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Aye Write!: Glasgow’s Book Festival

If you are out and about in Glasgow on 25th March

Come to Aye Write! Glasgow’s Book Festival. 

Anne O’Brien and I will be sharing a platform as the Queens of Historical Fiction.  Our guests will of course be Mary Queen of Scots and Joan Fair Maid of Kent.

Looking forward to being there and seeing you.

Information and tickets here:

https://www.ayewrite.com/Pages/Whats-On.aspx#/events

01-for-my-sins-20mm-spineThe Queens of Historical Fiction

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The Value of Quietness

 

Disappearing into the hills

disappearing into the hills

 

Landscape has always been very important to me. As a child living in a remote Norfolk village (with no motorway in the entire county, no trains or buses from our village) I learnt to be pretty self-sufficient. I developed the habit of walking the dog for miles while reflecting on books I was reading, or working on an ongoing inner narrative that might one day find its way onto the page.

 

Crisp views of Scotland

crisp heights

 

It’s strange to me that I’m still doing that nowadays, but in a different landscape entirely. Instead of the flat marshes and misty fenland with its endless mudflats, I have the crisp clear heights of Scotland, but I’m still walking the dog (a different dog!!!), and I’m still working on that inner-narrative, some of which makes its way onto the page.

 

A light powdering of snow

red coat

 

When I was a teenager, I hoped to be a novelist one day. It was my dream. Now I write novels for a living, but the reality is different to what I imagined it. When I was a young hopeful, I wrote to Anita Brookner telling her of my ambition, and she wrote back saying “A writer’s life is full of disappointments.” She had won prizes, published novels, had reviews in all the major newspapers and magazines. I didn’t know what she meant.  Now I do… But the one thing which hasn’t changed, and which remains a constant is this deep abiding love I have for landscape, and for this landscape in particular… Scotland.

 

Kenmore mountains

Mountain ridges

 

Every day I walk, and every day I find inspiration and beauty, no matter what the weather. A neighbour said to me this morning “Another lovely day!” He was being sarcastic, of course, because the light powdery snow had turned into a fine mist of rain, but I felt all elated and ecstatic after having taken photos of the sky and clouds… and I was looking forward to getting back to my desk.

 

Look up at the skies above sometimes

cloudscape

 

I often have a moan about social media, but taking photos can focus the eye, make you notice details, and is a modern way of cataloguing, collecting and recording our own thoughts. What the camera cannot do, however, is capture the smell of peaty water flavoured with minerals and moss, and nothing beats the sound of trickling water coursing its way down the mountain paths, slowly shifting gravel, grain by grain, to carve a landscape. We need narrative for that… books, literature, prose.

 

Boat houses on the loch

boathouses 

 

In Norfolk as a child I was surrounded by slow fenland waters, and the sea. Here in Scotland the rumble and cascade of water is everywhere, but it’s different. It’s restless, powerful, scouring lanes through the rocks. But it was this landscape I first wrote about, and the one which gave me consolation. When I was a teenager, my family used to say “One day, you’ll take off with your typewriter up to the moors in Derbyshire or Yorkshire and find your own Wuthering Heights.” Well, it was a laptop in the end, (as well as a posh pen and a posh notebook,) and my Wuthering Heights lay waiting for me in Scotland.

 

special place

Martha and Louie – special place

 

The sigh of the wind in the treetops and the glint of a pale winter sun through pencil-thin trees are the kind of things I try to capture in my writing. For me, it’s like painting a picture – with words. It’s what makes me tick. If I come across a fallen tree in the woods, I try to imagine what it sounded like when there was no one there to hear it falling – the rending of boughs in the silence. But I never feel that I quite capture what I’m after. I never feel satisfied… as if there is one more novel, one piece of prose that will reach the standard I’m after.

 

Snow

Snowlight

 

I suppose in an age when the world is after a quick sell, I’m a bit of a conundrum. But I don’t care. I’m a philosopher always in need of a place of quietness, and I find it… right here, under my nose.

 

Woodland winter walks

Touch of bronze

 

I value this quietness.

 

 

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Previously… Scotland’s History Festival

As part of Scotland’s History Festival, I shall be doing an event at Blackwell’s Bookshop, Edinburgh on Sat 25th November at 4pm-6pm, talking about Mary Queen of Scots and historical fiction writing in “A Historical Showcase.”  

Previously... is an “ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF OUR NATION’S LONGEST RUNNING DRAMA… OUR STORY. IT’S THE STORY SO FAR…”

It runs from 17 November – 26 November 2017 in Edinburgh, and includes a whole package of exciting and varied events: greedy queens, Culloden, crime, runaway slaves in Britain, the history of department stores, featuring speakers like Prof Tom Devine and Alex Salmond…

If you are free on Saturday 25th November, I’d love to see you there, at Blackwell’s Bookshop on South Bridge in Edinburgh… around tea-time…

 

 

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THE ART OF THE GHOST STORY

Last night, as Storm Ophelia was whipping up the sands of the Sahara with her skirts – causing a bit of a storm on FB and predictions of the end of the world – I gave a talk to a Women’s Guild of St.Blane’s on my novel FOR MY SINS. They were a lovely audience – so sweet, intelligent and literate – not addicted to any kind of technology, and as a result, thoughtful and observant. Never dismiss people based on gender and age. If you are young, you will be elderly one day, and if you are a man, you might even become a woman one day. Well, mostly probably not… but my point is that a female audience with an average age of 70 is a brilliant audience. We all share the same issues, no matter what age, and when I talked about there being no concept of rape in 1567 when Mary was “abducted” by Bothwell, and that historians maybe missed that point over the years, you could have heard a pin drop.

Here are some more pics of other recent events – where I have been taking my workshop The Art of the Ghost Story to the masses, to the people, to the readers and writers of the future… (not the masses actually but Chryston High School for their Literacy Festival, and Portobello Book Festival where I was very excited by the fact I could have tea on the beach in the morning!)

Long Live Literacy and Librarians. Especially when they invite me to their schools and offer me home-baking. That’s always a plus in my book.

 

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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

Launch 12

but this time it will be about …

a different person altogether…

 

 

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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.