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Recent and Upcoming Events

Speaking live on BBC Radio Scotland to Fiona Stalker about Mary Queen of Scots and my historical novel FOR MY SINS.

I’m currently delivering a series of 10 creative writing workshops to Braidhurst High School as part of their Drive to Literacy. I work them hard, but they are enjoying themselves, honestly. Here they are writing their first ever prose poem, and unearthing gleaming results. They’re a quiet bunch, but as you can see, they are allowed to stand up sometimes.

I’m also working as a Creative Writing Mentor as part of the Scottish Book Trust’s What’s Your Story programme, mentoring two exceptionally gifted young people, during which I’ve had to learn sign language. Our surroundings at Moniack Mhor were very conducive to creative writing. We had the cottage to ourselves, complete with roaring stove and the entire collection of the Scottish Poetry Library on the shelves.

For World Book Week, I’m in Sandaig Primary for two Art of the Ghost Story workshops on 6th March, and on 7th March (World Book Day itself,) I’ll be appearing in the Mitchell Library, the Burns Room at 10.30 am and 1.30 pm as part of the Aye Write/Wee Write’s schools programme. Last week I was in Wishaw Library for two sessions with local school children, who prepared for the visit by reading Chill, designing covers and drawing pics of what they thought I should look like.

Then on Tuesday 12th March I’ll be in the auditorium at the wonderful YayYA Festival, which draws in schools from all over Glasgow and beyond, curated by… who else? Grand Master of Design, Kirkland Ciccone.

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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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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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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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