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!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Poet's Funeral

Yesterday was the day on which, in 1796, Robert Burns was buried in Dumfries, in a simple grave in St Michael's churchyard. The big, ostentatious monument only came later. The funeral was far from simple. Invitations were sent out in Robbie, the poet's eldest son's name, as was the custom. The night before was showery but the day of the funeral turned out to be sunny, just in time for the grand procession. The weather this week, here in the West of Scotland, has been much the same. All those fine people who had crossed the street to avoid Rab a little while before, when the adulation had changed to small town disapproval, came out to show how much they had loved the great bard. And in spite of his wishes to the contrary, the 'awkward squad', the Dumfries Volunteers, not very efficient or soldierly, did indeed fire over him.

Jean was at home, giving birth to his last child, a son called Maxwell. The night after the funeral, Jean's husband came home, briefly. That's what she recounted later. And here's my version of it.

'The whole house was quiet, Maxwell swaddled in her arms, She had been singing to the new wean until he slept and she saw Rab coming into the room. He was as bold and clear as though he had still been in life and, she thought, rather more healthy than the last time she had laid eyes on him, a gleam in his eye and a flush of sunlight on his cheek. 
She was not afraid.
When had she ever been afraid of him? Rather she felt the wee bubble of laughter, even in the most serious of situations, at the general absurdity of everything, even the worst of things. She looked up at him while he gazed down at her and, in particular she thought, at the baby. Well, why not? He had aye loved the weans best, loved the curve of their cheeks, the soft, vulnerable place at the back of the neck, their perfect wee fingers and toes. Then he shook his head sadly, as though regretting that he could not stay, and disappeared, so suddenly that it seemed like a snowflake, melting away in your hand.' 




Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Drizzler

Armour's the jewel for me of them all.
Somewhere in my new novel about the life and times of Robert Burns's wife Jean Armour, there's a reference to the practice of 'drizzling' and 'drizzlers'. When I first heard about this, the eighteenth century – and largely female – practice of snipping precious metal embellishments from male garments, with or without the wearer’s permission, and selling the gold and silver to be melted down, I was intrigued by the notion and of course, it found its way into the novel. You'll have to read the book if you want to know who, when and where! I say in the end note to the book that everything either happened or could have happened, so you'll have to make up your own mind about certain events. Although you might be surprised ...

Anyway, a good long while before I wrote the Jewel, I was so intrigued by the notion of drizzlers that I wrote a poem in the persona of one of them. I thought you might like to read it, so here it is.

THE DRIZZLER

The play’s the place for this game,
crowded halls, assemblies, balls.
I keep a pair of scissors in my
needle case, birds of steel, their
beaks as sharp as my tongue and
a spool for winding my booty on.
My skirts are a garden,
how my nimble needle flies.
A froth of smuggled lace at my wrist
hides my hand from prying eyes.

Peacocks are my prey.
Rich young men or old no matter
so long as their coats are fancy.
Roses, purls and picots are good,
dangling spangles are easy,
acorns are fine, fringes are better
but I have grown so bold that
I have slit silver buttons from their
waistcoats beneath their noses
and I remember one young buck who
wore medallions of beaten gold
with cupids and I had them I had them but
I was sorry to send such cherubs for melting.

Some women call their pillage flirtation.
What can their gallants do but submit?
But the covert assault excites me more.
I gauge them from behind my fan.
Up close, their hearts beat far too loud to
hear the slice of blade on blade.
They never see my work.
They’re watching the shady cleft
between my breasts, they never catch
the swiftness of my hand
between their baubles but
with their warm lips on mine
I’ll palm my shears and
clip their treasures one by one.

My mother died when I was
much too young to grieve.
My father pays lip service to thrift while
donning his powdered wigs, his velvets,
his hose, his ruffled linen shirts.
So I’ll take what’s offered elsewhere
snipping in secret, concealing my
rich pickings in my sleeve.

Later, I’ll tease my stolen gold from
silken thread and take it to the old woman
who weighs it on her scales and
hands me a few coins instead.
Pin money. It’s never enough
but the thought of this subtle robbery
makes me flush and catch my breath.
I’ll prick their vanity with my tiny shears.
A small piracy.
We are drizzlers.
We are buccaneers.




Monday, July 04, 2016

The Way It Was: A History of Gigha


Sorry for the rather long silence between posts, but there's been an awful lot going on here in the UK. Wish there wasn't. Glad I'm in Scotland.

Foxglove and fuchsia at Keill.
Anyway - my old/new book about Gigha is out now, and what a smashing cover (painted by Pam Carter) they've come up with at Birlinn. Lots of the research for this book was actually done in the little white cottage on the right of the picture, which is where we stayed for a number of summers: Ferry Croft One, very close to the beach.

This is an update on God's Islanders that was published some years ago, in hardback: a revised and updated paperback, just the right size for you to slip into your pocket and carry around the island with you. Gigha is one of my favourite places in the whole world, and I've set some of my fiction on an island not a million miles from Gigha as well. I'm already planning a new project with an island setting.

Misty morning at the ferry terminal. 
This morning, Undiscovered Scotland features a lovely review of the book. Once you've read the review, perhaps you should also visit the island. We were there for a few days - not nearly long enough - in early June and I wish we were back there now: it's a gem, small, but very beautiful indeed.