From Bloody Scotland to the Saltire Awards- Autumn Madness!

I realise I haven’t done that writerly thing of ‘updating my blog’ since…actually I daren’t look at the date! Suffice to say, things have been very busy in Grandmother’s House over the last few months so I’m just going to leave you with a little pictorial round-up!

stirling

Bloody Scotland happened at the beginning of September. What a great weekend…the torchlit procession down from the castle was magical, and all the better for my pal Claire  Macleary having been longlisted for the McIvanney Prize with her debut Cross Purpose.

The coveted prize was carried off by the super-talented Denise Mina, for The Long Drop, so that it was all good!

 

The very next weekend it was off to Haworth for myself and my buddies- Dawn, Elizabeth and Richard. We share such a passion for all things writerly it was the perfect getaway- we even did some writing! Here we are bonding over the Brontes (over beer), making a mess of a perfectly neat holiday home and viewing the moors from Wuthering Heights (Top Withens, actually, but close enough).bronte sisters

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One of the many highlights of this Autumn has been my involvement with the Great Tapestry of Scotland at the Verdant Works. I volunteered to help invigilate (no sticky paws on my watch!) and it was a real honour to be part of something so special.

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And at the end of September we held our inaugural Chasing Time Writing Retreat!

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A very special visit to Glamis Castle was another highlight. Again, going anywhere with a bunch of writers puts a whole new perspective on things…

 

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And (almost) finally…a trip to NESS BOOK FEST! What a fantastic weekend….so interesting, so friendly…and a really lovely crowd turned up to hear the fabulous Shelley Day and myself muse about all things macabre! One of my favourite photos here, pictured with Moira and Barbara at Inverness Museum. That amazing Barbara Henderson takes a good selfie!

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Finding out that Beneath the Skin has been shortlisted for the Saltire First Book of the Year Award was the perfect conclusion to a hectic few months…enough to give me a warm glow all through winter, I reckon!

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A Story Within A Story

sandra ireland author 6It goes without saying that writers always have a swarm of story ideas buzzing around in their heads, and a notebook beside the bed, just in case one of the little blighters escapes! I often feel like a ghoulish beachcomber, picking through the bones of real-life situations in search of meat. A tiny piece of flotsam can lead me into a new novel, short story or poem.

So why, when anyone asks about my own story, do I want to scuttle away like a hermit crab?

Because it’s personal, and as any writer will tell you- we don’t do personal, unless it’s neatly wrapped in fiction and we can hide behind it. In the modern, media-savvy world, getting up close and personal with the author is all part of the publishing deal.

This, I have to admit, is something I struggle with. I lurked on Twitter for ages before I was brave enough to compose that first Tweet. I blanched at the thought of the ‘professional head shots’ required for publicity purposes, and giving interviews? Why would anyone come to an event to hear me speak?

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Dawn Geddes

If all this sounds disturbingly familiar, never fear! There is now professional help available for us weak-at-the knees newbies. I have just completed Week One of a startlingly helpful course devised by Dawn Geddes, a freelance journalist, with a background in public relations and media work. Dawn, a fiction writer herself, knows only too well what it takes to make that leap from behind the keyboard to star in your own show.

In Week One of her four-week online course, I was faced with an Author Story Questionnaire. What? Authors have stories too? They do, and they’re not made up. At first it was difficult, but the more involved I became, the more I began to recall the interesting aspects of my life, the bits that I never think to talk about, because I hate talking about myself! It was a real voyage of discovery, and to return to my beachcombing analogy- soon I began to unearth buried treasure. Suddenly, this writer has a backstory!

Using Dawn’s tailor-made tools, I have now re-vamped my website. Take a look. Tell me what you think. I wanted it to reflect the noirish tone of my writing, and if readers are interested in ME, it stands to reason they’ll give my books a whirl.

So, a whopping five stars for Week One of the ‘Be your own publicist’ course. I will report back on Week Two, but in the meantime, check out Dawn’s course HERE

Time On Your Side

Buying a gift for a writer is easy. An elegant pen, a bespoke notebook. A new edition of a much-loved classic. But ask a writer what their dream gift would be, and it might well be something you can’t pick up online.

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We crave it, can’t get enough of it. We want time that is elastic, time that stands still. Time that will work with us, and allow us to craft that perfect chapter before the kids come home, or the dog demands to be walked.

We all desire it, we’re all chasing it. You can’t buy it, but you can make it, if you allow a little space in your hectic schedule. Last month, three intrepid scribblers set out to do just that!

 

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In the company of fellow writers, Elizabeth Frattaroli and Dawn Geddes, I booked into the fabulous Rosely House Hotel, Arbroath. Better known as the ‘home’ of the Angus Writers’ Circle, the hotel is a Baronial-style country house. Think old oak and stag’s heads, firewood in the hall and electric blankets on the beds. It has turrets, stained glass and the most gorgeous period furniture. It is Writer Heaven!

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20170512_164729We began our stay with a wander round the grounds, beneath Scots pine and willow, through drifts of bluebells. We passed the 18th c. ice house, and climbed ancient stone steps that lead to nowhere. Afterwards, we relaxed in the parlour and wrote, fuelled by endless coffee (the family who run the hotel are SO understanding!) and, I admit, a bottle of wine. After a delicious meal – served in the parlour, no cooking, no washing up!- we wrote some more, shared some ideas and climbed the amazing Gothic staircase to bed.

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It was tranquil, therapeutic and inspirational. For once, Time was on our side. With no domestic demands, no to-do list and no stress, it was the perfect venue for a writerly retreat. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we thought, if everyone could experience this?

If you’re chasing time, and would like to follow in our footsteps, head on over to our brand-new website!

https://chasingtimescotland.wordpress.com  

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True North

Last week, I took an exciting trip back to my roots!

Vic Watson and Jacky Collins, organisers of  Newcastle Noir kindly invited me along to Noir @ the Bar, in the Town Wall, Newcastle. Newcastle Noir is a literary festival celebrating the best in contemporary crime writing, bringing together writers from the North East, across Britain, as well as from further afield. By all accounts, the 2017 festival was a huge success, and it’s already on my calendar for next year! Noir@the Bar (there are quite a few versions of this across the country) is a fun, informal evening of readings…in a pub. Writers’ paradise, pretty much!

When I last visited Newcastle, I was too young to drink, but unfortunately, on this occasion, the bar staff saw no need to I.D. me. We had a fabulous night in a great venue, and I really enjoyed listening to chilling extracts from some must-read novels and short stories.

I chose to read the opening pages from my novel Beneath the Skin, and I was very conscious that my central character, Walt, was  coming home too. As a nod to my own upbringing, Walt grew up in rural Northumberland, but I could just imagine him meeting his mates for a few pints in a place like the Town Wall, having a laugh and a bit of banter. Beneath the Skin is about what happens when the laughter stops. When you come home but your best mate doesn’t. It’s about how trauma changes people.

 

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Beneath the Skin (Polygon)

My trip ‘down south’ was much too brief, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out a few Gothic locations for my next project….!

 

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Things to do in Cumbernauld when you write

There’s nothing more enjoyable than a weekend away, and a weekend away with like-minded souls is always the best experience. So, last weekend I set off with a bunch of Angus Writers (some of whom have appeared previously on these pages masquerading as murderers) for The Westerwood Hotel and Conference Centre, Cumbernauld. This was the 48th Annual Conference of the Association of Scottish Writers (SAW).

The Association operates on a largely voluntary basis, with the indefatigable duo of Marc Sherland and Jen Butler leading a dedicated and hard-working team of Council members. Club development is a key strand of its mission – any writers’ group in Scotland can enjoy affiliate membership and take part in the conference and other fabulous outreach projects and competitions. The conference is a hugely enjoyable way of socialising with other writers and the competition adjudications and workshops offer a unique learning experience. If you can’t find a writers’ group nearby- create your own and get in touch with SAW!

Writing can be quite an isolated (and isolating) occupation, so the chance to mingle and compare insecurities is always welcome!  Here are a few pictures of the usual suspects (they scrub up well) and one or two helpful observations about writers enjoying a bit of downtime…

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·         Writers always have lots of luggage. They will pack about 42 pristine notebooks which are ‘too nice’ to write on’ but don’t ask to borrow a pen, they’ll have forgotten to bring one.

·         They can always pick the comfiest spot in the bar. Leather chairs/ couches will send them into paroxysms of delight and a fireplace? You won’t see them for days.

·         They will always bring a laptop, carefully selected for weight, battery life and the ability to fit into a favourite overnight bag. The laptop will a) never see the light of day or b) be set up in aforementioned nook alongside a mug of coffee or a glass of wine. Photographs will be taken and Tweeted along with jaunty comments about wordcounts. Fifty minutes will be spent trying to connect to the hotel web server in order to check what the other writers are doing on Facebook. Coffee: cold. Wine: 3. Wordcount: Nil.

·         Food. Writers need frequent nourishment ‘for creativity’ even when the most creative thing they are doing is playing with the curtains in their hotel rooms. Croissants and brownies are particularly good, and the Westerwood also provide a tasty chilled strawberry juice to improve brain function.

·         Writers love a chance to ‘network’, and can be persuaded to stay up late with the promise of insider gossip. ‘Late’ will involve much comparing of books, discussion of wordcounts (totally obsessed) and favourite authors, and trivia quizzes where no one will be able to answer the literature questions.

·         Time to go home? Check behind the leather couches. You may well find a missing writer, clutching a laptop and weeping. The prospect of returning to domestic life can be a daunting one after a weekend of productivity. Please be gentle with them…

Want to know more about Angus Writers Circle? Follow us on Twitter @AWCAngus or contact me for more information at sandrairelandauthor@yahoo.co.uk

 

 

Granite Noir

According  to my friend and fellow writer Claire Macleary, granite has a peculiar quality which makes it sparkle, whilst underneath lurks the toughest of dark materials (gratuitous literary reference).

Similarly, Granite Noir, launching last weekend with a glittering array of writing talent, did not shy away from asking the troubling questions exposed by our dark love affair with crime fiction. Moral dilemmas, blurred lines, social issues and the existence of evil were just some of the gripping panel discussions on offer at Scotland’s newest literary festival.

In addition to our favourite native authors, such as Chris Brookmyre, Denise Mina, and Stuart Macbride, to name but a few, we enjoyed an invasion of ‘hot Scandi talent’, courtesy of Orenda Books. The names may still be a little unfamiliar to us (and hard to pronounce!) but our appetite for their compelling thrillers is voracious and my ‘to be read’ pile is growing so fast I may have to move into the shed! From Finland we had Antti Tuomainan and Kati Hiekkapelto; from Denmark, Thomas Rydahl; Norway’s Thomas Enger, and Gunnar Staalesen (one of the fathers of Nordic Noir). Last but not least, Sweden’s ‘Queen of Crime’, Kristina Ohlsson.

Granite Noir also saw the launch of Cross Purpose, a gritty Aberdeen-based crime debut by my fellow ‘Mlitter’ Claire Macleary. Claire completed the Dundee Creative Writing programme a couple of years before me, but the literary scene in Dundee is very close-knit and supportive, so we’ve always kept up to date with our various successes and rejections. I was delighted to hear she’d secured a two-book deal with Saraband Books and most of our recent conversations have been about publication – the stresses and pitfalls as well as the pleasures!

The entire weekend was topped off with a highly entertaining Noir at the Bar in the Belmont Filmhouse, ably hosted by Russel D. Mclean.

Here are a few images from the weekend.

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Writing in Books

A blog post is well overdue! Searching for a thread to connect the many interesting events of last week (I’m a writer. I’m always chasing threads!), I came up with the notion that writing in books is a curious way of connecting us with each other and with the past.

Now there are some places which frown heavily upon the defacing of books in this way, and rightly so! I will start, then, with my research trip to the National Library of Scotlandnls

My research actually began long before my visit, having filled in the ‘Ask the Librarian’ form on the NLS website. I wasn’t expecting my ‘Have you got anything about mills?’ ramble to yield much fruit, but an amazing librarian (ALL librarians are amazing) called Mike swiftly came to my aid, producing a most comprehensive list of folklore resources for me to get my teeth into. (You’re not allowed to do that either. No pens; no teeth).

So I duly arrived at the grand old institution on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, excited by the knowledge that some fascinating sources lay in wait for me behind those heavy wooden doors. And I was excited! There’s something about digging through old volumes that makes time stand still. The Reading Room experience adds to the occasion. All your outside stuff goes in a locker and you transport your pencils (NO PENS!), notebooks and loose change for the photocopier, in a clear plastic bag. A couple of years ago, I was privileged to spend some time in the Special Collections Room with a 14th c. illuminated manuscript book. The librarian at that time explained to me that book theft is a huge problem in many libraries. Thieves often excise the precious pages and slip them between the covers of a normal book, which is why everything now has to be in see-through plastic, and your papers are searched when you leave. It’s a sad world.

So, although I appreciated the historic marginalia I discovered in some of the books I was using, I certainly didn’t add any of my own! You can read about my research at https://barrymillblog,com. New post coming soon…

Noir @ the Bar was a wonderfully gregarious social event, bringing together crime writers and readers from all ends of the earth (well, almost). They are now being held in quite a few places, and the Edinburgh event, organised by Jackie Collins and Mark Leggat, is held noir-the-bar-1at the Wash Bar. Again, there was much scribbling of contact details in notebooks after the event (writers rarely remember to carry business cards or even pens!) but we all agreed that, as well as the dark and dastardly readings from some top-notch Tartan Noir, it was a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and influence people! The next one is on May 31st.

This weekend saw the return of the Further From Festival in Linlithgow. I was delighted to be asked to take part, along with my ‘Wyrd’ pal, Shelley Day (It’s our books that are weird, not us. We’re normal….mwa hah haha…). It was lovely to meet Sally and her team from Far From the Madding Crowd Bookshop, and I was so sorry I didn’t manage to get a browse through the shelves!

I did, however, discover a little gem in a Linlithgow charity shop. The Queen’s Quair, a novel about Mary, Queen of Scots by Maurice Hewlett, was published in 1905 by Macmillan. I was totally bowled over by this inscription; a faint thread stretching from the past and drawing me in!

Other People’s Books

Happy New Year, dear Readers! Thanks so much for all your support in 2016. Everyone really got behind (or beneath?) Beneath the Skin from the very start, and, of course, I had a great team on board with Jenny Brown Associates, and Polygon. 2016 was a year for making connections. So many people have helped me in ways too numerous to mention, but I must just say how surprised and delighted I have been with the enthusiasm and professionalism of the blogging community. A big shout out too for Bookish PR Scotland, also making a debut in 2016 and definitely by my side in 2017!

“When will we be able to read your next book?” has been a frequent (and rather heartening!) question since BTS was published, and thanks to the generous support of  Creative Scotland, I have been able to devote my time to the daunting mission of producing a second  manuscript, The Bone Harp. My creative journey can be followed at https://barrymillblog.com,  although like all the best journeys there are frequent random diversions!

Speaking of distractions, don’t begin your January de-cluttering with the bookshelf. It’s fatal! I’ve done zero cleaning today, but I have  re-discovered some old books which mean a lot to me. That’s the thing with treasured books- sometimes the most important story is not the one between the covers. I’d like to share a few of my ‘finds’ with you:

 

 

Postman Pat. My boys are now young men, so this family favourite  is showing its age. Note the yellowing Sellotape, the broken spine and the dog-eared pages. Much love for this book! Grandad worked on Royal Mail vans in the Yorkshire Dales, so that makes it extra special.

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Mister Men. Another favourite. Look at those titles- definitely a map of my kids’ childhood. One for every mood! And the price sticker- all jumble sale finds, no doubt!

The family Bible. I seem to have inherited quite a few, but this one is interesting. Although it bears the initials A.L., it belonged to a great, great aunt, Mary Ann Watson. This lady’s death certificate reveals that she was a spinster and a jute spinner, and she took her own life at the age of 52 by walking into the sea. A tragic story, made more poignant by the hand-written notes she left in this bible.

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Scottish Tartans. On a cheerier note, these are dated 1942 and were gifts for my grandmother and her sister. The illustrations are classic Outlander, but this lone female golfer made the cut!

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Oor Wullie and Dandy annuals from the 1970s.  Who doesn’t love a comic? Christmas classics from my childhood, passed down to the next generation. Shows how enduring and well-loved these characters are- thanks D.C.Thomson!

 

Hope I’ve inspired you to begin the year by reconnecting with the hidden stories of your own treasured books! I’d love to hear them.

Head Notes and Heart Notes

Regular readers of this blog may have noted that the last few months have been frenetic, although the past week has more or less wrapped up my bookish events for this year. On Thursday, I took part in Dundee’s first ever Noir at the Bar, along with Kings of Crime James Oswald, Russel D.Mclean, Jay Stringer and David Wishart, plus those Dangerous Dames, Chris Longmuir and Wendy H. Jones. This is an American phenomenon ( read about it here) which is spreading rapidly and with great success. Watch out for NATB events in Glasgow, Newcastle and Edinburgh…and definitely Dundee in the New Year!

Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and indulge in something creative for the simple pleasure of being creative. On Saturday I attended a Poetry Apothecary workshop, which was every bit as magical as it sounds. This is the brainchild of poet Rebecca Sharp, who gave us free rein to experiment with lots of lovely perfume oils and encouraged us to add words to the blend. As always, it was a pleasure to meet with a bunch of like-minded folk, and it felt good to ‘play’ with ideas, minus the pressure of producing a finished article. However, Rebecca’s Apothecary, and the fascinating mythology and history of perfume, worked its magic. Here’s a poem- enjoy! poetry-apothecary-2

Perfume: a love spell.

(A scent is made of base notes, middle/heart notes and top/head notes. ‘Notes’ of perfume oil go together to make a ‘chord’…)

Pierce

the sharp heart notes

of clove and myrtle

with needles of pine.                                                                               poetry-apothecary

Bind

jasmine and juniper,

with rind of bergamot,

drop by bittersweet drop.

Blend

musk, light-fingered frankincense;

a riff of vetivert;.

the bass grumble of oakmoss

Smell

the secret chord.

.                                                                        Sandra Ireland, 2016

 

Angus Writers’ Circle & a bit of a do…

As promised, a post dedicated to Angus Writers’ Circle and an evening of murder, mystery and mayhem. Well, we do have a high percentage of crime writers in our midst…!

I’ve been privileged to be secretary of the group for the last five or six years, but collectively we are much older than that. This year the Circle celebrates its 25th anniversary, and to mark the occasion, it was decided that a Murder Mystery evening would be the very thing. Given that we meet in a decidedly dark and creepy baronial mansion, the scene was already set. Armed with only our imaginations and a deluded sense of our own acting abilities, all we were short of was a plot! Our very own Ann stepped up to put words in our mouths and suspicions in our heads…

WHODUNNIT?

Was it beastly Lord BB with a letter opener in the study? Was it the enfants terrible of the greenhouse with their magic mushrooms? Or was it PC Smith with his antique camera? The tension was palpable. Feather boas were twitched and the gloves (and pith helmets) came off. Mrs Miggins tightened her grip on her rolling pin and Jennings the butler’s snowy tea towel became grubbier by the minute. Everyone was under suspicion. Even Carola our landlady, bringing in the tea, looked suspicious.

In a finale worthy of….EastEnders, the  killer was unmasked!

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. The glamorous Fiona was not as she seemed. That wig had gone to her head!

Hopefully, it won’t be another 25 years before we can ham it up again, drink weird poisonous cocktails and get silly pictures taken. Happy Anniversary, Angus Writers’ Circle!