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, February 13, 2014

A Valentine's Day Special: Two Love Stories For the Price Of One

Cover by Alison Bell
If you haven't read the Curiosity Cabinet (and although it has definitely been my best selling novel to date I know there are quite a lot of people out there who haven't!) then I've planned a very special offer for Valentine's Day and the following week. From 13th February to 19th February, The Curiosity Cabinet will be on a 'Kindle Countdown' deal and you'll be able to download it for the bargain price of 99p in the UK and around a dollar in the US. That's a lot less than the price of a cup of coffee.  

Many - but by no means all - of my novels, involve very grown up love stories. But with this book, you'll be getting two love stories for the price of one,  two parallel stories, past and present. 

In present day Scotland,  Alys revisits the beautiful (fictional) Hebridean island of Garve after an absence of twenty five years, and finds herself captivated by the antique embroidered casket on display in her hotel. She discovers that it belongs to Donal, her childhood playmate on the island, and soon they resume their old friendship. 

Another ancient McNeill

But interwoven with the story of their growing love is the darker historical tale of Henrietta Dalrymple, kidnapped by the formidable chieftain, Manus McNeill, and held on Garve against her will and with no inkling of the reason why she has been imprisoned. 

With three hundred years separating them, the women are linked by the cabinet and its mysterious contents, by the tug of motherhood and by the magic of the island itself. But Garve has its secrets, past and present. Donal must learn to trust Alys enough to confide in her and, like Henrietta before her, Alys must earn the right to belong.


The island and its people are fictional, but the landscape is very like the landscape of the beautiful little island of Gigha which I know well. I'm told that it seems like Coll too. 

I'm always a bit bemused by the reviews of this book since they tend to be wildly differing, even when they're positive (and most of them are positive, thanks to my many lovely readers!) But it's clear from reading them that some readers see it as a tightly, tautly written book with great depths, whereas others see it as a frothy 'guilty pleasure'. In house agent's parlance (real estate if you're reading this in the US) it probably means that the book is 'deceptively simple'.

The truth is that whether you find it deceptively simple or genuinely simple, it doesn't matter, just as long as you enjoy it. I hope, at least, that you believe in Alys and Donal, and in Henrietta and Manus. Because I grew very fond of them, and of Alys's little boy Ben, as well.  

It's a book about the present redeeming the past - and also about the ways in which a beautiful and largely unchanging place with an  intense history can hold something of the past, even within its present. 

One of my readers called it a 'beautifully crafted tapestry of a book' and I'm grateful that s/he understood exactly what I was trying to do in the novel - and took pleasure from reading it. Because it was certainly a great pleasure for me to research and write it!

Why not give it a try at the links below? 

You can also visit my website to read a bit more about what I'm working on right now, and find out about my other books, especially my new - and much darker - historical novel, The Physic Garden, which has just been published as an eBook by Saraband, and is due for release in paperback in late March.  











Friday, February 07, 2014

Editors and Artistic Directors - So Much In Common.

Coming back to theatre with a bang: Wormwood
Novelist (and friend) Gillian Philip wrote an excellent piece on editors and editing for the winter edition of the Society of Authors in Scotland newsletter. So many people wanted to read it that she reposted it on her own blog, here and I can very much recommend it. 

I had just been involved in an online discussion about the role of the artistic director in a stage play and reading Gillian’s post, it struck me that there are parallels between a good artistic director and a good editor – just as there are striking and unfortunate parallels between a bad director and a bad editor.
Let me get the horror stories out of the way first.
Back when I was starting out in theatre, I wrote a play about the Solidarity movement in Poland and its effects on one family. I was ecstatic to be told that it would be performed at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre. That, though, was where the ecstasy ended. The first time I met the artistic director I realised that we had opposing views of the play. He took the script away and sent it back to me with massive rewrites on every page. He had torn it to bits, deleted large sections and rewritten it as the play he thought it should be. I fought as best I could, and so did the (lovely) cast, but it was a disaster. I was too young, too naive and too inexperienced. He was an elderly bully and it was years before I went back to theatre - with a play about the Chernobyl disaster for the Traverse in Edinburgh.
Later, this time with a novel, I encountered an editor who tried to do something similar. To be fair, some of the points she made were good, but she also made extensive changes to my manuscript without tracking them, rewriting whole chunks of my work in the kind of voice and idiom she would have used herself. By that stage I was confident enough to dig in my heels, but it was a tedious and time consuming business, going through my version and hers, reinstating my dialogue but trying to do useful rewrites where she had made fair points – which she had.
When I thought about it, I realised that a good artistic director and a good editor share quite similar qualities.
An artistic director will hold the ‘idea’ of the play in his or her head. The buck stops with her. If she is on anybody’s side, she is on the side of the play itself as you have intended it to be not as she might have written it herself. Not even as she wishes you had written it. It is her aim to make it as good as it possibly can be on its own terms. She will never do that by imposing her voice on the voice of the playwright. The process is much more collaborative, more fluid, more fascinating than that and since most directors are freelance she will almost certainly walk away rather than take on a play she dislikes. Since editors are increasingly freelance too, the same thing applies.
Anne Marie Timoney and Liam Brennan in Wormwood
There is an etiquette in theatre, so the actors will talk to the director and the writer will talk to the director, but the writer will not give instructions to the actors and the actors will not ask the writer for changes except through the director. If you know each other and have worked together before, there is a lot of leeway and what eventually emerges is a comfortably collaborative process. But I can think of many occasions where, for example, an actor has asked for changes and the director has said ‘not yet. Try it the way it’s written.’ The good director takes the work seriously, treats it (and you) with respect, but helps the playwright to see what needs to be seen. A little way into the rehearsal process, you can see where something isn’t working but it’s almost always you who make the changes.

Happy days with a very good director: Hamish Wilson
This is how it works with a good editor. I’ve just been working with one on the Physic Garden and it has been a joy. I knew that there was something not quite right somewhere, but I wasn’t sure what it was. It was something small, but it niggled. The editor read the manuscript, said ‘I love this book’ but instantly put her finger on what it was that had bugged me and the publisher. It was indeed something quite small but once she had pointed it out, it also seemed obvious and important. (It was one of those ‘why didn’t I see that?’ moments.) And it had a couple of knock-on effects on the rest of the story.  Essentially, it was a case of finding out how a particular character might really react at that point in the novel, and addressing it. It was the work of a couple of days to make the changes, but it mattered. There were other bits and pieces, of course: punctuation, the odd inconsistency or infelicity. But really, it was her ability to hone in on one small but vital facet of the story that was priceless and I’m glad I made the changes, glad to have worked with her. 

A good editor, like a good director is both unselfish and generous. But I’ve also come to realise that not everyone possesses those qualities, although they may be learned over a period of years. My genuinely bad experiences - I can count about four and that isn’t very many - involved people who were too ignorant to know how little they really knew. (Youth, though, wasn’t an issue because some of them were old enough to know better.) They were on a power trip, over confidently imposing their own views on whatever work they were editing or developing.  It was, I realised eventually, a bit like that scene in the Matrix where Agent Smith converts everything into a clone of himself. Too bad Neo wasn’t around to fight my corner when I needed him.