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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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.

And I’d Just Like To Thank…

This is going to be a bit of an Oscar speech, so if you can’t deal with the tears and tantrums that occur when writers get tired and emotional, look away now!

Still on board? Well, here goes. There hasn’t been much time for thinking in the last crazy few weeks since the publication of Beneath the Skin, but in the wee small hours I’ve been contemplating how many people it takes to make a book. And how many it takes to SELL a book. Sell is an ugly word. I prefer the term SHARE. I’ve written the words, I want to share them with the world, but the task of getting your debut novel noticed in a giant mountain of freshly-published books seems almost impossible.

So, the more people you have in your camp the better! Now, I’ve always considered my base camp to be the University of Dundee. From terrified mature undergraduate to terrified author, my alma mater has seen me through some tough times. My fellow climbers have kept me company and supported me on the long lonely route to the…I was about to say summit, but let’s not get carried away here. I have reached a small peak, and this year I was delighted to be included in the Dundee Literary Festival (‘First Writes, with Shelley Day and Zoe Venditozzi). This is home turf for me, and the good will and support I’ve received from Dundee and from my own local areas has been phenomenal. It’s made me realise just how much books mean to a  community, and how valuable that community is when it comes to getting behind its  local authors.

I’m discovering more and more that book lovin’ communities don’t even have to be physical ones! Last week I took part in my first ever blog tour, and it was humbling to experience such a warm welcome from the virtual world of book blogging. (Not totally virtual, of course, because these dedicated readers and reviewers do love to get their hands on a real tome!). So – Oscar speech warning- I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to all of those who hosted my blog posts, reviewed Beneath the Skin and  tweeted and retweeted for all they were worth. Thank you! Major gratitude to Dawn Geddes, Journalist and Bookish PR person for pulling it all together (and knocking me into some kind of  social media shape) – major achievement!

Big shout-out to  Life of a Nerdish Mum, Eclectic Ramblings of Author Heather Osborne, Swirl and Thread, Portobello Book Blog and Culture for Kicks. And in the ‘real’ world, back at base camp, Peggy Hughes and her super-heroes at the Dundee Literary Festival!

 

Have book, will travel…

This week I’ve had my sales hat on….books don’t sell themselves! This seems to be the least favourite part of the whole publishing process for most writers. I suppose we are by nature a solitary bunch, happiest hunched over a keyboard, glass in hand (I still type with one finger) wrestling with words long into the dark night…Any gathering of writers usually includes one or two who are still mentally wrestling. You can see it in their general twitchiness.

Now I’m not given to a lot of twitchiness (mainly because dark nights for me usually mean settling down with Bake Off) but I did try and keep the weirdness

in check when I visited the very lovely Waterstones Kirkcaldy for an author visit and book signing this week. They call Kirkcaldy the ‘Lang Toun’, and Waterstones is placed a lang, lang way doon the toun, depending on where you park (and your sense of direction).

After a lovely welcome from manager James, we talked books and writing long into the dark night (well, for at least an hour). Well done to the hardy souls who made it through the cold and rain- it was great to meet you. It wasn’t a very nice evening, weather-wise, but you can always be sure of a warm welcome in your local bookshop. Where would we be without them?!

Beneath the Skin…finally!

So the book is out there! Duly launched with appropriate amounts of wine and fanfare at the gorgeous Saint Stephens Stockbridge, Beneath the Skin is now winging its way (with the help of its gorgeous feathery jacket!) to various homes and bedside tables throughout the land.

This is the scary bit!

What will readers think of my imaginative ramblings? It feels a long, long way from my first excursions into creative writing; often random scribbles (phrases, odd words) in notebooks, on the backs of envelopes. And Professor Kirsty Gunn’s timed exercises in our four-hour workshops. No pressure!

Over time, the scribbles took shape- poems, short stories. ‘Novels’ no one will ever read. Very slowly, my writing began to say what I wanted it to say. It came of age.

My great aunt Mary had a tiny oak dresser. A beautifully- carved, miniature piece of furniture, lovingly finished with all the craft and hallmarks of the standard article. It was a ‘prentice piece’, she told me. A showcase of skill; a small-scale beginning to the career of an apprentice carpenter.

So this is my ‘prentice piece’…I hope it will hold its own on the shelves alongside so many masters of the craft.

A few images from Launch Night. Thanks so much to Golden Hare Books for gracious hosting; Polygon for terrific organising. Thank you to each and every one of you who rocked up to buy a copy and listen to me blethering- my heroes!

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What’s in a name?

bts smallBeneath the Skin….the scars of the past are more than skin deep.

Love the title of my new novel, but it didn’t start off like that! The original title was An Arrangement of Skin, which is the OE definition of taxidermy.Early 19th century: from Greek taxis ‘arrangement’ + derma ‘skin’.

Taxidermy is a strange thing- people are either intrigued by it or repelled by it. For me, as a writer,taxidermy represents those areas of the past which should have been laid to rest but are being artificially kept alive. In the novel, the main protagonist Walt finds work in a taxidermist’s studio, but facing the ‘undead’ on a daily basis has a disastrous effect on a this former soldier’s psyche.

 

On an interesting note, I have discovered an amazing Icelandic band whose current album is called…Beneath the Skin! Have a listen here:

Of Monsters and Men.

Fantastic- good luck with it, guys!

MY Beneath the Skin is out on Sept 22nd….click on the link of the front page, and keep up to date with my events page. I believe there are some advance copies to be had….!

The Launch- not long to go!

September 14th is scrawled on my calendar in blood…well, not quite, but it’s been a long haul from my scribbled notebooks hidden in the wardrobe to holding a glossy paperback in my hand! I haven’t actually had my paws on an actual copy yet- although a proof version did briefly land on a table in front of me. That was a strange experience- a bit like learning the sex of your baby before delivery day. I wanted to hold it and relish the thrill of it…but I also want to open that cardboard box and see the final, final book-my book- in all its glory…

I’m sure it won’t happen like that, but I’ll let you know!

Anyway, the pre-publication launch party is almost upon us! It will be hosted by Golden Hare Books and the venue will be the rather impressive Saint Stephen’s, Stockbridge. Since Beneath the Skin is set in Stockbridge, my clever agent Jenny Brown and publisher Polygon thought it would be highly appropriate to launch it there, amid the cobbled streets and eerie basements. You will be a stone’s throw from Alys’s taxidermy studio, from Mrs Petrauska’s dance classes and just down the road from the park where Walt contemplates his future….

September 14th, 2016. 7pm-9pm. Refreshments will be provided. Tickets here from eventbrite. I will be chaired by the amazing Eddie Small, fresh from his glory at the Edinburgh Fringe…he does seem to like death and dark themes…!

  See you there!

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