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

Bone Deep – an evening of music and spoken word

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I can’t believe it’s been two months since Crime at the Castle (and two months since I last updated my blog…hangs head in shame) so let’s hit the ground running with a look at what’s been happening in my booky world!

My second novel Bone Deep will be published at the start of July, so in the run-up to the big day, please join me on Twitter (@22_ireland), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Sandralowireland/) and Goodreads. I’ve not been very active on Goodreads, so please follow me- I need all the friends I can get!

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We decided to get the celebratory ball rolling in April with a concert in the atmospheric surroundings of Hospitalfield, Arbroath. My friends at Hypercoaster Music had the tricky task of bringing together nine virtual strangers, with only an ancient murder ballad in common…and they nailed it! The audience were enthusiastic in their praise, and appreciated how well the performers ‘gelled’, which demonstrates the power of music and art to unite us. It was stirring stuff, as each artist interpreted the ballad of The Cruel Sister* in their own unique way.

 

 

The highlight for me was reading from Bone Deep accompanied by the harp! I’d never attempted anything like this before, but I knew I was in safe hands with super-talented writer, poet and musician Rebecca Sharp. When you read the book, you’ll understand that a very special harp is pivotal to the story, so it was quite emotional for me, not only to hear the instrument playing in the background, but to experience each unique and haunting interpretation of the theme of the evening.

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Author, actor and director Heather Osborne helped me to set the scene with our take on the history of The Cruel Sister ballad. Rebecca, and Emil Thompson treated us to a deliciously dark interpretation of the theme, which involved a Crow Box, a Singing Bowl and a little bit of magic! Spoken word artist Stephen Watt delivered a thought-provoking and poignant set,  exploring the darkness of our own psyche, while folk duo Shamblestone wowed us all with a raw and powerful rendition of the Twa Sisters (video on their Facebook page!). Lisa Rigby and Stuart Clark finished the night off with a fantastic set, including a most haunting and memorable version of The Wind and Rain.

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Huge thanks to Tash and Andy at Hypercoaster, to all who took part, and helped out on the night and beforehand. I really hope we can do it again some time!

Next week, I’ll tell you a little more about the story behind the story, and we’ll look at the history of the ballad itself.

 

 

*The Ballad of the Cruel Sister was the inspiration behind Bone Deep. I wanted to show how the past can impact on the present. Strangely, there’s a link between Hospitalfield and this book! In 1813, Sir Walter Scott visited the house, and was inspired to use it as the setting for his novel The Antiquary. Some 11 years previously, Scott had published a collection of Border Ballads, entitled The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders. As a teenager, I chanced upon this tome while rummaging through an old bookshop in the Borders. The Cruel Sister ballad, with its powerful themes of sibling rivalry, betrayal and murder really captured my imagination. Little did I know that some forty years later I would be standing where Scott once stood, talking about my own novel!

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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

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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True North

Last week, I took an exciting trip back to my roots!

Vic Watson and Jacky Collins, organisers of  Newcastle Noir kindly invited me along to Noir @ the Bar, in the Town Wall, Newcastle. Newcastle Noir is a literary festival celebrating the best in contemporary crime writing, bringing together writers from the North East, across Britain, as well as from further afield. By all accounts, the 2017 festival was a huge success, and it’s already on my calendar for next year! Noir@the Bar (there are quite a few versions of this across the country) is a fun, informal evening of readings…in a pub. Writers’ paradise, pretty much!

When I last visited Newcastle, I was too young to drink, but unfortunately, on this occasion, the bar staff saw no need to I.D. me. We had a fabulous night in a great venue, and I really enjoyed listening to chilling extracts from some must-read novels and short stories.

I chose to read the opening pages from my novel Beneath the Skin, and I was very conscious that my central character, Walt, was  coming home too. As a nod to my own upbringing, Walt grew up in rural Northumberland, but I could just imagine him meeting his mates for a few pints in a place like the Town Wall, having a laugh and a bit of banter. Beneath the Skin is about what happens when the laughter stops. When you come home but your best mate doesn’t. It’s about how trauma changes people.

 

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Beneath the Skin (Polygon)

My trip ‘down south’ was much too brief, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out a few Gothic locations for my next project….!

 

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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!

Other People’s Books

Happy New Year, dear Readers! Thanks so much for all your support in 2016. Everyone really got behind (or beneath?) Beneath the Skin from the very start, and, of course, I had a great team on board with Jenny Brown Associates, and Polygon. 2016 was a year for making connections. So many people have helped me in ways too numerous to mention, but I must just say how surprised and delighted I have been with the enthusiasm and professionalism of the blogging community. A big shout out too for Bookish PR Scotland, also making a debut in 2016 and definitely by my side in 2017!

“When will we be able to read your next book?” has been a frequent (and rather heartening!) question since BTS was published, and thanks to the generous support of  Creative Scotland, I have been able to devote my time to the daunting mission of producing a second  manuscript, The Bone Harp. My creative journey can be followed at https://barrymillblog.com,  although like all the best journeys there are frequent random diversions!

Speaking of distractions, don’t begin your January de-cluttering with the bookshelf. It’s fatal! I’ve done zero cleaning today, but I have  re-discovered some old books which mean a lot to me. That’s the thing with treasured books- sometimes the most important story is not the one between the covers. I’d like to share a few of my ‘finds’ with you:

 

 

Postman Pat. My boys are now young men, so this family favourite  is showing its age. Note the yellowing Sellotape, the broken spine and the dog-eared pages. Much love for this book! Grandad worked on Royal Mail vans in the Yorkshire Dales, so that makes it extra special.

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Mister Men. Another favourite. Look at those titles- definitely a map of my kids’ childhood. One for every mood! And the price sticker- all jumble sale finds, no doubt!

The family Bible. I seem to have inherited quite a few, but this one is interesting. Although it bears the initials A.L., it belonged to a great, great aunt, Mary Ann Watson. This lady’s death certificate reveals that she was a spinster and a jute spinner, and she took her own life at the age of 52 by walking into the sea. A tragic story, made more poignant by the hand-written notes she left in this bible.

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Scottish Tartans. On a cheerier note, these are dated 1942 and were gifts for my grandmother and her sister. The illustrations are classic Outlander, but this lone female golfer made the cut!

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Oor Wullie and Dandy annuals from the 1970s.  Who doesn’t love a comic? Christmas classics from my childhood, passed down to the next generation. Shows how enduring and well-loved these characters are- thanks D.C.Thomson!

 

Hope I’ve inspired you to begin the year by reconnecting with the hidden stories of your own treasured books! I’d love to hear them.