As some of you know, I love to draw and paint, and I’ve developed a love for Chinese Brush Painting. I don’t know much about it yet, but I’m learning! The Chinese refer to such paintings as ‘writing a picture’, in other words, capturing the essence of scene and story in the simplest of terms, which kind of reflects my writing. It’s all about the imagery. Here are a couple of my early attempts. The first ‘Heron’ is firmly rooted in the Chinese brush technique and the second ‘Seagull’ is more my own take on it!
Hello! Hope you are doing fine. Thanks for dropping by to catch up with Part 4 of Scrapefoot. I thought it would only be four parts, but this story has other ideas! Thanks so much for reading.
This week, who exactly has broken in to Rebecca’s mum’s house?
For the first time in my adult life, I felt a bit blindsided. How on earth was I going to get him out?
“If you don’t leave immediately, I’m definitely going to call the police and have you done for breaking and entering.”
“I didn’t break anything,” he said. “I fix things.”
He nodded towards the table leg. He was crafty.
“How exactly did you get in?”
He laid a finger aside his long, elegant nose and tapped it. “Ways and means, ways and means.”
“What? Look, this is my mother’s home and-”
“But she isn’t, is she?”
“She’s in a home. Look, this is really none of your business.”
He put another log on the fire as if the words coming out of my mouth meant nothing to him.
“I’ve cut some logs for her, out the back.” He dusted his hands together.
“But-but she doesn’t need logs. She’s in a home, where she is being looked after.”
“Looked after.” He repeated. “After. Doesn’t that word mean behind? Like something left behind, or a second thought?”
I was so angry I couldn’t reply. I glanced at my phone screen. Was calling 999 an overreaction? He didn’t seem dangerous, just…odd. I was just trying to remember the non-emergency police number when he stalked past me. I caught that sharp whiff again, the foxy, musky smell. I’d forgotten about the fox. Had it gone into the other room? That’s where he seemed to be going, the strange man, crossing the floor with long loping strides. Into the sitting room he went, and I followed him. He sat down in the big easy chair where Mum used to relax to watch Coronation Street and do her crossword. The memory made something go chink inside me, like a bit of ice breaking off. The man gave a couple of experimental bounces.
“This is better, isn’t it?” He jumped up so quickly I backed away, but he came after me, took my arm gently, the way a spaniel picks up a feathery game bird. “Come on- you try it. Remember how this chair was really lumpy?”
“No I don’t. This was my mother’s chair. I’m not in the habit of sitting in it and she never complained”
Reluctantly, I let him guide me to the chair and I sat down. The cushion moulded to my shape. Even though every sinew in my body was knotted with tension, I let myself imagine how wonderful it would be to let the softness of the cushion lure me into complete relaxation. Horrified, I sat bolt upright.
“Is this a new cushion? What the hell are you playing at?”
The pale stranger plonked himself down on the sofa, did another couple of experimental bounces, and then moved to the wing chair by the window, the one that had been my grandmother’s. That chair, I recalled, was evil. It seemed to have springs pinging from its soul.
“This chair is dreadful,” he said. “So hard and uncomfortable.”
“Yes, you’re right. I’ve never liked that chair.”
“And the couch- well, that is too soft.”
I tipped my head in consideration. “I always quite liked the couch. I used to curl up there to do my homework.”
“ Bad for your back. I bet you have a bad back.”
“ I have sciatica, but that’s neither here nor-”
“ So I found that cushion in the skip and now your mother’s chair is just right. She’ll be so happy when she comes home.”
He looks so pleased with himself, like a smiley collie dog, that I don’t have the heart to tell him she will never be coming home.
Thank you for reading!
While you’re here, please take a look at my novels and writing courses. I love to blend a little folklore into my novels, and from my interactions with readers, I know you like it too! If you can, please leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads. With book shops closed, it would really help. Thank you in advance!
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
Wishing you love, luck, health, happiness and the determination to reach your goals in 2019!
I’m definitely in two minds about January. I seem to be spending quite a lot of time with a nostalgic eye on what’s gone before, rather than looking forward to the twelve months ahead. I suppose that Roman god Janus had the right idea- my thoughts are wrapped up in beginnings and endings, gates, doorways and passages of time.
Personally, 2018 was a difficult year for me, with the death of my dear dad in March, and all it entails; not just the grief but the dismantling of a life. With both parents now gone, it’s been a time for me to reflect on my own place within the family. Whatever age you are, being an orphan is always going to be tough. My mother used to say that life was a ladder, and with each year, we climb another rung. With the death of her own mother, Mum declared that she herself had now moved up to the top of the ladder. A lonely place, perhaps, but surely a good opportunity to pause and admire the view across the years?
These inter-generational themes are explored in the novel I’ve just completed, Sight Unseen, which will hopefully hit the shelves in 2020. It has been a joy to write, as I remember my father’s little quirks and funny sayings, but also an emotional task. It’s a story close to my heart and my own experience.
Whatever your place on the ladder of life, age is no barrier to success and, professionally, 2018 was an amazing year for me, with the UK publication of Bone Deep, a mini-book tour with Sarah Maine, lots of exciting events and to round it all off, Iceland Noir and a week’s residency at Cove Park.
Iceland is the most dramatic, beautiful and friendly country. Not as icy as I’d packed for, but just like Scotland in winter- dark and damp! I loved the compact nature of Reykjavik, the considerate drivers, the cosy cafes and the food (I didn’t try fermented shark. Next time!). Iceland Noir is a crime festival, with an intimate, inclusive vibe. Think Bloody Scotland with more fairy lights! Thoughtful, humorous panels and the perfect chance to mix with some top writers. I was permanently star-struck! Delighted to be on a panel with Louise Mangos, Sarah Ward and Mary Torjussen, moderated by none other than the British Ambassador, Michael Nevin. Other people have recorded the entire festival much better than I am attempting to do; the lovely Mary Picken, for instance. Read all about it here!
Cove Park was another first for me in 2018. I booked a self-funded winter residency in December, and succeeded in finishing novel 4, Sight Unseen. Cove Park is the most remarkable place, with dramatic scenery, weather extremes and a warm welcome! Another chance to meet some amazing fellow artists, but mainly I kept my head down and wrote. No distractions, a lovely cosy room- the perfect place to be creative.
This seems to have turned into a ‘looking back’ post, rather than a ‘looking forward’ one. However, we’re still in the Janus month, so I think I’ll get away with it. Next time, a sneaky peak at what’s in store this year, and a wee mention for The Unmaking of Ellie Rook, my suspenseful and timely novel of 2019!
At last! Bone Deep is here. Many writers will tell you how tricky that second book is, and to some extent that’s true, although for me the writing was the easy bit. I adored creating Bone Deep; I love Lucie, and Mac, and I have a big soft spot for Arthur. I miss those guys! I’m hoping that my readers will love this story just as much as I do.
And THAT’S the tricky part- the nail-biting, gut-clenching wait for the REACTION!
My second book hit the shelves on Thursday, and I’d love to share with you some of my favourite words and images so far.
I’ve just poured myself a large gin and tonic, but before I take one more sip of mother’s ruin, I want to say a BIG thank you to my amazing agent Jenny Brown– the best in the biz- and to all the team at Polygon. You’ve done, and continue to do, a wonderful job- Neville, Alison (glad you liked it!), Julie (Master of Suspense), Jan, Kristian, Vikki, Jamie…I’ve probably forgotten someone, but thank you all!
Raising my glass also to all the bloggers, reviewers and journalists who have been in touch, and to our lovely booksellers and librarians, and to my awesome fellow writers. Now please pour yourself a wee tipple or a nice cuppa and grab a copy of BONE DEEP. Cheers!
Parker the Puppy couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into this juicy novel, and ‘Hank’ from John Smith’s Bookshop, University of Stirling, needed to cool off afterwards…
‘Bone Deep is a taut, contemporary thriller about love, betrayal, female sibling rivalry and bone-grinding, blood-curdling murder.’ – Sunday Post.
‘A siren-like read, the storyline simply swallowed me whole…I could not stop reading!’ – Lovereading UK
‘…atmospheric, with a delicious build up of tension, and beautifully observed throughout. An absorbing read.’ – Michael J. Malone, author of House Of Spines.
BONE DEEP has been sold in India (Bee Books), Germany (Penguin) and the US (Gallery, an imprint of Simon and Schuster) but who knew it had sneaked into Russia….?
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of travelling south to my old stomping ground of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. As a teenager, I lived in nearby Morpeth, and my Dad worked for many years in the Post Office Garage in Pottery Lane. Oh, how I remember him cursing the rush hour traffic on his daily commute! The reason for my visit? The very special NEWCASTLE NOIR festival! I’d never been to it before, but a chance meeting with the lovely Dr Noir herself (Jacky Collins) secured me a place on the New Blood panel. The venue is literally two minutes from the train station (unless you ask directions from a non-booky person who sends you the wrong way…).
The very distinguished-sounding Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle- affectionately known as the Lit & Phil – is out-of-this world; the largest independent library outside London. It houses over 160,000 books, and yes, I’d love to move in for a couple of weeks!
But back to business- the first thing you notice about Newcastle Noir (apart from the grand surroundings) is the warmth and enthusiasm of Dr Noir and her helpers.
A big welcome awaited us, and a lovely Green Room packed with goodies. It was a real treat to be introduced to my fellow panellists; Vicky Newham , G.B.Williams and Robert Scragg ,and to hear all about their journey to publication. We were guided along the way by the amazing Vic Watson. Hats off to both Vic, Dr Noir ,and others, who go to such lengths to bring writers together and to encourage new talent.
This is one festival which you will not want to miss next year. I say this about every festival I attend- my diary is getting seriously packed – but we have such vibrant creative communities across the land, and such passionate individuals dedicated to bringing them together, and making those vital connections between writers and readers. Lots of love and support to you all!
Meeting friends old and new- Claire MacLeary and the New Blood panel, with Vic Watson and Dr Noir.
My trip to Newcastle was nostalgic in many ways; a full circle. My dear Dad, who passed away in March, would have celebrated his 94th birthday on May 5th, the day I attended Newcastle Noir with my brother, Jack. The warmth of the welcome at the Lit &Phil was such that we both agreed it was the best possible way of spending the day. Dad would have approved!
It 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?
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
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.
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!
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!
We 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.
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!
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 Scotland…
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 at 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!
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.
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.
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!
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.