Saturday, 17 March 2018

Cobh in Ireland

In celebration of St Patrick’s Day (since one set of grandparents were of Irish descent), I thought I’d share this post I wrote some years ago on my other blog. We had a great visit to Cobh and hadn’t known of its interesting history.

A pretty fishing and harbour town, the most impressive sight on the approach to Cobh is the 19th century Gothic St Colman’s Cathedral which sits on the hill overlooking the harbour. Situated on the Great Island near Cork, the harbour town of Cobh has links with many famous ships, including the ill-fated Titanic.

Developed during the eighteenth century, when the natural harbour was used to assemble the fleets during the Napoleonic wars, Cobh (pronounced ‘Cove’) became a health resort during Victorian times. In honour of Queen Victoria’s visit to the town in 1849, Cobh was renamed Queenstown and thus it remained until it reverted to its Irish name in 1920.

Cobh was in an ideal position for Irish emigrants who wanted to escape their poverty and sail to the new world across the Atlantic, in hope of a better life in America. The terrible potato famines between 1845 and the 1851 left many unable to survive and during this period, over 1,500,000 Irish people emigrated to America. It was also one of the great ports for transatlantic liners at the turn of the 20th century.

One hundred and twenty three people boarded the Titanic at Cobh (Queenstown) on 11th April 1912. The story is told of a young priest, Father Frank Browne, who had sailed on the ship from Southampton. On reaching Cobh, his Bishop told him he was now to leave the ship. Just three days later, as it sailed in the Atlantic, the Titanic struck an iceberg shortly before midnight. Two hours later, the ship had sunk with the terrible loss of 1500 lives.

Housed in the restored Victorian railway station, the Cobh Heritage Centre tells the Queenstown Story, an excellent multi-media depiction of the history of Cobh, the Irish emigration from the town, and the Titanic. There is now a genealogy service available, which offers an online facility.

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Snow and Creativity

Like most of the country, we've been snowed in since last Wednesday, unable to move cars from the drive. Although we're used to cold, frost and snow in Scotland, this has been the worst and longest we can ever remember. Fortunately, we no longer live at the top of a hill in a small village without shops! When we did feel like venturing out, we at least could trudge through the snow for a short walk - not that we wanted to until later in the week.

You might have seen these photos on Facebook, taken just fifteen minutes apart - the blizzard kept up all day, hence the enforced stay at home.

We're lucky we work from home and the schools were all closed so we didn't even need to do granddaughter's school run and could remain cosy and warm, watching the heavy snowfall from the window. As I've often said, I like winter and still find the landscape beautiful but even I am looking forward to a proper spring now.

One advantage writers have when forced to stay indoors is our creativity and the chance to concentrate on writing projects - or that's the theory. I was very pleased to receive the acceptance of another Scottish article from The Highlander Magazine in the US, in which I've been published many times, as well as a new poem accepted by the Wild Musette journal, a first for me. I also sent away a new short story and I'm writing another non-fiction essay.

Before feeling too self-righteous, I keep feeling guilty at not getting on with the actual longer fiction I'm supposed to be trying to finish, but that's normal behaviour for me - much easier to concentrate on the shorter lengths! Yet, it's when I'm feeling most creative that I'm drawn to writing poetry and shorter fiction or articles so perhaps it's not only laziness.

I've also been redrafting The Highland Lass as the rights have only just reverted to me and I wanted to tweak it a little before it reappears on Amazon. A very enjoyable couple of days revisiting what has always been the book of my heart and I was relieved that I was still happy with the story! My lovely publisher, Crooked Cat Books, have even allowed me to keep the original cover which I didn't want to change.

What have you been doing if snow has kept you at home?


Saturday, 17 February 2018

Hawes Inn's Literary Connection

We had a lovely lunch out at the atmospheric 17th century Hawes Inn at South Queensferry today, a former coaching inn which is tucked under one end of the Forth Bridge.

As well as the cosy ambiance in such historical surroundings, I was intrigued with the eating area next to ours: The Robert Louis Stevenson Room. The famous Scottish author evidently stayed here in the 1880s where he seemingly wrote part of Kidnapped, even mentioning the Hawes Inn in the story.

Of course, I immediately went to look at all the pictures and information on the walls while waiting for my lunch and took a photo of the view from the window as seen today. Sir Walter Scott also knew the inn, referring to it in his ‘Antiquary’. I particularly liked the drawings depicting Stevenson’s story Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and I could easily imagine the author sitting at one of the tables in the 19th century.

Don't you love a day out which is also very interesting for a writer!


Saturday, 10 February 2018

Valentine Countdown

A quick post to mention that my Victorian novella, Pride and Progress, is now on Amazon UK and US countdown until Wednesday at 99p (99C) if anyone fancies a sweet historical read for Valentine's Day.

Miss Emily Morton is content with her village life as a teacher in the north east of England in the 1870s, until the new railway arrives along with the handsome Scottish station master, Arthur Muir.
Emily detests the railways, while it is Arthur's passion.

Each is challenged by the other but will pride allow for progress?


Sunday, 4 February 2018

A Fleeting Touch of Spring

Apologies for not updating the blog since Burns Night! I seem to be having trouble remembering it as I'm pushing ahead with lots of writing projects at the moment, trying to keep to some kind of order instead of flitting about from one to the other without finishing any of them. So far, it's working... then I add another opportunity to the mix and get sidetracked again.

The weather has been so bad this year that we've not been out and about as much as usual, especially after being unwell for so long. Today, however, there was even a touch of spring in the air, if you ignored the chilly dampness and concentrated on the fleeting sun. We had a delicious lunch out then a very pleasant walk by Linlithgow loch, where the birds, ducks, swans and even a couple of geese were all enjoying themselves in the freezing water.

I warned husband not to get too excited about the sun since we're evidently due more snow and ice for the first part of this week - it's even trying my love of winter a bit far this year! At least I can get on with the writing in between and tick a few more items off the list I've made at last.

Here's an opportunity from Harlequin for anyone writing romance that stays outside the bedroom door but you'll need to be quick as you can only submit the first chapter between 1st and 14th February. At least we're promised feedback within a week of the closing date, so it's worth a go if it's the kind of thing you write.


Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Robert Burns Wisdom

On Thursday 25th January, Scots all over the world will be celebrating Burns Night again when our national bard is remembered at many a Burns Supper in song, drink and food, as well as poetry of course. From the moment the haggis, that Great Chieftain o' the Puddin' Race, is piped in, through the immortal memory and various toasts, a great night is promised to all who attend.

One of the reasons I appreciate Burns today is the wonderful wisdom contained in many of his verses. He might have been known as the 'farmer-poet, but he was a very well educated man who mixed with the best of Enlightenment society in Edinburgh in the 18th century. It's the often profound insight into his fellow man, and beast, that sets his poetry apart, whether in Scots dialect or 'correct' English.

The Selkirk Grace, given before the sumptuous feast begins, is cleverly succinct:

Some hae meat and cannae eat;
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

I used lines from some of his poetry at the top of the contemporary chapters for The Highland Lass, some of which loosely fitted the subject of the chapter. Here are a few of my favourites.

'Follies past, give thou to air,
Make their consequence thy care.'

'How wisdom and folly meet, and unite;
How virtue and vice blend their black and white.'

'Some sort all our qualities each to its tribe,
And think human nature they truly describe.'

And finally, one of my favourites:

'Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Though they may gang a kennin' wrang,
To step aside is human.'

The alternate chapters of The Highland Lass tell the story of Robert Burns and Highland Mary, one which fascinated me since childhood since Mary was buried in my home town. It also gave me an excuse to pay homage to my beloved west coast of Scotland and some of the places I most loved to explore.

Here's the trailer I made when it was published - might as well give it another outing!

Happy Burns Night, if you celebrate it.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Inspirational Gifts for 2018

Well, we both seem to be on the mend after our recent illness and trying to get back to normal activities at last! Can't believe my last blog post was at the end of 2017 - how time passes.

I mentioned that I hoped to write a post about some of my Christmas gifts, all of which kept me well entertained over the past couple of weeks. I love anything that makes me think, or inspires, or transports me to another time, or soothes my soul and many of my gifts did that completely.

My daughter, who knows me so well, gave me the very interesting non-fiction book, The Power, a sequel to The Secret which I hadn't read. Although I'm generally positive and an optimist, this book is encouraging me to be even more full of gratitude and love - not always easy, of course. It promises much and I dare say you have to be open to its suggestions but I'm willing to try!

I recently discovered the books of C.J. Sansom which are set in Tudor times, thanks to a friend. After reading the first two, I am completely hooked on the main character, the hunchback lawyer Matthew Shardlake, and the fantastic period details in them. But these are more than historical novels, there is also a mystery in each which keeps us guessing until the end. You can imagine my delight to receive the third in the series from daughter - devoured while I was unwell!

One of the gifts from son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter was the lovely little book of poetry, The Seasons. Perfect to dip in and out of and I started with winter of course, my favourite descriptive season. One of my good friends bought me a CD of Tai' Chi music as she cleverly remembered I had tried it at the conference in September. Now I just have to remember the moves, although I love just listening to the soothing music and even have music on while I write.

Another friend gave me a most unusual journal which I think is meant for travel. It reminds me of the type of leather-bound journal Indiana Jones (or his father) would use, with sort of yellowing pages inside, and it has a lovely little anchor that wraps around it on a leather thong. I'm aiming to use it as an inspiration journal in tandem with a couple of writing inspiration books I have from previous years. I don't have to explain to other writers the joy of new stationery!

I do hope your own gifts were beautiful, or useful, or inspirational.


Look out for my New Year newsletter in the next day or two with news of a box set and a little giveaway draw for Burns Night. If you don't already receive it, you can subscribe to the newsletter at the side of my blog, and you'll get the five stories in the Romantic Encounters collection free!

Happy New Year,

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Looking Forward to 2018

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, wherever and however you celebrated. We greatly enjoyed having the family here for the first Christmas in our new home and look forward to many more. Unfortunately, husband and I have both been unwell and still can't get rid of the nasty cough, which of course then keeps us awake and makes us feel worse. However, we have been trying to go out for a short time each morning then I don't feel guilty slobbing in front of the TV!

Wednesday (day after Boxing Day) in particular was the most stunningly beautiful I've seen, after it snowed on the Tuesday then started to freeze. As many of you know, I love the cold dry autumn/winter days so we risked a drive to the country park in the hills. Once we braved the icy paths, I had great fun taking lots of photos of the Narnia-like scenery. I've never seen such a white-out in places. The sun even shone giving it added light and interest.

At least it cheered us up a bit and we went out to a different place each day since. Not sure if it's made us better or worse but I'm enjoying not having to do anything in particular the rest of the days at the moment. That will change soon enough after next weekend! Also enjoying my interesting Christmas gifts and have plenty to inspire and encourage creativity - once I can make myself start. I'll mention a few in my next post.

Although we don't tend to celebrate Hogmanay and New Year like we used to, I enjoy looking forward to all the possibilities and opportunities that a new year might bring.

Happy New Year when it arrives and thanks for your support over the year!

Rosemary x

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Winter Solstice and Christmas Greetings

I hope you forgive me re-posting this from 2014 - my head is like cotton wool at the moment but I wanted to put a festive message here before the big day.

It's the Winter Solstice and the days have gradually been getting darker. The shortest day of the year, usually December 21st, is still a magical time for many people in the northern hemisphere. This is when the sun appears to stand still before changing direction, although it's actually the earth which tilts around the sun. The days will slowly begin to lengthen again until reaching the longest day on the Summer Solstice. The word solstice is thought to stem from two Latin words: sol, meaning sun and sistere, to stand.

The days leading up to the Winter Solstice were known as Saturnalia in Roman times, marking the moment when the sun was reborn after the shortest day and longest night. To celebrate the occasion and to welcome the coming of light, most people left aside their work to enjoy as much merriment and feasting as possible.

Another important part of the festival was the winter greenery brought inside to decorate homes around this time, such as ivy, holly, laurel and mistletoe, all illuminated by the light from candles. The evergreen ivy and the holly with its bright red berries have had many myths and legends attached to them over the centuries, often to do with new life and rebirth.

Here in Britain, there is a wealth of carols and poems celebrating the place holly and ivy have in our December traditions, both pagan and Christian, from Advent, through the twelve days of Christmas to Epiphany, such as this poem by Robert Herrick from the 16th century.

The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is we find a room
To welcome him. The nobler part
Of all the house here is the heart.

Which we will give him, and bequeath
This holly and this ivy wreath,
To do him honour who’s our King,
And Lord of all this revelling.

Many people still celebrate this special time at the Winter Solstice and it is especially sacred to the Druids and some pagan beliefs. Stonehenge in England is one of the most significant ancient spiritual sites where hundreds of people gather to watch the sun set on the shortest day and will welcome the new sunrise after the longest night of the year. 

I do hope you all have a wonderful Christmas or holiday period, however you celebrate.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

Advice from Floris Books

This is the second overview I promised from the recent Society of Authors weekend conference, although it's taken me a while to post it! Hope some may find it useful. Meant to add that I was honoured to be invited to speak to some of the classes in wee granddaughter's school last week and I saw how enquiring and interested they are in all sorts of subjects - and they loved a 'real' author visit!

Floris Books is a well-established Scottish publisher based in Edinburgh and they produce some wonderful books for all ages of children. The best way to approach them for a couple of the age groups is to enter their annual Kelpies Prize, as they read all submissions for that. All books must have a strong Scottish theme but the author can be from anywhere!

I greatly enjoyed the talk Sally Polson gave at the conference as it was straight from the horse's mouth, if you excuse the expression. As well as showing us covers of their different range of books, Sally gave us very useful pointers for writing and submitting a book suitable for Floris.

Who is the Reader?

It is essential to decide to what category or age group you are aiming the story and ensure it is pitched at the correct level as below:

Picture Books: aimed at ages 3-6, these are usually 24 or 32 pages and under 1000 words

Young Readers: aimed at ages 6-9, these stories have a strong concept or theme and are around 100 to 150 pages long and about 10,000 words. They also tend to have line drawings to help a child move on from picture books.

Middle Grade: aimed at ages 8-12 and often submitted through agents. They should contain strong adventure and be around 30,000 to 60,000 words.

Teen/YA: aimed at the 12+ age group, with more adult content, danger and emotional impact

How do they Choose Books?

How does the writer get the editor excited? (Wouldn't we all like to know that!) Sally suggested the following:

  • Great concept
  • Beautiful or unique quality of writing
  • Memorable characters
  • Do we want to read about them again?

Editorial Questions

  • Who is the book for?
  • How can they sell it? For example: author events and promotion
  • Does it fill a gap on their list? They might have a similar one already
  • Is there a hook running through the main plot that could be marketed?
  • Is there series potential? A series with strong themes is good for the 6-9 age group.
  • Children like to read about other children saving the day so limit adult characters
  • Do the characters speak and act like a child of that age?
  • Is the content and language appropriate for the targeted reader?

Subbing to Floris

Sally kindly shared the following tips for submissions:

  • They accept unsolicited manuscripts
  • For the Kelpies range, about half the submissions are unagented and come straight from the author
  • The Kelpies Prize is a good way to get noticed - submissions are open for books targeted at the 8-11 age group and 12-15 age group and you can download the guidelines on the website
  • Read the submission guidelines on their website
  • The Synopsis does not need every detail - sum up the story in a couple of paragraphs and focus on main points
  • Include a letter with author details

All great advice - we just need to write the books now! I actually submitted a picture story recently and had some lovely feedback from the assistant editor. Although she said it was a lovely story with excellent writing, it wasn't quite Scottish enough in a crowded market where they have to be choose carefully.

This particular story is already included in an American anthology of Princess and Dragon books but I'd love it to be published as a stand-alone, and I completely understand that response as it could really be set anywhere, although I have castles and lochs in the story.

One of my writing colleagues, Elizabeth McKay, is the author of the brilliant Wee Granny books and that is exactly the kind of 'Scottishness' they are seeking, for picture books at least.

Good luck if you feel like submitting!