Carrbridge in Winter - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography





Saturday, 23 July 2016

WHAT’S INSPIRING ABOUT SUMMER? by Gill Stewart




As fellow blogger Linda wrote last week, sometimes a writer is due ‘time off’. Even if that time off is just to refill the well of ideas and tinker with plots and … OK, maybe a writer never really does have time off? But in summer, when many of us have so much going on, it’s definitely time to be kind to yourself and only do what you can do. So, no word targets for me at the moment. But I’ve still been working on websites, polishing synopses, uploading latest YA novel to Createspace. And doing a lot of thinking about things I’m going to write when I have the time and head space.

Some of the inspiring things that have happened so far this summer:

Walking along the fascinating Crinan Canal with friends I hadn’t seen for almost a year.
Showing my sister my new house and all those views.


Attending the Romantic Novelists’ Association annual conference. So much writing-related talk. Plus other talk. And there was wine.

Oh, and then there was my niece’s wedding which was such fun I’m definitely going to put a wedding in a book sometime soon.

Summer may be busy, but it certainly hasn’t left me short of ideas!

Monday, 18 July 2016

TIME OUT FOR GOOD BEHAVIOUR

Like most writers I always have a notebook and pen(s) to hand. I think writing, I talk writing, I do writing. I've been known to write in a hospital restaurant while my husband was under anaesthetic, and in a queue in the supermarket (it was a very long queue!). Hardly a day goes by when I don't write something, be it to add words to the work-in-progress, to edit same, or to write a short story, or at least start one. Then there are blogs to write and social networking for a bit of book promotion. Am I bigging myself up enough here? Does the lady protest too much? Because I've decided to take a little time out for good behaviour now that summer seems to have arrived at long, long, last. Due to family circumstances I (and my husband) am having my grandchildren (5 and 9) to stay on a regular basis. They will soon be breaking up from school for the summer holidays. I cannot bring myself to shut myself away in my writing garret when they are with us. So, I have decided there is going to be time to blow dandelion clocks.
I live near the sea and one of my best memories is of the dawn of the new millennium when I walked down to a cove, sat on the beach with my son, and watched the sunrise. Watching sunsets is relatively easy but you have to be committed to get up and go and watch a sunrise. I think my grandchildren will think it huge fun to get up in the dark, walk down to the beach, and eat bacon butties as the sun comes up.
And then there will be picnics. A bit of education will go on here because the children love to cook, especially things like sausage rolls which involves making pastry and weighing out ingredients. And fairy cakes with some nifty artwork to decorate them. No, lessons won't be neglected, even if the children don't realise Grandma has taken on the role of teacher for the duration. But there will be picnics.
I know I shall probably feel guilty doing all the above - to begin with anyway. But do you know what? I'm willing to bet it will be all good intentions and a notebook and pen will creep into that picnic basket!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

LIVE FROM LANCASTER...

Excitement is high this week as I’m blogging live from the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference, which this year is being held in the spacious, leafy grounds of Lancaster University. For those not familiar with Lancaster, it’s a historic city found in the North West of England, boasting a canal and imposing medieval castle. Originally a Roman fort, apparently Lancaster Castle stood as a bastion against the forces of marauding Picts and Scottish clans.

Today, however, this Scot is looking forward to spending a fantastic weekend with friends, as I signed up early to attend the best networking event of the year – the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Annual Conference.

So what makes the RNA conference so special? For me the answer’s three-fold.

Firstly, year on year the organisers offer a packed programme of talks, lectures, expert panels and
Rae, Gill and Jennifer
workshops by best-selling authors and publishing professionals at the top of their game. What a fantastic opportunity to learn what’s hot (and what’s not) in the business.

Secondly, attendees, whether published or unpublished, may opt for appointments with literary agents and editors, who provide advice/pointers on the first chapter of their novel. Critiquing gold for aspiring writers like me!

Finally, writing’s a solitary occupation, although being part of the RNA means it never truly feels that
way, and so I revel in the chance to meet up with ‘old’ friends – our own Gill Stewart and Jennifer Young are here – and to make new ones too.

So what’s happened so far?

My first choice of workshop was presented by award winning duo Liz Fenwick, who’s highly successful novels are set along the rugged Cornish coastline, and Brigid Coady, marketing professional and winner of the prestigious RNA Joan Hessayon award, who took an insightful look at author marketing, exploring the need to identify your brand, your plan, your goals. I was scribbling wildly - plenty food for thought there…
Liz Fenwick and Brigid Coady
(photo with thanks to Marie Macneill)


Next we gathered to be officially welcomed by Eileen Ramsay, our experienced RNA Chair and Jan Jones, writer and conference organiser extraordinaire.

Welcome over, it was down to business with the first of three industry appointments. Where else could an unpublished writer be granted such an amazing opportunity to have their work read and critiqued by industry professionals?   - Did I mention I love the RNA?

Today, Saturday, is also busy. With such a fantastic line-up of speakers, I feel like a child on Christmas morning, greedy to grab it all, but eventually plumped for sessions that include Alex Brown and her editor, Kate Bradley discussing what it takes to create a commercial novel; a workshop with Fiona Harper, using Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a case study to ensure the pace of a story keeps zinging along; viewing of a documentary that takes us into the multi-billion dollar romance fiction business in America; speed dating to find a critique partner… a few glasses of wine at the sparkling gala dinner!

With such a crammed itinerary there's little time left to explore Lancaster further but visiting the castle and learning of its legends has given me a taste for the area. Yet again the RNA conference is a winner, and, if the rumours of late night kitchen parties are true (I couldn't possibly comment), then Lancaster is proving to be the perfect location for writers to create tales of their own.




Saturday, 2 July 2016

Hello Summer Reads...

One of the innocent pleasures of summertime must surely be donning shades, pulling low a sunhat and becoming lost within the pages of a great book. So whether relaxing in the garden, chilling in the park or unwinding on the beach, we hope there’s something for everyone in our picks for summer 2016.

Please enjoy and remember to share your recommendations too…

RaeI knew exactly which novel I wanted to read in preparation for our summer reading recommendations, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. A novel that has garnered so many brilliant five star reviews that I wondered if it could ever live up to the hype. I needn’t have worried though, as the story of French sisters Vianne and Isabelle, different in nature yet each determined to do what they believe right, acting bravely and for love, as a part of the Resistance during the Second World War, does indeed merit a sparkling five stars. It’s a while since I’ve discovered myself holding my breath as I read, and that happened numerous times as I was transported to wartime France, cheering on Vianne and Isabelle – just wonderful. 


Linda - Imagine the scene … you want a holiday, indeed you need a holiday, but things are against you – no holiday entitlement left, no cash, too many other pulls on your time. You want to feel warm, well fed and watered, and be in wonderful company. Well, fear not. Michelle Heatley’s debut novel (can’t quite believe it is a debut novel as the writing is so lyrical, so assured, so masterly) Fish Soup will transport you to a Greek Island. There, you will almost hear the characters breathe, cry, and laugh. You will see the boats in the harbour, the olives, the sun-bleached houses, and you will smell the herbs, the fish, the lemons and heat on parched earth. You will taste the sweetness of butter-soft onions, and ripe, luscious, tomatoes. You will have to be careful you don’t cut your fingers on that sharp knife that sisters, Chloe and Isa, use to prepare the ingredients for the fish soup Cecilia is teaching them to make. Chloe and Isa each have their demons and every ingredient they use is linked in the most wonderful, poetic, way to their emotions. Cecilia, too, has had her troubles in life but she is older and has come to terms with them and is in a perfect position to help the sisters. I was with them all on that Greek island, a fellow holidaymaker sat in the corner, a glass of wine to hand, listening to them all, watching.
If I have one reservation about this book it’s that it didn’t say, Fish Soup – A NOVEL, in the title. I would hate to think that some might think it is a cookery book and not pick it up. If that’s the case, then they are missing out on a wonderful, escapist, summer (or any other time), read.
Michelle Heatley is a true wordsmith and this book an absolute delight for the senses.


Gill - Summer Reads. I’ve chosen two very different books as my recommendations, both of which I enjoyed very much and both of which in my personal ratings list I have given five stars.

The first is Katie Fforde’s A Summer At Sea. This is a delightful romance which had the added interest for me of being set just a few miles away from my new home! The characters are as lovely as we have come to expect from Fforde – well-rounded, warm and likeable. The story is perhaps a little predictable but this is a romance so I don’t think we can really quibble about that. The setting is idyllic and beautifully portrayed – a summer on an old-fashioned puffer boat sailing around the west coast of Scotland. Really, what’s not to like?

My second choice is very different. Jane Lovering’s I Don’t Want To Talk About It is not only much darker, set in autumn and winter with a heroine facing serious personal problems, it is also full of unexpected twists and truly wonderful comic one-liners. And it has not one but two heroes, both delicious in their very different ways. It also has a delightfully memorable child character in the person of 8-year-old Scarlet who brings the story and the characters together. Altogether an excellent read.

Jennifer - I’m scratching my head a little here. It wasn’t until after I promised a few words on ‘summer reads’ that it occurred to me. I don’t read that much in the summer. Either I’m too lazy (yes, you can be too lazy to read) or I’m too busy making the most of the weather. Winter is my reading time — curled up by the fire with a bar (or two) of chocolate…

I read on planes and in airports, though, and I tend to use that time to read books in my favourite genre — romantic suspense — written by my friends. So maybe now is the time to look back at a couple of the books that sustained me through the dull bookends of my last holiday. 

Helena Fairfax’s The Scottish Diamond is a follow up to Palace of Deception. They have the same hero and heroine but the first is set on his territory, somewhere in the sunny Mediterranean, and the second on hers (and, incidentally, mine) in rather colder, greyer Edinburgh. The stories are very different and yet Helena manages to develop the relationship between her hero and heroine alongside the action.

Gillian’s Island is by Canadian author Val Tobin. At least this has a holiday feel, being set in a resort which the heroine has been forced to sell to the man who becomes the hero. And there’s nothing fluffy about it. The heroine, Gillian, in particular is a complex and unusual character but Val carries the trick of a spiky, introverted protagonist off very well indeed.

They may not be traditional summer reads but they topped and tailed my recent holiday nicely.

Jennie - The English saying ‘If you want to get ahead, get a hat’ sums up this fable-like story translated from the French, beautifully.
I read it a couple of years ago and immediately insisted my husband read it too. It’s not so much a summer read as an all year round uplifting read.

The blurb reads:  A charming fable about the power of a hat that takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through French life during the Mitterrand years. Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President François Mitterrand sits down to eat at the table next to him. After the presidential party has gone, Daniel discovers that Mitterrand's black felt hat has been left behind. After a few moments' soul-searching, Daniel decides to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening. It's a perfect fit, and as he leaves the restaurant Daniel begins to feel somehow … different.

It’s a book that encompassed everything I like by taking a nostalgic, witty and humorous - somewhat satirical it must be said - look at life.
I rarely wear hats but if one like this ever came my way I’d wear it forever!

Neil - As I am not much of a reader, a photography magazine here or there, I asked my other half what she plans to read as her head is never out of a book when we go away on holiday.

Audrey has decided to read Stuart McBride’s The Missing and The Dead. McBride is an author originally from Aberdeen and writes in and around the area. Over to Audrey…

McBride is a new author for me, however it’s the 8th book in a series and I only hope I will be able to follow the plot line.
I decided to pick up this book as it’s based around Macduff and the outdoor swimming pool area, which piqued my interested as last summer on a family outing we stopped at Tarlair, which is what the swimming pool is called. A group of locals are trying to rejuvenate the area, as it has lain derelict and forgotten for some time.
The book follows the career of Acting Detective Inspector McRae who has been given a "development opportunity" in rural Aberdeenshire. A young girl’s body is found which means the Major Investigation Team must head to the area, where personalities clash in order to find the murderer.
I am looking forward to hopefully being gripped and unable to put the book down.

Happy reading.