Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival – Introduction #books #reading #writing

I Love Book Festivals

I’ve attended many book festivals here in Scotland over the years. My first one was the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF) back in the 1990s and it’s one I’ve revisited several times since. And having just received the fabulous programme for this year’s EIBF I can’t wait to make a return visit in August. At the other end of the scale in the sense of festival size and budget is the Skye Book Festival held on the Scottish island of Skye which I have attended both as a visitor and as a guest author and is another favourite of mine. And there have been several others all around the country that I’ve loved visiting.

You Can’t Please All of the People

However, recently I was disappointed when the 2019 programme for one of those other festivals was announced and I couldn’t find a single event I wanted to attend. I guess this was mostly due to the fact that there were very few fiction writers on the bill (less than ten percent of the total) and they were from the literary end of the spectrum. The line-up consisted mainly of well known people from television and journalism and yes, some of them have written fiction and some would be attending to talk about their novels. But many of the events weren’t even about books.

Now I should say, I have nothing against an actor, comedian or journalist writing a book – fiction or otherwise – I’ve read and enjoyed many such books. I also get that for book festivals to survive the economics dictate that getting well-known folks from any walk of life to take part helps sell tickets. But for there not to be a single writer of genre fiction – bestseller or otherwise – included in the line up seemed really odd – especially as this festival has always included them in the past.

So in amongst the yoga, live music, celebrities and topical debates I couldn’t find any book events that were just about a good book and its writer. But it’s a thriving book festival and long may it continue. Due to personal taste I won’t be going this time but there’s always next year…

Welcome to my Virtual Book Festival

But all of the above got me thinking. Dangerous I know! And I found myself wondering – if I was organising a book festival that I’d want to go to – who and what would I include? And then I thought I could organise my own book festival – a virtual one here on the blog. So that’s what I plan to do.

Dream Team Line Up

Authors from across the genres will make up most of programme but I also want to include industry professionals like editors and designers, as well as representatives from author organisations, the book-blogging community and book-centred social media groups.

Festival Format

All of the above folks will have their own events/posts where they’ll speak about their work – the books they’ve either written, reviewed,or helped to produce – or the support they offer to authors. And the best thing for visitors is you won’t need a ticket and you can visit whenever it suits you. Events will begin to appear here soon and the festival spots will run until September. So watch this space…

Over to you

What do you think of real-world book festivals? Do you attend any? Do you have a favourite? What do they get right? Feel free to comment below.

 

Writer’s Block: How to bash through #amwriting #writing

Writing is hard work – just like a proper job …

I used to think that being a writer was a pretty cushy job. After all a writer is their own boss, they can go to work in their pyjamas, drink as many cups of tea as they like, and all they have to do is bash out a few thousand words each day and within months – maybe even weeks – they have a best-selling novel and millions of pounds in the bank.

Of course that was before I actually became a writer. Now before I go any further, I should say that I know there are countless worse jobs – in terms of conditions, physical and emotional demands, and sense of achievement – than that of book writer. But I know that for me – and many fellow authors – it came as a bit of surprise to discover that actually it has a lot in common with other ways of earning a living.

And one of the main factors that working as a writer has in common with any other occupation is that you have to turn up – whether in pyjamas or a pin stripe suit – with or without liquid refreshment, and you have to be productive. You can’t be all precious and sit there sighing as you wait for your inspirational muse. Oh no, you just have to get on and write. You have to hit the daily word count target and keep the publishing schedules and deadlines firmly in sight at all times.

So when the dreaded writers’ block hits – and it inevitably does at some stage – it’s important to find ways around it and to get back up and running without too much delay. And so I thought that in today’s post I’d share some of the things that help me demolish or at least get round this most horrible obstacle to creativity.

Firstly it’s important to know the possible reason for the block. It might be fatigue, it might be self-doubt either about writing ability or doubts about the worth of the story itself, or it might be a particular scene or chapter that’s proving troublesome.

Procrastination is permitted

If it’s fatigue, then it’s important to give yourself permission to rest. It doesn’t have to mean going off on a world cruise, or even taking a whole day off but it’s okay – indeed it’s essential not to let yourself burn out. Procrastination is sometimes not only permissible it can be vital. So listen to music, indulge in a hobby – be it sewing, gardening or motor-cycling. Or you could have a nap, go for coffee and a cake with a friend, or even curl up with a book by some other writer who’s obviously managed to overcome their own particular blocks.

Doubt is a demon that needs to be kicked off the pitch

If it’s that wicked wee demon known as Doubt that’s getting in the way – then reading part of something you’ve already written and had published can help reassure you that you can do this. Similarly reading positive reviews of your work can be a great way of boosting that fragile belief in your author-self. And if you’re still awaiting publication then taking a minute to recall why you’re writing in the first place can work just as well. For example try recalling who or what it was that first inspired you to write and use it as metaphorical armour to fend off the demonic enemy. Or read over any earlier pieces of work you’re proud of and remind yourself you’ve done it before so you can do it again.

The need to reboot and refresh

And if it’s a particular piece of plotting or characterisation in your work-in-progress that’s giving you grief, getting away from the desk for a good walk can prove helpful. It’s amazing how when your body goes off for a wander, your mind does too. The brain will work away on the problem in the background while you take some deep breaths and take in the views and then when you least expect it will notify you of a possible solution. And if a walk isn’t possible, then any of the above remedies for fatigue can often help with plot-freeze too.

But if diversionary tactics don’t work then it’s quite all right to go round this particular block. So you can leave that particular scene or plot development for later and get on with subsequent chapters for a while. You can always flag up possible continuity issues as you go while the block remains unresolved and sort them out later. And it’s quite possible that by continuing on your way, your brain will again do that thing of going off on its own and solving the problem while you’re looking somewhere else.

And even in the most extreme event – where you and your brain arrive at the conclusion that a major rewrite or indeed abandonment of the book as it is, is what’s required, that’s still progress. And by re-booting the project you will also have kicked the wall over.

Walk round the wall, jump over it, or kick the blighter over

So, in summary, stalling is okay. It happens, it has to happen, and it’s all part of the writing process. The important thing is not to let it be an excuse for giving up. All jobs have their frustrations, but it’s only in the most extreme situations where our health or safety is in doubt that we need to quit.

Most of the time the problems that come with the territory are challenges that can be resolved.

And, as long as the answers to the questions below remain as they are today, I’ve no intention of letting some puny wall get in the way of writing that bestseller.

Is writing an important and vital part of my life? Yes

Do I love my job as a writer? Yes

Can I imagine ever retiring? No

So it’s bah to writer’s block. The show – or in this case the book – must go on!

Does Childhood Reading Still Matter?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Do kids still read stories or is it all about the screen now?

My seven-year-old granddaughter like so many children nowadays likes her daily allowance of screen time. On the tablet she shares with her sibling she watches movies, YouTube channels and also plays games.

BUT she is also a keen reader of books – something that gladdens this reader’s, writer’s and former teacher’s heart.

In fact having graduated from picture books to those with chapters she’s recently become a proper little bookworm. And her parents are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the demand for more and more books.

The benefits and joys of reading

While I sympathise with the parents, I feel even more for my granddaughter in her pursuit of reading material. I too was a keen reader from the moment I could decode print. Reading was my passion and my pastime of choice – it still is. Reading fuelled my imagination and inspired me to write my own stories – and it still does.

For all ages and stages in life, book reading educates and stimulates, but it can also provide comfort and escapism. It worked for me, for my children, for my school pupils, and in my (not so humble) opinion book reading is as important now as it has always been.

Access to books

As a child I was fortunate to have a library within walking distance of my home. My granddaughter – like so many children now – is not so lucky. So this got me thinking.

I can’t do anything to improve library access, but I can buy books. So I’ve set up Grandma’s Book Club (GBC). And the way it works is once a month I buy a book or two for my granddaughter – and for her wee brother, who’s also developing bookworm tendencies – and I post them from here in Scotland to my grandchildren in Australia. GBC is proving popular and it means that much of my video-call time with my granddaughter is taken up with book talk – which is so lovely.

Old classics and contemporary stories

At first I picked the books and hoped for the best that they’d be enjoyed. Some have been by authors my children (and former pupils) enjoyed back in the day, and some are much more recently published. It’s encouraging to see there still remains plenty of choice. And feedback received seems to suggest I’ve chosen well. My granddaughter has enjoyed reading about children engaged in pastimes and sports she hasn’t yet experienced, she’s enjoyed and been informed by how children can deal with problems and setbacks, and she has been inspired to ask questions and seek out information.

And lately I’ve also started receiving specific book requests – most recently for books in Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series. This made me smile as, like so many others over the years, Enid Blyton’s books formed a large part of my own early reading material.

And it got me thinking about the books that made the biggest impression on me during my primary school years (age 5 to 12) and whether my granddaughter would like them too. It also had me reminiscing about how much they meant to me at the time – and still do. And I was delighted to find that, like Blyton’s books, some of them are still available today.

Long live childhood reading

So it’s safe to say I do think childhood reading matters. It matters because of the reasons stated above and it matters because it opens children’s minds to possibilities, to connections with the past present and future. And it matters for its own sake – it’s just so mightily marvellous!

What do you think?

PS: I know I haven’t mentioned e-readers versus paper books (especially for children) but that would take up a whole other post. For this post all I’m on about is the importance and enjoyment of childhood reading in general with particular reference to paper books. But feel free to offer your opinion on this below.

PPS: Do you think book reading remains important and relevant for today’s children? Or do you think that online pursuits are taking or will take over for good or ill? Please do comment below.

My Top 10 childhood favourites

And to finish I thought I’d share my own ten favourite childhood reads from back in the pre-historic era – and here’s hoping at least some end up on my granddaughter’s  list.

Mallory Towers (series) by Enid Blyton

Famous Five (series) by Enid Blyton

The Mystery of … (series) Enid Blyton

Heidi (and sequel) by Johanna Spyri

What Katy Did (series) by Susan Coolidge

Jill and the Perfect Pony by Ruby Ferguson

Ballet Shoes by Noel Stratfeild

Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Little Women (series) by Louisa May Alcott

Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

And finally

What about you? Would you say you were a childhood bookworm? What would your Top Ten childhood reads be?

Playlists for Plotting: How music helps me write #amwriting #writing #mondayblogs

Similar to lots of jobs

Sorry if I’m shattering any illusions here, but being a writer is hard work. In lots of ways it’s a job like many others.

You have to turn up at your post. You have to put in the hours. You have to produce some sort of result.

Sometimes it can be tiring, frustrating and nerve-wracking.

At other times it’s invigorating, rewarding and morale-boosting.

And as long as there are more of those good times than the not so good then you’re motivated to keep going.

A different way of working

But working as a novel writer also has some unique aspects to it – or if not unique then they’re shared by only a few other professions.

Firstly, it’s a job where you have to work on your own. Even if you work in collaboration with another author, it’s still only you who can write your contribution.  You can’t share or delegate.

Secondly, you’re the boss. You’re answerable to you – and so it’s easy to let yourself off the hook. ‘Not in the mood? Don’t feel writing several thousand words today? Rather wash the windows, sort your sock drawer, play around on social media? That’s okay. You’ll easily catch up when you’re in the mood.’ But of course you won’t. You’re procrastinating and the novel won’t write itself.

And thirdly, even when the spirit is willing and you’re at the desk and keen to get going, it can be hard to know how to proceed, hard to shut out the world and hard to stay in the zone.

The magic of music

And that’s where music comes in. I find that background music really helps me both get in the writing zone and helps me stay there. I don’t necessarily even hear or at least actively pay attention to it as I’m writing, but if my concentration does go then it’s the music that brings me back on task.

The plot playlist

That’s why I compile a playlist for each of my books. And it’s amazing how just hearing that first track gets my brain where it needs to be and the fact the tunes continue to play in the background helps to keep the real world at bay.

So, today I thought I’d share a sample of five tracks from each of the playlists I used for the first two books in my Skye series of novels as well as some from the one I’m currently using as I write the third book in that series.

Displacement Playlist

And I love you so – Don McLean

Lon-dubh (Blackbird) – Julie Fowlis

Meadowlarks – Fleet Foxes

You are the best thing – Ray LaMontagne

I’m gonna do it all – Karine Polwart

 

Settlement Playlist

Mad World – Michael Andrews

I still care for you – Ray LaMontagne

Your Ghost – Greg Laswell

Wherever you are – Military Wives

The sound of silence – Disturbed

 

Fulfilment Playlist

Wicked Game – Chris Isaak

It’s always been you – Ray LaMontagne

I could never say goodbye – Enya

Fuel to fire – Agnes Obel

In our tears – Secret Garden

 

All the tracks on my playlists are atmospheric, evocative and appropriate for the feelings, moods and ideas I write about. These are just some of them.

If you click on a song title you’ll be taken to the track on Youtube where you can listen to the song for yourself and see what you think.

Do you find music helpful when you want to concentrate on something? Or is it distracting – if so what does help you focus?

 

Inspirational Quotes #mondayblogs #wisewords

Words of Wisdom

As writer I know what it is to get stuck – even more so in my real life.

As with my work-in-progress life sometimes flow along nicely, I know where events are heading and I just get on with it. But at other times I get discouraged, don’t know which decision is the right one or how to deal with a difficult situation.

And, at times like these, I have a stock of trusty quotes that although they don’t make the problem go away they do offer me good advice, or a wake-up call or simply some consolation.

Yes, some of them could be classed as clichés – but then clichés become so because they’re often apt and true.

So when I found myself a bit stuck as to what to write for this week’s blog post and was even considering skipping it for this week, I got a grip and had the bright idea of sharing my 10 favourite inspirational quotes. (Where possible I’ve credited the author of the quote, but where I haven’t please do let me know if you know who originally said it and I’ll amend the post).

Most are from literature and some are from greetings cards, and I even found one on a farmer’s field gate but, as a writer, took it metaphorically.

So here goes – My Top Ten Inspirational Quotes:

  • We worry about tomorrow like it’s promised. (Pinterest)
  • You only regret the things you don’t do. (Said to me by a friend when I was contemplating a life-changing decision)
  • I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference. (Robert Frost in The Road Not Taken poem)
  • Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. (Greetings card)
  • Follow your dreams wherever they may lead. (Greetings card)
  • Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in Begin it now. (Goethe)
  • Beyond right and wrong there is a field. I will meet you there. (Rumi)
  • Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded. (Buddha)
  • This too will pass. (Said to me by a friend during one of life’s challenging times)
  • Beware of the Bull (On a field gate, meant literally of course. But which I choose to take as good life advice to beware of all the bulls**t/ nonsense out there).

And I leave you with one extra special quote. It was said to me by an angry and upset parent when I was a deputy head teacher in a primary school. We were having a difficult conversation about an incident involving her child. She was shouting and swearing and I was trying to be Mrs Calm and Professional. Then when she’d had quite enough of me trying to be reasonable she advanced towards me, pointing at me and she said, ‘Take a f*****g shake to yourself, lady!’

I recall these words of wisdom whenever I lose sight of what’s reasonable and possible. And my family tell me they will be on my headstone.

Do you have any go-to quotes that help you out when needed? Please do share them below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Single Woman by Maggie Christensen @MaggieChriste33 #RomanticFiction #BookReview #amreading

Maggie Christensen Does It Again – Another Great Read

I’m very fortunate to have been given a pre-publication copy of A Single Woman, Maggie Christensen’s latest novel. It will be published on the 9th of May and will be available at all the usual online stores including Amazon and Kobo.

I always look forward to reading books by this author and this new novel more than lived up to my expectations.

It was good to catch up with Matt and Bel, characters from two of the author’s previous books – The Good Sister and Isobel’s Promise. But this time the main characters were Matt’s widower son-in-law, Alasdair, and the single woman of the title, Isla.

You don’t have to have read the earlier books in order to enjoy this new one, but if you haven’t I’d recommend that you do just for the sheer enjoyment.

A Single Woman is a second-chance, midlife romance where the last thing either protagonist is looking for is to fall in love. It’s set mainly in the Scottish city of Glasgow, and it’s the thoughtful and touching story of the developing relationship between two rather damaged people.

Alasdair is lonely and sad as he struggles to parent his two teenage children while grieving the loss of his wife two years previously. Isla is independent, self-sufficient and lives for her work as head teacher of a high school for girls. And when the two of them meet, although they’re attracted to each other, both struggle with admitting they’re looking for anything more than friendship. For Alasdair there’s the guilt of being with someone new and for Isla there’s the fear of opening up about her past and making herself vulnerable.

I loved the slow-burn of this story. And I loved the flawed main characters with all their human frailties and vulnerabilities. I’m sure most readers will, like me, find themselves rooting for Isla and Alasdair and willing them to, for once, put themselves first and take a chance on each other.

Yes, this is another great read from Maggie Christensen.

From the Back Cover:

Isla Cameron. headmistress at an elite girl’s school in Glasgow, is determinedly single, adroitly avoiding all attempts at matchmaking by a close friend.

Widower Alasdair MacLeod is grieving for the wife he lost two years earlier, struggling as the single father of two teenagers, and frustrated by the well-meaning interference of his in-laws.

When a proposed school trip to France brings Isla and Alasdair together, they find a connection in the discovery that each is suffering the loss of a loved one, but neither is interested in forming a relationship,

As their friendship grows, Alasdair struggles with his increasing attraction to the elegant schoolmistress, while Isla harbours concerns about the complications a relationship with him would bring.

Can Alasdair overcome his natural reserve, and can Isla open her heart to love again?

***                                                                                                                                         

Readers of Christensen’s earlier books, The Good Sister and Isobel’s Promise, will love reconnecting with Bel and Matt while enjoying Isla Cameron’s unique story.

 

 

 

A Winter of Love Gives Way To A Springtime Of Crime #amreading #books

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review here on the blog. Regular readers will know I’ve been busy writing my next novel since the start of 2019, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. However, it has meant I haven’t had so much time to write reviews.

So I thought it was high time to share my thoughts – albeit briefly – on my five favourite reads so far this year and also to share the titles of the five books I plan to read next.

5 Romantic Winter Reads:

Sunset Over the Cherry Orchard by Jo Thomas. A Spanish setting with flamenco, fine food, and a cherry farm provide a great backdrop to the story of Beti and Antonio. Lovely!  I reviewed A Winter Beneath the Stars by the same author here in early January.

The Northern Lights Lodge by Julie Caplin. Iceland is the setting this time and Lucy, from the UK, is the new manager of a lodge hotel there. Alex is the Scottish barman at the hotel but he’s not exactly who he claims to be. Expect lots of cosy log fires indoors and glaciers, hot springs and the northern lights outdoors as the backdrop to this well told story and intriguing love story.

The Summer of Chasing Dreams by Holly Martin. Eva is way out of her comfort zone as she sets of on a round the world trip to fulfil the dreams of her late mother and the last thing she wants or expects is to fall in love. But you guessed it she does. And Thor the Danish tour guide is certainly beguiling…

Summer at the Art Cafe by Sue McDonagh. I loved this story of Lucy who wins a motorbike, and her developing relationship with both the bike and her, at first rather grumpy, motorcycle instructor Ash. Great characters and a refreshingly different story.

Meet Me at the Art Cafe by Sue McDonagh. Yes, a second book by the author above. I read a review of this one which recommended reading the above one first. I’m glad I did as you get to catch up with Lucy and Ash – as well as reading about the new but difficult relationship between Jo and Ed. These are two characters with all sorts of baggage but of course as a reader you end up rooting for them to get together. As with the first book in this series, there is a great seaside setting, a wonderful cast of supporting characters and yes, more motor bikes.

5 Springtime Reads to look forward to – as love gives way to crime:

The first two in the to-be-read list are romances, but then it’s set to get a bit darker –

Amazing Grace by Kim Nash. This definitely looks like my sort of romantic read.

A Single Woman by Maggie Christensen (due out on 9th May). The latest second-chance romance from a favourite author of mine

Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves. The final DI Perez story in the wonderful Shetland crime series.

Only the Dead Can Tell by Alex Gray. Another author whose previous crime fiction I’ve enjoyed.

Cold as the Grave by James Oswald. A new crime writer for me but he comes highly recommended.

And it’s worth noting that I’ve discovered most of the above books because of reviews by some amazingly dedicated book bloggers. So thank you to Anne at Being Anne , Joanne at Portobello Book Blog and Linda at Linda’s Book Bag to name only a few… These blogs are well worth a visit if you’re looking for reading suggestions.

So, what are your best reads of 2019 so far? And what are you looking forward to reading next? Feel free to comment below.

Writing Fiction: Made Up Places

In my last post I wrote about five favourite real-life places that have featured in my books. So in this one I thought I’d share some other places that feature in my fiction but that are entirely made-up.

Now, you might be wondering why I felt the need to invent places. After all, my books are contemporary fiction and are set in real geographical locations with plenty of actual distinctive and exciting settings to choose from. Even my children’s book with its historical and fantasy elements is based in the real world settings of Edinburgh and the north of Scotland.

There are various reasons why I invented some additional settings as well as making full use of the real ones. Some were practical and some were just part of the fun of using my imagination. After all as an author I get to enjoy making up characters and their stories, so why not add in some pretend places too.

Imagined Houses

One of my favourite sorts of places to invent is a character’s home.

The house I created for Caitlin in my children’s novel The Silver Locket was based on a real house. Caitlin lives in Edinburgh with her father and her siblings in a large Victorian villa. And the house I used as a starting point was the one my piano teacher lived in – a house I visited regularly as a child. Another house familiar to me from childhood was the seaside one where one of my friends lived and this gave me a starting point for Rosie’s house in Change of Life.

For both Rachel and Jack in Displacement and its sequel Settlement I spent a fair bit of time creating their houses.

Jack’s house is a former croft house and although it’s over a hundred years old, he renovates, modernises and extends it. One of the outcomes of the work he puts in is lots of large windows that make the most of the light and the views. He also knocks down interior walls to make larger more open rooms.

Rachel’s cottage is on a working croft. It too is over a hundred years old. It’s the house she grew up in and has not had any recent modernisation work done to it.

For Jack’s house especially I trawled through magazines such as Ideal Homes and House Beautiful to get ideas. I also based some of the exteriors and interiors on actual houses including ones I’d lived in myself.

Once I had some starting point pictures in my head I then drew out the floor plans for the houses. I put in as much detail as possible – including the location of doors, windows and stairs as well as the layout of the furniture. I also made a note of the direction in which the houses faced and what could be seen from the windows. And these plans were important – not because I intended to include every detail of these dwellings in their respective novels – but in order to maintain clarity for myself when I imagined my characters moving around in these spaces. But not only that, it was also in order to maintain consistency for my readers who I hoped would be able to imagine these spaces for themselves.

Imagined Streets, Villages and Towns

Almost all the outdoor settings I’ve used so far in my novels are real. The walks taken by the characters, the towns and cities and villages they live in exist – even if their actual address doesn’t.

But I did make up one place and that is Halladale the crofting township where Displacement‘s (and its follow-up books) Jack and Rachel live on the real Isle of Skye. I located Halladale on the (real) Waternish peninsula at the northern end of the island but I decided to go for a made up community. The reason I did so was to give me freedom to lay it out as I chose to for the purposes of the story – and also so that nobody in the relatively small island community could possibly mistake it for their township or their house.

However, having opted for this made-up location meant that once again I had to some detailed drawing to do. After all I couldn’t have a character’s house facing the loch on one page and then have it turning through 180 degrees to face the hill a few pages later. So the whole township was committed to paper and stuck up on the wall.

Freedom to Create

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed making up all those places. The houses in particular were great fun to do.

And that’s part of the joy of being a writer – having the freedom to just make things up – people, stories and places.

If you’re a writer do you use real locations in your writing? As a reader do you prefer real world settings or made-up ones – or a bit of a mixture?

Five Favourite Walks: Real-Life Settings In My Made-Up Stories #amwriting

From the Scottish Hebrides to the Middle East, the settings for all my novels have been important to me. They’ve provided inspiration and they’ve influenced the content and direction the stories have taken. And judging by the reviews I’ve received, they’ve made a positive impression on my readers too.

Edinburgh is where I was born, grew up and spent a substantial part of my adult life. I also lived for many years on the Isle of Skye. And I have visited Israel-Palestine, where a dear friend of mine lives, on several occasions. So it’s probably not all that surprising that these places feature as settings in my books.

Indeed much of the action in my stories takes place while the characters are outdoors either working or simply enjoying being out in the natural world.

So in this post I thought I’d share my five favourite real-life, outdoor places that also feature in my novels.

The Hermitage of Braid, Edinburgh:

This is a wonderful park on the south side of the city. The water of the Braid Burn runs through it and it has Blackford Hill on one side and the Braid Hills on the other. In some parts it feels as if you’re deep in the woods or out in farming country rather than in the middle of a busy city. It has a semi-wild feel to it and is definitely not manicured parkland. I played in this park as a child, climbing trees and fishing for minnows in the burn, and I was brought on nature-study (as it was called back in the day) lessons from my primary school which was nearby. And it’s a place I return to nowadays if I’m in the city and feel like a good walk. So when I needed somewhere for Edinburgh school girl, Caitlin, and her friends to meet up in the school holidays in order to set out on their adventures in The Silver Locket, the Hermitage was the ideal setting.

Gullane Beach, East Lothian:

This is a lovely stretch of shoreline on Scotland’s east coast. There are dunes, a long sandy beach and amazing views across to Fife on the other side of the Firth of Forth. This is another place I visited a lot as a child and that has continued to be one of my favourite outdoor places since then. So when I needed a seaside setting for the home of Rosie, the main character, in Change of Life I chose Gullane and its beautiful beach.

Waternish Point, Isle of Skye:

A walk anywhere on this island is always going to be spectacular. The views and the scenery are breathtaking and second-to-none. But I’ve managed to choose two favourites that also feature in my writing. The walk to Waternish headland in the north of the island is the first walk that Rachel and Jack go on together in Displacement. And it’s a walk I did many times when I lived in Waternish. It takes you over streams and peatbogs, uphill and downhill, through a deserted crofting settlement and past two Iron Age brochs, before finishing at the lighthouse on what feels like the edge of the world.

Neist Point, Isle of Skye:

This walk takes you to the cliff tops at Skye’s north-western tip. You can walk down the steep path from the lighthouse to the cliff edge. You see lots of seabirds such as fulmars and gannets and looking out to sea, you may even spot dolphins and minke whales if you’re lucky. This is another walk taken by Jack and Rachel and which features in Settlement.

Dead Sea and the Judean Desert, Israel:

And walk number five couldn’t be more different in terms of landscape from all of the above. This landlocked exceptionally salty lake is on the border between Jordan and Israel. My visit here left a lasting impression. For a Scot used to coolness, dampness and greenery it was a shock to the senses to be walking in such hot, arid and barren surroundings – but it was still beautiful – albeit in a different way from what I’m used to. But having made such an impression on me it had to feature as one of the places visited by Rachel in Displacement and it’s the setting for her romantic encounter with Eitan.

So there you have it – my five favourite walks that made it into my fiction.

Where are your favourite places to go for a walk? And, if you’re a writer, artist or musician do real life settings inspire or feature in your work? As always please do comment below.

Author Research: A weird, wonderful and disturbing online search history

 

 

 

 

Photo by Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash

I’ve heard several crime writers say that they hope their online search history is never subject to investigation and then used in evidence against them. Some of them mention googling not only ways to maim and murder, but also how to dispose of a body, how to destroy evidence and various real and appalling murders.

Not just crime writers

I don’t write crime. My novels are contemporary second-chance romances. So you might think I wouldn’t have to do much in the way of research.

But you’d be wrong.

Checking the facts

As well as the central romance, I weave other issues such as mental health, culture and politics, and dealing with bereavement (to name only some) into my stories.  And so I have had to do a fair bit of fact finding and checking. Some of it has been in person in the real world, and some of it has been online.

And just like those crime writers I reckon my Google search history would at least look like a weird mixture if not downright disturbing. So, dear readers, in this post I thought I’d share just 20 topics from a fairly extensive list of searches that I’ve carried out for my Skye trilogy.

20 online research topics for Displacement, Settlement and (the work-in-progress) Fulfilment

  • Night sky in northern hemisphere winter
  • Geology of the Isle of Skye
  • Rare breed sheep
  • Lambing
  • Serving as a Royal Marine Commando
  • Night photography
  • Structure of Police Scotland
  • Treatment for a gunshot wound to the chest
  • Typical injuries sustained when a person is severely beaten-up
  • Aftercare and prosthetic limbs for double below-the-knee amputees
  • Israel-Palestine politics and culture
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Veteran’s charities
  • Working as an illustrator
  • Oil painting techniques
  • Sculpture techniques
  • Isle of Skye sheep and cattle auction mart
  • The 1930s Kindertransport
  • Middle-Eastern cuisine
  • Scottish Gaelic phrases

Dare you share some of the weird and wonderful things you’ve looked up online? As always comments welcome below.