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


Thoughts of a Writer in Lockdown

 

coronaI suddenly seem to have a lot of hours to spare, so now seems as good a time as any to update my blog.

But what to write?

We are stuck in a strange limbo. There is an almost palpable feeling of dread in the air, a collective sense of nervous anxiety. None of us are sleeping. We tell ourselves not to watch every news bulletin, while unable to look away. The pandemic is unfolding relentlessly before our eyes and even those of us who have remained relatively untouched (so far) know that, right now, people are saying goodbye to loved ones via Facetime and NHS staff are fighting the sort of battle we  have nightmares about.

blog ohotoI have been shopping once a week at my local Co-op, which is doing an excellent job. Today I took delivery of a small Asda order, primarily of staples I can’t get locally. I did have a bit of a giggle upon receiving a single banana! It made me think of that wartime ditty my dad used to sing, “Yes, we have no bananas!” There is something quite comforting about remembering the wartime generation and all that they faced. For anyone my age or younger, this is the first time we have experienced the sort of fear that comes from a universal threat. I hope it will be character building and allow us to address the cracks  in our society. I hope everyone I know will get through this unscathed.

For writers, artists and many people working in the creative sector, the rug has truly been pulled. Income streams have vanished overnight and all our much-valued face-to-face events have gone. Add to this, our concerns over the health of loved ones (and ourselves) and it’s clear that we’re in for a bumpy emotional ride in the weeks ahead. Even those of us who are generally happy in our own company are finding this difficult. Fellow writer, Gillian Duff, has an interesting take on this. She suspects that, deep down, we have a primitive fear of being ‘separated from the herd’. This makes perfect sense, and rather ironically many of us have discovered that the lockdown has brought increased and unexpected connectivity with friends and family.

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Staying connected- members of Angus Writers’ Circle

So now that we have all the time in the world, it should be easy to finish that work-in-progress, right? One of my favourite Tweets of recent days, was from a writer pointing out that anyone who suggests ‘writing a novel’ as a way of passing some time has ‘clearly never written a novel.’ The reality is indeed different. Any writer I have spoken to is finding it extremely hard to settle their minds long enough to create anything. My own day is a prime example. If words were KitKats, I’d definitely have a book in me…

4am Wake. Listen to radio and fret that it’s only the wee small hours. Turn off radio. Get up and make tea. Wash last night’s dishes while waiting for kettle to boil. Go back to bed, now fully awake. Read book but decide the time would be better employed writing. I could fit in 3 hours of writing before breakfast!

6am Open laptop. The view from the window becomes so interesting. The sunrise is lovely! If I go for my regulation walk now, the place will be deserted, and I won’t get the social distancing anxiety. Around here, the anxiety comes from people being too rule-conscious. On our rather narrow beach path, a Strictly Come Dancing scenario plays out daily as walkers and joggers take avoidance measures. Go for walk.

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7am Still time to write before breakfast, but I’m hungry. I really want my breakfast

8am. Three-course, industrial-strength breakfast consumed. Lockdown lolling around takes energy.

9am Examine Word doc. Write a sentence. Check clock. Feel like I’ve been up for hours but it’s only 9am- not even coffee time. Get up and make another cup of tea.

9.30 Switch on TV ‘for company’. A panel of experts is discussing Corvid facts and I become engrossed. We are becoming a nation of armchair coronavirus experts and scientists have never been so cool.

11am. Coffee time. Plus biscuits, eaten while still watching TV.

12 am  It’s noon! How did that happen? Look at Word doc and write a further three guilt-sentences while listening to The Jeremy Vine show. Get caught up in a debate about ‘corvidiots’ sunbathing while people are dying. So incensed I cannot think straight, and anyway, it’s time for lunch.

1pm Lunch, eaten in front of the One O’Clock news. No wonder I have indigestion.

2pm Decide I’d better do a bit of pottering outside while the sun’s out. I need my Vit D and I have potatoes to plant. Pity I can’t grow bananas. I do have a nice line in raspberry canes though.

3pm Coffee time, which is now coffee-and-something-fattening time

4pm The muse has fled. Close laptop. There’s always tomorrow and it must be nearly time for today’s press conference…

Two of the many silly little things I’m missing. Writing on a train going somewhere interesting and meeting friends for coffee. What about you?

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 Unmaking of Ellie Rook

It’s been a busy week, with the Edinburgh launch of The Unmaking of Ellie Rook at the amazing Golden Hare Books, and a wee shindig at my local tapas bar Maxibells in Carnoustie (plus a friend’s wedding sandwiched in between).de449b79-1c90-415a-8ea3-59c668d14d23

 

All done and dusted, Ellie Rook is well and truly out there in the world! It’s always a tense time. As a new writer, it’s hard to see beyond that point where your first book lands in your hands, but now that I’m three novels in (actually more than that, but the fourth is in editorial and number 5 is in my head!) I have a chance to reflect on what life on the ink face is really like.

 

So, here are my top tips for new authors:

  1. Launch venue. Make sure you choose somewhere you feel comfortable, and where you are among friends. It can be a bit of an ordeal!IMG_1498Writers are by nature shy creatures, happiest in their normal habitat. Scrubbing up to go out in public can be a chore when your default setting is slumped in front of a PC. Being in the spotlight- well, a hundred ‘what ifs’ will be floating through your head. Comfort is your watchword, whether that means old shoes or being in a place you’re familiar with
  2. Ring the changes. Don’t be afraid to do something a bit different, although the standard ‘chaired’ chat is probably best for debut authors. Make sure you have someone you know in the chair! However, it’s good to experiment. Introduce some music or pair up with a poet or singer. Choose a theme, or pick a venue which relates to your book.

 

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The Yonderlees

The local launch of my second novel Bone Deep, included traditional music and spoken word, which lent a story arc to the evening. This time, I was keen to play up the woodland, watery theme of the new book, so at Maxibells, we had tables dripping with greenery and  my favourite local duo The Yonderlees put their own unique musical slant on the themes of the story.

I was able to use their PA too, which was very handy!

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                                                     Staunch supporters at Maxibells!

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Good friends are a must!

 

3. Take time to think about your guest list. A small, intimate gathering where guests are invited to drop in via social media, or a more formal ‘by invitation’ format? This can be tricky, unless you have a lot of contacts, perhaps from several different areas of your life.

Non-booky people can find a literary event boring and/or intimidating (and so can family members!) so bear that in mind when choosing a venue. Like a wedding, there will be the ‘ought to invite’ list and the ‘must have’ list. But it’s your day. Don’t let such things overshadow this great achievement.

4. Readings from the book. They must be short enough to whet the appetite, but long enough to break up the time. You have an hour to fill! This is where a musician or poet can help you out. Joint book launches are always an option if you’re a bit nervous.

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Rebecca Sharp at the Hospitalfield launch of Bone Deep, 2018

5. Book sales. If you are traditionally published, most events will be covered by your local bookseller, but you can order your own author discounted copies or provide your own books if self-published. I usually offer the gig to my local indie bookshop (The Bookhouse, Monifieth) because, let’s face it- we need them! If you’re selling your own books, have a mate on hand to help. You’ll have enough to think about!

6. Food and drink. Most bookshops, like Golden Hare, thoughtfully provide wine. (Do not quaff a whole glass before your talk!!) If you’re organising your own launch- how about some home-baking or tea in vintage cups? Ellie Rook was launched in Carnoustie with gin cocktails and a curry buffet!

7. Publicity A good way to herald the launch of your new book is by organising, or having a professional organise, a blog tour. We are so luck in the writing community that we have so many reviewers and book bloggers willing to support our work. My tours have been arranged by Love Books Group and it’s wonderful to watch it all come together. Sometimes bloggers who might normally post  about, say, beauty products or food, will come on board and introduce your book to a much wider audience. Social media is a creature which can offer enormous benefits in the right hands.

8.Reviews. After the launch everything will go dark. Nothing to do with the alcohol, but you’ll need to stick on your business hat. Everyone moves on very quickly and your book is just one of many struggling to the light. Try not to stalk Amazon and Goodreads as you wait for reviews. And you WILL get bad reviews. Steel yourself. It does not mean you have a bad book, but it just cannot appeal to everyone. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on the negative, it’s the enemy of creativity. As a wise person once said to me, ‘The people who write 1 *  reviews are not the people you’d ever be friends with anyway.’ So true. Stick with your pals and supporters- they are legion. Just make sure you invite them to your next launch!

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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 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!

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!

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.

Dr Noir

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!