Saturday, 29 September 2018


Last week I received the exciting news that my short story, The Whole Hog, is to be published in Northwords Now – the literary magazine of the north. I’m a writer - I’ve had a short story accepted – what makes that so special? Well the reason I’m thrilled is because it’s the first short story I’ve written in Doric.


But what is Doric? Unless you live in Scotland then it’s unlikely you will be familiar with the term. In the past, even the majority of Scots paid little attention to its existence. Yet earlier this month Doric shook off its status as a local dialect and was officially recognised as Scotland’s third language, to be acknowledged alongside English and Gaelic.


Cullen Viaducts, courtesy of
Neil Donald Photography
Doric is the native tongue (or mither tongue) of northeast Scotland, being spoken from just north of Dundee to around Elgin in Morayshire. In the 2011 census, 120,000 people – half the population of Aberdeenshire – identified as Scots/Doric speakers, compared with only 57,000 Scots who use Gaelic.

Doric is a fabulously expressive language. It is the language I speak at home with my parents and in-laws but, as a school child, found it was banished to the playground, strictly forbidden in the classroom. For my parents’ generation, communicating in Doric in front of a teacher led to them receiving several whacks of the belt.

For years the use of Doric has been on the decline and, as young people moved away from the northeast to study or find employment, was probably even considered a dying language.

A dear friend of mine, and Professor of Sociolinguistics at Glasgow University, Jennifer Smith, has made studying the changes in the use of Doric throughout the generations, a major part of her life’s work. My relatives and friends, from the area, have spent hours with her research team – happy to help.

But the good news is that in recent years the decline in the understanding of Doric has slowed. 


There are a number of reasons for the resurgence in interest in a language that can be tricky for non-speakers to understand. One of the main contributing factors is that now it’s compulsory for Doric to
Joyce Falconer starring in Morna Young's Doric
play Aye, Elvis
be taught in both Primary and Secondary schools across both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

Aberdeen University recently launched a series of Doric night classes, as well as Doric writing workshops. In March of this year, it hosted a performance of Handel’s Messiah sung in Doric.

This summer, MornaYoung, a young playwright from the northeast, took Doric to the International Edinburgh Festival with her critically acclaimed play Aye,Elvis, starring River City actress, Joyce Falconer.

Dr ShaneStrachan, recipient of the prestigious Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship, has written his debut novel, Quines at Sea (Girls at Sea), partly in Doric.  It is currently with leading literary agent Jenny Brown, being considered by publishers.

Speaking, writing and reading in Doric is no longer confined to northeast Scotland.


Doric embraced by Hollywood
in the Pixar movie, Brave
In fact in 2012, the delights of listening to Doric were brought to a worldwide audience by Grey’s Anatomy actor, Kevin McKidd when he voiced the Young MacGuffin in the Pixar movie Brave. Pixar suggested that McKidd use nonsense Scots words, but instead he opted to use Doric, the language of his hometown that he learnt from his grandfather. Pixar loved it. Hear from McKidd himself on this You Tube clip... listen now.


So why not give it a go? It’s a wonderfully rich language, written, for the most part, phonetically. As a simple starting point, the letters WH are often replaced with the letter F. 
What become Fit
Where becomes Far
Why becomes Fit wy
When becomes Fan
Here are some of my favourite Doric words …


Footer – to mess about , waste time   ‘Fit are you footerin aboot at'

Pellan – a fence   ‘He climt the pellan’
Bosie – a warm cuddle  ‘Gis a bosie’
Skelp – a slap  ‘He’s gan to git a skelp’
Splooter – to spill  ‘Fit a splooter yer makin’
Red up – a mess   ‘Fit a red up!’


I hope I’ve piqued your interest in the Doric language. To learn more, a fun place to start is the Doric Dictionary online.


And if you’d like to read my FREE short story, The Whole Hog, written using the pseudonym Isobel
Northwords Now -
available as a newspaper, Kindle version and online
Rutland – partly written in Doric so it is still accessible to non-Doric speakers – then it will be available in the autumn edition of Northwords Now online very soon. (I’ll update the link when it is posted).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sma introduction to Doric.
Dinna bide awa! (Come back soon!)

Rae x
I'd love if you'd leave a message or get in touch on Twitter @Rae_Cowie

Friday, 21 September 2018

WRITING OUT OF SEASON by Victoria Cornwall

I've lost count how many times I've written a scene describing the season in some way. Often, my fictional timeline is in a different season to the one I'm experiencing in reality. I've written about the burnt amber leaves of autumn while wearing shorts, a t-shirt and with the pungent smell of suntan lotion on my skin. I've written about the blustering gales of winter as I munch on an Easter egg. I've written about the fresh new shoots of spring  ... well you get the picture.
Last year I began writing my first Christmas novella. I was in the middle of a novel at the time, but I was advised that if I was going to write a Christmas themed story it would be a good idea to set the other novel aside as it would be easier to write about Christmas around the Christmas period.
I seriously considered the advice given to me, as although I can easily imagine a winter season in the summer, there is something magical about Christmas that is not so easy to capture when the celebration has come and gone.

I know that many of my friends have successfully written a Christmas story outside the festive season. They've told me that they have used decorations, mince pies and Christmas music to recapture the mood as they write. This sounded like a great idea and probably works well, but I wasn't so sure if it would work for me and this is why ...
  1. Christmas is very special to me and I wanted it to remain that way, neatly tucked away between November and January ... a warm, cosy, spiritual oasis filled with generosity, family and a well known biblical story. Did I want to recreate it in March and April? I'd rather be munching on a chocolate Easter egg by then.
  2. By the time Christmas is over I've had my fill and quite relieved to pack the decorations away and give the house a good clean (a task which is so much harder with a wilting fir tree wearing tinsel). The house clean signals that the hard work (and stress) of the big day is finally over. Did I want to be reminded about it during the summer? I didn't think so.

So I set my current novel aside and began to write my first Christmas novella around Christmas time last year.

Did my plan work? Was it easier to write a Christmas themed story around Christmas time?
I loved writing A Daughter's Christmas Wish during the build-up to Christmas. It felt special and not like work at all. I hope I managed to capture the build-up and magic of Christmas, but perhaps only someone who is an expert on Christmas will know the answer to that. What do you think, Father Christmas?

Did I keep Christmas neatly tucked away between November and January?
Not quite. I finished the book in February/March. During the late summer and early autumn I was working with my publisher to prepare it for publication, which inevitably requires immersing myself into the build up to Christmas outside of the festive period.

Although my mind has been pre-occupied with Christmas far longer than I had anticipated (6 to 7 months in all), I've loved every minute of it. Maybe immersing myself in the festive spirit of goodwill outside the Christmas period is not so bad after all!

Now, I think its time to put my feet up. I have a little respite ... until, of course, the real countdown to Christmas begins!

A Daughter's Christmas Wish will be released on 20th November as an ebook and audiobook.
It will be available to pre-order soon!

To find out more about Victoria Cornwall's books click HERE

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Dancing With the Devil: the Misery of the First Draft

This was probably not the low point, but it's typical...
I’m writing a book. 

I’m always writing a book. In fact, I’m always writing several books, each one at a different stage. One or more are ideas in my head; one is at the planning stage; one is first draft; one at an advanced second/third draft; one requires a final polish; and one is with my agent (I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of saying that). 

When I’m talking about the process, I always tell people how much I love every single stage of it, and that’s mostly true — but there is one part of the process that I hate beyond words, and that is the middle part of the first draft. No matter how well I plot, or in his much detail, there always comes a point where I don’t know what to write but I daren’t stop, because if I do I’ll never start again. It’s like dancing with the Devil.

I think this is why the concept of word racing works so well. You set your target and I, being target-driven, always get there. Every November I “enter” National Novel Writing Month (NANoWriMo) and every November I “win”, usually completing 50k words within a week. 

Yet somehow I can’t do this at any other time. I’ve written about the boggy middle of my books elsewhere — that middle third where the plot doesn’t fit together the way I thought it would and the characters go off and do their own thing, so that the second half of the book bears no resemblance to the first. 

Writing that middle third is hard. The opening is easy, with the setup and the back story, introducing the characters and finding a hook. The final third is great, too, as the pace picks up and lives are on the line. (I write crime.) But the middle third is grim. It’s a hand-to-hand fight, a battle with every syllable, every word, every sentence, and it’s a battle that you can’t give up.

In the middle third I hate what I’ve written. The writing is poor, very rushed. Chunks of what I’ve already written are no longer relevant and that the later parts of the plot have nothing to do with it. New characters appear and I know nothing about them, but in order to keep the plot going I write them anyway and they are superficial, inconsistent and not credible. Plot twists emerge from nowhere. They refer to incidents that have taken place in the early part of the plot that are missing from the early part of the draft. A character’s backstory suddenly changes because the plot doesn’t work if they spent last year abroad. That sort of thing.

I’ve been through that fight this week, and it was miserable. When I finally got through it, I looked back and realised that it’s dreadful, full of square brackets in which I shout at myself to GO BACK AND ADD A BIT EARLIER or even THIS DOES NOT WORK! But the first draft is always dreadful. And, crucially, with a lot of work it’s always fixable. 

Did I ever tell you how much I love editing?

Jennifer Young

Saturday, 1 September 2018


Hello and welcome to another in our get to know our team and their writing series. Today it’s the turn of historical romance writer, Victoria Cornwall and her latest release, The Daughter of River Valley. Victoria’s debut novel, The Thief’s Daughter, was published in 2017 by Choc Lit, introducing readers to her Cornish Tales series, as well as being selected as a finalist for the prestigious Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Joan Hessayon Award. Whilst penning novels, Victoria also loves connecting with readers online and has a heart-warming short story published in this month’s Your Cat magazine. (Which gave me the purrfect excuse to buy one!)

But before we discover more about Victoria and her writing, here’s a taste of what to look forward to in The Daughter of River Valley

Can you trust a man with no name?
Cornwall, 1861
Beth Jago appears to have the idyllic life, she has a trade to earn a living and a cottage of her own in Cornwall’s beautiful River Valley. Yet appearances can be deceptive …
Beth has a secret. Since inheriting her isolated cottage she’s been receiving threats, so when she finds a man in her home she acts on her instincts. One frying pan to the head and she has robbed the handsome stranger of his memory and almost killed him.
Fearful he may die, she reluctantly nurses the intruder back to health. Yet can she trust the man with no name who has entered her life, or is he as dangerous as his nightmares suggest?

Author - Victoria Cornwall
Hello Victoria, and thanks for agreeing to take the hot-seat today. Let's get started... 

1. Beth Jago is a character many aspire to be like – capable and resilient – and yet, following the death of her beloved grandfather, she has also been left fragile, taking comfort from the familiar landscape and seclusion of River Valley. What drew you to explore Beth’s attachment to place, rather than say a family member?

I think it is a primal need in all of us to feel safe and secure and have a place we can call our home. People also have the natural desire to protect what they hold dear. Beth, the character, only had this need met and the desire to protect it, when she arrived at River Valley.  I used this theme as I felt readers would relate to these very natural, primal feelings and connect with Beth and the emotional journey she takes.

2. Without giving too much away, one of my favourite scenes in the book is
Rocky Valley, Cornwall
when Beth and Joss explore River Valley together for the first time and a magical natural spectacle appears. I noticed in the author’s notes that River Valley is based on Cornwall’s Rocky Valley. Is this scene imagined? Or is there an area of Rocky Valley where this takes place? (Readers will have to read The Daughter of River Valley to discover what this is!)

Rocky Valley is a beautiful valley. There are narrow earthy tracks, a tree where visitors hang tokens and ribbons, water which were once thought to have healing powers, a waterfall ... and of course a river. There are also stone carvings, which I did not put into the novel. However the natural spectacle that I think you are talking about is not related to Rocky Valley. It was inspired by Chipman Valley, which can be found on the coastal walk between Bude to Crackington Haven. Locally it is known as Butterfly Valley.

3. It was fascinating how dress, whether it was Beth’s Sunday best or the correct amount of a lady’s cleavage showing, enabled characters to identify where others belonged in the Cornish social hierarchy. What research did you have to do to establish how seamstresses worked at the time?

I have started a small collection of research books relating to life in the Victorian era. The internet is also a great help, although the information is not always accurate and needs to be cross-referenced to check the details. Beth's profession was inspired by a very old sewing machine in the family, however fashion through the ages is my secret passion and once you know what you are looking for, you can date a dress to within a few years as fashions changed as quickly as it does now.

4. The historical period, feisty characters and romantic setting will very much appeal to lovers of Poldark. How much has Winston Graham’s novels inspired your own writing? And why do you think writers and readers love to return to Cornwall, both literally and in a literary context, again and again?

First of Winston Graham's
I am a great fan of Graham's writing. It is poetic at times, yet realistic to the era and keeps you turning the pages. I would say he is a massive influence on my writing style. I have read his Poldark novels many times and tend to compare everything I read to his writing style. It is partly why I began writing in the first place. I write about Cornwall because I am Cornish and I live here. It is a place and community I know well, so it was a simple choice for me. Many people have been to Cornwall or aspire to visit the county. Reading a book is about escaping the present and what better place to escape to then Cornwall? Writers recognise this market and cater to it by setting their novels in Cornwall.

5. There is an interesting strand of Cornwall’s military history sprinkled throughout the novel. What drew you to include this part of Cornwall’s past?

I am very interested in our war history. So many men and women died in
the name of our country so I feel it would be wrong to forget our past. I honour them in my own way, by visiting museums, watching documentaries or films. I was visiting the Cornwall's Regimental Museum, in Bodmin, to learn about the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry and was surprised to learn that soldiers from the southwest took part in a very famous battle related to the Victoria Cross, which is the highest award a soldier can earn. This inspired part of the plot and was my way of honouring those soldiers who took part and all they had to suffer.

6. The questions I can never resist – which authors do you enjoy reading? Which books might we find on your bedside table?

For beautiful, plot turning pages, it would have to be the first seven books of the Winston Graham's Poldark series. 
For fascinating historical detail in fiction it would have to be Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
For pure sensual poetry in fiction, The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella

7. The Daughter of River Valley is book number three in the Cornish Tales series, although it can also be read as a stand-alone. So what’s next? 

There is a full-length novel waiting in the wings, which will be published by Choc Lit and is part of the Cornish Tales series. I hope that will be released next year. I loved writing it and hope my readers will love reading it.

In the meantime, I am delighted to say that I have a Christmas novella coming out in November. A soldier returns from the Great War to fulfil a promise to a fellow soldier, which is to bring Christmas to the fiancé he will never see again. As it's the 100th year anniversary of Armistice this year, it is my tribute to those who fought and suffered for our freedom during WW1.

Sounds a wonderful tribute, Victoria and a great Christmas read too. And in the meantime, readers can enjoy The Daughter of River Valley or catch Victoria's short fiction in September's Your Cat magazine.

Happy reading,

 Rae x