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The End is Nye

We’ve done that joke… anyway, a cheeky little sneak preview of my new novel about Mary Shelley – ARGUING WITH THE DEAD – out next year with Fledgling Press. And as if that’s not enough, I also have another children’s novel coming out too. I’ve been quietly writing away – because after all, that’s what writers do – in my castle (featured below) because after all, that’s where all writers live…while faithful little Louis gazes at me mournfully.

As Mary Shelley sorts through the snowstorm of her husband’s scattered papers – for which she will be paid the handsome sum of £500 – a blizzard rages outside. What she has never confided in anyone is that she has always been haunted by Shelley’s drowned first wife, Harriet, who would come to visit her in the night as she slept with her two tiny children in a half-ruined villa in Italy while Shelley was away litigating with lawyers. Did Mary pay the ultimate price for loving Shelley? Who will Harriet come for next?

For those who loved FOR MY SINS, I’m hoping you will love this too. Once again, I’ve delved into the mind of a Mary (perhaps I’m doing all the Marys) but this Mary – as I’m sure you don’t need telling – wrote FRANKENSTEIN when she was 19. She was vilified and ostracized by the society she lived in at the time, for writing it. How could something so foul and disgusting emerge from the pen (and the mind) of a young girl? But she identified very closely with the Creature, who cries out in her novel “Misery made me a fiend!” The Creature is rejected by his Creator, Dr.Frankenstein, and Mary was no stranger to feelings of rejection. I have loved writing and researching it. Some of the novel is set in Scotland, where Mary was sent when she was 14 to get out from under the feet of her stepmother. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have loved writing it. In fact, I hope you buy it because if you don’t, writers like me cannot afford to heat the many rooms of my castle (featured below), and I starve… and so does my dog, Louis, who still hasn’t had a walk this morning… (Disclaimer: I don’t live in a castle. That castle below belongs to someone else… I can’t remember his name…)

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A Gallery of Recent Events

I’ve had a run of exciting events recently, including chairing A.L. Kennedy, Michael Morpurgo and Barroux the Illustrator at the EIBF, also Holly Bourne and Cat Clarke at the same, so decided I should update my tired old website to reflect this. Also included are pics of a recent event I did with Sara Sheridan at the Portobello Book Festival called NO PLACE FOR A WOMAN in which we talked about feminism and historical fiction in our books. Sara’s The Ice Maiden (published by Severn House) is set in Victorian times in the Antarctic, where – as you can imagine – women did not fare any better than in Mary Stuart’s day, as described in FOR MY SINS. The event was beautifully chaired by Sheila Averbach, which led to some really interesting discussion. I learned a lot. Did you know Robert Louis Stevenson had a sister novelist who sold more books than her brother, but who was promptly forgotten? Why? Because so often there is NO PLACE FOR A WOMAN, of course.

 

 

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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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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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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.

Launch 12

 

 

 

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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.