Monday, 24 October 2016

Editing and Dining

This is turning out to be a busy couple of weeks, but for good reasons! I'm now going through the final edits and polishing of my new Scottish novel, Return to Kilcraig, which will be published in early November. I'm hoping to have a Facebook launch party on Friday, November 4th, but will confirm it nearer the time as no doubt the party will also take place on here, for those not on FB.

Look out for more details and the novel's cover in the next newsletter, as well as other news items. If anyone wants to subscribe to my newsletters and be in with a chance of winning any of the occasional competitions and giveaways, please pop your email address into the box on the right of this blog.

This is also my birthday week and my good friend, Catriona, has already taken me out for a lovely lunch at Bath Street Arches in Gourock, a small bistro offering a healthy and delicious menu. What an original taste experience it turned out to be, with a variety of small dishes in unusual combinations, all beautifully cooked and presented.

BBQ Pork, cucumber cannelloni and Pomegranate salsa
We both had different choices which allowed me to photograph some of the meals. I really enjoyed this way of dining - not quite tapas-size but small portions from a varied menu. It also left room for dessert: pear and ginger crumble for me (healthy with just a smattering of crumble and loads of fruit and ginger!) and mini pavlova with lime curd and fresh fruit for Catriona.

Hot smoked salmon and pickle
Mini pavlova
And here's the lovely box of peppermint creams my talented friend made for me - half dipped in milk or plain chocolate!

I have a few more treats lined up this week, not all involving food! At the weekend, I'm looking forward to an evening out with the family at a huge fireworks display set to classical music at a large country estate. If we're not rained out, I'll let you know all about it afterwards!


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

ALLi Indie Author Fringe

ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors, is running a new online conference on Saturday 22nd October. Although it's to coincide with the Frankfurt Book Festival this time, you can start listening from 9am our time. Over twenty four hours, you will find a wealth of speakers, information and advice roughly every hour.

Once you register, you can then get access to everything when it suits you - after the sessions have taken place, if you can't listen at the time. The last one was excellent, with lots of great advice for any author whether self-publishing or not.

You can find out more about it and register here before Saturday. Look out for it being mentioned on twitter and FB.


Monday, 10 October 2016

From Perth to Fife

I'm just back from a lovely couple of days break which started with a speaking engagement at the Perthshire Writers 40th anniversary of their writing group - a great achievement! I was leading a workshop in the afternoon, and husband and I drove up to Perth in time for me to join them for a buffet lunch while he wandered into the pleasant little town. We couldn't have asked for a better few days for driving north (and later east) in Scotland, with the sun shining and the scenery as beautiful as ever.

On the road to Perth, near Dunblane
I've adjudicated a story competition for the group on a previous visit and it was great to be with such a lovely, enthusiastic group of creative writers, some of whom have seen great success with short stories, articles, poetry and memoir. It was such an honour and pleasure to be invited to their celebrations and a great excuse to revisit the north!

Keavil House
Afterwards, we headed east to a favourite hotel in Fife where I enjoyed a couple of nights being wind and dined. We've been to Keavil House near Dunfermline many times over many years (for short stays now and then) and never tire of being in such a wonderful building full of history. It has a brilliant leisure pool and is one the most relaxing 'retreats' without being in the middle of nowhere, A five minute drive takes us to the lovely Pittencrieff Park where we can park the car at the entrance and have a good walk through it straight into Dunfermline's historic town.

Dunfermline Abbey
The added pleasure this time was meeting up with wee granddaughter and her parents on Sunday morning as they can drive across the Forth Road Bridge and be in Fife in about half an hour. Great fun feeding the squirrels and exploring the nooks and crannies of the park. On the eventual walk up to the town, the first sight is the stunning Abbey, burial place of Robert the Bruce and others. Beside it is the remains of the monastery and the palace. My favourite medieval Abbot's House is currently changing hands and I can't wait for it to reopen soon.

Aberdour Harbour
Silver Sands
In the afternoon, husband and I drove up the Fife coast to the beautiful little village of Aberdour where a walk in one direction took us towards the harbour, while a walk on the other side of the cliffs took us to the award winning Silver Sands. What a bonus when the sun came out and we sat and had a coffee without wearing jackets.

It might only have been a couple of nights away but we certainly made the most of the break and hopefully can now return to work fully charged!

Hope you all had a good weekend,

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Author Inspiration: Anne Stenhouse

It's a while since I've had a guest here so I’m very pleased to welcome fellow Scottish writer, Anne Stenhouse, to the Reading and Writing blog today. I’ve enjoyed Anne’s three previous historical novels and look forward to this latest one which is on my (long) TBR list.

Courting the Countess

Lady Melissa Pateley is not having an easy time of it in 1819.

Her beloved husband Neville has died, and a fire at her London home has left her covered in scars. If it wasn’t for a band of loyal servants, she’s not sure how she would survive.

Things take a turn for the worse when one day, Colonel Harry Gunn and his fellow soldier Zed break into her home, bundle her into a coach and kidnap her. She is at a loss until she learns that Harry Gunn is the cousin of George Gunn, a man who has been stalking her for years, and that Harry’s Uncle John had warned him that as long as George is out there, Melissa is not safe. Uncle John insists that Harry finds Melissa and keeps her safe.

But that very night George shows up at Harry’s home with Harry’s sister Lottie, who thinks Melissa and George would make a good match. Perhaps Melissa would have been safer at home after all. Yet even with her scars, she is certain that the handsome Colonel Gunn is attracted to her. But of course, nothing is ever simple.

Startling revelations rip the family apart, causing everyone to question what they once held dear. As Colonel Gunn goes in search of George and the truth, he has to wonder – had the keeping of secrets not marred more lives than the secrets would have destroyed?

Courting the Countess is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Inspiration behind the story

Courting the Countess arose out of a competition entry. I’m a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and attend their annual conferences. Attendees are invited to enter a competition named in honour of the late Elizabeth Goudge – I feel sure a lot of your readers will remember the name well. 

When Christina Courtenay was Chair she invited the first 2,000 words of a story which gave a new slant on a fairy tale. I puzzled because of course some, like the Cinderella rags to riches trope, are very much used and I wanted to get away from the much used. I chose Beauty and the Beast – but have reversed the roles. The Countess is badly scarred by fire and the hero, Colonel Harry Gunn, is Greek God gorgeous, unscathed physically by war service. I threw an unwitting villain and a real villain into the mix.

I think it’s a darker book than my earlier ones, but some readers have enjoyed that divergence.

It sounds great, Anne – I really like that idea of reversing the original fairy tale roles and I enjoy books set in this period.

About Anne

I love writing dialogue-rich historical romance with lashings of humour and a swirl of thematic mystery. 

Never short of a word myself, my heroines defy and manipulate the conventions of their time with sparkling wit. Heroes with a touch of arrogance must be ripe for comeuppance and that's what my ladies are about.

Edinburgh provides a glorious Georgian and Regency setting for Bella (in Bella’s Betrothal) and London for Mariah (in Mariah’s Marriage). I'm lucky to live in one and regularly visit the other.

You can find out more about Anne and her other books on Facebook and on her blog at Novels Now

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Ekphrastic Writing Challenge

As most of you know, I love taking my own photos, especially for illustrating the blog or on other social media - safer too as there's no copyright issue. My writing is often inspired by the art and photographs I view in galleries and it seems there is quite a long tradition of one inspiring the other.

Front of Kelvingrove
The best example in my own case was a challenge our writing group was set many years ago on a visit to the wonderful Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, which I've no doubt mentioned before. The lovely lady and member of our writing group who led the session passed away a few years ago but we've never forgotten this challenge.

We were all given a piece of paper on which was written a single sentence suggesting the kind of inspiration we should seek from any of the paintings. Mine was to find a villain. In the end, I chose a wonderful portrait of a woman who became my villainous female main character in a short story The Artist's Wife. While waiting for everyone to choose, I sat down on  nearby chair with my pen and notebook and the words started flowing. The story eventually went on to be the winner of a national competition.

It's not the only time art has inspired one of my stories, articles or poems and it won't be the last, but this was the most meaningful and I'll always be grateful for such an inspiring day.

So here is an online publisher, Rattle, that offers an Ekphrastic Challenge each month for poetry, if anyone wants to have a go - you even have the chance of winning a small monetary prize! Some photos and illustrations will be more inspiring than others but even if you don't write poetry, it might suggest the start of a story for your own use.

Good luck and let me know if art or photography inspires your own writing.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Bargain Books and Newsletter

My latest newsletter should be winging its way to lovely subscribers later today - I'm trying to keep them to every quarter or at least no more than every two months! As always, they contain links to a couple of writing opportunities and one to an excellent mindful creative tool I may have mentioned long ago.

For anyone looking to stock up on e-books for the autumn, one of my publishers, Crooked Cat, is having a 3-day sale on a great selection of their books from 21st to 23rd September inclusive. This includes my Scottish novel, The Highland Lass.

I'm also having an Amazon Countdown Sale on all three of my short story collections which are 99p (99c) each from 20th to 25th September! You can find them here.

If anyone is ever looking for other books to read, you'll find a huge selection by authors in the Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA) mentioned every Tuesday on twitter under #tuesnews @RNAtweets and occasionally one or two are free for a limited time.

Happy autumn reading!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Autumn - Time to Get Organised

It's the time of year I most look forward to - the arrival of autumn. When lots of people (including husband) bemoan the darker mornings and evenings, I'm rejoicing! For some reason, summer leaves me lethargic and uninspired while the fresher days bring me more alive and energised again. I apologise to those who prefer summer but I was most disappointed to find the weather heating up again and thankfully there is a breeze today along with the sun so we had a lovely walk along by the shore this morning. I don't even mind the darker evenings, then I don't feel guilty about being inside.

It's also the time I start getting more organised - sorting out writing projects, clearing drawers and hopefully actually getting on with the current work instead of playing around at writing. This year, I'm going back to printing out interesting submission opportunities as I always forget to look at them when in a file on the computer. I'll leave them there too so they're handy to submit online, but I've discovered I prefer to have a folder containing printed details which I can keep on the desk or in a drawer or can take to any room while thinking up ideas.

I even love putting any summery clothes away and sorting out the autumn/winter weight items ready for use again. The boots are out of their storage boxes and handy for when needed and I've started identifying any gaps amongst my warmer clothes. This isn't as daft as it sounds since I've a terrible tendency to be tempted by sales and end up with things I don't need or that don't go with anything. I did say how much I enjoy organising at this time of year!

Next on the list is my newsletter which I hope to get written and sent out this week. I'm also starting to prepare for a talk I'm doing at a writing event in early October so you can see why I'm suddenly firing on all cylinders. Long may it continue!

Please tell me if you're an autumn person and why.


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Meeting Blogging Friends

The online writing community is generally very friendly on social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter, with many of us interacting over several years. But there is something special about meeting up in real life, especially when you feel you already know the person to some degree through blog posts and such like.

Patsy with a copy of The Highland Lass!
Today, I was delighted to meet up with the lovely Patsy Collins for the first time (and her lovely husband Gary) who are touring around parts of Scotland, including my own area. We recognised each other right away from the photos on our blogs and were soon chatting over coffee like old friends, which in a way we are even if it's only been in cyberspace until now.

Patsy and me
It really emphasises how connected our world is these days and how valuable it is to have so many writing colleagues online who quickly become friends. Of course we all start off with something in common through our shared love of our craft, but I generally find that the people I like in the virtual world turn out to be the kind of friends I would happily meet up with in real life too.

The same happened at the RNA Conference in London last year when I met another blogging friend, Wendy Clarke, for the first time. We already 'knew' each other well enough from social media to make our first real meeting a pleasure.

So thanks for taking time to get together today, Patsy, and I look forward to your next visit to Scotland!


Saturday, 20 August 2016

Society of Authors

I've had a busy week again, including a lovely trip to Edinburgh to attend the Society of Authors in Scotland annual AGM and lunch. It's a great way to catch up with what is going on in the society and to chat to old and new writing friends. I was delighted to hear that there's going to be a weekend conference in Scotland next year and I'll be signing up for that!

If anyone is thinking of joining the SoA, I'd recommend that you check out the requirements as you don't have to be a novelist to be a member. I joined it a couple of years before my first book was published because I had a good enough number of published short stories and articles. I'll mention the annual membership fee here as it has now gone up to just over £100 (I think that's right) and I do often resent paying it! However, members have to earn their place in the society so I believe it does allow us to be a part of a huge professional body of writers.

For your fee, you get a quarterly magazine and access to all the society's guides and offers, as well as constant help about contracts and such matters if needed. Only the other day, I wanted to know how we safeguard royalties in a will and discovered there is a guide on this, and just about everything else! One email later, I downloaded the free (to members) guide. It's worth having a look at the Society of Authors site to see what they offer.


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

How Do You Write?

It's a while since I posted here but there seems to have been lots of different things going on, not least writing whenever I can. But life has also intruded, as it does, and I'm looking forward to a wedding on Friday but then have the sadness of the funeral of a long-time member of our writing group on Monday. On Tuesday, I'll be off to Edinburgh to the Society of Authors in Scotland AGM and lunch which is always a pleasure, not least because I'll be meeting up with some of my writing friends.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Anyway, the heading of this post is How Do You Write? I've no doubt mentioned this before (and was even interviewed on the Tiger Pen site about this topic) but it struck me again this morning how many words I get written when sitting in my favourite Costa writing with pen and paper while enjoying my coffee and cake. The photo below is when we were in Stockholm! When I mentioned it on Facebook a short while ago, a few people commented right away so I thought it would be interesting to know how my fellow bloggers and authors write. Do you hand write first and do the words flow better that way?

Last week, on the way to the mall, I had the sudden idea for a new short story, complete with title. By the time I'd finished my coffee, most of the story was written and the words just flowed. Granted, it might have been that particular idea but it has happened before. I've always written more on trains and in cafes but I think it's got to the stage when I might be better writing every first draft that way, then doing the first redraft while typing it up. It's the way I usually write poetry.

It will be interesting to experiment a bit more. Now that I have two short stories away and completed the redraft of the new novel, I have a middle grade book to finish then a couple of novellas waiting. Maybe it will even stop me procrastinating so much, if I can take my notebook and pen everywhere instead of sitting at the computer waiting for inspiration! I'll let you know how it works out. And please let me know what works best for you.