Scrapefoot #2

Thanks for joining me on the blog! As promised, here is part 2 of Scrapefoot. Rebecca has simply gone to check on her mother’s empty cottage in the woods- but what will she find? Check back next week for part 3. Enjoy!

    Now, in the wood at Eel Beck, something strange occurred. I felt a little disorientated, giddy. It was like being hit by that first sip of glühwein when the air is cold and your stomach is empty. It wasn’t unpleasant, just a shifting of things, as if the cottage I was heading towards was no longer where I might expect to find it. The wood was white and alien and when I paused a moment to look back, my footsteps had been obliterated. Or maybe they had never been there. Where had that voice come from? It had broken into my thoughts, low and insistent. Catching my breath, I glanced at the tree beside me. It was a holly bush, grown to such a point that it could safely be called a tree. The snow had slipped from its razor leaves, leaving green, glossy spikes and berries the colour of blood. In this faded-out world, the red hurt my eyes. It looked positively gaudy, a distraction.

   In my peripheral vision, I saw something else- a slash of silver, a black eye, a slender paw. I gasped, but the more I looked for the creature, the more I saw only absence; twirling snow, ragged roots. It had been a fox, a white fox!

    I felt breathless, glorious and yet strangely cheated, as if I’d only been granted certain permissions, and was longing to learn more. How often does anyone get to see a white fox? Are you sure that’s what you saw? That voice again. I glared at the holly tree, but she was giving nothing away. She? Oh, come on! I shook my head at my own foolishness. The landscape was playing with me. The longer I stayed there, the more it would try to outwit me, like an owl waiting to sense the heartbeat of a mouse beneath the ground. Don’t fall for it, I told myself. My mother’s vacant home was only a five minute walk away. Go check on it. Turn on the taps, make sure there are no leaks or broken windows and get the hell out of there.

   Before ploughing onwards, I cast a last glance behind me. Despite the ongoing snowfall, the path was crisscrossed with tracks. Not mine, they were still missing, but I recognised the cleft print of deer, the spiky splay of some kind of bird, and paw prints of all kinds, from shrew-sized to dauntingly large. The one that stood out the most was the one I seemed to know by heart. Perhaps as a child, I’d learned to recognise it. This trail threaded back on itself, looping around the rest like a sheepdog or crime scene tape. Bold, self-possessed. Quick-witted. A slender arrow of five pads, with the indents of sharp claws. Fox.

   All those random impressions in the snow began to resemble a music score, an offbeat tune that filled my being and made my heart stutter an accompanying bass beat. Pressing my hand there, I tried to swallow my irrational fears and took a deep breath. I hadn’t noticed any of those tracks as I’d passed.  I hadn’t noticed them. That didn’t mean they hadn’t been there. It was absurd to think otherwise, that somehow these creatures had manifested behind my back like ghosts, I shook my head and walked on. The light was fading fast and I deliberated whether to activate the flashlight on my phone.

   My mother had always been a great one for an uncanny story. She knew all the old tales from this part of Yorkshire; the menacing Gytrash, its eyes like burning coals, Mother Shipton the prophetess, well-dwelling serpents and Scrapefoot the Fox, who gatecrashed a bear’s lair. Sometimes mum would sketch odd things in the evenings, straining her eyes by the light of the fire. As a child, I was fascinated and appalled in equal measure, but later, that turned to contempt. She made me despair. I wasn’t interested in her tales or her drawings and it was the 21st century. We had electricity, for goodness sake! It was as if she wanted to row back to an earlier, eerier time, when the fire played out such tales across the ceiling, the characters like shadow puppets, lurking in the cracks in the plaster. No wonder I was in such a hurry to grow up and leave. My current home is a newbuild; a swish apartment in Highgate, with artic white walls and high-performance lighting controlled by personal software which means I can illuminate the place from my I-phone. I never have to step into a dark room.

    I am no longer used to the dark. The trees seemed to be bearing down on me. Above me the sky was like a massive 3-D poster, a luminous chart of all the constellations I had ever known. I could even identify some of them; Orion and his belt, the Big Dipper. And the one that looks like a W. Right overhead was suspended the brightest of stars, or perhaps a planet. On the News, there’d been a story about a Great Conjunction, the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, but I hadn’t really been paying attention. Apparently, it hadn’t been seen for centuries and they thought (whoever they were) that this might have been the actual Christmas Star.

   Another of my mother’s stories flitted into my mind. In Finland, Artic foxes are said to race across the sky, brushing the mountain peaks with their tails. The resulting snowflakes ignite to form the Aurora Borealis. Like all of my mother’s stories, I’d packed it away with a sigh, impatient to move on, but out here, in the dark, below the vast dome of the sky and amid the hush of the snow, it felt like anything was possible.

  I tried to shrug off the notion. Any moment now, the cottage would come into view and I could do my duty and return to my car, which was parked on the main road. And then it would be back to my hotel for a warming mulled wine at the bar. By some strange quirk, the Christmas Star, or whatever that bright shiny thing was, seemed to be pinned right above me, above the cottage, like a bauble on some weird cosmic Christmas tree.

And then I noticed two things. That creature, that flash of silver fur I’d spied earlier, whistled past me again and in my mother’s cottage, lights were blazing. Lights which should not be there. Each pane of glass was a little square of flickering gold in the dark wood…

Each pane of glass was a little square of flickering gold in the dark wood…

Hope you’ve enjoyed part 2! While you’re here, do read about my writing journey, my books and my creative writing courses- and do drop me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Stay safe, Sandra ❤

The Joy of Collaboration

As a creative writing tutor, I‘ve been supporting fellow writers at every stage of their careers for quite some time now. For me, this began before I became a published author, when I was still studying at the University of Dundee. With the help of my own tutor, Mr Eddie Small, I set up an informal writing group (named ‘Scribblers’) in my home town of Carnoustie. As I recall, we progressed from the ‘snug’ of our local pub to the Scout Hall! I was certainly rather nervous about the whole thing, constantly questioning my ability to teach. I quickly realised that no one has all the ‘answers’ and passion goes a long way in communicating ideas. More than that, I was joined by an amazing bunch of newbie writers who boosted my confidence just as much as I boosted theirs!

One of those early participants was Dawn Geddes, now a successful journalist and Book Correspondent for the Scots Magazine. Fast forward another four or five years, and both Dawn and I found ourselves in cahoots again! Along with our friend and fellow writer Elizabeth Frattaroli, we embarked upon a new venture, Chasing Time Writing Retreats. Based at Rosely House Hotel, Arbroath, we have been running wonderfully quirky writing weekends since 2017, meeting some truly lovely people along the way. It is with a heavy heart that we’ve had to suspend our operation until ‘normal life’ resumes. As they say, we’ll be back!

This Autumn sees a new collaboration for me. I will be teaming up (virtually) with fellow author Nöelle Harrison (The Gravity of Love and The Island Girls) on a sparkly new venture- a first draft bootcamp! You can read all about it HERE but suffice to say it will be a pleasure to welcome you aboard. By pooling our skills, Nöelle and I hope to offer you our uniquely individual take on how to craft a fresh and original work of fiction. We will be offering masterclasses, live stream writing sessions, creative unblocking, meditation and author selfcare- in short, all the tools you will need to get those words on the page and smooth out any bumps in your writing road ahead. Are you up for the challenge?  Look forward to seeing you in November!

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.

beach path

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?

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!

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

Time On Your Side

Buying a gift for a writer is easy. An elegant pen, a bespoke notebook. A new edition of a much-loved classic. But ask a writer what their dream gift would be, and it might well be something you can’t pick up online.

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We crave it, can’t get enough of it. We want time that is elastic, time that stands still. Time that will work with us, and allow us to craft that perfect chapter before the kids come home, or the dog demands to be walked.

We all desire it, we’re all chasing it. You can’t buy it, but you can make it, if you allow a little space in your hectic schedule. Last month, three intrepid scribblers set out to do just that!

 

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In the company of fellow writers, Elizabeth Frattaroli and Dawn Geddes, I booked into the fabulous Rosely House Hotel, Arbroath. Better known as the ‘home’ of the Angus Writers’ Circle, the hotel is a Baronial-style country house. Think old oak and stag’s heads, firewood in the hall and electric blankets on the beds. It has turrets, stained glass and the most gorgeous period furniture. It is Writer Heaven!

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20170512_164729We began our stay with a wander round the grounds, beneath Scots pine and willow, through drifts of bluebells. We passed the 18th c. ice house, and climbed ancient stone steps that lead to nowhere. Afterwards, we relaxed in the parlour and wrote, fuelled by endless coffee (the family who run the hotel are SO understanding!) and, I admit, a bottle of wine. After a delicious meal – served in the parlour, no cooking, no washing up!- we wrote some more, shared some ideas and climbed the amazing Gothic staircase to bed.

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It was tranquil, therapeutic and inspirational. For once, Time was on our side. With no domestic demands, no to-do list and no stress, it was the perfect venue for a writerly retreat. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we thought, if everyone could experience this?

If you’re chasing time, and would like to follow in our footsteps, head on over to our brand-new website!

https://chasingtimescotland.wordpress.com  

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