or a Kindle app, you can get it cheap, here in the UK and also in the USA, (at this link) for seven whole days. You don't have to be a hockey mom or even a hockey fan to enjoy it (although it won't harm) and it might help if you're a wee bit curious about the joys and occasional sorrows of life in contemporary rural Scotland. But really, it's a story about love, about betrayal and damage, and about healing. 

I'm keen to see this novel selling well because I badly want to write the sequel. And I probably will write the sequel sooner or later. But it would be kind of nice if a few people were asking for it!

Meanwhile - but also on the subject of betrayal and friendship as well as a lot of other things besides - my new historical novel The Physic Garden is due to be published in its eBook form on ALL platforms, on 1st February. You'll find it on Amazon, but everywhere else as well. And then, ta-dah! - it will be published in paperback on 27th March with the very beautiful cover below. This one is published in the traditional way by  SARABAND, a publisher in a million and Scottish Publisher of the Year for 2013. Check out some of their other excellent titles. I'm very proud to be published by them, glad to be in such company,  and - if all goes well - I'm hoping to be able to work with them in the future. 

Cover picture, courtesy of Glasgow Museums.

















Monday, January 20, 2014

There Was A Lad - Happy Birthday to Rab.


This post is reposted from my last Authors Electric post. I thought it might be worth another outing on my Wordarts blog. After all, you can't have too much of a good thing, and Rab was a very very good thing!

On 25th January 1759, our national poet (or one of them - we're not short of poets up here) was born.
Or as Rab himself would have it: 

There was a lad was born in Kyle, 
But whatna day o' whatna style, 
I doubt it's hardly worth the while 
To be sae nice wi' Robin. 

Our monarch's hindmost year but ane 
Was five-and-twenty days begun, 
'Twas then a blast o' Janwar' win' 
Blew hansel in on Robin.

Kyle is a part of Ayrshire (the others are Carrick, where I live, and which has lots of Burns associations too) and Cunningham, a bit like the Ridings of my native Yorkshire. The blast of January wind blew down the chimney of the cottage that Burn's father had built for himself and his family in Alloway, near Ayr. You can listen to the whole poem if you like, here, recited engagingly by Alan Cumming for the BBC. 

So this post is a wee pre Happy Birthday shout out to possibly my favourite poet of all time: Robert Burns. 

Here's one we did earlier!
We'll be having a smallish, private Burns Supper in this village about a week later. We'll eat traditional food: cock-a-leekie soup, haggis, steak pie, mashed potatoes, mashed turnips, trifle, oatcakes and cheese. This is not, I have to confess, my favourite meal of the year. I can pretty much take or leave everything except the trifle, the oatcakes and cheese. But the company is always good. There will be plenty of wine, some whisky, excellent conversation, poetry, a few short and entertaining speeches, lots of toasts and some songs.

I have, occasionally, been invited to speak at other, more formal Burns Suppers - on one memorable occasion I had to give the 'Immortal Memory' which is the big speech of the evening. I had a tooth abscess and was on those antibiotics where they warn you not to touch a single drop of alcohol because it will have disastrous effects. (This is true, by the way. The effects are, I'm told, instantly emetic!) So I had to do it completely sober and toast Rab in mineral water.  The poet would have sympathised, both with the toothache and the abstinence.

Not quite how I first saw the cottage.

I've loved his poetry, but most particularly his songs, ever since we first moved to Ayrshire when I was twelve. I used to walk to Burns' Cottage in Alloway - still very atmospheric back then - and spend an hour or two daydreaming. The poems so precisely and heart-rendingly reflect the countryside around here. The poet himself seemed such a mass of contradictions - and the more I researched his life and work, the more intriguing those contradictions became.


My play about Robert Burns on Kindle.
I wrote a full length radio play for BBC R4 all about the writing of Tam O' Shanter, and then a stage play for Glasgow's Oran Mor, called Burns on the Solway.  As the playwright, I found the whole production more illuminating than I had believed possible - when a production goes well, and this one did, it somehow intensifies and enhances the idea you first had. And now, I seem to be writing a novel, about which I can't say any more than that it has been simmering inside me for a very long time. Perhaps since I was twelve and daydreaming in the old cottage. But even while I was writing The Physic Garden, William Lang, in that book, insisted on talking to me about Burns - who would have been a much more recent memory for my narrator. (Burns died in July 1796)


Donald Pirie and Claire Waugh, a compelling Robert and Jean.
First, William says 'I often think Mr Burns and myself might have had a great deal in common if we had had the good fortune to meet and talk about our respective experiences. Burns wrote convincingly and lovingly about the flowers of his native heath. I cannot even now read the lines, oft hae I rov'd by bonny Doon, to see the rose and woodbine twine; and ilka bird sang o' its luve, and fondly sae did I o' mine, without it bringing a lump to my throat, which is a very daft notion after all this time.'

And later, he quotes again: 'The tocher’s the jewel, as the poet Burns wrote. And so many men are but knotless threids who will slide away from lassies at time of need.'

Poets, male and female, don't always practise what they preach, and Burns was very far from being the saint depicted in so many fulsome Burns' Supper speeches. He was, in fact, capable of appalling behaviour, even by the different standards of his day. But any eighteenth century man who can write a song like The Tocher's the Jewel, has got to be applauded. Here's the original - followed by a loose translation for anyone who needs it.

O meikle thinks my Luve o' my beauty,
And meikle thinks my Luve o' my kin;
But little thinks my Luve, I ken brawlie,
My tocher's the jewel has charms for him.
It's a' for the apple he'll nourish the tree;
It's a' for the hinny he'll cherish the bee;
My laddie's sae meikle in love wi' the siller,
He canna hae luve to spare for me.

Your proffer o' luve's an airle-penny,
My tocher's the bargain ye wad buy;
But an ye be crafty, I am cunnin,
Sae ye wi' anither your fortune maun try.
Ye're like to the timmer o' yon rotten wood,
Ye're like to the bark o' yon rotten tree,
Ye'll slip frae me like a knotless threid,
And ye'll crack your credit wi' mae nor me.

Oh much thinks my love of my beauty,
And much thinks my love of my kin
But little thinks my love, I know fine,
My dowry's the jewel has charms for him.
It's all for the apple he'll nourish the tree;
It's all for the honey he'll cherish the bee
My laddie's so much in love with the silver (money)
He has no love to spare for me.

Your offer of love is an arles penny (this was money paid to seal a deal, usually between servant and master!)
My dowry's the bargain you would buy
But if you're crafty, I'll be cunning,
So you with another your fortune may try.
You're like to the timber of yon rotten wood,
You're like to the bark of yon rotten tree,
You'll slip from me like a knotless thread
And you'll  spend all your credit with more than me.

Not the best translation in the world, mostly because some of these words and phrases are virtually untranslatable - and still current, here in Ayrshire. Only a little while ago, I heard somebody describing a man sadly but accurately as a knotless threid. But it's this poem, among many other wonderful poems and songs, with its powerful and angry evocation of the voice of the young woman, that pays for all. For me, anyway.

I'll finish with another image from the play, courtesy of Leslie Black who took a series of stunning production photos.



Happy Birthday, Rab, when it comes.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My Writing Process

I've invited by Susan Price to take part in the My Writing Process Blog Tour. Susan is a fellow member of the Authors Electric where you can also find both of us blogging on a monthly basis.

Here are some thoughts on how and why I do what I do:

1 What are you working on?
I’m working on the final proofs and publicity for a novel called The Physic Garden which is about to be published by Saraband Books. It will be out in hardback on March 27th and in eBook form a little earlier than that. It’s a historical novel about friendship and betrayal, among much else. Working with Saraband has, I have to say, been a real pleasure. A publisher in a million. 


2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The novel is a piece of literary historical fiction. Is that a genre? Maybe it is! But I’d hesitate to label it too precisely. I don’t think a piece of fiction has to be unreadable or inaccessible to be literary, nor do I think fiction has to be facile to be popular. There are a lot of voracious readers out there, young and old. They may be reading on Kindles and on other devices, so we don’t always spot them when we’re travelling, but they are still reading and loving stories. I know because so many of them seem to want to talk about books and stories online. More than ever, I think.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I write what I do simply because I love what I do. I had a faintly bizarre conversation over the Christmas holidays with somebody who thinks I should be writing more comedy. And for television at that. Well, if that’s what I was doing, I would perhaps be making a bit more money. But you can only pick and choose what you write to a limited extent. On the whole, it chooses you. That’s also why – on the whole, and I know there are exceptions – you can’t often write those stories that people tell you about themselves, however good and interesting they are. 

As a writer, you always have far more ideas than you have time to tell them. So when people ask ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ which is a perfectly good and valid question, it can be quite hard to explain that you are never short of ideas. They come in droves. You have a head full of them. They jostle for place and even when you’re writing one novel, there may well be a whole cast of other characters, niggling away at the back of your mind, waiting to be heard. What you are often short of is the time to write those ideas.

A cast of characters, waiting to be heard!

4) How does my writing process work?
I do a lot of writing and I do some writing almost every day. I’m quite disciplined and if I have a deadline to meet I’m very disciplined indeed. I write a novel as one long document, in Word, divided into chapters, and I write very quickly. But I wouldn’t let anyone except me see that first draft. I don’t really even talk about the novel at this early stage. If you talk too much about a project it can disappear before your very eyes. Once I’ve got something to work on, a complete manuscript, however sketchy or clumsy, I do lots and lots of rewrites and revisions. Lots of polishing. I do plenty of research beforehand, but I often find out what I don’t know when I’m writing the novel, so I’ll go back to researching as the story progresses. 
I love revising and reworking. It’s like living with these characters in this setting and it’s very enticing. When I have to stop and when something is finished and published it never quite feels finished. It’s a sad time. I have to get going on something else almost immediately, otherwise I miss the characters too much and (as I’m doing right now with an old project) can sometimes be enticed back into writing a sequel – or writing about the same character in another form. 

I've passed these questions on to Michael Malone, and to Uuganaa Ramsay, who blogs here, both of whom are also Saraband Authors - fine writers both. Do visit their blogs and read on!



Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year - and a bit of advice.

2013 was mixed, to say the least. For several much loved friends and a few relatives, it was, not to put too fine a point on it, a pig of a year. I was glad to see the back of it on their behalf and found myself hoping for much better things from 2014.

But there were good points and highlights too, chief of which - for me - was working with the wonderful Saraband - a publisher in a million - to prepare my historical novel The Physic Garden for publication both in paperback and as an eBook. I love the new cover which is from an old sampler embroidered by Janet McNiel in 1819. (And many thanks to Glasgow Museums for permission to use it.)

Saraband won the Saltire Society's inaugural Scottish Publisher of the Year award in 2013. You can read all about it here. But essentially, they judged that Saraband had 'responded to industry changes and moved Scottish authors to the heart of its business.' All true. And as far as I'm concerned they are the most helpfully collaborative publisher I have ever worked with.  A unique pleasure and I very much hope to continue working with them. Meanwhile, the paperback of The Physic Garden will be published in late March, with the eBook being available quite a bit sooner. I'll certainly keep you posted.

On this dark and dreary New Year's Day I've been sitting in a cosy room in our 200 year old cottage, drinking tea, watching old movies, making notes and plans for the coming year's work and occasionally falling asleep. It was a late night last night: an excellent Scottish Hogmanay party, with good food and champagne too. I'm not beating myself up about not putting all those plans into action until next Monday 6th January. I love this quiet time in the middle of winter where you feel justified in going into hibernation mode.

But before I sign off for tonight - here's a little piece of advice for all those friends and acquaintances who keep telling me that they 'want to write' but can't seem to find the time or motivation. This kind of advice is fairly rare for me. I'm always happy to talk to groups and classes about research and the writing process, but I tend to believe that if somebody really wants to write, then that's what they'll do. The late Pat Kavanagh once said to me that she thought people should only write something if they felt they couldn't bear NOT to write it, and I've found myself agreeing with her more and more as the years have gone by.  If a friend says to me that he or she wants to play the piano (something I can do reasonably well)  I'll chat about teachers, but if, a couple of years later, I find that the same friend has done nothing about it, it's no big deal. I'll just assume it was a passing fancy. She might well be perfectly happy playing Chopsticks or busking a tune for her own pleasure - and that's absolutely fine too.

But just because it's 1st January, and the time for resolutions and people are still telling me that they really want to write - here's a thought.

If you write only 500 words a day for  300 days of 2014 (which would give you a pretty hefty 65 days off!) you will have 150,000 words by this time next year. That equates to a doorstop of a novel, or a novel and a half, or three longish novellas, or two novels of reasonable length.

500 words is easy peasy. They don't have to be the best written 500 words in the history of literature. Just part of an ongoing story. Everyone can find the time for 500 words. You could get up an hour earlier, or go to bed an hour later or even - if you're an insomniac like I am, from time to time - get up, make a cup of tea and scribble or type for an hour. Just as long as you put your bum on the seat, put words on a page and go on doing it.

I've already written more than 500 words on this blog post. It didn't take long. In reality, you'll find yourself writing more than that, once you get going. You'll also find that life events sometimes intervene - but then you've always got those 65 days in hand. And you will probably find that once you get to the 80 or 90,000 word mark, (about 180 days) you'll want to stop and devote the remainder of the year to reworking and revising what you've written.

This should be a whole lot easier than trying to find the time and space to write a novel in a month, especially when you're new to the craft. But you'll still finish up with a manuscript by this time next year. And as with every other craft, practice makes perfect.

Whatever you decide to do - good luck with it - and a very happy and successful New Year to my friends and readers and all those lovely friends who are readers, which is pretty much all of them.








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