Harvest Time - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography

Monday, 24 October 2016


As followers of this blog will know, I am a huge fan of the short story - reading them, and writing them. But sometimes it becomes - as so many things we usually enjoy can - a bit of a chore. We wonder why we do it - especially when there can be many rejections along with the acceptances. Does anyone read the stories in Woman's Weekly, The People's Friend, My Weekly,and the various anthologies in which my stories have appeared? How do we keep on the straight and narrow of turning up for writing group weekly when the weather is nice/friends are stopping over/we plain don't feel like pitching up? Where, I often wonder, am I going to find yet another original take on something that will catch an editor's eye? So, today ..... very wet, very windy, very dark, and not conducive at all to writing fiction ... I was in the doldrums somewhat. So I nipped into town and came back to find .... a fan letter waiting for me, redirected by Woman's Weekly. And suddenly it all seems worthwhile.
So, this particular story that a lovely lady called Wendy Forrester took the time and trouble to write to me about. I've mentioned my writing group which meets weekly, apart from in June, July, and August when we meet monthly. We are a very small group - just a dozen of us. We take it in turns to be in the chair and take the meeting and choose a theme for homework should anyone need a bit of a jog to write something. The following photo is of me with Kate Furnivall and Carole Llewellyn giving a talk in Brixham Library. Carole is in Spain now but still feels very much part of the group.
So, it was Catherine Billing who chose the theme for this particular story - IN ANOTHER LIFE I don't usually write fantasy but this theme seemed to cry out for it. In this particular story my heroine is reminiscing about how wonderful her children look when they are in bed asleep. I can equate with that because I have children - now grown up - and I must have spent hours just standing gazing at them sleeping.
And, at the time of writing this particular story, I'd made a batch of chocolate brownie for my grandchildren who were going to be stopping with me.
So, all that went in. Some of what I wrote was pure fiction, a product of my often very over-active imagination, but some of it was also the product of things around me. So, the day might not have started well but just one very short but most very welcome fan letter has thrilled me beyond belief and motivated me ....hmmm, I feel the anatomy of a new short story beginning to emerge.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

CPD FOR WRITERS - #writersroomABDN

‘My dream is to see the Writers’ Room model rolled out country-
Kaite Welsh, Literature Officer, Creative Scotland 

Shane Strachan - creator of the Writers' Room
For eight weeks over the summer, I enjoyed the privilege of being part of the inaugural Aberdeen Writers’ Room, a creative project both produced and delivered by talented northeast writer, Shane Strachan.

But this was no ordinary writers’ group - if such a thing exists - Shane’s vision was bold and different. He dreamt of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for writers, where the Writers’ Room Project was only the start.

But what would we learn?

Having recently completed a PHD in Creative Writing, Shane attended a series of modules entitled Sustaining Life as a Creative, where he discovered himself to be the lone writer in the group.

So why weren’t other writers coming forward? Did they not consider themselves part of the creative industry? Did they even know such support exists? 

Shane suspected not. But he also knew the skills and knowledge he’d gained from the Sustaining Life as a Creative sessions would be useful for other writers. He’d identified the need for structured support for emerging writers in and around the Aberdeen area.

So, with the backing of Aberdeen City Council, in his role as Creative Project Practitioner, he
designed a series of workshops, focusing on the ancillary skills professional writers require, whilst continuing to improve their craft. Such skills as being social media savvy, financially aware, knowledgeable of potential funding opportunities, the benefits of building strong networks with other artists… the list goes on.

Lofty ambitions but what did this mean in practice?

Well, as I’m normally alone with only my laptop for company, it felt a fairly intense experience, as we met weekly on Thursdays. Not in a bar or café, ahem - as writers are want to do - but in a large, quiet, bright, airy space that is part of Rosemount Community Centre – The Writers’ Room. Freshly brewed coffee was always ready on arrival and a stock of biscuits at hand - all conducive to creativity. Then it was down to business.

Here’s a taster of the topics covered:

  • ·      Applying for funding as a writer – informative walk through of the application process by Kaite Welsh, Literature Officer, Creative Scotland
  • ·      Giving and Receiving Critical Feedback – masterclass by poet and novelist, Dr Wayne Price, Senior Lecturer at Aberdeen university
  • ·      Planning and Delivering Writing Workshops – attended by Amanda Matheson Aberdeen City Libraries
  • ·      Creative Projects and Collaboration – where we met with artists from Gray’s School of Art
  • ·      Performing your Work – training by professional actors, focusing on voice

In addition to weekly meet ups, we were also assigned a variety of useful tasks to complete, such as preparing our writers’ statements, trying out creative experiences around the city, actively looking for opportunities to use our practice.

In addition, Shane kept a strong focus on increasing our web presence - our website (mine’s still a WIP!), social media, blogging.

Were we:
·      Being professional (the do’s and don’ts  - considering the dangers of over sharing…)
·      Being consistent in both design and message across all platforms
·      Keeping abreast of which platforms best reach our intended audience (eg YA fiction writers engaging on Instagram)

What else made The Writers’ Room different?

For me, as well as the content of the workshops, I gained so much from learning alongside other practitioners, who write in a variety of forms.

Laura Lam, author of False Hearts
Laura Lamis the author of BBC Radio 2 Book Club selection False Hearts (2016), as well as the award-winning Micah Grey series Pantomime (2013) and Shadowplay (2014).

Gavin Gilmour - has a background in filmmaking and works in the forms of screenwriting, playwriting and prose fiction.

Megan Primrose - has a MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow and a
Artist Dalia, discussing ideas with writers
Megan Primrose & Emily Utter
postgraduate in General Journalism and enjoys writing middle school children’s fiction.

Emily Utteris a Canadian prose writer based in Scotland. She recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Aberdeen, and is an Honorary Fellow of the WORD Centre for Creative Writing.

John Bolland  - is a graduate of Glasgow University's M.Litt. programme, who writes novels, short fiction and poetry.

Rachelle McKimmon - is a recipient of a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award and has completed a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Aberdeen.

Avril Heffernan – has a background in Literature development; having worked as a Literature Officer for the North West of England at Arts Council England. She has an MA in Creative Writing and an MLitt in Irish and Scottish Studies, preferring to write short form fiction.

Having fun at the Booked! Festival
Part of the Edinburgh Festival
Outreach Programme of Events
And me! - Novel Points of View blogger, Arts' Correspondent for TV Bomb and women's fiction novelist (in the making).

We sound a rum lot but our knowledge of writing in various genres and forms only added interest to our learning.

Next Steps… 

Now our planned Writers’ Room sessions are almost over, where do we go from here?

With one final workshop to look forward to in November, we're  busy working towards goals set in our Creative Action Plans. Whilst also preparing for a performance evening – further details coming soon… With a number of various projects in the pipeline.

Remember that dream of Kaite Welsh’s to see the Writers’ Room model rolled out country-wide’?

Well I love to dream BIG and hope that one day CPD will be available to all writers who require a helping hand to further their practice. So if you’re invited to join a Writers’ Room, or set up one of your own, I’d love to know…

Saturday, 8 October 2016

It's October - the spookiest month of the year!

I rather enjoy October. It’s a month that for some reason, always feels full of energy before we have to give in to the comatose effect of winter, when things wind down and we retreat inside from the rain and the cold to await the arrival of Spring. Besides, at the end of the month we have Hallowe’en.

One of the things I have discovered since living in France is that two countries can acknowledge the same key events in the year in totally different ways. Hallowe’en is a case in point.   

Here in France the 31st October is rarely called Hallowe’en, they prefer La Toussaint (All Saints) Eve when, like Hallowe’en, it is believed that witches, evil spirits and other supernatural beings are out and about and it’s best to stay indoors. Where I live in rural France, the children rarely go Trick or Treating - for them it is an Americanism, despite it’s celtic roots. In the larger towns where there are contingents of Americans and other ex-pats, fancy dress parties are organised for the 31st, and bars and restaurants do a roaring trade serving their ghoulish customers. Customers who will have no worries about hangovers and being late for work the next day. Because for the French it is the next day November 1st - La Toussaint itself - that is one of the most important days in their year.  

 Celebrated all over France it is a public holiday and a time when families get together and remember their lost ones. Cemeteries are full of people visiting and placing their large pots of Chrysanthemums on graves, before spending the day together. (Make the mistake of giving Chrysanthemums to a living French person and you will swiftly be told Non! These flowers are for the dead. Cyclamen are frowned upon for a similar reason.)

French supermarkets (and I guess UK ones too?) are currently full of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. Some will be carved and have candles placed inside but here the majority will be used in the kitchen. Pumpkin soup is a favourite - very warming on a cold day. The following recipe is very easy if you fancy having a go.

Preheat the oven to 200C or gas mark 6. Halve the pumpkin ( or quarter it if you prefer). Spoon out the seeds and put them to one side. Put the pumpkin on a roasting tray, with a large onion quartered, and a couple of garlic cloves. Scatter some herbs over i.e. herb de provence, rosemary or whatever you fancy. Roast for 45 minutes - to an hour. While the pumpkin is roasting, clean the seeds, spread in a single layer on a roasting dish, drizzle with oil, pop in oven. They’ll take about 10 minutes. Once the pumpkin is cooked, scoop out the flash and blend with the onion and garlic. Add some stock and puree, adding stock slowly until you get the consistency of the soup you like. At this stage you can add a dash of sherry if you like. Serve in individual bowls, with the roasted seeds sprinkled on top, and maybe a swirl of cream. Bon appétit!

Happy October!

Saturday, 1 October 2016

It Will Be Alright on the Night

September has been a busy month and I am looking forward to catching my breath.

The set up
September saw my first photography exhibition being held, myself and Audrey riding a roller coaster of emotions from start to finish.
In all honesty Audrey did the all the hard work, planning and even heavy lifting at times, if it hadn't been for her drive this would have never taken place or been the success it was.

Audrey is part of a Small Businesses Networking Group and she gave a preview and talk to the group, the feedback was positive and some useful suggestions were given going forward.
Networking Group
The positive feedback boosted my confidence going into the evening as I was beyond nervous about speaking in public.

As this was our first exhibition we had no idea what to expect also unsure what people were expecting of us.
As the doors opened and the first people came in, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief that people had turned up, as that was my biggest fear that no-one appear.

My short intro
As the room began to fill I could feel my heart beating as I knew it would be time for me to stand up and introduce myself.  I had planned to simply introduce the event, thank people and a brief history on how I started, 5 minutes tops......nearly 30 minutes later all I could see from the corner of my was Audrey making wind up motions.
Full room
 There was wide range of attendees, fellow photographers, friends, FB followers. It was lovely to be able to meet face to face with people that I had only communicated with via messenger or email. The evening flew by in a flash and my fears were unfounded. I was actually overwhelmed by the turn out and the positive vibes that were  in the room.

On a personal level it was amazing to see my photos framed and hung as the screen doesn't always do them justice.

So now it's time to catch a breath, reflect on how it went and what's next ?

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Villains in the undergrowth

"Look like the innocent flower..."

by Jennifer Young 

I’ve never really been a fan of the true villain. I’ve written a couple, of course. Most writers have. And some people do villains very well, deep, dark and twisted. 

I was weeding my sadly neglected garden the other day when I understood the nature of true villainy. It was there in front of me — and it’s actually very pretty, with a tall, graceful stem, topped by a head of tiny, bright orange flowers, rising from the centre of a rosette of leaves. 

But there’s a lot of it, this pretty flower. It grows in dense mats, with a solid layer of roots a couple of inches thick, smothering everything that tries to compete. From these dense mats it sends out long, trailing roots to pop up somewhere else and send up another plant to set up another mat. And to make matters even worse, it has monumentally prolific seed heads.

I declared war on this little beast. I pulled up several square feet of it and in two weeks it was back. Worse, even when I lifted the layers of ivy or the masses of rampant wild geranium (I told you my garden was neglected) it’s under there, laughing at me. 

I Googled this pretty little thing, to find out what to do with it. Noooooo! lamented one gardener on discovering it in his/her flowerbed. Disaster. Nuke it! said another. Take a flamethrower to it. Do whatever it takes. And yet another, more pessimistic, warns that it will never go away.

That’s villainy.

I’m not good at villains. I can’t help looking at the pretty flowers of orange hawkweed (this evil has a name) and thinking that, actually, it’s a shame to get rid of all of it. And I’m like that when I write my villains, too. I don’t want to create a real villain. While I did think my only real one (Faustino Manfredi, from the first two books of my Lake Garda series) was pretty convincing, I didn’t like writing him. 

That’s why, in the third book of the series (Running Man, out on Wednesday) the villainy is a little more nuanced. It has Danny, the man who’s already made a terrible mistake, and it has Matt, whose mistake is still to be made. They’re competing for the attentions of Giorgia — but the line between heroism and villainy is a blurred one.

There are real villains about, of course, but most people have good to shade the bad side of their character. I look for it in life — and that’s why I try to create it in fiction. 

Saturday, 17 September 2016


As days begin to shorten, we share ways we enjoy seeing the light. We'd love to hear your thoughts too...

Rae - After enduring a rather, dismal wet summer here in north-east Scotland, the past two weeks have been wonderful, as the sun has made a welcome reappearance. The warmth has been pleasant but it’s the autumnal light that has the power to stop me in my tracks. Like most writers, my to-do-lists (plural!) grow faster than mushrooms and although I live in the countryside and am surrounded by beauty that changes on a daily basis, I rarely take time to stand and stare. However, at this time of year I yearn to do just that, reminding me of the W H Davis poem Leisure.

Autumn, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
During autumn, the golden hour, that last hour of evening sunlight, seems to hold a special softening quality that enhances the vividness of the landscape. Perhaps it’s knowing winter is just around the corner, that forces me to focus on light, before the skies become low and leaden again. One autumn evening, several years ago, I was driving from Edinburgh, through rural Perthshire, on the first leg of my three hour journey north, when Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’ began playing on the radio. The ripe barley on either side of the motorway swayed as it glowed, and between the romantic sentiments of the song lyrics and the luminescence of the fading sunlight, I felt forced to take time out from my race home, to pull over and simply enjoy the moment. I’m thankful autumnal light possesses the strength to make me stop and stare.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

by William Henry Davies

Gill - Recently Linda wrote a blog about summer and Christmas books, and I realised that one of my
The bonfire - a different kind of light
favourite times of year is actually spring. Then I thought, no, but I like winter, too. And autumn, when the colours are changing and the nights are drawing in, is just brilliant. It’s a time when there isless light outside, but the quality of it changes. It’s also the time of Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night, both of which use the light of flames which I love. I don’t know if it’s because my sister and I both have birthdays are in November, but autumn has always been a happy time for me - a ‘light’ time, even though the light is different.

 Jennie - We all need ‘Light’ in its many guises in our lives. For me this painting (artist unknown picture courtesy of pixabay) sums up the light in the South of France. One of the things I found difficult (there weren’t many I grant you!) about living down there was that the changing seasons didn’t really register. The clocks went back at the end of summer and the temperature dropped, but the sun still shone on a daily basis and there was rarely any autumnal foliage to remind one that winter was on its way. The year round light down there has enticed painters for centuries.

Whereas this photo is more reminiscent of this time of year where I live now in Brittany. 
Our skies are cloudier and darker as summer changes into autumn, falling leaves change colour, and the autumnal mists arrive. As September days pass and October arrives, we become accustomed to living with shorter days and longer nights.

This particular September has seen the 15th anniversary of  9/11 an event that shook the world and turned off the light for so many. Sadly since then there have been more atrocities turning the world these days into a scary place.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Linda - Most of us are full of good intentions – lose weight, drink less wine, see friends and family more, write every day. And then life gets in the way. We go to a dark place (that metaphorical tunnel) through, say, illness – our own or a loved one’s. Or marriages/relationships break down – again, our own or that of someone very close to us. We find that there are pieces to be picked up, and there are loved ones who need more of our time, or our money, or both. Our shoulders become damp from all the crying done on them, and we are – in the main – glad that we are there for them. So, the diet goes, replaced by soul-food doughnuts. We need that glass of wine at the end of a particularly sad/busy/worrying day. We’ve had to cancel lunch/dinner with family/friends yet again as it transpires we only have the twenty-four hours in every day that everyone else has. And the writing?
Well, there’s always tomorrow, isn’t there? As writers we can’t help logging little snippets in our memories – an image, a few words, a feeling – so we can drag them all out again one day and commit them to paper. And we must be very thankful that we are writers and that we have that facility. And do you know what? Tunnels – real and metaphorical – don’t go on for ever. There is always that little chink of light that beckons us eventually, gives us hope, beckons us on.

Jennifer - It's funny how light always comes in at the end, isn't it? It's at the end of the tunnel. It's the sun breaking through after a storm. It's the celestial light of the Last Judgement in a myriad church windows. Even the motto of my football team is 'Out of darkness comes light'. (Let's hope that last bit is true - it ain't looking good right now!)

As a writer I've never consciously articulated the way that the pattern of emerging into the light underlies almost every story I've ever written. It's partly because they're romance and so they must, by definition, have a happy ending. But even the non-romantic stories I write tend to have positive endings, even when they aren't altogether happy ones. Stories must reach a resolution and in my stories the resolution, whatever it is, has some kind of positive.

I take no pleasure into chasing my characters into darkness and pain. But I take great joy out of bringing them out again, and leaving them standing, at last, in the light.

Neil - As a landscape photographer, finding the right light is everything. It’s the reason I rise at unreasonable hours or trample the countryside when most are thinking of bed, as the ‘golden’ hour
for our work takes place around sunrise and sunset. During the day in summertime, the sun is too high and bright making it difficult to create the right shot. However, with the onset of autumn, as the sun drops lower in the sky, the light softens - a gift for photographers. At this time of year, landscape photographers often continue to take photographs throughout the day and many will claim autumn as their favourite season of the year.

Also, when choosing a location for a shoot, it’s important to balance light with shade, so that the overall piece has the correct sense of proportion. I imagine it must be similar for writers? As a photographer, light also dictates what settings I use, ...shutter speed, exposure and aperture. As the long, dark days of winter make it harder for me to indulge my passion for photography, I like to make the most of the autumnal light.  Hope you enjoy one of my recent shots…