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, December 09, 2016

A little taste of spring, here in the Scottish countryside.


The days are very short here in Scotland at this time of year, but we comfort ourselves with the thought that in another couple of weeks they'll start to get longer. And by the end of January, they'll be noticeably longer!

Which is not to say that I want to skip Christmas, because I love everything about it. Always have. But all the same, it's cheering when the spring bulbs start to come through.

This is an old terracotta pot of white, scented narcissus bulbs I planted earlier this year, and hid away on a cool, dark shelf at the back of my office. Now, it's downstairs and they're growing and greening up on such light as is available. There's a pot of hyacinths as well, although they're a little way behind.

With a bit of luck, they'll be flowering not long after the Christmas decorations are put away for another year. I don't buy forced hyacinths at Christmas time, but I do buy them soon afterwards, if I haven't had the foresight to grow my own. I love to clean up and then bring springtime into the house in the shape of bulbs and - quite soon, here in the west - bunches of snowdrops and catkins.

I much prefer February to November. In November things are still sliding. In February and even earlier, you can feel the whole garden and the countryside beyond drawing breath, getting ready for spring. My favourite time of year.

It may be even earlier than usual, this year, since, after a cold spell that drove all the outdoor bulbs back underground, it has been incredibly warm for a few days. 'A pretty decent Scottish summer temperature' as my husband remarked! I gather it's due to get colder again pretty soon. Maybe in time for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Aidan Turner, Poldark and Robert Burns

Anyone who knows me well, will know that I'm a big Poldark fan. But at least one of the reasons I watched it so avidly, is that it was perfect inspiration when I was writing the Jewel. The period, the costumes, the scenery, all of them were exactly right for the turbulent romance between Rab and Jean. And it needed only a small stretch of the imagination to see Aidan Turner in the starring role. (I know there are brilliant young Scots actors in plenty, suggestions welcome below, but I'm sure he could 'do' the lowland Scots accent if necessary!)

I thought it was just me, daydreaming while simultaneously working on a novel and watching what I thought was an excellent adaptation, beautifully filmed, brilliantly acted, (the first series coincided with a time when I was researching and writing the novel.) But last week, I was speaking about Jean to a group of volunteers at one of the local Burns museums and somebody else - a man, no less - said 'You know, Poldark put me in mind of this story. Whenever I watched Ross Poldark and Demelza galloping along that clifftop, I thought about Rab and Jean!'

Me too, me too.

There have been so many attempts to make a film about the life of Robert Burns, but most of them have come to grief or come to naught in one way or another. I realised, as I worked on The Jewel, that it may be because most of them have ignored the real, romantic heart of the story. Ross Poldark would be unthinkable without his brilliant, strong, spirited Demelza. There's a sense in which the novels, the dramatisations too, are Demelza's story. And there's a sense in which the story of Robert Burns is just as much Jean's story - another brilliant, strong, spirited woman. If you try to make it about Highland Mary - a short intense relationship - or Clarinda - another intense but short relationship, mostly conducted by letter - then you miss the real, dramatic, romantic heart of the matter.

The other problem is that too often, Rab is played by an actor who seems to be a bit too old for somebody who died at the age of 37. It matters. During one of this year's many excellent discussions I've had with groups of readers, somebody remarked on how young the couple were when all the drama of their relationship was at its height. And it's true. They had all the passionate recklessness of youth and you ignore that at your peril.

Meanwhile, as far as I know - because there has been interest  - film rights in The Jewel are still available. Contact Saraband if you want to know more. I'd truly love to see this book on the screen.

Jean's fireplace, in Mauchline.



Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Poems and Songs for Jean Armour


Back when I was researching my novel The Jewel, about the life of Robert Burns's wife, Jean Armour, I became aware that there were many poems and songs that had obviously been written with Jean in mind. I suggested to my publisher, Saraband, that it might be a good idea to collect them all together in one place, and they agreed. 

The book - For Jean: Poems and Songs by Robert Burns  - is now available for pre-order here. It will be published in January 2017, just before Burns night. I've collected together the songs and poems that are definitely about Jean with some more that might be about her, or where the poet clearly had her in his mind. Many are love poems although one or two are angry poems of thwarted passion! There are notes on many of them, and a glossary where necessary. 

This is a lovely companion volume to The Jewel, a nice Burns Night gift, and also, a very handy little volume for anyone looking for poems for and about 'the lassies' or for a recitation at the increasingly popular 'Jean Armour Suppers'.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Writers and Notebooks - A Love Affair.

Some of the current collection
Today, a friend on Facebook posted about the way many notebooks are more expensive than actual printed books. She's right, of course. They are. But I still buy them.

I know lots of other writers who have a notebook habit. We accumulate them. Sometimes we sit and admire them without actually writing in them. The special ones are hoarded for some hypothetical future project that will be worthy of the perfect notebook.

I have very specific tastes in notebooks. First and foremost, the pages have to be blank. I hate lined paper. You'd be surprised how many shops seem to have stopped stocking blank paper notebooks altogether. Sometimes you have to hunt among the art materials to find them.

The paper has to be good quality, preferably off white or cream rather than bright white. I often write with italic or 'handwriting' pens, with broad nibs (yes, I know, but I was taught to write that way at school, a long long time ago and I can't help it!) and if the paper is nasty, the ink sinks in. It's so disappointing when you open a notebook with a beautiful cover to find that the paper inside is flimsy and impractical.

I quite like hard cover notebooks, especially brightly coloured hard cover notebooks: pink, turquoise, red, blue. Soft covers are OK though, especially for travelling. I have a couple of beautiful little notebooks I bought in Oxford last year, with Kraft paper covers, and ladybird designs, including an edge design like one of those wonderful old books that have a painting along the depth of the pages. I like them to be a decent size, although it's handy when they can also fit in my handbag. And if they have a little compartment into which I can slip notes for talks, train timetables etc, so much the better.

I have an ongoing love affair with Moleskine. I love these notebooks with a passion, which is a bit sad since they're not cheap. But they are the kings and queens among notebooks. Everything about them, including the quality of the paper, is wonderful. If any notebook might magically be able to make you into a better writer, these are the ones to try. (And no, they're not paying me to say this.)

I generally buy mine online, from Amazon or from T K Maxx, where you can find a good selection of notebooks and nice paper of all kinds. Although once you've discovered the Moleskine shop, you might well be enticed in. I use one every day, for lists of things to do. I've also been using one this year to keep track of the many events I've been asked to do, venues, contact details, train or bus times, hotel bookings  - and again, Moleskine provides the perfect notebook: robust, with a piece of elastic to keep it firmly shut, a bookmark and a wallet at the back.

Oddly enough, I use a Kindle for reading all the time, and although I love paper books and have too many of them, I can't say I feel excessively attached to them, can't say I miss them, especially when I'm reading fiction. I also write directly onto a PC and would never dream of writing a novel in longhand now. Too slow. It would drive me mad.

But when it comes to research, planning and plotting, or making my various lists, I prefer my notebooks. I really do love to use pen and paper.

I've a feeling that you can never have too many notebooks. I wonder what other people think. Do you have favourites, pet hates, perfect specimens?