The Calm Before the Storm

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What to pack for Edinburgh?

I feel I’ve been keeping a low profile lately, but only because I’m conserving energy for what’s to come!

This summer (July) sees the release of my third novel for Polygon THE UNMAKING OF ELLIE ROOK. Ellie had her first outing this week at Noir @The Bar, Edinburgh, before a hugely supportive audience of fellow writers. Thanks to all of them, and especially to Jacky Collins and Kelly Lacey for inviting Ellie and myself to the party!

 

In other news, BONE DEEP, in its stunning new jacket, will be unleashed on American readers in just two weeks time! Gallery Books are gearing up to run a huge Giveaway on Goodreads and I’ve also contributed an article about the relationship between folklore and psychological crime stories for CrimeReads, a popular US online magazine.

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BONE DEEP coming soon from Gallery Books

And speaking of folklore…June also sees the beginning of a series of workshops I’ve planned at the Two Sisters Cafe, Carnoustie. Entitled FINDING INSPIRATION THROUGH FOLKLORE, this course, being run as part of my Creative Scotland award, will bring together writers, poets, musicians and artists as we scour our rich storytelling heritage for inspiration. The workshops are full subscribed, but look out for the other courses I’ll be running for Lifelong Learning Dundee in October.

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A corn dolly from Something Corny, Inverurie- a prop for my Folklore Workshops!

Over the last few months I’ve had the great pleasure of taking part in the Love Stories Panel, with authors Noelle Harrison, Laura Lam, and Ella Hayes, ably chaired by Dawn Geddes. Sponsored by House of Elrick Gin, we visited Waterstones Edinburgh, Waterstones St Andrews and Blackwells Edinburgh to discuss how we approach love, sex and romance in our books and the relevance of the ‘romance novel’ today. Obviously I was representing the black cloud of toxic relationships everywhere! We enjoyed some lively discussions and brilliant audience participation, all washed down with a delicious honeyed gin cocktail (Monarchy of Bees) mixed by the talented Talia!

Remember, remember…

It’s November already and I’ve hardly had time to draw breath.

Until now.

Now, the Cursed Virus of ’18 has finally struck and breathing is but a fond memory. Here I am, lounging around in my pjs eating toast and feeling sorry for myself – the perfect time to ponder the highlights of this summer!

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Once Bone Deep was well and truly unleashed on the world in July, it was time to take a little jaunt in the company of the fabulous Sarah Maine.

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Sarah’s novel The House Between Tides was chosen as August’s Scottish Book of the Month by Waterstones, so we managed a whistle-stop tour of some top branches: Argyle Street, Perth and St Andrews, met some lovely readers and booksellers, drank lots of tea and even grabbed a delicious St Andrews curry!

IMG_20180811_095028_084But no rest for the wicked writer. As everyone knows August is BOOK HEAVEN in Edinburgh, with not only the International Book Festival in Charlotte Square, but a raft to of other exciting booky fringe events.

First up was Blackwells Writers at the Fringe programme. This is a real treat for readers, and a great showcase for authors, with a series of panel events stretching throughout the month of August. The lovely Ann Landmann was on hand with the introductions, and to make sure our books were in pride of place.

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The VERY Stockbridge basement which features in Beneath the Skin, round the corner from Golden Hare Books!

And then we joined the lovely staff at Golden Hare Books, for Myth, Mystery & Memory: Women Writing Scottish Fiction. Here, we discussed Bone Deep, Sarah’s current novel Women of the Dunes and  the similarities between them. Both are ‘stories within a story’. As storytellers, we agreed that we like to delve into that deep dark vein of the oral tradition and emerge with something powerful and new!

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It would have been rude not to accompany Elizabeth to the Authors’ Yurt!

And onto the EIBF! My writing buddies Elizabeth Frattaroli and Dawn Geddes were very busy bees this festival, with Elizabeth, as co-coordinator of the South Scotland branch of SCBWI, chairing a Freedom to Write event, and Dawn enjoying a ‘roving brief’ with my favourite Scots Magazine. As book correspondent, Dawn is always on the look out for the best  in Scottish writing talent, and we attended some excellent events.

 

 

I have to go and blow my nose, but next time, I’ll be reminiscing about a very special event at Barry Mill, Noir at the Bar, Edinburgh and the fabulous Wee Crime Fest, Grantown-on-Spey!

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!

Talking Books

Every so often I have to check my events page, not to find out where I’m going next, but to remember where I’ve been!

The last few months have been a whirlwind of new experiences, but Pamela Butchart,  a writer I admire enormously, once said to me, ‘After publication, everything will happen so fast- make sure you enjoy every moment’. Thanks, Pamela. I’m taking your advice!

This week, I’ve been wined and dined (okay, no wine for me- driving and all that) by the lovely gentlemen of Carnoustie’s 41 Club, attended a magical evening of Murder and Mystery in Arbroath and appeared before an audience of keen readers at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh! I think the Angus Writers’ Circle Murder Mystery is worthy of a post on its own, so let me take you to the Station Hotel, Carnoustie, and a very special bunch of guys.

Now I have to confess to not knowing what a 41 club is, but apparently it’s the ‘more mature’ division of the Round Table! So after a wonderful fish tea I regaled the lads with anecdotes from the exciting life of a writer, winding up just before the glazed expressions and tears of boredom became too visible. Yes, it really is that exciting! Joking aside, they did seem genuinely interested in ‘Beneath the Skin’ and the books were soon flying off the shelf/table, so a big thank you to Carnoustie’s  41 Club for inviting me. It was great to meet you all.

Now what can I say about the National Library of Scotland? One of my favourite places ever, I never dreamed I would one day be there, onstage, in front of an invited audience, with a microphone and everything! I was privileged to be sharing that stage not only with my lovely agent, Jenny Brown, who was chairing the event, but also with my fellow ‘future voices’, Les Wood (Dark Side of the Moon) and William McIntyre  (Present Tense). It was my pleasure to meet them both. Les  was actually one of my fellow  Bloody Scotland ‘Spotlighters’, although we’d never actually bumped into each other. We all had a wonderful chat about the writing process and all things bookish, and some great questions from the audience. The chat may have continued in a bar afterwards, but that would be telling!

So, lots more to come! I’ll leave you with a few photos, and next time I’ll tell you all about Angus Writer’s Circle and our Silver Anniversary bash. Suffice to say, there was a murrrder….

Images L TO R : With Richard Jennings, President of the 41 Club

                               ‘Voices of the Future’: WHS McIntyre, Les Wood, Sandra Ireland

‘Stockbridge Gothic’

When The Scotsman dubbed Beneath the SkinStockbridge Gothic’ I was highly delighted. Gothic is definitely my go-to zone when I’m dreaming up the mad, the bad and the dangerous!

Those of you who have already read the book  may have noted a few nods to my all time favourite Frankenstein. I won’t give any games away, but if you have spotted the clues, then feel free to start a conversation! This has made me think about my own relationship with the Gothic, and how it has influenced my writing. For me, I suppose the defining element of the genre is setting, and the development of architecture and landscape as characters within that context. I’m thinking about the labyrinthine Castle of Otranto, the windswept bleakness of Wuthering Heights, and the haunted attic of Charlotte Bronte’s lesser-known Villette.

In Alys’s Stockbridge villa, the damp basement, the creaking staircase, the cramped attic all take on a life of their own. There is a sense that the house is less than welcoming, resistant to the notion of being a family ‘home’. We might call such an atmosphere ‘uncanny’, a concept which, interestingly, stems from  the German Unheimlich, best translated as ‘un-homely’.

In his treatise on the Uncanny, Freud quotes the philosopher Schelling: ’Unheimlich is the name for everything that ought to have remained hidden and secret, and has become visible.’cobweb-handle

All that stuff we carry ‘beneath the skin’ perhaps…

I’ll leave you with an appropriate quote. Walt, just out of bed, makes his way to the kitchen…

‘…the hall felt somehow odd. It took him right back to being a kid again, when you come back from holidays and the house feels cold and damp…has a distance about it. He remembered how his mam used to stand in the porch, sniffing, in case she’d forgotten to chuck out the milk, or the cloths had rebelled in her absence and gone sour. And here he was, sniffing,like his mam used to do. A house with a kid in it shouldn’t feel this way.’

From Beneath the Skin (Polygon) 2016

 

 

 

 

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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If it’s good enough for JK…

I don’t have any aspirations to write about a boy wizard but I couldn’t help posing in front of the place where it all began!

This Edinburgh cafe must be the most famous in the world, and not for it’s menu. The fact that J.K.Rowling  scribbled her best seller here over a cup of cold coffee is the stuff of literary legend, and there were scores of festival goers queuing up to share the experience on my recent trip to the city. I didn’t see any dog-eared, coffee-stained manuscripts, but plenty of cameras and smartphones!

It’s made me think about my own writing habits and whether anyone in the future will be interested in the fact that I:

a) write in my bare feet (‘in’, not ‘with’)

b) drink cold tea from mug with a wren on it.

c) cower under the Cloak of Darkness on cold mornings. That’s actually a fleecy throw and nothing to do with Hogwarts.

What are your legendary writing habits?!