Saturday, 27 July 2019

On writing emotion

Write what you know, they say.

Well, yah boo sucks to that, I say. How would fantasy, historical, science fiction, or even crime ever get written? If all authors stuck rigidly only to their own sphere of knowledge and experience then the world of literature would be a very boring place.

So I'd amend this to: Use what you know.

Use the experiences you've had to colour your novels, and especially use the emotions you have experienced to add depth. Holding your newborn baby; cradling an elderly much-loved pet as the vet gives that final injection; attending a sporting event when the team you're supporting wins; being first on the scene at a traffic accident; watching the Millennium fireworks; watching TV as the twin towers fell on 9/11; holding your mother's hand as she breathes her last - I've experienced all these as I guess many readers will have, too. And those intense emotions can be channelled into scenes I write.

Me, hours after giving birth to my second child.

I'm not advocating writing scenes that tell of your experiences exactly as they happened - some are far too private for that. No one's ever going to read of my mother's last moments. But that "chip of ice" in my writer's heart stored away exactly how I felt at the time for future use, and that's what I can use (and have already used).

A wise quote from a great writer.

Harrowing though it might be, when writing the death of a character, think back to how you felt when someone you loved died, relive it, and try to tap into that emotion. If you make yourself cry when writing it then you'll probably make the reader cry when reading it, and it is the emotional novels that people most remember afterwards. I'd suggest not trying to do this too soon- emotional experiences need time to bed in, to become a part of who you are. It's after this has happened that you can use them in your writing.

Mum. Gone but never forgotten.

Same goes for the joyous, happy occasions. Relive the moment, re-experience the feelings, and pour it all out as you write. Your reader will feel it too. And the dramatic, tense moments - you may have been holding your breath simply awaiting the email confirming your son's A level results, but you can use those feelings in any scene you write that requires tension and it'll work.

A marvellous writing tutor I used to have always advised when writing the "big" scenes, to put as much emotion as you possibly can on the page, and then treble it. Tapping into your own emotional memories is the way to do this. Use what you've experienced.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Being Inspired by Local Folklore ...

Over the next few months the Novel Points of View team will be inviting guest writers to the blog. Their brief is to write a post connected to writing, reading, books and creativity. I'm delighted to introduce writer, Sandra Ireland to the blog as she shares how her interest in local folklore inspires her writing.
Rae Cowie

Sandra Ireland
My new novel The Unmaking of Ellie Rook (Polygon) will hit the shelves on July 11th, and it’s always nice to pause for a moment in the hectic round of promotion to reflect on how it all began! By the time a book is published, you often feel quite divorced from it. After all the editing, proofreading and general tweaking, it becomes a product, and it’s good to have the chance to revisit the inspiration behind it.
      Although ‘Ellie Rook’ is a contemporary story about strong women, or more accurately, women in the process of finding their strength, it is rooted in an old legend about a real historical figure who lived not too far from me in the tenth century.  I first heard about the legend of Finella from acclaimed St Cyrus artist Sheila MacFarlane. Sheila works from her boathouse studio in the windswept and beautiful village of Tangleha, just north of St Cyrus, Aberdeenshire. I spent a wonderful afternoon with her, discussing the legend and taking a peek at her work.

The story goes that King Kenneth II executed Finella’s son, and in revenge she set a trap for him at her hunting lodge in Fettercairn. Luring him there to show off her new weapons, she rigged a crossbow to kill the king when he opened the door. Other versions have a more complex set-up, but as soon as the king fell down dead, Finella was forced to run for her life. The king’s men and their hounds chased her through the Howe of the Mearns towards the sea until they came to a 65 foot waterfall in what’s now called the Den of Finella. The lady was forced to make a decision; to stand and be killed or to jump to her death.  I visited the Den for research purposes and the gorge is dizzying. You can’t actually get close to the waterfall now, so I had to use a little artistic license in my novel!
Sandra at Barrie Mill -
inspiration for her second novel, Bone Deep

Sheila has captured the strength, earthiness and dignity of this woman in two large wood/linocuts standing almost 2590cm high and 760cm wide. During my visit I was lucky enough to view the prints, one of Finella  standing on a tree stump, and the other of her diving headfirst into the water. She is accompanied in the first image by a black feral cat. The detail is exquisite, portraying not just the female form but the power of bone, sinew and muscle beneath the skin.

Finella's Face - copy of wood/linocut
created by artist
Sheila MacFarlane

Few people have heard of Finella. You might think that her outrageous act and daring flight might have assured her a place in the history books. Macbeth, after all, did something similar just a century later and we all know about that, or rather a version of the truth. I suppose all such historical tales are merely a version of events, which is why we have such a rich strand of folklore and myth in our culture. I’m very proud to have had the opportunity to create my version of Finella’s tale in my new novel.

Thank you, Sandra, for joining us on our blog this week and revealing how inspiration can be found in both folklore and other art forms. To find out more about Sandra, her novels and latest releases, plus purchase links,  just read on ... 


Sandra is the author of three psychological thrillers: Beneath the SkinBone Deep and The Unmaking of Ellie Rook, all published by Polygon. A non-fiction title, Grist! The life, lore and  landscape of the Scottish Watermill will be published by Little Toller in the near future.

                          You can catch up with Sandra on
Twitter - @22_ireland
Facebook - Sandra Ireland Author 
Instagram - slireland22 
or on her

Author of Beneath the Skin, Bone Deep and The Unmaking of Ellie Rook.
Grist! The Life, Lore & Landscape of the Scottish Watermill coming soon.
Secretary Angus Writers' Circle
One Third of the Chasing Time Retreat Team

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Do you ever long to have a new beginning?

This blog sort of follows on from Linda's of the 22nd June where she talked about new things versus old. I make no apologies for this! I was stumped for ideas!

In less than a month I have a new book out 'Villa of Sun and Secrets'. Set in Antibes in the south of France it has a multi generation storyline and is about new beginnings for several of my characters.

July 14th is Bastille Day here in France marking the anniversary of the storming of the infamous Bastille prison in 1789 - a turning point for the success of the French Revolution. Definitely a new beginning there. Three years ago beautiful Nice became a scene of carnage when a terrorist targeted the Promenade des Anglais. For those having to come to terms with loosing loved ones in the attack it was an unwelcome new beginning to their way of life they most certainly did not want.

Emmanuel Macron at the 2018 Bastille Day parade. Photo: AFP

Known in France as La Fȇte Nationale, this year Bastille Day falls on a Sunday which means the traditional weekday national holiday to celebrate all things French is lost. It will be work as usual on Monday - maybe! But it is still a day when the French really go to town celebrating their country. 

There's a big parade in Paris that goes on for hours, with tanks , horses, endless regiments of soldiers, sailors, and displays by motorbike riders, horses, and flyovers by military aircraft. TV coverage starts at seven in the morning with special pre-recorded documentaries about all things military as well as live interviews. In the evening there is an open air concert by the Eiffel Tower which is followed by a spectacular fireworks show. This year too, three years after the tragedy, the fireworks will return to Nice.

My first experience of Bastille day, twenty years ago this year, was in the medieval city of Carcassone down in the Aude department in southern France. And sorry to say it was all a bit of a damp squib - or firework to be precise. We were in the middle of our long cycle ride down south and on July 13th, we found ourselves in Carcassone. After finding the campsite and setting up our tent etc. we walked into the Cité itself to explore. (If you ever get the chance to visit, do go.)

But on this particular day everywhere was a mass of cables, no entry signs, and men busy setting up the fireworks display for the following evening.
Back at the campsite everyone told us that Carcassone hosted the most spectacular firework display outside of Paris.The walls of the Cité are lit up and it becomes the Red Cité. We had to see it. So late the next evening we joined a large crowd to watch and admire the pyrotechnics. We duly oohed and ahhed for roughly five minutes and then everything stopped. Due to a faulty something or other the rest of the display just didn't happen. The photo below from another year shows some of what we should have seen but sadly didn't.

Bastille Day in 1789 signified a new beginning for the French en masse. But thankfully new beginnings are much tamer affairs normally. 

In 'Villa of Sun and Secrets', Carla gets her welcome new beginning when she inherits a half share in a French villa. But her 73 year old Aunt Josette who owns the other half, is not totally delighted about this because it forces her into making life changing decisions and having a new beginning herself. 

So, what constitutes a good new beginning for you? Moving house? Starting a new job? Getting married? Do you ever long to run away maybe and start over again? Would love to hear from you.

* * *

Saturday, 6 July 2019


Regular readers of the blog will know how much I love listening to podcasts so I found it interesting when the Audio Publishers Association reported a 23% increase in audiobook revenue during 2018. Booklovers are apparently being wooed to the dark side, preferring to listen rather than read. But listening isn’t actually reading, is it? I still wasn’t tempted to give audiobooks a try.

Perhaps my reluctance to embrace audiobooks was caused by memories of stressfully long car journeys, wonky cassettes tapes and scratched CDs when my sons were small, when we listened to the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on a loop. Or perhaps I treasured the time I spent reading as me-time. Whatever the reason, I held off joining the audiobook-loving masses until listening to an audiobook became the most sensible option.


My book group chose to read Joanna Cannon’s bestselling debut, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. An excellent choice and a book I’d already enjoyed but didn’t wish to read again. I did, however, want to brush on the story, so I downloaded the audiobook courtesy of my local library - and loved it. The novel is so beautifully narrated, the changes in tone and depth for each character bringing Grace, the ten year-old protagonist, alive in a way that was magical and different to the experience I had when reading.


I was hooked. Once I finished The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, I immediately began searching for my next audiobook read - My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty, The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal...


So what changed my mind? Well listening to a story is comforting. Perhaps it taps into memories of being cuddled on mum’s knee, or harks back to times when families swapped stories around the fire. But audiobooks have been around in various guises for a long time. What has caused their popularity to soar NOW?


Using quick and easy to install apps on mobile phones, bookworms are listening in the gym, on the train, whilst driving or powering through boring chores. But there’s a catch, audiobooks can be pricey. So where to begin?


1. Check out the audiobooks available to download for FREE via your local library.
2. Amazon’s excellent Audible service offers an introductory three-month trial, allowing readers to download one book per month absolutely FREE.
3. Amazon also offers FREE trials of its Kindle Unlimited service, during which time booklovers may listen to as many audiobooks as they wish.
4. Finally, for UK readers, Good Housekeeping magazine has partnered with publisher, Harper Collins to create the GH Audiobook Club and over the coming months will be offering every Good Housekeeping reader FREE audiobooks via Kobo. This month’s FREE to download book just happens to be The Trouble with Goats and Sheep which I highly recommend! To find out how to claim those free books click here.

I will always love learning via podcasts but now I enjoy mixing things up by listening to audiobooks too.

So, if you are already a lover of audiobooks, which do you recommend? And if you have yet to join the audiobook revolution, are you tempted?

Happy listening!

Rae x