Carrbridge in Winter - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography





Saturday, 27 February 2016

MARGARET FORSTER AND ME by Gill Stewart










Margaret Forster, novelist, biographer and writer of truly memorable memoirs, died this month aged 77.


When I heard of her death, I felt I had suffered a personal loss. I felt as though she was a contemporary, a friend, who had experienced the same things I had and that now we would never be able to talk them over together. This is ridiculous in so many ways: she was my mother’s age, not mine; she was brought up in a council house in Cumbria while I was bought up in ‘nice’ private houses in Cheshire and then South Africa; she was a scholarship pupil at Oxford whereas I was a very average student at the University of Cape Town. And yet, and yet … in some strange way she was my friend, part of my family even.

My parents spent the last fifteen years of their lives in Cumbria, latterly very close to Carlisle. My mother loved the books of Hunter Davies (Forster’s husband of 56 years); my sister and I loved the books of Margaret Forster, especially her memoirs. As a family we were constantly giving each other Margaret Forster or Hunter Davies books as gifts, and conversations often contained references to them. Their lives and experiences seemed interwoven with ours.

Margaret Forster was a special person: clever, talented, generous, perceptive and yet shy and unassuming. I loved her. OK, I’ve never met her, but I loved what she gave me through her writing. Her beautiful style, a sense of hope and the possibility of achievement, an ironic acceptance of her own foibles and therefore mine. I was particularly moved by her last book, My Life In Houses , in which she shares her obsessions with the houses she had lived in – and those she hadn’t. This is an obsession I have too! When she imagined living in those houses she walked passed in Carlisle it was as though she was describing me. I could completely identify. As a student in Cape Town, South Africa, I used to plan my routes home from lectures depending on which houses I wanted to dream about that day.

Margaret Forster’s writing does something that really great writing can do – it validates and enhances our own life experience, allowing us to think differently about things, giving us new meaning.

A great loss, but also how lucky we are to have ‘known’ her, even if only through her books.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

LIFE'S UNEXPECTED LITTLE PLEASURES By Linda Mitchelmore

Back in the late 1990s when I first started writing short stories and having them published, the illustration of my stories never crossed my mind. It was enough to see them in print. Back then artists were commissioned to illustrate most magazine stories and water colour seems to have been the preferred medium. Almost all my stories were illustrated and I found it flattering that an artist had read my story and painted something that illustrated it perfectly, as though he or she had got inside my head and 'seen' what I had seen when I was writing it. My Weekly were particularly good at matching artist to story. I had, back then, a wonderful working relationship with a sub-editor and was able to ask for a particular artist to work on my story. Privilege indeed! Woman's Weekly, too, are excellent at finding an illustration that gets right to the heart of a story, and I must confess I often write stories with a longer word count so that an illustration will - hopefully, but not always - be put with it, even though most illustrations these days come from an image bank.
But, Scandinavian magazines still tend to use artists and commission the illustrations. I've had many, many short stories published in Norway and Sweden, and two of my novels have been serialized in both countries. I don't know what anyone else thinks, but I find the illustrations rather old fashioned, even given my novels were historical. But it has still been a pleasure to discover an artist has read my novels and short stories in translation and produced a work of art to illustrate them.
When we write novels and have them published we expect there to be an especially commissioned book cover of some sort. These days a graphic artist will be used, and I have to say I've been very pleased with the book covers Choc Lit have commissioned for my novels and novellas. But I still have a special fondness for those first magazine stories and I have three illustrations framed and hung on the wall opposite my desk. I've recently sold three more short stories to mainstream magazines and there is a little frisson around my heart wondering what unexpected little pleasure of an illustration will be put with them.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Valentine’s week is ….. Guest Blog by Barbara Henderson



... the perfect time to celebrate our love affair with other worlds, a page at a time.

First of all, a big thank you to Gill and the rest of the Novel Points Of View crew for allowing me the limelight for a little. I love reading YA. I don’t write YA myself, preferring the seemingly safe MG haven (far from it, I assure you!), but I got a chance to throw myself into the YA world proper last week. Why?
Teri Terry in Inverness

Because last week I was privileged to host a school and Waterstones visit from YA royalty Teri Terry, prolific author of the acclaimed Slated/Fractured/Shattered trilogy, Mind Games and soon to be published Book of Lies. (As an aside, Teri Terry is her actual name – the result of marrying a man called Mr Terry when your first name happens to be Teresa.)

So - it’s Valentine’s Week, and like most YA titles, there is plenty of romance in Teri’s plots, although it rarely takes centre stage. The nature of her psychological thrillers is that her heroines usually have other things to worry about, such as surviving being hunted by an evil government or figuring out their own identity in the face of danger, deception and death. Turns out that Teri writes these kinds of stories because she relates to them. As a child who rarely lived in one place for long, swapping countries and schools and friends with unsettling regularity, Teri ‘gets’  tales of outsiders, identity and messy relationships.

Anyone in that position inevitably learns to observe.  It goes without saying that she loved libraries: ‘a safe place to hang out’ whenever she was new to a school, they met her needs: an endless supply of stories beyond The Lord of the Rings which she re-read and re-read when young. As I write this, I have driven more than 3 hours through sleet and snow to take my daughter to a basketball event. I parked the car in Stenhousemuir and looked for a place to sit, to write, to be warm. A place that wouldn’t empty my wallet. And there it was – the local library. I love it, too.

Back to Teri. Loving stories is one thing, but sustaining a career as a published author is quite another. Things are going well for her at the moment: her books are popular and she enjoys a high profile. As a result she has a little more control over what she does next than most authors, but she concedes that these decisions are influenced by her publisher’s views. She gave a word of warning to aspiring young authors at the Waterstones Book Group event: ‘You really have to love your book. You’re going to write it and edit it before sending it away. It comes back for structural edits and copy-edits and line-by-line edits and you are going to re-read it endlessly. Then when it finally gets published, you will spend months and months reading it aloud and talking about it, over and over again. I’m telling you – you’d better love it!’

As writers, maybe this is the question we should ask ourselves when submitting to publishers and agents: do I really have a love affair with this story? Can I commit to this tale with a contract and possibly years of my life? Is it love?

It wasn’t love at first sight with Teri who didn’t consider writing as a career option until she moved to the UK. Born in France, she had lived in Canada and Australia before moving to the UK, acquiring qualifications as a lawyer, optician and microbiologist somewhere along the way. It doesn’t matter: she is living proof that what you have done isn’t as important as what you do now. She committed herself to developing her writing, producing eight other novels which haven’t yet seen the light of day - and, in her own words, ‘some of them shouldn’t!’ Of course, rejection is an inevitable part of the writing life, and some young readers were shocked to hear that even at her stage of success, Teri receives rejections. They might come in the form of publishers not liking an idea she loves, or in the form of a scathing review on Goodreads. You will be hurt; even heartbroken - it is impossible to avoid - but like in any grown-up relationship, the best writers are faithful despite their disappointments. Stick at it – perseverance pays off.

And as Teri rolled her flowery suitcase towards the airport terminal, and I drove away, watching her figure recede into the distance, I reflected that behind any story you or I love, there is a human like Teri. Someone who may blend into a crowd and yet whose mind has gifted us those precious, precious jewels which last well beyond a bunch of wilting roses. Lasting images,  characters who live on, indelible imprints of stories left behind on our minds.
Behind every story there is someone like you or me. Stories - the perfect matchmakers between readers and writers.

Now there’s a love worth celebrating.

Barbara blogs at write4bairns.wordpress.com

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Valentine's not just for February


After my introductory blog my head was swimming with ideas and photos I wanted to share. When I realised I would be blogging close to Valentine's Day, I knew exactly where I wanted to take you all.

One October weekend I found myself free, so with my OH, Audrey, in the driving seat we took to the road. Destination - the most romantic and recognisable castle in Scotland, Eilean Donan, near Dornie.

 It was beautiful weather for a drive and once past Inverness the scenery really comes into it's own,  calling for the odd stop off by the roadside to take photos.

Loch Garve
I've past Loch Garve on several occasions but never been able to stop - until today, when I'd all the time in the world. It was a bit of a scramble to get to the shoreline but worth it, as there wasn't  a breath of wind and the loch surface was like a mirror.

Back on the road we'd a decision to make, left to the castle or right to the hotel, of course we headed to the castle- neither of us willing to wait to see the beautiful former stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie. Around the corner and there it was, standing magnificent in a loch.... of seaweed and rocks. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. I looked at Audrey and laughed - "why did we bother".  Always one to see the bright side of a situation she consulted her phone, assuring me the tide will be in later in the afternoon. Also, the best time for photography would be just after high tide, when the water would be at a stand still, waiting to turn. She's a fount of random facts. So I took some photos and as we'd time to spare, we enjoyed a tour of the 13th century castle.

It's well worth a visit, as we learned of an Irish Saint-Bishop Donan, of the Celts, of Viking raids, of battles won and lost, of the 46 Spanish soldiers who were garrisoned there-planning an attack, in support of a Jacobite uprising, which ultimately led to the castle being blown apart by English troops. For me, hearing these dramatic stories simply added to the charm and character of the place - what's not to like?

 
Eilean Donan at low tide
Afterwards, we headed to the hotel, only to be told that they are in the process of closing for the winter, so running a limited menu - not a major issue. However, it also appeared that the heating had been switched off. I know how to treat Audrey! Who said romance is dead!  After a warming coffee, it was time to return to Eilean Donan Castle and this time it didn't disappoint.
 

The autumn colours of the trees, the crisp clean air and the still reflections in the water -  I was in my element. 
Eilean Donan at high tide
I stayed until the light began to fade, which was relatively early in October, but decided we would come back once it was dark - to see it lit up. 
 
Now I am not much of a romantic but when we saw the lights and the ancient stonewalls of the fortress reflected in the loch - it was magical. To top everything off, a wedding was being held at the castle and we could hear the piper playing. The sound of the bagpipes floating across the water on that still night couldn't have been more Scottish or more wonderful.
 Unfortunately night photography is still a work in progress and don't feel that my attempts do the castle any justice. Also it's the perfect excuse to go back.

So like any good love story, it wasn't love at first. Instead a growing attraction which with time and the right circumstances, led to me falling in love with - Eilean Donan castle. The perfect place to take my Valentine at any time of year - even in October.

 





 
 
 
 
 




Saturday, 6 February 2016

AFTERNOON TEA, A BESTSELLING NOVELIST AND ME... By Rae Cowie

Hello everyone,

As promised in my last post, today I’ll be revealing what happened when I was invited to afternoon tea with my absolute favourite author – USA Today and Sunday Times Bestselling novelist, as well as all-round lovely lady - Diane Chamberlain.

So why exactly is Diane my writing heroine? Quite simply, she writes fantastic women’s fiction stuffed full of family drama and suspense or, as it says on her novel covers, ‘she gets to the heart of a good story.’ And it’s true. She’s the best at taking everyday characters, putting them to the test, then telling their anything but ‘everyday’ stories.

So how did my dream of meeting Diane happen?   

At the end of 2015, Diane announced on her Facebook Readers Page that for the first time in twenty years she was to visit the UK and three book groups were to be given the opportunity to hear her speak. But there was a major problem - I wasn’t a member of a book group. How was I to meet her?

Well fortune was smiling upon me, as several non-book-group, like-minded Diane fans felt similar crushing disappointment at being unable to apply - until we came up with the inspired suggestion of setting up an online book group, entering – and won!


So I did what I advise my teenage sons never to do - I set off to London, alone, to meet friends I’d only conversed with on the Internet! Thankfully, when I arrived at a coffee house just outside Kings Cross Station, I was met by a great bunch of excited ladies who love Diane’s books as much as I do.

From there, it was a five minute stroll to the shiny offices of Pan MacMillan publishing, where we finally got to meet Diane, who was friendly, charming – a joy to listen to.

First she read from her latest novel ‘Pretending to Dance’. The story of Molly Arnette and her husband, who hope to adopt a baby but the adoption process terrifies Molly. We learn the reasons for Molly’s fears are linked to the death of her adored father, Graham, which sent her running from the small community of Morrison Ridge – never to return.

Diane went on to explain how her own beloved, older sister, Joann Scanlon, was the inspiration for Graham, as they suffer the same form of multiple sclerosis. She also made clear that although many of her novels follow characters facing difficult challenges, she likes to leave the reader feeling better for having known them.
  
After the reading, Diane fielded questions, when it was interesting to hear how the empathy she’d employed during her time as a hospital social worker and psychotherapist, working with vulnerable babies and teens, helps with character development.

Questions over, we all got a chance to talk with Diane when she signed my precious copy of ‘Pretending to Dance’. She was warm and genuine, even taking the trouble to greet each of us by name, putting us at ease and preventing us from feeling star-struck!

In all the excitement, I almost forgot about afternoon tea but can recommend the strawberry maroons, as I tried several - to ensure they were as light and airy as I first thought!

And so what did my fellow book group members make of the day?

Well on arrival, Diane kindly gave each of us a gift of a ‘lucky’ stone. If you haven’t yet read ‘Pretending to Dance’, then I won’t spoil the significance of this.  However, everyone agreed we’d already enjoyed a mountain of luck in winning the competition to meet her and take part in a very special day – thanks to Pan MacMillan and The Reading Agency for arranging.



When we first met online we were strangers but now I regard each of my book group ladies as a friend. Through our love of her work, Diane has done what she does best - taken a circle of characters and brought heart to the story. The perfect ending.