Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Organising Books and Writing

I did mean to update the blog once a week but I'm running to catch up now! At least moving house and area is a good excuse and with the painter starting mid-week, we're having to move things around a bit. Can't wait until life becomes more settled again, although we're definitely enjoying exploring some of the interesting venues around our new area at the weekends.

Most of my books are now happily ensconced on their new bookshelves in my lovely bright study. I've had to hide a lot of my OU study books and information magazines and such like in the cupboard but they are very accessible and that allows me to use the shelves for the books I want to keep near me. I have a lot more books downstairs in an old fashioned bookcase in the lounge and some small hardbacks waiting for their special shelves to be attached to a wall somewhere.

I'm also needing a new computer which hopefully will arrive by next week and then I can get new Office and anti-virus installed. Meanwhile, I decided to organise all my writing. I don't know if anyone else has so much in their files, some of mine going back to when I first started writing and submitting in the early 1990s! Honestly, I get fed up seeing some of the same old 'rubbish' - at least those I've never managed to rewrite or place.

So I've started a new A5 notebook for recording everything and hope to sort the wheat from the chaff and delete anything that is unusable - such as a few files with nothing but random sentences that are definitely not worth keeping. I expect it will help me to feel more in control once it's done, especially before I have to transport everything to the new computer - and to Windows 10 (gulp) instead of Windows 7 that I love at the moment.

But will it help me to actually get on with the writing? Watch this space. I struggle at times with having too many works in progress instead of concentrating on one at a time so perhaps dealing with any finished work first will free my mind for the rest!


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Pleasure of Random Books

I've been a fan of choosing random books by authors new to me ever since reading several great novels from cruise ship libraries - in fact I make a point of avoiding authors I already know while on holiday. However, at home I generally make a more considered choice, either authors I love or new books that appeal in some way.

Then on our latest visits to areas around our new home, I came across two excellent little bookshops that I will certainly revisit occasionally. The first was in historic Queensferry, where we managed to explore more of this interesting place which sits at one end of the Forth Railway Bridge. The bookshop is right at the other end of the narrow, cobbled main street and I vaguely remembered seeing it once before when visiting from a holiday in Fife.

The Ferry Fair Bookshop is one of those fascinating little second hand shops that contains a great selection of fiction and non-fiction, and everything else in print. It's a great idea as it's run as a charity, providing funds for the annual Ferry Fair Festival. Book lovers can leave a donation for any books chosen and can donate their own books to the shop. There is usually an interesting volunteer to chat to while browsing, if nothing appeals that day. I resisted taking any books this time but I'll need to make sure to give away some more of mine before visiting again!

The other, more traditional little bookshop is in Linlithgow, another town rich with history, not least because Mary Queen of Scots was born in Linlithgow Palace. I'll write more about the history another time, when I've had more chance to explore. On this occasion, I was looking out for the bookshop as I knew it had a good reputation. It pulled me right in, especially when I saw it was called Far from the Madding Crowd (a Thomas Hardy book I like), then I noticed it had been awarded the title of best little bookshop in Scotland!

I didn't have enough time to devote to serious browsing on this occasion, and husband would have run out of patience eventually even though he liked it too, but what a great shop. I immediately felt at home and will certainly return. What did catch my eye, however, was something I've never come across before. In front of the desk was a large basket filled with brown paper-wrapped books. Some were hardback, some paperback and the only clue to what lay beneath the brown paper was a hand-written snippet of blurb on the front.

How exciting! All the hardbacks were one price and the paperbacks another, regardless of size. Of course, I had to buy one. I've never been so intrigued at choosing a random book before and it was such fun reading the blurbs. The blurb is usually more important to me anyway so I didn't mind in the least not seeing the cover or author's name. I do agree with the friendly girl at the desk that many people probably choose books by their cover, especially one as pretty as this.

I handed over the very reasonable cost and chose my book, excited to keep the anticipation going until we got home. I was not disappointed. The blurb immediately drew me in and I loved the cover when it was revealed. I haven't heard of the author (Denis Thériault) and the story, The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman, is set in Montreal - unusual, but it happens to be a place we've visited. So this is an experiment I'm keen to repeat sometime. I'm greatly enjoying the story and the little Haiku scattered throughout the pages are an added bonus as it's a poetry form I love.

Only problem now? I definitely have to keep an eye on how many new books I bring into the house, now that most of the boxes I brought with me have been emptied and the contents are on my new bookshelves! I have been warned...


Monday, 22 May 2017

Normal Service Resuming

Well, we're now getting settled into our lovely new home and already enjoying the change. Not only are we getting used to a new house but also a new area and one that has taken me some distance from my beloved River Clyde! However, I'm a positive person and have adapted well to being more central. There is lovely countryside within close distance and lots of new places to explore, as well as being a short stroll away from a very good cycle path for bikes or walking. Might get a bit fitter at last.

The main benefit, of course, is being nearer to our grandchild and her parents - we've already appreciated the joy of that and look forward to seeing more of them, and being of use in their busy lives. Another plus is feeling more connected in every way - near shops and transport, within easy train journey to Edinburgh and only slightly longer to Glasgow. Our internet connection is also super fast compared to what we suffered in our previous small village at the top of a hill!

Needless to say, we've been spending most of our time getting the house organised, but neither of us has slackened with that and it now looks like home. Only some decorating and a few minor things to do and we'll be able to concentrate on work again, or enjoy getting out and about in my case.

At the weekend, we had our first outing from here and called at South Queensferry for a walk only to discover the car parks full since a charity abseiling even was taking place. We've visited here before and can now more easily return on a quieter, sunnier morning. I managed to get a snap of part of the newest road bridge (not quite finished yet) from further along - the one above is the famous Forth Rail Bridge.

We drove on to Hopetoun House - one of the top venues on my list of places to visit. I'll be going back to explore the house and gardens another day but we did have coffee and cake in the converted Stable Tearooms then stopped at their amazing Farm Shop where much of their own produce is on sale. Can't wait to learn all about this magnificent 17th century stately home and I'll no doubt write a proper post about it eventually. Couldn't get a decent photo of the whole house as they were clearing the grounds after a huge outdoor event the evening before.

Surprisingly, I even managed to send off two short stories in the midst of everything and, thanks to husband and son, my new study is up and running with most of the bookcases in place (and their contents). Been feeling a bit guilty about the number of heavy books I brought with me but they've been really good about it!

I hope to get back to blogging at least once a week again from now on and can't wait to get all my writing and ideas organised at last - at least that's the plan. Watch this space...


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Around the West of Scotland

We’ve been enjoying visiting some of our favourite places around parts of the west coast of Scotland before the big move a little further east. Having grown up beside the River Clyde, my heart will always belong to this particular area and we shall certainly return now and then. Some of it will continue to feature in my stories and articles – in fact sometimes a little distance helps to focus on the details lodged in memories and photographs.

I might manage another short post before we lose the Internet while we get connected in our new abode. Fortunately, I have lots of interesting and scenic places lined up to visit in our new area so I'm looking forward to the adventure!


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Scottish-themed Novels with Lizzie Lamb

I’m delighted to welcome popular author, Lizzie Lamb, to the Reading and Writing blog today. Lizzie originally hails from Scotland which is very evident in her entertaining Scottish-themed novels, and I love the humour she brings to each story no matter the stakes for her appealing heroes and heroines. Lizzie tells us a bit more about her settings and inspiration below as she introduces her new novel, Girl in the Castle - available now to pre-order from Amazon worldwide.

Why I write Scottish-themed novels

Thank you for having me on your blog, Rosemary, I hope your followers will enjoy reading my post about why I write Scottish-themed contemporary novels. (It’s a pleasure, Lizzie!)

My interest in kilted heroes began as a child, reared (courtesy of Saturday morning cinema) on the exploits of highlanders in such movies as Rob Roy, Bonnie Prince Charlie, The Ghost Goes West and, sob, Grey Friar’s Bobby. After the movie (or fil-um, as we pronounced it) we’d re-enact Rob Roy’s leap and subsequent escape through the waterfall, or the scene from Kidnapped, where Davie Balfour is almost murdered by his evil uncle. Our dogs were dragooned into being "Bobby", loyally guarding his master's grave in Grey Friar's kirk, Edinburgh. And I longed to be Flora Macdonald, helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape over the sea to Skye and away from the Redcoats. Tales of brave Covenanters and Jacobites stayed with me as I grew older and read Scottish-themed novels: The Jacobite Trilogy by D.K. Broster (falling in love with Ewen Cameron), The Lymond Chronicles (who could resist Francis Crawford?) 

More recently, the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon featuring uber-hero Jamie Fraser has fired my imagination. For me, he is the ultimate kilted hero and has it in spades – looks, sense of honour, loyalty, is sex-on-legs and can speak Gaelic. I’ll even admit to subscribing to Amazon Prime so I could watch the TV Series: OUTLANDER.

Readers, I have discovered, are drawn to the mystical, dreamy highlands of Scotland as the backdrop to contemporary romance. As a writer, born and bred in Scotland, I heartily agree with that sentiment. Tall, Dark and Kilted, features a sexy laird Ruairi (Roo-ary) Urquhart who has to fight to safeguard his land and inheritance. In Scotch on the Rocks, kilt-wearing American, Brodie arrives on Eilean na Sgairbh on the back of a storm wind and turns my heroine's life upside down.

In my latest novel Girl in the Castle the heroine - a disgraced academic - hides away in a castle in the highlands while she sorts out her life. There’s a phantom piper, a lost Jacobite treasure and a love affair to keep my readers interested. Here’s the blurb in the form of a book trailer.

Romance readers simply love a novel which features a man in a kilt. The element of ‘costume’ (ie the kilt), especially in a contemporary setting, removes the hero and the reader from the everyday and transports them into the realm of fantasy and romance. And, in the case of a kilted hero, there is also the tease of whether he’s followed tradition and gone ‘commando’, or not! My novels seem to hold a particular resonance for ex-pat Scots in USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada and sell well in those countries. Born in Scotland, I try to write with complete authenticity about Scotland - the land and its people.

The kilted hero in my novels is, generally, aristocratic – a laird, at the very least. And, while he does not have to work to earn his daily crust, he carries the weight of his inheritance and the welfare of his tenants and family on his shoulders. He often has emotional scars which only the heroine can heal. My novels have a happy ending and readers can close the book with a satisfied sigh knowing that all the obstacles which have prevented the hero and heroine from leading a happy life have been resolved.

I hope you have enjoyed learning a little about what drives me to write Scottish-themed romances. You can learn more about them and me on my website and via my other links. Do get in touch as I love hearing from my readers.

Thanks for a great post, Lizzie!

After teaching her 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, Lizzie decided it was time to leave the chalk face and pursue her first love: writing. In 2006 she joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, honed her craft and wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted (2012), quickly followed a year later by Boot Camp Bride (2013) and Scotch on the Rocks (2015). Girl in the Castle is released this month.

Scotch on the Rocks was a finalist in the prestigious Exeter novel prize. Lizzie is a founder member of the New Romantics Press along with three other members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

If you have a dream - go for it. Life is not a rehearsal.

Find out more about Lizzie and her novels on her Amazon Page, Goodreads and twitter: @lizzie_lamb

Monday, 10 April 2017

Music Nostalgia

One of the great things about clearing out a house is all the items that come to light after being hidden away in an attic too long. I vaguely remembered keeping some of my old vinyl LPs from my teen years but hadn't realised husband and I had three record cases full of them. I even discovered half a dozen singles I didn't know I'd kept!

We've now whittled it down to one case and I've had great fun looking through my collection - they're mostly mine along with several old classical LPs that once belonged to my father-in-law. Rock Around the Clock is husband's and we both bought the Gilbert O'Sullivan after we were married as well as Kate Bush, but The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Mantovani, Zorba the Greek, Strauss, The Nutcracker and The Flower Garden are all mine, amongst others!

These are only a selection of what we've kept and I fully intend buying a retro-style record player at some point so we can listen to them again. Evidently vinyl is becoming ever more popular and I heard a radio programme where they were discussing the better quality of records over CDs. I'm not worried about that as I won't be giving up listening to all my CDs any time soon, but it will be great fun playing these old records again one day. And I'm sure at least one story is percolating in the back of my mind.


Thursday, 30 March 2017

Looking Forward

I'm sure many of my blogging friends will be very glad that spring is now upon us and we can look forward to warmer, lighter days and evenings. Although I'm an autumn/winter person, I'm still happy to see the changes and enjoy the absence of chill for a while. By the time summer arrives, however, and especially if it gets too hot, I'll be looking forward to autumn again!

We have further major change this spring as we are heading off to pastures new in May - still in Scotland but a little more towards the est of the country and that bit nearer to Edinburgh. As you can imagine, we have been clearing out since last year and we're very glad that we started so early since we've been in this house for twenty seven years.

Some of the many boxes!
Needless to say, the majority of packed boxes contain books. I began with those as it was so difficult deciding how many to give away - not as many as husband would have liked in the end. So I've been promised a room as my study in the new house as long as I keep most of the books there. Now why does that sound like a good idea!

I'm hoping to get a newsletter out over the next few days, which will be the last until after the big move. No doubt we'll have fun setting up new Internet and WiFi connections, amongst all the other details that go into changing house and area. Watch this space!


Monday, 20 March 2017

Scottish Association of Writers Conference 2017

I'm just back from another wonderful weekend conference at the excellent Westerwood Hotel north of Glasgow. I've been going to the Scottish Association of Writers conferences for many years and actually won my first competition there way back when. This then led to my first publication in My Weekly since it was their editor at that time who had chosen my story as winner!

with members of my writing group
This year was as enjoyable as ever. Part of the pleasure is meeting up with writing friends from all over Scotland and each year we add new friends to the mix. It is still very competition led which allows members to enter different categories for which they receive a written critique - most valuable when adjudicators have taken time to offer constructive suggestions.

Although I've adjudicated a few times in the past, I was more than happy to relax and enjoy the weekend without entering, or judging, or running a workshop. However, I was even more delighted to support my talented daughter, Victoria, who was a competition judge for the first time. She was also first on after dinner on the Friday evening! She needn't have worried as she was every bit as professional and helpful as anyone else I've ever heard.

Victoria's workshop
Another highlight of the conference is the provision of workshops which run all day Saturday and Sunday morning. There is usually something for everyone and this year I spent Saturday at the following (after the remainder of the adjudications): Learning from Mistakes as Novelists from Michael Malone, The Pot of Gold in Poetry from Alison Craig and Writing Historical Fiction from J David Simons - I picked up a few gems from all three workshops.

On the Sunday morning, it was Victoria's turn and she assured me she didn't mind me attending hers - I couldn't resist the subject: Inspiration Everywhere. And it truly was inspirational as many of the attendees told me afterwards. She's experienced in delivering workshops to secondary pupils but this was her first to adults and I'm certain it won't be her last! We all came away with excellent ideas on how to creatively use what we see and how to build a story.

Of course the weekend is also about the eating and chatting and this year we were honoured to have Helen Lederer as our after-dinner speaker on the Saturday evening. Helen also kindly adjudicated the drama competition and she is as funny, engaging and approachable in real life as she is on screen or in print. Victoria managed to get a photo - it was Helen who suggested a selfie together!

It's back to reality today but I'll take a few days to absorb all I learned and enjoyed, as well as follow up any opportunities that were shared amongst us. Roll on next year!


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Historical Romance and Crime with Bill Kirton

A very warm welcome to an interesting and hugely talented writer, Bill Kirton, who is based in the north of Scotland. It is many years since Bill was featured on the Reading and Writing blog so I am very pleased that his new novel, The Likeness, is now available. I’ve read the prequel, The Figurehead, and look forward to catching up on Helen and John’s story some years later. I love the blending of crime and romance set in Victorian Aberdeen. Here’s a little about the story.

The Likeness

Aberdeen, 1841. Woodcarver John Grant has an unusual new commission - creating a figurehead to feature onstage in the melodramas of a newly-arrived theatre group. Simultaneously, he’s also trying to unravel the mystery of the death of a young woman, whose body has been found in the filth behind the harbour’s fish sheds.

His loving relationship with Helen Anderson, which began in The Figurehead, has grown stronger but, despite the fact that they both want to be together, she rejects the restrictions of conventional marriage, in which the woman is effectively the property of the husband.

As John works on the figurehead, Helen persuades her father, a rich merchant, to let her get involved in his business, allowing her to challenge yet more conventions of a male-dominated society.

The story weaves parallels between the stage fictions, Helen’s business dealings, a sea voyage, stage rehearsals, and John’s investigations. In the end, the mystery death and the romantic dilemma are both resolved, but in unexpected ways.

The Likeness is available on all Amazon sites - the link will take you to your own country.

Thanks for sharing some of the background to your latest novel, Bill!

I’ve been writing for decades and yet I keep learning new things about how to do it. That was brought home to me by my latest novel, The Likeness, which was published last October, It’s the sequel to The Figurehead and I only wrote it because a few readers said they wanted to know how the central relationship between wood carver John Grant and Helen Anderson, the daughter of a successful ship owner, developed. So, despite the fact that I’m labelled ‘crime writer’, the impulse for starting The Likeness was largely concerned with romance.

To my puzzlement, it took four years to write (which is three years longer than any of my previous novels). Then there was the fact that I only got the ending right after six attempts at it. Why? Probably because of Helen, who wasn’t just the central female character, but the central character, full stop. The crime element is still there because there’s still a mystery death to be explained but, alongside that, the story of Helen’s first steps in becoming part of her father’s business took me to some interesting, and highly enjoyable situations.

The book is set in Aberdeen in 1841, a time, of course, when women of a certain social status took piano lessons, sewed samplers, deferred to their men, ran households and were comprehensively trapped in roles which many, probably most, found oppressive. Despite the fact that Mary Wollstonecraft had written A Vindication of the Rights of Women some 50 years earlier, men were still writing books with titles such as Advice to Young Ladies on the Improvement of the Mind and Conduct of Life. Helen not only operates in such a context, she aspires to equality in her commercial dealings with her father’s associates. All of which I loved writing about, getting much enjoyment from her easy, witty successes over one in particular.

But then, having described how John solved the  mystery of the dead woman discovered at the beginning of the book, I was left with the job of resolving how John and Helen’s love could be developed, realised, consummated, or whatever the appropriate verb is. And the repeated attempts at that resolution came about because Helen was as clever and stubborn with me as she had been in her business meetings. I tried various compromises but knew they weren’t acceptable to her. I found myself putting words in her mouth which she just wouldn’t say.

So, gradually, the ending evolved and reached a point at which I, Helen and, fortunately, all the other characters were in agreement. However, I may not yet be free of her charisma and energy because the first Amazon reviewer wrote, ‘the ending is one that intrigues the reader about what will happen next – I do hope this is not the last time we’ll meet these powerful characters’.

Another four year haul ahead?

You can find out more about Bill’s books on his website.  

Bill Kirton was a university lecturer in French before taking early retirement to become a full-time writer. He's won two 2011 Forward National Literature Awards: The Sparrow Conundrum was the overall winner of the Humour category and The Darkness was runner up in the Mystery category. His historical mystery, The Figurehead, was long-listed for the 2012 Rubery Book Awards.

Most of his novels are set in the north east of Scotland. Material Evidence, Rough Justice, the award-winning The Darkness, Shadow Selves and Unsafe Acts all feature DCI Jack Carston. The Figurehead is a historical novel set in Aberdeen in 1840. The Sparrow Conundrum, is a spoof spy/crime novel also set in Scotland. His comic fantasy novella, Alternative Dimension satirises online role-playing games.

His short stories have appeared in the Crime Writers' Association annual anthology in 1999, 2005 and 2006. In 2010, one was also chosen for the 'Best British Crime Stories, Vol. 7' anthology edited by Maxim Jacubowski. His non-fiction output includes Brilliant Study Skills, Brilliant Essay, Brilliant Dissertation, Brilliant Workplace Skills and Brilliant Academic Writing. He also co-wrote 'Just Write' with Kathleen McMillan.

Bill also writes books for children. Rory the Dragon and Princess Daisy was published as a tribute to his great niece, Daisy Warn, who lived for just 16 weeks. Proceeds from its sales go to a children's hospice in South-West England. The Loch Ewe Mystery is a stand-alone novel for children aged 7-12 and he's been writing a series about a grumpy male fairy called Stanley who lives under a cold, dripping tap in his bedroom.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Blog Visit

I’m delighted to be a guest on Lizzie Lamb’s lovely Scottish blog over the next few days. Lizzie writes wonderfully humorous novels, mostly set in Scotland with interesting heroines and very appealing heroes. Look out for her being my guest sometime in April

My post is about the west of Scotland setting in my two Scottish novels, The Highland Lass and Return to Kilcraig. Please come and say hello if you have time!