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!

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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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.

Have book, will travel…

This week I’ve had my sales hat on….books don’t sell themselves! This seems to be the least favourite part of the whole publishing process for most writers. I suppose we are by nature a solitary bunch, happiest hunched over a keyboard, glass in hand (I still type with one finger) wrestling with words long into the dark night…Any gathering of writers usually includes one or two who are still mentally wrestling. You can see it in their general twitchiness.

Now I’m not given to a lot of twitchiness (mainly because dark nights for me usually mean settling down with Bake Off) but I did try and keep the weirdness

in check when I visited the very lovely Waterstones Kirkcaldy for an author visit and book signing this week. They call Kirkcaldy the ‘Lang Toun’, and Waterstones is placed a lang, lang way doon the toun, depending on where you park (and your sense of direction).

After a lovely welcome from manager James, we talked books and writing long into the dark night (well, for at least an hour). Well done to the hardy souls who made it through the cold and rain- it was great to meet you. It wasn’t a very nice evening, weather-wise, but you can always be sure of a warm welcome in your local bookshop. Where would we be without them?!

‘Stockbridge Gothic’

When The Scotsman dubbed Beneath the SkinStockbridge Gothic’ I was highly delighted. Gothic is definitely my go-to zone when I’m dreaming up the mad, the bad and the dangerous!

Those of you who have already read the book  may have noted a few nods to my all time favourite Frankenstein. I won’t give any games away, but if you have spotted the clues, then feel free to start a conversation! This has made me think about my own relationship with the Gothic, and how it has influenced my writing. For me, I suppose the defining element of the genre is setting, and the development of architecture and landscape as characters within that context. I’m thinking about the labyrinthine Castle of Otranto, the windswept bleakness of Wuthering Heights, and the haunted attic of Charlotte Bronte’s lesser-known Villette.

In Alys’s Stockbridge villa, the damp basement, the creaking staircase, the cramped attic all take on a life of their own. There is a sense that the house is less than welcoming, resistant to the notion of being a family ‘home’. We might call such an atmosphere ‘uncanny’, a concept which, interestingly, stems from  the German Unheimlich, best translated as ‘un-homely’.

In his treatise on the Uncanny, Freud quotes the philosopher Schelling: ’Unheimlich is the name for everything that ought to have remained hidden and secret, and has become visible.’cobweb-handle

All that stuff we carry ‘beneath the skin’ perhaps…

I’ll leave you with an appropriate quote. Walt, just out of bed, makes his way to the kitchen…

‘…the hall felt somehow odd. It took him right back to being a kid again, when you come back from holidays and the house feels cold and damp…has a distance about it. He remembered how his mam used to stand in the porch, sniffing, in case she’d forgotten to chuck out the milk, or the cloths had rebelled in her absence and gone sour. And here he was, sniffing,like his mam used to do. A house with a kid in it shouldn’t feel this way.’

From Beneath the Skin (Polygon) 2016

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Skin…finally!

So the book is out there! Duly launched with appropriate amounts of wine and fanfare at the gorgeous Saint Stephens Stockbridge, Beneath the Skin is now winging its way (with the help of its gorgeous feathery jacket!) to various homes and bedside tables throughout the land.

This is the scary bit!

What will readers think of my imaginative ramblings? It feels a long, long way from my first excursions into creative writing; often random scribbles (phrases, odd words) in notebooks, on the backs of envelopes. And Professor Kirsty Gunn’s timed exercises in our four-hour workshops. No pressure!

Over time, the scribbles took shape- poems, short stories. ‘Novels’ no one will ever read. Very slowly, my writing began to say what I wanted it to say. It came of age.

My great aunt Mary had a tiny oak dresser. A beautifully- carved, miniature piece of furniture, lovingly finished with all the craft and hallmarks of the standard article. It was a ‘prentice piece’, she told me. A showcase of skill; a small-scale beginning to the career of an apprentice carpenter.

So this is my ‘prentice piece’…I hope it will hold its own on the shelves alongside so many masters of the craft.

A few images from Launch Night. Thanks so much to Golden Hare Books for gracious hosting; Polygon for terrific organising. Thank you to each and every one of you who rocked up to buy a copy and listen to me blethering- my heroes!

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What’s in a name?

bts smallBeneath the Skin….the scars of the past are more than skin deep.

Love the title of my new novel, but it didn’t start off like that! The original title was An Arrangement of Skin, which is the OE definition of taxidermy.Early 19th century: from Greek taxis ‘arrangement’ + derma ‘skin’.

Taxidermy is a strange thing- people are either intrigued by it or repelled by it. For me, as a writer,taxidermy represents those areas of the past which should have been laid to rest but are being artificially kept alive. In the novel, the main protagonist Walt finds work in a taxidermist’s studio, but facing the ‘undead’ on a daily basis has a disastrous effect on a this former soldier’s psyche.

 

On an interesting note, I have discovered an amazing Icelandic band whose current album is called…Beneath the Skin! Have a listen here:

Of Monsters and Men.

Fantastic- good luck with it, guys!

MY Beneath the Skin is out on Sept 22nd….click on the link of the front page, and keep up to date with my events page. I believe there are some advance copies to be had….!

The Launch- not long to go!

September 14th is scrawled on my calendar in blood…well, not quite, but it’s been a long haul from my scribbled notebooks hidden in the wardrobe to holding a glossy paperback in my hand! I haven’t actually had my paws on an actual copy yet- although a proof version did briefly land on a table in front of me. That was a strange experience- a bit like learning the sex of your baby before delivery day. I wanted to hold it and relish the thrill of it…but I also want to open that cardboard box and see the final, final book-my book- in all its glory…

I’m sure it won’t happen like that, but I’ll let you know!

Anyway, the pre-publication launch party is almost upon us! It will be hosted by Golden Hare Books and the venue will be the rather impressive Saint Stephen’s, Stockbridge. Since Beneath the Skin is set in Stockbridge, my clever agent Jenny Brown and publisher Polygon thought it would be highly appropriate to launch it there, amid the cobbled streets and eerie basements. You will be a stone’s throw from Alys’s taxidermy studio, from Mrs Petrauska’s dance classes and just down the road from the park where Walt contemplates his future….

September 14th, 2016. 7pm-9pm. Refreshments will be provided. Tickets here from eventbrite. I will be chaired by the amazing Eddie Small, fresh from his glory at the Edinburgh Fringe…he does seem to like death and dark themes…!

  See you there!

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