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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An Indian Adventure

There are times when you just have to pinch yourself. Hurtling through the Kolkata traffic in the back of a crazy yellow taxi, in the company of top literary agent Jenny Brown, acclaimed crime writer Lin Anderson, and Esha Chatterjee, my Indian publisher, has to be one of those times!

We were on our way to the  Kolkata Book Fair (the world’s largest) for the launch of the Indian edition of Bone Deep at the British Council Pavilion and a whirlwind of panel discussions. Such a far cry from Carnoustie, I think I can be forgiven for thinking I’d stepped into someone else’s reality!

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It all began with an invitation to the Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters, in Kerala. Never having visited India before, this was an incredible opportunity, and I couldn’t have wished for better travelling companions. Jenny and Lin have both visited India several times before, to promote Scotland’s biggest crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland, and to foster links between Scottish and Indian authors. None of us knew what to expect from MBIFL, now in its second year, but I think it’s fair to say we were overwhelmed by the warmth of our welcome, the attention to detail and the wonderful touches which have made the Mathrubhumi Festival such a huge hit with everyone who attended.

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The Festival was entirely plastic-free. Even our delegate badges were cardboard, and each speaker was given an aluminium water bottle, and a jute bag. The programme was varied and far-reaching; such a mix of current topics, with creatives from five continents. We met so many interesting people- my TBR pile has tripled! But how valuable to be exposed to writing from outside one’s normal experience. Three cheers for the wonderful volunteers who plied us with the most delicious juices (cucumber juice is amazing!) and hot, sweet chai.

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Our lovely helpers! MBIFL 2019

When the day’s business came to an end, we were treated to dinner beneath the stars. You can do that in Kerala!

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After four days in our Mathrubhumi bubble, we had to say a sad farewell, and it was on to Kolkata to meet Esha Chatterjee from Bee Books. Esha also publishes the Bloody Scotland anthology, and the novels of Graeme Macrae Burnet (all fantastic reads). We visited Jadavpur University Press and met some very talented and enthusiastic publishing students.

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Esha, Jenny, Lin and myself, with Sujata Sen at the Sienna Cafe, Kolkata

A walking tour around Kolkata is a must, especially in the company of Ritwick from Calcutta Walks. He is so knowledgeable, four hours spent exploring the old byways of the city went by in a flash. He also knows the very best places to buy masala chai and the tastiest samosas!

Back home in chilly Scotland, our Indian adventure certainly feels like a dream, but it must have happened- we have photos to prove it!

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Also can’t believe I met up with these two on the other side of the world! Thank you Calum and Georgie for flying in from Cambodia xxx

 

The Janus Effect

 

Wishing you love, luck, health, happiness and the determination to reach your goals in 2019!

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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? 20180408_130344

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.

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‘Mystery Tour’ Iceland Noir

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Hallgrimskirkja

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!

 

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!

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!

Crime at the Castle!

We’re starting the year off with a bang at one of Scotland’s most beautiful (and most haunted!) castles- Glamis Castle. What a brilliant venue for a crime writing festival, and I’m thrilled  that my Angus Writers’ Circle pals, Wendy Jones and Suzanne Milne, are the criminal masterminds behind it.

On February 24th, a host of the brightest and best Scottish authors will converge on the castle for a packed day of events, signings and workshops. As I write this, I’m imagining them alighting from sleek black helicopters and having their Daimlers valet-parked round the back, but in reality I know it won’t be like that. I, for one, will be beetling cross country from Carnoustie in my trusty Toyota Corolla!

Click here to see what Wendy and the gang have in store…

For my part, I’ll be chatting with a couple of my favourite authors, S.G.MacLean and Douglas Skelton. And I get to hang out in the Queen Mother’s Sitting Room as I chat about my journey from Grime to Crime! From the Co-op cleaning cupboard to the QM’s lounge. ..there’s a story!

Crime at the Castle takes place on Saturday, February 24th from 10am. Tickets cost just £55 for 4 sessions, or 3 sessions and a workshop, plus lunch in the castle restaurant.

Please phone 01307 840393 and a member of the Glamis Team will assist you with your booking. 20171028_174716

A Story Within A Story

sandra ireland author 6It 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?

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Dawn Geddes

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

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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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!