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


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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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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The excitement is Bone Deep!

20180613_212743At 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.

IMG_20180706_203444_131I’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….?

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BONE DEEP enjoying St Petersburg, courtesy of Elizabeth Frattaroli

Newcastle Noir

20180505_093016A 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.

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Dr Noir & the Noirstars

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 NewhamG.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.

 

Footnote.

20180408_130344My 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!

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