Monday, 20 February 2017

Easy Design Options

I love playing around with photography and design but still hope to do a proper course at some point, if possible. However, I thought I’d highlight two of the design programmes I presently use most often, as neither is particularly difficult if you give them a go and both can enhance possibilities for indie authors.


I mainly use Canva for creating lots of small social media posts. Pictures and photos always attract more attention on Facebook and Twitter, while Instagram is all about the visual. Here's one I use on twitter - if I remake this one I would probably enlarge the text a little.

All you need to get started is to sign up on the Canva page and remember your password for repeat visits. Here you’ll find all kinds of design possibilities, from FB author page headers, to twitter visual posts, to even designing your own e-book cover.

I sometimes take part in the RNA twitter tweets day on a Tuesday and it certainly helps a promotion post to stand out if you make a nice little visual caption. You can upload your own photos, book covers and so on to use, or you can use their own backgrounds and elements, many of which are free. Others cost only a dollar or so to use but I haven’t needed that option yet.


Picmonkey is my favourite programme for creating book covers so far. To get started, again you need only sign up and away you go. This is more like a photo editing programme, so you would upload your own photo or image then crop, change and enhance it to use as a book cover. This is one I made, as are my short story collection covers and a few others.

Picmonkey has lots of good fonts, effects and special elements. The basic tools are free to use and you then download your completed masterpiece to your computer. There is also a paid Royal option which gives you more tools – I still use the basic so far and have found it quite adequate.

Although I’ve used both these programmes a lot, I’m still learning as I go so it’s another great way of procrastinating while picking up new ways of creating covers and promoting social media posts!

Hope you enjoy trying them out.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Changing Genre with Myra Duffy

I’m delighted to welcome fellow Scottish author, Myra Duffy, to the Reading and Writing blog today. I’m already a fan of Myra’s Isle of Bute series of cosy crime novels featuring Alison Cameron, and I love this new departure into romance with a touch of suspense. The horse livery story line, Scottish setting and enigmatic Russian hero make Love is Another Country a very enjoyable read!

Welcome, Myra, and thank you for sharing your inspiration and background to changing genres. First a little about the book.

Love is Another Country

Isla Scott is devastated to learn that her beloved Kilrossie livery stables will have to be sold to pay family debts, leaving her with the problem of finding somewhere to live and to stable her horse, Destiny. Help arrives in the person of Andrei Petrov, an enigmatic Russian, but Isla is suspicious of his motives for wanting to buy the property.

When Andrei offers her accommodation at the Lodge House and a job looking after the livery, Isla reluctantly accepts. But is her decision to stay on at Kilrossie because of Destiny, or is there another reason? And how exactly has Andrei made his money, what is his true relationship with the glamorous Marta and why is he so interested in helping Isla, when the sale of Kilrossie should be no more than a business transaction?

Love is Another Country is now available on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Changing Genres

Although I’m probably best known for my series of cosy crime novels set on the Isle of Bute, I have written short stories in a number of different genres, including romance and even science fiction.

I like to challenge myself when writing and like many authors, I’ve a number of novels started, but not yet finished. I decided that I wanted to publish Love is Another Country as a way of moving some of the characters out of my head! This novel was well received in the category of Romantic Novels at the Scottish Association of Writers conference a couple of years ago and it seemed the natural place to start.

I really enjoyed writing the story of Isla Scott’s attempts to keep the family livery stables as a going concern and the hero, Andrei Petrov, provided a bit of a challenge. Of course one of the main characters is Destiny, Isla’s horse. If she loses Kilrossie, will she have to sell Destiny?
Inspiration for the story

Although I don’t ride, my daughter has long had a love of horses and I spent a lot of time when she was younger taking her to the stables where her horse was kept, not to mention driving all over the country to equestrian competitions and helping to look after it. I well remember winter evenings roaming over pitch dark fields with a torch trying to call her horse in. Fortunately my daughter can now drive herself!

As I learned more about them, I grew to realise what interesting animals horses are and the fictional Kilrossie, where my heroine Isla Scott lives, seemed a natural setting for my story. Her horse, Destiny, is an amalgam of various horses I’ve met over the years.

As for my hero, Andrei Petrov, I’m not sure where he came from – nor why he’s Russian. But that’s the way a writer’s imagination works sometimes, I guess!

And a very good hero he is, Myra!

You can connect with Myra on her website, Facebook and twitter: @duffy_myra 
About the Author
Myra Duffy writes both fiction and non-fiction: her first success was winning a national writing competition at the age of thirteen.
Her non-fiction (a series of fifteen Management and Training books) was very successful, but in recent years she has returned to her main interest of writing fiction and has had short stories featured in a variety of magazines and journals.

She is best known for her Isle of Bute cosy crime novels. Her latest, Bad Blood at Rothesay Castle, was published in November 2016.

Myra says, “Love is Another Country is my first romantic novel. There are no dead bodies in this story, but there is some suspense and I enjoyed the challenge of writing in a different genre.”

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Language of Roses

Flowers often have different meanings and in Victorian times, when young ladies were seldom alone with a suitor, the language of flowers became a secret form of communication between them. Here are some general meanings associated with different colours of roses.

Red Rose

This was the sacred flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and has been a symbol of love and beauty from ancient times to the present day. Nothing epitomizes romantic love as much as a dozen red roses on St Valentine’s Day. Robert Burns’ famous song, My Love is like a Red, Red Rose is famous throughout the world for its romantic sentiments of constant love.

In some countries, the red rose means marriage while in Christianity, it is sometimes symbolic of Christ’s shed blood. The red rose represented the House of Lancaster in the English Wars of the Roses from 1455-1485.

White Rose

Regarded as a symbol of purity and secrecy, the white rose represents water and is the flower of moonlight. In parts of Scotland, a white rose blooming in autumn was thought to herald an early death. A white rose bud often symbolised a girl too young to love. The white rose represented the House of York in the Wars of the Roses.

In Saxon times, red and white petals were showered on newlyweds to represent their union of passion (red roses) and purity (white roses).

Yellow Rose 

The yellow rose is mostly associated with jealousy and infidelity. Today, it is also sometimes regarded as a symbol of joy and friendship.

Pink Rose 

The pink rose often represents innocent love and happiness. Less intense than the red rose, it can be a symbol of poetic love and admiration. Often among the most fragrant of roses, they are sometimes given as a token of thanks.

Tudor Rose 

With its red outer and white inner petals, the Tudor rose symbolizes unity, from the union of the two royal houses of York and Lancaster. It was adopted by Henry Tudor as his standard when he married Elizabeth of York in 1485.

The rose is still the emblem of England and few gardens are complete without its fragrant beauty in one form or another, from old-fashioned, perfumed damask roses to the smallest patio rosebud. The rose can even continue to give pleasure when it has died through the use of its dried petals and buds in fragrant pot-pourri. Definitely one of my favourite flowers!


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Roses: Myths and Legends

As we head towards the romance of Valentine’s Day, I thought it might be fun to look at some of the legends and meanings attached to roses and I’ve adapted this article I wrote several years ago. Of all flowers, the rose is perhaps the most symbolic, often representing purity, perfection, love, marriage or death. Its essence has been well used in love potions, perfumes and cosmetics.

According to a charming medieval legend, the first roses made a miraculous appearance in order to save a ‘fayre maiden’ who had been sentenced to death by burning. Falsely accused, she prayed for deliverance and the fire subsequently went out. The logs which were already burning became red roses and the unlit logs became white roses.

In Christianity, the rose is the symbol of the Virgin Mary and is also often attributed to various saints, such as St Dorothea, who carries a basket of roses. The rosary, used in Catholicism, was once made from wild rose hips strung together.

Other myths attached to roses
  • In past times, ladies often used rose petals to make a face pack to help get rid of wrinkles 
  • It was thought that rose petals in wine avoided drunkenness
  • It was good luck to throw rose leaves over a grave
  • In Roman times, rose petals were valuable currency

Sub Rosa

Sometimes an emblem of silence, sub rosa (under the rose) means keeping a secret. It was believed that Cupid gave Harpocrates, the god of silence, a rose to bribe him not betray the many amorous encounters of Venus. The rose thus became the emblem of silence and was eventually sculpted on the ceilings of banquet rooms, still seen today. At the dinner table, all confidences spoken under this were held sacred. In the 16th century, the rose was also placed over confessionals to signify absolute confidentiality.

Rose Windows

The famous stained glass rose windows depicted on many cathedrals and churches originated mainly in 13th century France and are often a symbol of eternity. Their perfect geometry was regarded as being similar to the eastern mandala, a meditative symbol signifying the paths to enlightenment and the human desire for wholeness.

In another post, I’ll look at the meaning of the different roses according to their colour!


Monday, 23 January 2017

Notebooks, Newsletter and Robert Burns

I saw a strange idea on a little video on FB the other day about a new type of notebook that seemingly can be re-used by putting the notebook in the microwave to erase the words. If you’re anything like me and all other writers I know, that is NOT a good idea!

I love my notebooks. Even when I have too many, it’s reassuring to know they’re ready and waiting in my drawer when I find the right use for each one. All those blank pages and beautiful covers – lovely to look at but practical too. So, no, I don’t know any writer who will be rushing to try a reusable one!

Before January is over (gulp!), I’ve sent out my latest newsletter. As always, if you wish to receive a copy, you can pop your email address in the box on the right hand side of the blog. There’s the chance for subscribers to win a copy of a wee book of Robert Burns poems to mark Burns Night on January 25th.

I’ve written a few articles about Burns over the past few years that were published in the American magazine The Highlander and a long-time fascination was with Highland Mary, one of the many females associated with him - and he had many! But several of his poems were dedicated to Mary Campbell, seemingly with a sense of remorse at how things ended.

That was the main reason I wrote The Highland Lass, so I could tell their story from 1785-6 in Mary’s fictionalised voice. She is buried in the cemetery of my hometown and I had passed her grave since childhood. Obviously, she got under my skin until the day I finally wrote her story!

However, the contemporary part of the novel is as much homage to Inverclyde with its beautiful scenery beside the river. And of course their story takes my modern couple on a journey of their own to other parts of the west coast. This was truly the book of my heart.

Happy Burns Night on Wednesday!


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Alphonse Mucha Exhibition

Last weekend, I finally got to the Alphonse Mucha Exhibition, ‘In Quest of Beauty’, at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. I’d almost forgotten about it and it ends mid-February. As many of you will know, I love art as well as music and literature, and it often inspires my writing, plus I’m always happy to visit one of my favourite venues in Glasgow.

Czech-born Mucha became famous in the latter part of the 19th century when he began designing advertising posters for the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. The exhibition has a wonderful selection of Mucha’s art which inspired the beautiful Art Nouveau style of images and design.

After returning to Bohemia in 1910, he started creating his many paintings that made up his Slav Epic, some of which are on show. I was surprised to discover, however, that his work was hidden away during WWII and Mucha was largely forgotten until rediscovered in the early 1960s.

As well as the art work hanging on the various walls, a few glass fronted cabinets contained other items from the period, such as original perfume phials and a Houbigant perfume bottle from 1899. I was fascinated by this as I remember loving Houbigant Quelques Fleurs many, many moons ago, although I don’t remember the actual scent now!

Another cabinet held an original copy of Mucha’s Documents Décoratifs portfolio from 1902 which contains 72 plates of his decorative art, showcasing his varied design work. But it is his tall Art Nouveau images of beautiful women that draw the eye, such these four paintings that each depict a different flower: Rose, Iris, Carnation and Lily. They were seemingly inspired by the popular Victorian book, The Language of Flowers.

There was even a little fun boudoir-style area where visitors could don some of the clothes and jewellery and recline on the sofa. I thought it perhaps resembled the kind of dressing space Sarah Bernhardt once enjoyed. Unfortunately, my husband had gone off for a wander outside so I would have felt mighty silly dressing up with no one to photograph or laugh at me. Shame as I love dressing up when I get the chance!

All in all, it was a lovely start to our 2017 weekend outings as husband then took me into Glasgow for a delicious Chinese meal at one of our favourite restaurants. Hope the year continues as it began!


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Motivation for 2017

I can’t believe we’re already a week into the New Year and I suspect the rest of 2017 will fly by as quickly. So all the more reason to get organised and decide what takes priority work-wise over the next few months. I’m still trying to decide on my plan of action in readiness for tomorrow's writing session, but first I think we all probably need a little motivation to get started and keep going.

Amongst the various newsletters and videos I watch now and then, a few usually stand out and offer such wisdom and motivation that they are worth sharing. Here a few of my recent favourites.

Laura Vanderkam: Find the Time for What Matters - absolutely worth watching for an excellent approach to using our time wisely.

Joanna Penn: Planning for 2017 - my favourite writing guru and this Pdf contains very helpful advice.

Writers Helping Writers:  a fantastic blog with endless resources for all aspects of writing.

All the very best for all you hope to achieve this year!


Saturday, 7 January 2017

Happy New Year

Just a quick post to change it for the New Year while tweaking the blog a little before writing my first proper post of 2017!

Wishing you all a productive and successful year ahead.


Saturday, 31 December 2016

Happy Hogmanay and a Guid New Year

Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. I had a great time with family and I’m now over-stocked up with chocolate, amongst other welcome goodies.


Today is our traditional Scottish Hogmanay and although I've probably written about this before, some may not have read it! These days we enjoy the main part of the evening with a final meal of the year at the cosy village restaurant before ‘bringing in the bells’ at home. 

At one time, however, this was an even bigger annual holiday up here and the 2nd of January is still a day off for most Scots. When I was a child, each housewife, including my mother, cleaned her home from top to bottom, curtains were changed, everyone in the family had a bath and hair wash (if they hadn't already) and the ashes from the open fire were taken out, ensuring we met the New Year as clean as possible. I’m afraid I didn’t follow that housewifely tradition for long, apart from the shower and hair wash!

Living beside the River Clyde, we used to open the back doors at midnight to hear any ships on the river toot their horn to welcome the New Year. One tradition that still thrives in some places is the dancing. Many halls up and down the country host a ceilidh for Scottish country dancing. The best have a live group with fiddles and accordion – the most toe-tapping sound you’re likely to hear all year!

We usually watch the late evening entertainment on TV brought from Glasgow or Edinburgh, with singing and Scottish dancing and the huge fireworks display at Edinburgh. As twelve o’clock approaches, the ‘bells’ are counted down until the stroke of midnight when we wish each other Happy New Year with a handshake, a kiss, and a toast. And of course Auld Lang Syne is sung all over the world at this time .

Another old tradition must be observed if possible. Each home should have a ‘first footer’ – a tall, dark and handsome man as the first person to enter a house any time after midnight on Hogmanay. He should bring a lump of coal for luck (not so common now!) and some shortbread or cake. Anyone visiting homes over the New Year period will always take something for the host. And of course, it wouldn’t be Hogmanay without the ‘wee dram’ of whisky to toast the New Year.

Wishing you a Happy, Healthy and Successful 2017!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Crooked Cat 3 Day Sale!

Crooked Cat Books are having their special 3-day Not Christmas Sale of all books at 99p (99c) on Amazon from 28-30th December. A great variety of genres and themes, and it includes my dual-timeline novel, The Highland Lass.

Grab them while you can and fill up any new e-readers!