The Joy of Collaboration

As a creative writing tutor, I‘ve been supporting fellow writers at every stage of their careers for quite some time now. For me, this began before I became a published author, when I was still studying at the University of Dundee. With the help of my own tutor, Mr Eddie Small, I set up an informal writing group (named ‘Scribblers’) in my home town of Carnoustie. As I recall, we progressed from the ‘snug’ of our local pub to the Scout Hall! I was certainly rather nervous about the whole thing, constantly questioning my ability to teach. I quickly realised that no one has all the ‘answers’ and passion goes a long way in communicating ideas. More than that, I was joined by an amazing bunch of newbie writers who boosted my confidence just as much as I boosted theirs!

One of those early participants was Dawn Geddes, now a successful journalist and Book Correspondent for the Scots Magazine. Fast forward another four or five years, and both Dawn and I found ourselves in cahoots again! Along with our friend and fellow writer Elizabeth Frattaroli, we embarked upon a new venture, Chasing Time Writing Retreats. Based at Rosely House Hotel, Arbroath, we have been running wonderfully quirky writing weekends since 2017, meeting some truly lovely people along the way. It is with a heavy heart that we’ve had to suspend our operation until ‘normal life’ resumes. As they say, we’ll be back!

This Autumn sees a new collaboration for me. I will be teaming up (virtually) with fellow author Nöelle Harrison (The Gravity of Love and The Island Girls) on a sparkly new venture- a first draft bootcamp! You can read all about it HERE but suffice to say it will be a pleasure to welcome you aboard. By pooling our skills, Nöelle and I hope to offer you our uniquely individual take on how to craft a fresh and original work of fiction. We will be offering masterclasses, live stream writing sessions, creative unblocking, meditation and author selfcare- in short, all the tools you will need to get those words on the page and smooth out any bumps in your writing road ahead. Are you up for the challenge?  Look forward to seeing you in November!

Keeping (relatively)positive

Previously, I’ve written about my thoughts as a writer in lockdown, when I was finding it difficult to write. My muse had obviously been scrolling through it, and decided to take pity on me, because the drive to create has returned to some degree. My fourth novel Sight Unseen has been published into a strange, sad new world. I want to take this opportunity to thank Agent Jenny, as always, and my publisher Birlinn/Polygon. Everyone there is working so hard in difficult circumstances to get those books out.

We were aided GREATLY by Kelly Lacey, Jacky Collins (AKA Dr Noir!) and a legion of fantastic bloggers and influencers who managed to get the Sight Unseen word out. If you need help with your literary endeavours, please look up Love Books Tours and Honey and Stag Literary Events. Heartfelt thanks to them all.

So, Book 2 of the Sarah Sutherland series Last Seen (set partially in India) and an outline for Book 3 (set in places  I think I’ll be able to get to) are now complete. I’m just thinking about all those shiny new books that were published this summer, sitting hopefully in bookshops nationwide, longing for readers. I also know how difficult it is to persuade ourselves to try and resume a ‘normal’ life.

With the latest new restrictions, life looks set to shrink even further. I go for a coffee with friends just once a week, but since we’re from four separate households, that looks likely to be a casualty. However, being home alone has led to some interesting observations. While I’m missing all the literary events I used to attend, I’m enjoying a break from the almost-constant anxiety of speaking in public and ‘putting myself out there’. I think this will resonate with many writers, yet when we talk about mental health, we tend to skim over this. I always tell my creative writing students that sharing your work with an audience is ‘something you’ll get used to’ because that’s what we tell ourselves, but writers are generally a shy, insecure bunch. As much as I miss the interaction with readers, this breathing space has definitely made me feel a lot calmer.

I don’t have any answers for what’s happening to us, but I’ll share with you some of the little things that are getting me through this and it might help you too:

  • That first gulp of fresh air whenever you take of your face mask
  • Sitting in my porch and pretending it’s a conservatory
  • Fairy lights/lights in bottles/tealights. In Reykjavik, they chase away the dark with lights in trees, lights on the water. My memories of Iceland are not of dark and cold, but of golden reflections.
  • Tea (always and obviously) in a favourite mug, and taken outside. It’s portable.
  • Watching the sea instead of a screen.
  • Going out for a walk just as it’s getting light.
  • Hearty east coast dwellers who greet you with ‘Quite fresh, today!’ when we’re in the middle of a named storm.
  • Other people’s dogs. They look so happy.
  • Discovering really cool stuff in my neighbourhood.
  • Doing yoga/meditating online (Huge thanks to the Space to BE community- I recommend)
  • Experiencing cacao (look it up, creatives, or do a course with Alchemy of Love)
  • Friends and family checking in with each other
  • Love/hate Zoom. It’s a lifeline, but wearying, and no substitute for real people in real settings.

Wishing you joy in the little things today xx


Not set in stone

20170917_171641My current ‘Finding Inspiration Through Folklore’ course is drawing to a close. Among other things, we’ve been looking at stones. From beach pebbles to standing monoliths, stone is significant, symbolic and often sacred to us. Think of henges, cathedrals and statues.

You’ll have to allow me a little digression here, because although my blog posts are usually fairly frivolous, how can I write about statues and not mention the seismic changes that we’re now experiencing?

 

The year 2020 has really shaken us to the core, hasn’t it?When the pandemic first hit, we were fairly resigned to the inevitable lockdown. It made us stop and think, we said. This is a chance to slow down, to reconnect with what’s really important. Family, friends, baking our own bread and playing board games and family quizzes. It made us switch off our screens, go out and meet the neighbours, even if it was only from our doorsteps, and at a safe distance.

As the weeks wore on, despite the heartbreak of lost lives and lost livelihoods, we made peace with the ‘new normal.’ Many of us decided we didn’t actually want to go back to the way we were before.

Since we had so much thinking time, 2020 decided to give us something to really think about. The senseless death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers was beamed into our living rooms. There was no escape. We saw it all unfolding, in real time – one of the most horrific and brutal things I think I’ve ever witnessed. A rising, powerful tide of anger rose up and engulfed many nations, and as I write, the figure of Edward Colston, a man I’d never heard of until last week, has just been fished from the bottom of Bristol Harbour. Quite what happens to him now, who can tell, but it’s clear we must find a way to acknowledge the death, suffering and disempowerment he and his ilk were responsible for.

We were right – we cannot go back to the way we were. I feel shaken, by all the things I didn’t know, and all the voices I’m hearing. The words of historian Kate Williams really resonated with me.

I’m going to paraphrase, but she said it’s always been the powerful elite who41PRS1EKGNL._SX305_BO1,204,203,200_

‘choose who we should venerate.’ The ‘city fathers’ of Bristol (and every other city) could have chosen to honour an abolitionist, Williams suggests, such as Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave who dedicated his life to the abolition movement and in 1789 published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of or Gustavus Vassa, the African.

I read this book when I was a second-time-around student, and it was my first real glimpse into the horror of the slave trade and Britain’s part in it. Strangely, we’d barely touched on this subject at school, which is really part of the problem, isn’t it?

But let me get back to my starting point. Stone. This time last year- 2019 seems like a different planet- I was conducting research into witch trials for my forthcoming book, Sight Unseen. As we know, thousands of women and some men – we don’t know the full extent- were summarily executed for witchcraft on these shores. They suffered terrible torture and deprivation before being forced to confess. What has this got to do with stone and statues? In my research, I came across this encouraging article about a proposed national memorial to those accused of witchcraft.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-49754814

We have many wrongs to right, but perhaps the democratising of our nation’s statues might be a good starting point.

Who would you choose to commemorate?

Below is one of my favourite stone memorials.

Maggie Wall’s Monument at Dunning, Perthshire. The graffiti says

‘Maggie Wall burnt here 1657 as a witch’.monumentvert

Although the name Maggie Wall does not appear in the parish records, and there is no reference to her execution, writer and researcher Geoff Holder discovered that a field named Maggies or Muggies Walls was known in the 18th c and in later maps, a Maggie Walls Wood appears.

The monument to the unknown Maggie is in effect a monument to all of those souls caught up in the hysteria and horror of the witch trials.

Thoughts of a Writer in Lockdown

 

coronaI suddenly seem to have a lot of hours to spare, so now seems as good a time as any to update my blog.

But what to write?

We are stuck in a strange limbo. There is an almost palpable feeling of dread in the air, a collective sense of nervous anxiety. None of us are sleeping. We tell ourselves not to watch every news bulletin, while unable to look away. The pandemic is unfolding relentlessly before our eyes and even those of us who have remained relatively untouched (so far) know that, right now, people are saying goodbye to loved ones via Facetime and NHS staff are fighting the sort of battle we  have nightmares about.

blog ohotoI have been shopping once a week at my local Co-op, which is doing an excellent job. Today I took delivery of a small Asda order, primarily of staples I can’t get locally. I did have a bit of a giggle upon receiving a single banana! It made me think of that wartime ditty my dad used to sing, “Yes, we have no bananas!” There is something quite comforting about remembering the wartime generation and all that they faced. For anyone my age or younger, this is the first time we have experienced the sort of fear that comes from a universal threat. I hope it will be character building and allow us to address the cracks  in our society. I hope everyone I know will get through this unscathed.

For writers, artists and many people working in the creative sector, the rug has truly been pulled. Income streams have vanished overnight and all our much-valued face-to-face events have gone. Add to this, our concerns over the health of loved ones (and ourselves) and it’s clear that we’re in for a bumpy emotional ride in the weeks ahead. Even those of us who are generally happy in our own company are finding this difficult. Fellow writer, Gillian Duff, has an interesting take on this. She suspects that, deep down, we have a primitive fear of being ‘separated from the herd’. This makes perfect sense, and rather ironically many of us have discovered that the lockdown has brought increased and unexpected connectivity with friends and family.

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Staying connected- members of Angus Writers’ Circle

So now that we have all the time in the world, it should be easy to finish that work-in-progress, right? One of my favourite Tweets of recent days, was from a writer pointing out that anyone who suggests ‘writing a novel’ as a way of passing some time has ‘clearly never written a novel.’ The reality is indeed different. Any writer I have spoken to is finding it extremely hard to settle their minds long enough to create anything. My own day is a prime example. If words were KitKats, I’d definitely have a book in me…

4am Wake. Listen to radio and fret that it’s only the wee small hours. Turn off radio. Get up and make tea. Wash last night’s dishes while waiting for kettle to boil. Go back to bed, now fully awake. Read book but decide the time would be better employed writing. I could fit in 3 hours of writing before breakfast!

6am Open laptop. The view from the window becomes so interesting. The sunrise is lovely! If I go for my regulation walk now, the place will be deserted, and I won’t get the social distancing anxiety. Around here, the anxiety comes from people being too rule-conscious. On our rather narrow beach path, a Strictly Come Dancing scenario plays out daily as walkers and joggers take avoidance measures. Go for walk.

beach path

7am Still time to write before breakfast, but I’m hungry. I really want my breakfast

8am. Three-course, industrial-strength breakfast consumed. Lockdown lolling around takes energy.

9am Examine Word doc. Write a sentence. Check clock. Feel like I’ve been up for hours but it’s only 9am- not even coffee time. Get up and make another cup of tea.

9.30 Switch on TV ‘for company’. A panel of experts is discussing Corvid facts and I become engrossed. We are becoming a nation of armchair coronavirus experts and scientists have never been so cool.

11am. Coffee time. Plus biscuits, eaten while still watching TV.

12 am  It’s noon! How did that happen? Look at Word doc and write a further three guilt-sentences while listening to The Jeremy Vine show. Get caught up in a debate about ‘corvidiots’ sunbathing while people are dying. So incensed I cannot think straight, and anyway, it’s time for lunch.

1pm Lunch, eaten in front of the One O’Clock news. No wonder I have indigestion.

2pm Decide I’d better do a bit of pottering outside while the sun’s out. I need my Vit D and I have potatoes to plant. Pity I can’t grow bananas. I do have a nice line in raspberry canes though.

3pm Coffee time, which is now coffee-and-something-fattening time

4pm The muse has fled. Close laptop. There’s always tomorrow and it must be nearly time for today’s press conference…

Two of the many silly little things I’m missing. Writing on a train going somewhere interesting and meeting friends for coffee. What about you?

I’ve just read…

My late creative writing tutor Jim Stewart would often remark that ‘reading is a very serious business!’ Jim didn’t have a television and I’m pretty sure he didn’t bother with electronic devices or audiobooks, just an industrial pile of traditional, much-loved hardbacks. His book case comprised of planks and bricks, which could be dismantled and repositioned in the event of a house move. A no frills, practical solution to a very serious business.

I’m not half the reader Jim was, but I’m determined to do the best I can, with Goodreads nudging me when fall by the wayside. I am dividing my reading time between my Kindle, my Audible account and of course lovely ‘proper’ books, borrowed and bought.

I’ve just finished The Stopping Places by Damian Le Bas, a fascinating insight into Gypsy culture. You can read my Goodreads reviews here

 

 

pile of books

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

A New Decade! Or, A New Decade?

pexels-photo-3401903.jpegEveryone is talking about a New Decade while a lot of other people are saying it’s not a New Decade until 2021. Something to do with us not having a Year Zero. But are we certain there was no Year Zero or are we merely speculating? It’s all a bit like the Millennium when we speculated about our computers melting. So, going on the assumption that a New Decade is actually going to happen (unlike the computer meltdown), it’s probably quite a good idea to pause for breath and take a look behind…!

Ten years ago, I had just enrolled as a mature student at the University of Dundee. It was quite a leap of faith, because in order to go full-time, I had to give up my job in a pharmacy and find something that I could fit in around lectures. That meant either late night bar work or early morning cleaning. Being a lark rather than an owl, I plumped for the latter, although I did spend three months as the worst bar tender/waitress in Angus.

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My abiding memory of cleaning is gazing longingly out of the canteen window in the Carnoustie Co-op watching the sunrise and longing to be somewhere else. My memories of Dundee Uni are coloured by a sense of optimism and possibility. Of course, it was hard work, but I’ve always loved learning and my MA opened my eyes to so many things. In fact, I think I’ve learned more about life and the way the world works in the last decade than at any other time in my life. By 2014, I was still there, studying for a Masters in writing practice. It very slowly dawned on me that I might, just might, get my writing published.

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My current novel, available from all the usual outlets!

In the last four years, I’ve signed with an agent (the lovely Jenny Brown) and have published three books with Polygon. I’m currently writing my fifth novel, the second in my new Sarah Sutherland series (the first, Sight Unseen, will be out this summer) and I also have a non-fiction title all set to go.

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My debut- and a very special nomination

 

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That time I got my (almost) own billboard!

 

I’ve been lucky enough to visit some wonderful places for writing-related events, such as India and Iceland and lots of places in Scotland that I’ve never visited before.

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Perfect travelling companions! Lin Anderson and Jenny Brown

I’ve met the most wonderful people- fellow students, fellow writers, industry professionals, book lovers, booksellers, book bloggers, festival programmers and volunteers- an amazingly cheerful and dedicated community  I’d be lost without, and that includes those lovely ladies Dawn Geddes and Elizabeth Frattaroli, my Chasing Time partners-in-crime! We’ve held quite a few weekend retreats and day courses at our wonderful Arbroath sanctuary. Watch this space for more!

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The Chasing Time Team hits EIBF!

Personally, the last few years have been difficult. I lost my father and my much-loved mother-in-law within twelve months of each other and another family member has been fighting cancer for over two years. I suppose writing is a bit of an escape, and while people describe me as being ‘prolific’, I think it’s more to do with the fact that time is so precious. Perhaps I have a sense of time running out. Here we are in 2020 already- how did that happen? So many ideas, so little time!

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My ‘mother out-law’, Joan and my Dad, Jack enjoying a family get-together with added wine

My New Year goals are simple- I just want to keep doing what I do, and maybe learning to do it better! Whatever stage you are on your own journey, writing or otherwise, may all your hopes and dreams be realised within the next decade. Happy New Year!

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A busy Autumn

Christmas is almost upon us; that time of year when you start to panic about time going by too fast. The perfect time, then, to do a quick round up of the latter half of this year. So much has happened since the publication of The Unmaking of Ellie Rook, it’s actually really nice to pause and look back.IMG_1150

So, are you sitting comfortably? Here’s a whistle stop tour of the last few months!

I hit September running with a mini-tour of some Waterstones fiction reading groups. Angie Crawford does an amazing job with this, encouraging people to get together over books and curating the reading choices with such care. I was really thrilled to be offered the chance to speak with the groups in Dundee and Perth, and the fact that they’d already read Ellie Rook was a bonus for two reasons. a) It gave a valuable insight into how the story is being received and b) I didn’t need to worry about spoilers. I’m always scared I’m going to give the twists away!

September, of course, is Bloody Scotland month. If it’s not on your calendar, make it so.I wouldn’t miss it for the world, and this year was extra special- my very first appearance as a fully-fledged author! In 2016, I was a very nervous ‘Spotlighter’- Bloody Scotland does so much to showcase new talent- waiting in the wings of the Albert Hall for my three minutes on stage, in front of a capacity audience and some ‘proper’ authors. I don’t think I even had a book at that point- Beneath the Skin was still at the printers! This year, I was thrilled to be included on a panel devoted to history and folklore (my favourite things) with Mary Paulson-Ellis, Anna Mazzola, and chaired by Kaite Welsh

All of the above are super-talented and I have to admit I was a little in awe and pretty nervous. However, as well as being talented, they’re are also generous and very kind! Plus the friendliness of the Bloody Scotland audiences is legendary. I made it out alive!

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Hot on the heels of Bloody Scotland came the Nairn Book and Arts Festival. For a fairly wee place, Nairn has the most spectacular Arts Centre and a really inclusive vibe. Thoroughly enjoyed meeting Mavis from The Nairn Bookshop and all the other volunteers. The lady in my B&B did the most amazing mushrooms on toast I’ve ever had in my life. I should have asked for the recipe…

Also in October, I was treated to a hearty literary lunch by the kind folks of Far From The Madding Crowd, Linlithgow. We had soup and cake and great conversation. My chair Rebecca Smith was lovely and we discovered some places we had in common. She once lived in Northallerton, N. Yorkshire, where I grew up (many decades before). I love these coincidences!36A97227-319A-44F5-84EA-1737608D8957

In October it was time for the Portobello Book Festival. I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to have admired these events from afar and then to be invited to them, This time I was chatting with the fabulous Lisa Ballantyne and Lesley Kelly, who is not only an accomplished writer herself but an excellent chair, fielding some very searching questions from the audience, including my own family!!

November saw me heading off to Ireland and the Murder One Festival, Dublin. Again, this festival is a great supporter of new talent and I’d been offered a reading spot in the banqueting hall of one of Dublin’s oldest theatres, Smock Alley. There was a real buzz about the place, and of course I treated Ellie Rook to a Guinness afterwards – it would have been rude not to.

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National Poetry Day

‘I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests.’

– Pablo Neruda

I love these lines. They describe perfectly the creative connection between the landscape and us. Recently, I have been devoting my energy almost exclusively to novel-writing,

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and I must admit I miss the process of creating a poem, the makings of which swirl around the brain in a totally different way to the plot of a novel; the words are liberated somehow. There are no rules, no expectations.

On National Poetry Day, perhaps we should all be taking a moment to write a few lines, as a way of connecting with what’s important to us, or simply to recapture the joy of writing for the sheer pleasure of it. I was delighted to find myself in the Angus edition of The Courier today alongside some proper poets! Feeling rather rusty, I decided to look out some of my poems inspired by the landscape. The first was written at Barry Mill, and the second is rather seasonal. Happy National Poetry Day! 

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Ghost Mill

The wheel turns.

Dust falls from every wormhole;

every sandstone pore. Spores slacken

with the thump and thrum;

the din of timber.

The mill exhales, expands,

loosening old lives

like buttons on a waistcoat.Moonlight B&W Barry Mill

 

The wheel turns.

 

Shapes shift in the dark;

sparks blue as eyes;

the scent of old smoke.

The re-formed flour ghosts

of old men settle

beneath the faint silver of

their names.

grim mill

The wheel turns.

 

The damsel in the machinery,

skirt dappled with

paw-prints, slack-jaws gossip

down through generations;

until the past

meshes with the present.

 

On and on.

And still…

the wheel turns.                                                  Sandra Ireland

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     Signed by the artist

With gloomy brushstrokes

Guardi paints Venice. All

pale piazzas and falling skies;

lagoons breathing gunsmoke.

Adds a signature fleck of red.

All winter I wait, colourless,

under snow-bruised clouds;

breathing ice cobwebs on glass.

Until, at last, Nature adds

a bright splash

of robin.

 

Sandra Ireland

animal avian beak bird

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Unmaking of Ellie Rook

It’s been a busy week, with the Edinburgh launch of The Unmaking of Ellie Rook at the amazing Golden Hare Books, and a wee shindig at my local tapas bar Maxibells in Carnoustie (plus a friend’s wedding sandwiched in between).de449b79-1c90-415a-8ea3-59c668d14d23

 

All done and dusted, Ellie Rook is well and truly out there in the world! It’s always a tense time. As a new writer, it’s hard to see beyond that point where your first book lands in your hands, but now that I’m three novels in (actually more than that, but the fourth is in editorial and number 5 is in my head!) I have a chance to reflect on what life on the ink face is really like.

 

So, here are my top tips for new authors:

  1. Launch venue. Make sure you choose somewhere you feel comfortable, and where you are among friends. It can be a bit of an ordeal!IMG_1498Writers are by nature shy creatures, happiest in their normal habitat. Scrubbing up to go out in public can be a chore when your default setting is slumped in front of a PC. Being in the spotlight- well, a hundred ‘what ifs’ will be floating through your head. Comfort is your watchword, whether that means old shoes or being in a place you’re familiar with
  2. Ring the changes. Don’t be afraid to do something a bit different, although the standard ‘chaired’ chat is probably best for debut authors. Make sure you have someone you know in the chair! However, it’s good to experiment. Introduce some music or pair up with a poet or singer. Choose a theme, or pick a venue which relates to your book.

 

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The Yonderlees

The local launch of my second novel Bone Deep, included traditional music and spoken word, which lent a story arc to the evening. This time, I was keen to play up the woodland, watery theme of the new book, so at Maxibells, we had tables dripping with greenery and  my favourite local duo The Yonderlees put their own unique musical slant on the themes of the story.

I was able to use their PA too, which was very handy!

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                                                     Staunch supporters at Maxibells!

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Good friends are a must!

 

3. Take time to think about your guest list. A small, intimate gathering where guests are invited to drop in via social media, or a more formal ‘by invitation’ format? This can be tricky, unless you have a lot of contacts, perhaps from several different areas of your life.

Non-booky people can find a literary event boring and/or intimidating (and so can family members!) so bear that in mind when choosing a venue. Like a wedding, there will be the ‘ought to invite’ list and the ‘must have’ list. But it’s your day. Don’t let such things overshadow this great achievement.

4. Readings from the book. They must be short enough to whet the appetite, but long enough to break up the time. You have an hour to fill! This is where a musician or poet can help you out. Joint book launches are always an option if you’re a bit nervous.

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Rebecca Sharp at the Hospitalfield launch of Bone Deep, 2018

5. Book sales. If you are traditionally published, most events will be covered by your local bookseller, but you can order your own author discounted copies or provide your own books if self-published. I usually offer the gig to my local indie bookshop (The Bookhouse, Monifieth) because, let’s face it- we need them! If you’re selling your own books, have a mate on hand to help. You’ll have enough to think about!

6. Food and drink. Most bookshops, like Golden Hare, thoughtfully provide wine. (Do not quaff a whole glass before your talk!!) If you’re organising your own launch- how about some home-baking or tea in vintage cups? Ellie Rook was launched in Carnoustie with gin cocktails and a curry buffet!

7. Publicity A good way to herald the launch of your new book is by organising, or having a professional organise, a blog tour. We are so luck in the writing community that we have so many reviewers and book bloggers willing to support our work. My tours have been arranged by Love Books Group and it’s wonderful to watch it all come together. Sometimes bloggers who might normally post  about, say, beauty products or food, will come on board and introduce your book to a much wider audience. Social media is a creature which can offer enormous benefits in the right hands.

8.Reviews. After the launch everything will go dark. Nothing to do with the alcohol, but you’ll need to stick on your business hat. Everyone moves on very quickly and your book is just one of many struggling to the light. Try not to stalk Amazon and Goodreads as you wait for reviews. And you WILL get bad reviews. Steel yourself. It does not mean you have a bad book, but it just cannot appeal to everyone. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on the negative, it’s the enemy of creativity. As a wise person once said to me, ‘The people who write 1 *  reviews are not the people you’d ever be friends with anyway.’ So true. Stick with your pals and supporters- they are legion. Just make sure you invite them to your next launch!

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The Ticking Crocodile

One evening in 2017, I was sitting around a table with two friends, Dawn Geddes andbronte sisters Elizabeth Frattaroli. Our drinks remained untouched, tension was etched on our faces. We were trying to come up with a name for our new venture, and it was proving trickier than we’d ever imagined. We were on the verge of extending a hand to fellow writers, to offer them a retreat away from everyday life, from the domestic routine which kills creativity. Our vision was that they would be able to write, unhindered, in a glorious setting. We had the idea, the venue, the enthusiasm- but no name.

The name had to be catchy and writing-related. Perhaps even reflecting the rich literary 20170512_164307heritage of Angus, where the retreats would be held, and celebrating the idea that, for one weekend at least, the clock would be stopped. We even had a tagline, ‘Press pause in the heart of Angus.’!

Our thoughts turned to local authors- Violet Jacob, of course, from the House of Dun -but what about, arguably, the most famous writer in the world, who just happened to have been born in a tiny cottage at the foot of the Angus Glens? J. M. Barrie. Maybe Peter Pan might have a solution to our problem…

Unless you’re some kind of Hemingway figure, locked in your study eight hours a day while your wife micro-manages your life, you, the average writer, are going to be time-poor. Everything will crowd in to take precedence over your work-in-progress: kids, shopping, cleaning, demanding relatives. What is the writer’s greatest enemy? The snap of the clock at their heels. So perhaps this quote might fit?

“I suppose it’s like the ticking crocodile, isn’t it? Time is chasing after all of us.”                                                                                         ~  J .M. Barrie, Peter Pan                                                         

Sure, it’s about mortality rather than creative time, but surely the reason why we write is to get those words out while we still can? Perfect.

Chasing Time Writing Retreats finally had a name!crocLogo-WHITE-BG twitter

In the last ten days, I’ve been learning a lot more about Barrie the celebrated author, with visits to Moat Brae, Dumfries, and his birthplace in Kirriemuir, preserved and maintained by the National Trust for Scotland. I’ve even had the chance to compare crocodiles!

 

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                                  Books can be dangerous!

 

 

Elizabeth and Justin Davies, joint co-ordinators of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in south east Scotland, kindly invited me along on their group  visit to the enchanting Moat Brae, the house which is thought to have inspired Peter Pan and was a favourite haunt of J.M.Barrie during his schooldays.

Now a centre for children’s literature and storytelling, the once-derelict property has been extensively and sensitively restored by the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust. Moat Brae was designed by Walter IMG_1182Newall for a local solicitor, Robert Threshie in 1823. The house and garden were in private ownership from 1823 to 1914. The house then became a nursing home which closed in 1997. Thereafter it fell into disrepair and was subsequently purchased by a local housing association. In August 2009, Moat Brae House was due to be demolished to make way for new social housing.At the eleventh hour, it has been saved for the nation and is well worth a visit.

 

 

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My other jaunt this week was to one of my favourite National Trust for Scotland properties (next to Barry Mill, of course!). Barrie’s Birthplace is a delightful weaver’s cottage tucked away in the centre of Kirriemuir, Angus.

IMG_1277(Edited)E940BFFA-5BFB-4AC8-8547-E7991C81D509Charmingly preserved, you can see lots of memorabilia connected with the author, and some delightful quotes and photographs. Barrie returned to the cottage before his death in 1937, to have one last look at his old bedroom. The then owner was surprised but delighted to welcome him in to his old home and a poignant photograph commemorates the visit.

The old washhouse and outbuildings where the young Jamie staged plays for his friends still survive, and the garden is undergoing a makeover.

The ‘ticking crocodile’ is not to be missed!

 

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