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International Literacy Day

On Friday I drove to Motherwell to perform a session at Braidhurst High School to kick off their Literacy Week. This was arranged by Kirsten Scott, the school librarian who works hard to give students a safe haven & the encouragement to read, which seemed to be working as pupils dropped by all lunchtime to borrow books. Some schools just give you a good vibe, and this was one of them. The audience who came in to see me were absolutely delightful, and made me feel very at home. I felt very relaxed. Told them about my problems with the SatNav & asked whether they have the same problem processing road sign information when driving on the motorway! They’re in Third Year! But they kind of knew what I meant. The Head of Languages said I should try comedy… As I drove away past the bleak streets of Motherwell, I found myself hoping that these students will have the same chances, same opportunities as those in other areas. They definitely deserve to.

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A little bit of this…

This summer I have been doing quite a bit of this…

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while admiring this…

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a bit of this…

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while listening to this…

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plenty of eavesdropping in places like…

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a little of this…

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and this…

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which was all inspiration for this…

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and this…

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When it rained I was very happy to do this…

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When the sun shone I did more of this…

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Took the mickey out of…

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at…

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but underneath it all, I was ever aware of this …

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which lead me to feel…

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and continued to write 30,000 words of another

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but this time it will be about …

a different person altogether…

 

 

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Call to all colleges and schools of Higher Education

I’m offering two workshop sessions to schools and colleges inspired by my latest novel FOR MY SINS, a historical novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, sitting in her prison cell at the end of her life, a prisoner to Queen Elizabeth, stitching her tapestries while being haunted by the ghosts of her past. It’s receiving 5 star reviews and has been quoted as “a masterclass in historical fiction.”

The first workshop – TENSIONS IN SCOTTISH HISTORY – will be a talk on Mary, Queen of Scots, and this period of Scottish History (1542-1587), the conflicts and tensions, together with a Q&A session. This is suitable for History students at Higher, Advanced Higher, and University level to help with engagement of the subject and bringing the topic to life in a memorable way.

The second workshop HOW TO WRITE A HISTORICAL NOVEL is suitable for Higher, Advanced Higher, and undergraduates and graduates of English and Creative Writing, and will explore the pleasures and pitfalls of writing historical fiction, offering 5 inspirational ways to make it work for you.

As well as being a writer I am also an experienced English teacher. I teach and mentor English students at Higher and Advanced Higher.

Please be in touch if you would like to arrange either or both of these workshops for your students.

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The Return of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

It has been a busy couple of weeks launching my latest title FOR MY SINS, a historical novel for adults about Mary Queen of Scots. And Mary herself appeared at my first launch in Blackwell’s, Edinburgh. She sat very demurely to one side like a pale ghost (courtesy of Artemis Scotland) while I talked about the writing of FMS in front of windows that rattled and shook in a storm. We were yards away from the scene of Darnley’s murder at Kirk o’ Field.

The next stop was Waterstones, Byres Road, and tonight it will be my local library, Dunblane. I’ve been taking my audience on a mental journey into the past. I am the curator of that journey, guiding them into that distant realm which we can only imagine, where darkness held sway, where death was an everyday occurrence, and there was definitely no WiFi… Here are some pics of me flapping my arms about.

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Inspirational Moments: Writer in Residence 2017 #2

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Here are some photos of what we’ve been up to over the past few weeks.

And the pointers or lessons?

Writers care about the world & what is happening in it. It’s just not about escapism.

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You can imagine other people’s lives…

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Even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

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Keep a journal or diary.

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You can write about what is familiar… or unfamiliar.

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Writing can be used as a Way of Healing too.

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You all have a story to tell… either the one you are living now, one from the past, or one that you have yet to live…

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Writer in Residence 2017

I’m into my fifth week as Writer in Residence at Castlebrae Community High School in Craigmillar, Edinburgh. Here is why it’s so important that school librarians continue to exist, and that they receive funding for projects like this. I’m working very closely with the school librarian Sylvia Gorman, and English teachers at the school, in particular Fiona McCulloch, to create fun and inspiring workshops. So far the pupils are really engaged. They’re looking at books in a new way, studying their covers, working in groups and a large circle to discuss their own book proposals in a way that brings them confidence and self-esteem. It’s a brilliant little school which helps many who might be under-privileged or disadvantaged. There are some in the group from places like Romania, Syria and Poland, and I was struck by how they all help each other to cross language barriers with humour, tolerance and understanding. By the end of the workshops, all 30 pupils will have produced their own portfolio, a poly-pocket delight of ideas, letters, novel openings, blurbs, and cover ideas which will be their own book proposal to a potential editor. I get to choose the top 5 who are rewarded with a prize. If anyone needs convincing that school librarians should continue to be supported, they can look no further than a group of disadvantaged S1s who are prepared to sit and discuss books with each other.

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In which I share with you the blurb…

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So… why Mary? Well, because she had a talent for escaping, through tunnels and graveyards, on horseback, via boat, across silent lakes, through forests, across moorland. And, she was accused of murdering her second husband in order to marry her third…

The question is – is she or is she not the culprit of one of history’s unsolved murder mysteries? I think I know the answer to that one… and (just like most things in history, past, present and future) it’s not clear-cut.