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My Review of WOLF HALL

It took me a while to read this, and its sequel BRING UP THE BODIES, but I did it. I finished both. Darkly intelligent, with such concise accuracy, Hilary Mantel has imagined the subtle nuances most of us would not have even thought about. She has explored a darkly maligned character in history – Thomas Cromwell – in such a way that she has brought him to life with all his flaws and virtues, describing him not as a monster but a man of his time, and even a man before his time, the father of modern democracy. The history we were taught at school is sometimes so different – a bad reputation sticks. I’m not saying he was an angel, because he wasn’t, but Hilary Mantel portrays him as human. I particularly like the way in which Cromwell is mocked by his aristocratic contemporaries for being a blacksmith’s son, and the way she touches on the class system here – which actually became more rigid and difficult to transcend or overcome in later centuries. Well worth the read even if you dip in and out because of sheer size of it. I left my bookmark in, and went back to it later, and was able to completely get back into the swing of it.

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Breadalbane Academy, Macbeth and Weird Sisters

Had a fabulous day yesterday visiting Breadalbane Academy in Aberfeldy. The pupils were delightful, and they were very eager to buy books – unfortunately I forgot to take any photos of the pupils themselves, just an empty auditorium before the event itself… so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The early morning drive to Aberfeldy was stunning, the sun touching the hills through the mist. There were pockets and hollows of mist exactly like Macbeth country. I kept expecting to see the Weird Sisters. The only weird thing was my PowerPoint though… Saw a loch with reeds which had a perfect mirror-like reflection. Crossed over a moor, then dipped down  into the valley which was full of mist, exactly like a bowl of cream with mountains showing through the far side. Honestly, it was breathtaking…

Treated myself to lunch in The Watermill afterwards, bought myself two books – THE WOLF WILDER by Katherine Rundell and WOLF WINTER by Cecilia Ekback – then drove to Kenmore and walked around the loch where the crannog sits out on the water. Used this for inspiration later with my creative writing pupils, then I dashed out to Drama in the evening (we’re doing Treasure Island… don’t ask!!!!!) then finally washed up by the fire, where it’s best.

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CARROTS, MEMORIES AND THE RISE OF THE SMALL SCOTTISH PRESS

It’s half past eleven, and I have already written 1,800 words today, so I’m well pleased with myself and thought I ought to add a little blog post before I take the dog out for a walk. He is looking at me expectantly, but I’m choosing to ignore him for now.

I’m very excited about this new novel. I have 53,000 words so far, but I’m keeping shtum. No title as yet. It’s set in Scotland, it’s topical but I’m not saying why. It explores a topic I feel strongly about – one of humanity and our lack of it at the moment – but again, I’m not saying anything more.

What I will say though is that I have found myself drawing on personal experiences from when I was 14 years of age, which was a surprise to me. It just happened as I wrote. I found myself writing about the carrot-topping shed I worked in one Easter Holidays in the rural Norfolk village where I grew up, and remembering how rough it seemed to me. We had to pull carrots across a blade in the work bench in front of us, and when I cut my hand there was little sympathy from the foreman, who was a scary woman with biceps, who threw a whole crate-load of carrots back at me when I hadn’t topped them properly. (They were hard with frost). We were paid by the crate, so that was a couple of hours’ work lost, which felt like a lifetime. I earned £20 in 2 weeks, and spent the money on clothes, which I remember really well. THIS IS TRUE. So I’ve used this in my novel, together with the experience of being bullied in school through a six-month period which I have NEVER forgotten, and which makes me feel very strongly about the impact of bullying on pupils. Or on anyone, for that matter…

As well as this, I have a whole load of school visits lined up – Breadalbane Academy on Tuesday, then Bellshill and Cumbernauld Academy the following week, plus three separate events in Craigmillar, and another in Cowie.

I’m also aware that the launch of my first adult novel FOR MY SINS about Mary, Queen of Scots, is looming on the horizon. That will be in January, and I’m very much looking forward to planning the event, thinking about what I might say, sound effects, images, music, lights… atmosphere… etc.

Have also been reading an amazingly good book lately, published by a relatively small Scottish press, Freight Books. It’s called THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES by Sarah Maine, and is so inspiring. I loved it, and I’m quite chuffed by the positive growth of small Scottish presses at the moment. Contraband/Saraband, a small Scottish press, have managed to get one of their titles shortlisted for the Booker!!! HIS BLOODY PROJECT. I haven’t read it yet, but the structure looks really interesting and original, and reminds me of THE MOONSTONE by Wilkie Collins, which I studied at school under a teacher called Mrs Fraymouth. She had a very grumpy persona which went with her name, but I liked her. She was good…

Sorry about the bizarre title, but when I’m writing all morning I zone out into Alex-land, a place of strange thought and emotion. Here I am looking thoughtful in the graveyard which I live not far from. And there’s MARY, looking mysterious and capable of great treachery and plotting. She looks as if she knows too much, and has found out that her friends can’t be trusted…. (I love it…)

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Newcastle is Nice!!!!

Yes it is. I had a fantastic day out yesterday with fellow author and obsessive drinker of tea, Kirkland Ciccone. Here we are on the train feeling very excited about our booked seats down to Newcastle from Edinburgh. Literally one second later we were escorted off the train. Not literally… exaggeration. Our seats were double-booked so we politely conceded to a group of elderly ladies, but not before Kirkland accidentally upset one of the strident-looking members of the group by calling them ‘pensioners.’ She didn’t like the word, but we all laughed it off in good cheer, while helpful members of the public showed us where we had gone wrong with our tickets. on-our-way

Then we had to walk through the drunk carriage (I ask you, it was 9.30 am!!!!) Then we found seats where we could cause less trouble.  Arrived in Newcastle and was amazed at how beautiful it is. The buildings showing its mercantile and industrial heritage, the buzz, the sunshine. My father’s forebears were shipbuilders on the Tyne in Newcastle, came over from Ireland, and one of them – great grandfather Chris Gollaglee died saving another man’s life. His younger friend slipped and fell, so he reached out and saved him, but lost his own life. It took him six weeks to die in hospital and he was in all the papers in Newcastle, and I still have the letter his descendant wrote to my dad saying “No greater love hath man than to lay down his life for his friend.”

Kirkland was very excited to be down in England, and I felt quite at home amongst my own again, after 25 years of living north of the border amongst all ye Scots and Pictish people… aye…

Here we are at the UKYACX in Newcastle. The Two Ronnies.cskeubtxyaaoqn2

Had a fabulous time listening to lots of authors, eating cake. This was our panel. I really enjoyed being on stage again, I think I mentioned Wuthering Heights a few times (and Kate Bush), how Chill was chosen for First Minister’s Reading Challenge, (thank you Nicola), and how I won the Royal Mail Award (before it was privatized). They laughed, they listened, they looked keen, while I was mean and lean (or not so lean, after eating 5 of their cakes). I had a sugar rush afterwards. Kirkland upstaged us all with his cat-walk, where he took the audience by storm and showed them what a real fake fur looks like. He’s a born performer…

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Out into the sunshine, and I saw fellow author Lindsey Barraclough , author of Long Lankin, sitting outside reading my book – so had to beg a photo. Love it when fellow authors soak up books – especially when they’re your own… but seriously, we’re not just there to promote our own but to learn from others, so I now have a much longer reading list.

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Then it was home again on the train – booked seats this time – BUT… in the drunk carriage again with some football supporters who regaled us with loud and incomprehensible chants while I tried to nod off, and thought wistfully of the pensioners on the morning train. Kirkland and I wondered what it would be like if authors chanted when they’re on a day out.

I love Newcastle, and I’m going back again some day……..

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UKYACX 2016 in Newcastle

I’m delighted to be heading down to Newcastle this morning to be taking part in this. For those of you who don’t know – it stands for UK Young Adult and Children’s Extravaganza and is taking place in the City Library.

A whole day of events is planned, and it’s an exciting opportunity for readers to meet with authors, there will be talks and panel discussions, and all sorts of other stuff…. I have yet to find out myself, but I’ve got to dash now for the train….

https://www.facebook.com/ukyax/