Searching for Summer

Yes, I know! I’m a bit early. We’re still waiting for spring, here in Scotland.

That’s if I was searching for summer, all lower case. But I’m not.

I’m Searching for Summer, or, at least, the main character in my brand new novel is.

Searching for Summer

The first book in the The reluctant Detective Series.

Searching for Summer Final

And, before I tell you anything about the book itself, I have to tell you how delighted I am with the cover! The artwork is by Michelle Campbell, and I am delighted to have the original 27x36cm, signed, framed painting on my wall. It is beautiful.

There is more of Michelle’s paintings on her Instagram page, SHELLSBELLSART, and she can be contacted on fragglecamp (at) gmail (dot) com if you are interested in commissioning her for your book cover.

Tim Pow converted the painting into the book cover, another great job, and Tim can be contacted via his website http://www.timpowfilms.net

He made a fantastic job of the back cover too:

Back Cover with blurb. PNG

~~~

 So what is Searching for Summer about?

The first novel in The Reluctant Detective Series.

Mirabelle’s daughter, Summer, disappears one Friday night, and Mirabelle would dearly love to rewind that day and live it differently. Instead, she is left not knowing if Summer is alive or dead, went of her own accord or was taken against her will.
Casting all other concerns aside – food, sleep, work, relationships – in her desperate need to find the answers, she takes to the streets of Edinburgh in search of Summer.
Searching along wynds snaking behind old buildings, through ancient doors and tiny spiral stairways, showing Summer’s photograph to everyone she meets in shops, museums and nightclubs, Mirabelle becomes a reluctant detective, gathering clues, trying to make sense of them in order to find her missing daughter.

~~~

Set in Edinburgh, Searching for Summer could be called Kaleidoscope Fiction: Contemporary Women’s Fiction, a relationship novel with a hint of romance, a soupçon of crime, and more than a dollop of mystery.

If you don’t know Edinburgh, you will get to know it as Mirabelle wanders its streets and wynds.

Mirabelle loved living in Edinburgh: loved the atmosphere created by a city whose main shopping street looked across the road to a castle, Edinburgh Castle standing guard over Princes Street, its severe façade softened by the gardens skirting it, the gardens themselves cocooned from the bustle and noise, folded into their own tree-lined valley, with paths dipping into and out of its depths.

She knew the adage, Edinburgh was ‘all fur coat and nae knickers.’ She was well acquainted with its underbelly, its darker side, saw its dirty linen, but loved it anyway.

A novel to take you through a multitude of emotions as Mirabelle searches for Summer.

Trouble is, she keeps finding other people.

~~~

Searching for Summer

Available NOW

On Amazon

FeedaRead.com

or to order in bookstores

~~~

#5 — Food in Fiction

We’ve been looking at how Food is used in Fiction. The places where your characters eat and drink can also be helpful in telling your story.

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Photo taken in the Vintage Tearoom of The Caledonian Bicycle Company

In my second novel, Making It Home, two of the main characters meet regularly in a coffee shop. A coffee shop or tearoom is a neutral location. No-one has to act as hostess. No-one has to assume responsibility for the business of getting fed and watered. So it is a useful setting for a writer to use. It allows dialogue to flow as easily as tea or coffee from the pot, or with as many splutters and stutters as a malfunctioning coffee machine. That’s up to the writer and what he or she wishes to accomplish in the scene.


THE book cover

In Making It Home, Kate and Phyllis meet for afternoon tea, and in this short excerpt I haven’t woven in many references to the food and drink, more using the setting to allow space for the characters to get to know one another and the reader to listen in and get to know them too. The reference to the strawberry tarts, is used to show how Phyllis diverts attention from herself, afraid perhaps of revealing too much about her unusual lifestyle.

~~~

“So tell me about yourself,” Phyllis demanded after they’d bought their coffee and cakes and were settled at a small round table in Harrison’s Coffee Shop.
The surroundings suited Phyllis. Kate had never really paid much attention to the place before. It was just somewhere to have a break and refreshment. Now, she noticed that it was quite elegantly furnished: dark wooden tables, comfortably padded chairs. It all had an air of old-fashioned elegance: the perfect setting for such a delightfully old-fashioned lady.
“You’re married.” Phyllis nodded in the direction of Kate’s wedding ring. “Any children?”
“Two. A girl and a boy.”
“Ages?”
“Vicky’s thirty-four. Paul, thirty-two.”
“You must have been a very young mum.”
“I was.” Kate blushed. “Sweet sixteen… and wish I’d only been kissed!”
“Pregnant when you married then?”
Kate was a little taken aback by the older woman’s directness. Often that generation were a little bashful about such topics. Her own mum certainly was. In fact, she never quite recovered from the shame of Kate’s disgrace. She had made a great point of telling everybody that Vicky was a honeymoon baby. ‘Six weeks premature,’ she’d said. Pretty hard to be convincing though, when Vicky was a bouncing seven-and-a-half pounder!
“’Fraid so,” she admitted.
“And no help for it in those days?”
“Absolutely not. We ‘Had To Get Married’. No other choice. My dad made that very clear. Anyway,” Kate laughed a little wryly. “I wanted to get married. Thought it was really romantic. Getting married, having babies. It’s what I’d always wanted. Or at least, I thought it was.”
“The romance wore off then?”
“Quickly. Once I had two toddlers and a husband who didn’t have a clue what to do with kids. I’m afraid Dan didn’t have much time for them until they could watch the football. Although, to his credit, he was a good provider. Worked hard. ‘Department of Trade and Industry’. He’s quite high up in it now and very well respected, as far as I can tell. Not that he talks about his work. Just that my neighbour’s husband works in the same department. Under Dan, actually. He seems to think the world of him. Says he’s a great manager.” She shrugged. “He’s beginning to get tired though. I think they’ve worn him down. He’d love to get out.”
“Any chance?”
“Oh heavens! I hope not. I couldn’t be doing with him underfoot all the time.”
“He’d surely get something else though?”
“Perhaps.” Kate shuddered.“Anyway, what about you?”
“Oh you don’t want to hear about me.” Phyllis held out the delicate china plate of cakes. “Here! Why don’t you try one of these strawberry tarts? They really are delicious.”

~~~

And in this next excerpt, the tea and the tea tray help to show a scene of family domesticity. No longer a neutral location, Kate is in her own kitchen with her son, a more intimate setting, allowing us to see another, more intimate, side to her character. There are things you may not mind talking about to an acquaintance in a coffee shop, and there are other, more personal things you would only feel comfortable sharing with family or close friends in the safe environment of your own kitchen.

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~~~

“You mean you’ve been slipping out of the house, every Saturday for weeks, without telling him where you’re going?”
Kate nodded. “Well, only one so far.”
“Do you think that’s wise, Mum? I mean… what if he thinks you’ve got a fancy man or something?”
She laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous, Paul. Why on earth would he think that?”
“Well, isn’t that what happened to his Dad when he was a wee boy? Did his Mum not run off with someone or something?”
“Yes, but his Mum was a floosie.”
“A what?” Paul hooted.
“Shh! He’ll come through to see what’s keeping his cup of tea.”
“Well, really Mum! A ‘floosie’! Where on earth did you come up with that?”
“Oh, you know what I mean. I don’t know what the current slang is for a loose woman.”
Paul hooted again.
“She fell in love with all things American during the war, particularly, all ‘things’ in uniform. His father wasn’t even sure that Dan was his kid. Then she upped and left him to bring him up on his own. I don’t think they had much of a homelife.”
“Probably why he’s such a miserable sod now.”
“Paul!”
“Well he is. And I do know what the current slang is for that. But, in deference to your feelings…”
“Thank you.”
“So, where does he think you go every Saturday?”
“Shopping, I suppose. He doesn’t ask, so I don’t tell him.”
Paul picked up the tea-tray and started towards the kitchen door. “Fair enough. If he’s not interested enough to ask. It would serve him right if you did have a fancy man. Hey!” He spun round to look carefully at her. “You don’t, do you?”
“Of course I don’t! And watch that tea, you’re going to spill it!”

~~~

You can find Making It Home, internationally, on Amazon

FREE for three days, from Tuesday, November 4th till Thursday, November 6th

~~~

Here At The Gate

How good is your memory?

Can you remember much about your childhood? The happy times maybe?

But what about dramatic events. I’m sure you can remember them, can’t you?

What about an event that was so dramatic it became traumatic?

How good is your memory then?

Here at the gate 3

Mhairi had worked hard to build herself a normal, stable life, but there had always been a dark fear inside her. No matter how happy she was, it was always there.

It followed her about like a black bat, haunting her nights, hiding in a corner during her days, flapping out at odd moments, scaring the wits out of her.

It was as though she was standing outside a high-walled garden, barred from the secret of her past by the wrought-iron gate. She could see all the bushes and trees, the rhododendron and hydrangea. She could even smell the roses and the honeysuckle, but then the gate would swing shut and she was outside and it was dark.

Now her happy, settled life was being threatened by her own daughter and she knew she had to force through the darkness. She needed to remember what she had spent a lifetime forgetting.

HERE AT THE GATE

Available on Amazon all over the world:

http://a-fwd.com/asin-uk=B00KIW95OW&asin-com=B00KIW95OW

feedaread.com

Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, and can be ordered from bookstores.

On The Run

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I’ve been reading a lot about beginnings, watching one too.

The reason for my choice of reading material is that I’ve done the ‘slash and burn’ of my last post, brutally editing my WIP, and now I’m on to the tweaking and fussing. Having cut the beginning drastically, it gets into the story quicker, but does it hook the reader? Thanks to Kristen Lamb’s Blog, http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/the-single-best-way-to-sell-books-or-lose-a-sale/ , I bought Les Edgerton’s Hooked, a book about beginnings, and it’s got me thinking — and running.

I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time running up and down our stairs, figuratively speaking of course 🙂 — I’m not allowed to run. Every task is punctuated by sudden flashes of insight into a better word, a better phrase, a better sentence, all to try to hook the reader, and I have to dash to the computer keyboard to ‘tweak.’ It’s such fun — but exhausting.

The beginning I’ve been watching is this:

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Now this has had me running as well, figuratively, of course 🙂 and it has a lot to do with ‘slash and burn.’

At the end of last summer, our son helped my hubby drastically ‘slash’ the height of the high hedge at the bottom of our garden, in order for us to better enjoy the view when sitting on the patio. This was not accomplished without a lot of nonsense, I have to add.

After the ‘slash’ came the ‘burn,’ but not until the wood dried out sufficiently to burn. This took time and several bonfires, so there was still a pile of old hedge trimmings waiting to be burnt this spring.

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Meanwhile, we noticed a regular visitor to our garden. Every day, we could hear and/or see a female pheasant in the garden and she kept disappearing somewhere up the back of it. We wondered if there might be a nest, but couldn’t see it. Then, one day a few weeks ago, we noticed a courting couple strolling in the field behind the garden. The male looked magnificent in all his colours and he fair strutted.

800px-Pheasant

His modest companion began to scurry across the last few yards of the field then flew up and over the hedge and into our garden.

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Pheasant photos courtesy of Wikipedia

His strutting now took purpose and, for quite a time, he patrolled the perimeter of our garden, strutting and marching to and fro, checking the boundary was safe.

When he decided all was in order, he strutted off and we went to search out the nest. So much for ‘burn!’ There’ll be no more bonfires in our garden for a while, for there, deep in the middle of the old, dried-out cuttings we found Phyllis the pheasant:

IMG_1757You have to look close; she is amazingly well camouflaged, but she’s there all right, ‘cooried doon’ and ready to sit it out till her eggs hatch. I run in and out several times each day in the hopes of sneaking a photo when she leaves the nest to feed — which she doesn’t seem to do very often. But, patience is rewarded. I got my photo of the ten eggs nestled there.

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And what a beginning her chicks will have.

The fox who used to steal the farmer’s chickens seems to have moved on from the nearby woods

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The neighbour with all the cats has moved away, leaving our garden free of their stalking presence, and me free of the frights I used to get as they jumped out at me from their favourite hiding place behind our hut

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and our next-door neighbour has decided she is too old to cope with the dog walking/dog sitting service she used to provide for her family’s dogs. So all is quiet in our garden and Phyllis can get on with her ‘tweaking’ undisturbed, and trust me, she can ‘tweak.’ Every time I check things are okay up in that corner of paradise, she has changed position, facing another few degrees round from the last time.

So I can get on with my ‘tweaking.’ A word here, a sentence there.

I looked up how long the incubation period is for pheasants. It’s 23-26 days. The incubation period for my novel will have been somewhat longer, but the race is on. I wonder which will hatch first, fly first, leave the nest first.

I’m on the run, hoping ‘Here at the Gate’ will be first to venture out of the garden.

~~~

Chapter One

It has always fascinated me how it is possible for someone to completely disappear without trace when there has been no foul play, no murder or kidnapping, accident or war. In the developed world, there are so many ways to trace a person, yet, if that person chooses to disappear, it seems they can. Very effectively. According to my research, it happens all the time, and not just youngsters running away from home but thousands of adults of various ages every year.

It’s a subject I return to often in my writing.

As a special treat for you, since you’ve been so kind as to visit my blog, I thought I’d let you read the first chapter of one of my published novels, Family Matters, which explores this phenomenon in the case of one man, and the impact his disappearance and subsequent reappearance has on his family.

Family Matters April 27th

A relationship novel, but also a  detection novel with a difference; this story traces a woman’s drive to uncover and understand the truth about a family she thought she knew… her own.

 ***

Update: June 10, 2020

Just to say, this is the earliest version of this book. It has been revised since this post, so there may be slight differences in the text, though the story is the same. I like to think it is the better for the revision, and you’re welcome to check it out with the original.

kindle or paperback

***

Chapter One

Tom,

I have to inform you that David died, suddenly, ten days ago. As his father, you probably have the right to know.

Sarah.

Kate frowned as she handed back the letter. “For heaven’s sake, Mum. Is that it? Is that all you’re going to say?”

“It’s more than he deserves!” A small tabby cat wound its body round her legs, pausing to look up at the unusual chill in Sarah’s voice.

“Come on, Mum! Now’s not the time for bitterness. David’s dead. Surely Dad should know about it?”

Sarah folded the letter and stuffed it into an envelope. “I’m telling him.” She punched on a stamp.

“You know what I mean. Shouldn’t you tell Dad how David died? When the funeral is? Things like that?”

Sarah turned to her. “Listen Kate. When your father walked out on us he forfeited his right to know anything about this family.” She slapped the letter down on the kitchen worktop. “I’ve only written at all because you nagged me.”

Dragging out a chair, she bent to pick up the cat and settle it on her lap, allowing the soft warmth of its body to calm her. The cat began to purr softly in response to her gentle caress. “Why on earth, after all these years, did David want to find your father?” She smoothed her palm across the cool pine surface of the table, tracing the grain, feeling the occasional indentation of wear and tear, the faint imprints of heavy-handed homework.

Kate shrugged. “He just did, I suppose.” She too sat down at the kitchen table with her cup of coffee, its freshly percolated aroma filling the bright little kitchen, wisps of steam catching the morning light.

“But he never said. I had no idea.”

“Well, he wouldn’t say, would he?”

“Why not?”

Kate shifted uncomfortably, stirring her coffee, watching it swirl round the cup. “Well… you know,” she said.

“No, I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.”

Kate pulled a face. “He probably thought you’d be angry.”

“Well, of course I’m angry!” Sarah was up again, the cat leaping from her lap as she rose. She started pacing the room, the usually adequately sized kitchen feeling suddenly cell-like, moving chairs, wiping surfaces with her hand. She picked up a cloth and started to wipe the shining, clean table. “Why should he want to find him?” Her body wound like a spring, her too-thin frame jutting at awkward angles from her newly-loose clothing. “What’s he ever done for him? For either of you? He made no attempt to see you. No Birthday cards, no Christmas cards. Nothing.”

Sarah closed her eyes, trying to shut out the picture of David as a little, dark-haired boy, standing for hours looking out of the window, waiting for his daddy to come home. She’d put her hand on his shoulder, her heart contracting, adding his pain to hers. She would try to find the right thing to say, the words of comfort or hope that would help him, but there were no words. Only the empty pain.

‘It’s all right, Mummy,’ he’d lie. ‘I was just wondering if Martin was coming out to play.’ And he’d turn away from the window and go back to his book or the telly, making no effort, having no real desire to call for Martin, his friend.

“And you wonder why I get angry!” She banged her fist on the table, startling the cat and spilling the coffee. “The damage your father did when he left us!” She mopped up the spill with a swipe of the cloth she’d been holding and walked across to facilitate the cat’s escape out of the back door.

“It wasn’t just me he left. He left you and David. He walked out on his children! I don’t know how anyone could do that! All the love and attention he’d given you for years thrown away!” She threw the cloth. It hit the water in the sink, sending a fine spray over the work surface. She neither noticed nor cared. “Thrown away like so much garbage.  And for what?” she demanded of the air, her hands outstretched, “For what?” Fire seemed to spring from her auburn hair into the depths of her hazel eyes.

‘Time for bed, son,’ she’d say. He just nodded and turned from the window following her meekly up the stairs. No tears, no arguments. Just the sadness in his eyes, the mention in his prayers, ‘Please look after Daddy. Please let him come home soon.’

Sarah covered her face with her hands, hiding from the images, biting on her anger, tasting its bitterness.

Kate watched in silence as her mother paced about the spring-coloured kitchen, its lemony brightness at odds with her dark mood as she twitched a gingham curtain here, tidied the pot plants there, releasing their herby fragrance into the air.

“He left. Just left! “ Sarah snatched up the wet dishcloth, squeezing the water out with a furious energy. “Didn’t come home one night!” She frantically scrubbed at the work surface, over and over the same spot, over and over the same wound.

‘A short haul this time,’ he said, blowing me a kiss. He blew me a kiss! I can hardly believe the nerve of the man! He blew me a kiss!” She wrung the cloth out yet again with even more feeling. “A short haul! A short haul!” Sarah’s voice had risen almost to a scream. “Eleven years!” Her face contorted as the near hysteria gave way again to pain and her body crumpled over the sink. She let the cloth fall to the floor and slumped into a chair, her hands covering her face, her anger finally doused by despair.

Kate knelt beside the chair and stroked her mother’s hair.

Sarah held her close. “I’m so sorry, Kate,” she said, taking her daughter’s face in her hands, looking into the deep brown eyes. “I’m not angry with you. I don’t mean to snap at you, my darling.”

“I know, Mum. I know.”

“Oh, we’ll get through this, won’t we?” She sighed. “It’s just… I can’t believe David’s gone too. That he’s not going to walk through that door,” she nodded in the direction of the back door, where the cat peeped round, cautiously checking to see if things had quietened down somewhat.

“And throw his coat at the chair on his way through the kitchen.”

“Always missed.” Sarah sighed. “Never picked it up.”

“He knew you would!” Kate sat back on her heels, laughing at the memory of her untidy brother and her mother’s happy acceptance of it.

“You weren’t much tidier!”

“True.”

“He didn’t want to talk much,” Sarah said. “Just go to his room with the telly, his music. I thought he was happy. Quiet, but he was always quiet. I thought he was happy enough.”

“I suppose he just never stopped loving Dad. He was such a little boy when he went, only what? Seven? He only remembered the good times, the fun Dad was, the toys he brought home, the jaunts we’d go. David never knew about the rest. I didn’t know about the other side of Dad till you told me a few days ago.”

“I didn’t want you to think badly of him.”

“You protected us, cushioned us from the pain of the truth.”

“I don’t know if I was right.”

“Of course you were right!” Kate squeezed her mother’s hand. “We were only kids. We didn’t question where the toys and things came from, how we could afford holidays. Kids don’t. Question, I mean.”

Kate was still kneeling beside her mother’s chair and she stayed like that, her head resting against Sarah’s arm, the cat pushing its nose against her, trying to find its favourite spot on Sarah’s warm lap.

The kitchen clock whirred and ticked, the fridge hummed and buzzed: soothing murmurs of comfort in the clamour of distress.

“So d’you think David saw your Dad?”

Kate straightened up, shrugged her shoulders, tucking an auburn curl behind her ear. “I don’t know.”

“But what d’you think?” Sarah persisted.

“I just don’t know, but I keep wondering,” Kate continued, getting up from her squatting position, flexing her stiff muscles, rubbing feeling into her numb legs, her hands warming with the friction from her jeans. “It’s hard to believe that Dad was here, in Edinburgh, all this time and we didn’t know.”

“If he was.”

“Yeah. I s’pose he might not have been. Could have just moved back.”

“Certainly didn’t announce it!”

“But once David found out he was here, he must have tried to see him, I’d imagine.” She leant against the worktop. “And yet,” she shook her head. “I’m sure he would have told me if he had. He told me most things. Mind you, I didn’t know he had an address for Dad till we found it the other night. I was looking for his ring. You know? The one we bought him? I noticed he didn’t have it on when, after…” Kate swallowed hard and tried to continue. “Anyway, it wasn’t there. Neither was his watch.”

“Right, Kate. Let’s get on.” Sarah walked across to the unit. “We’ve things to do. We mustn’t give up. We’ve got to keep going. I’ll pop round and post this letter,” she said as she picked it up, “And then I’ll get us something nice for lunch.”

“Don’t you think…? Can’t you say a bit more Mum?”

“Let’s not start again Kate. The letter’s sealed. I’ve said all I’m going to say. I have no intention of telling your Dad how David died. We don’t know how David died!”

“The coroner said…”

“Yes, yes. I know what the coroner said, but there has to be more to it. Someone, something happened, and I intend to find out what.” Fire sparked in her eyes as she turned to face her daughter. “And until I do, there has to be no talk of telling your father anything. It’s none of his business.”

Kate stood tall, taller than her mother, stretching her back, pushing her chin out defiantly. “I don’t suppose I’ll get the chance, if you’re not even going to let him know when the funeral is!”

“Anyway, we can’t know for sure this is his address.”

“I’m fairly sure.”

“How? How can you know?” Sarah challenged her daughter. “Just because it was scribbled on a bit of paper in David’s drawer?”

“Under the heading: ‘Dad’s address’!”

“So? David may not have…”

“Mum! I checked it out. Well, not me personally. I got a friend to check it out. It’s Dad’s address.”

“But are you sure?”

“I gave Mike a photo of Dad. He says he’s hardly changed.”

“Mike?”

“A friend,” Kate waved a dismissive hand. “Just a reliable friend.”

“But how did he…?”

“Mum! It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that this is Dad’s address,” she emphasised her point by waving the piece of paper in front of Sarah, “and you are, quite properly, writing to let him know his son has died.”

“Not because I want to.”

“I know, Mum. I know. Believe me. This is hard for me too, but we must do what’s right.”

“He didn’t.” Sarah muttered.

Writing the letter to Tom had put some fire in her for a while, but it had gone out now, smothered by the dross of her bitterness.

But, later, when she posted the letter, she impulsively scribbled the funeral time and place on the back of the envelope. She didn’t suppose he’d bother to come.

***

And now, if you’d like to read on, dear friend, here are the links where you can buy Family Matters

Kindle or Paperback

***

A Writer’s Nightmare…and a Taster’s Dream

Don’t you just love to read? As a writer, it’s part of what you do: part of what you have always done. Before you learned to write, you learned to read. When your Mum or your Dad, your teacher or Elmo on ‘Sesame Street’,  wrote down the alphabet for you to copy, you had to read it first. Reading is to writing as breathing in is to breathing out.

Now imagine you can’t read. The letters keep sliding off the page before you can quite make them out. They jump about, dancing with one another, doing things they’re not supposed to do. You can’t pin them down: can’t decide what order they’re in. Can’t copy them. You have so much to say but no way to make words to say it. And your short-term memory is such that you can’t remember what you set out to do anyway, so you wander off from the task.

The day before yesterday, you met my granddaughter, Hayley, and yesterday you read her essay. She has the condition known as Dyslexia. Hers is not quite so severe as the description above. The letters don’t dance together and swap places so much. But, for another of my granddaughters, a younger one, all of those problems and more are preventing her from learning to read and to write.

Can you imagine not being able to read and not being able to write? Do you, like me, love words: love how they flow off your pen, roll onto the paper and tell you a story. Or how your fingers fly across the computer keys and form an orderly line of printed text along the screen: text that you and others can decipher and read. The books you can read, the books you can write. A whole world of make-believe, a whole world of characters, there, laid out before you.

Language is such an amazing gift! The art of communication is priceless. Without it, civilizations would crumble. In fact at least one did!  See Genesis chapter 11 verses 1-9.

I seem to be having a ‘Dyslexia Awareness Week’. I’m a bit early with that, because The British Dyslexia Association are having theirs the week Monday 14th October to Sunday 20th October 2013. If you want to read more about it, and how you can support it, here’s the link: http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/get-involved-and-fundraising/dyslexia-awareness-week.html

I’m also having a rather pleasant creative week. I’ve posted another page under the Cycling tab in my menu bar. It’s Day 10 there now and, if you’ve been following our Land’s End to John o’Groats journey, you’ll realise we are crossing the Scottish/English border on Day 10.

There are a couple of treats for you: the story of Gretna GreenBlacksmiths Shop, Gretna

and the recipe for Ecclefechan Tart.

I have to confess, I have eaten and enjoyed  Ecclefechan Tart…don’t you just love saying ‘Ecclefechan’?…love the name…’Ecclefechan’…sorry, yes, as I was saying, I have eaten and enjoyed Ecclefechan Tart but have never made it. Must rectify that sometime, though I’m not much of a baker, I’m afraid. So, any of you bakers who try it, I’m a very willing taster!

We could pull our chairs up to the fire and you can tell me about your baking while we tuck in.

Any takers?

Any bakers?

Well, there might be sunshine, but it sure doesn’t seem like spring!

It may be April, but it’s still pretty cold here in the East of Scotland. To be fair, the temperature has risen but the wind has too. It’s been galeforce this past couple of days. The garden chairs have lain down to it and are currently kicking their heels up in the corner by the hedge, I had the joy of listening to the watering can rattle round the garden in the wee small hours last night and my poor wee daffies are looking a bit bedraggled, having hardly had time to flutter their frocks before the wind whipped at their petticoats.

With wind chill factor in operation, it certainly doesn’t feel like spring.

There are still plenty of evenings when it would be worth lighting the fire and getting cosy. So why don’t you draw your chair in closer and join me by the fireside. My guest tonight is not a well-known writer, not a published author, hasn’t even tried on the celebrity coat. But he’s warming his toes at my virtual fire and, with true Scots parsimony, I’ve handed a stiff Scotch across cyber space to help loosen him up.

Stuart Turnbull’s main claim to fame is that he’s our son-in-law and has held that position now for some fourteen years or so, having married our older daughter, Elizabeth Ann—to give her her Sunday name. He’s taken to calling her Liz and I suppose I have to admit, grudgingly, the name suits her. She never was the sweet, old-fashioned girlie-girl I’d thought would follow her two older brothers; always the tomboy who literally followed them into whatever scrapes and escapades they led her. She found her own way into the marriage adventure with Stuart, though, and they have three children, Kurt, who’s twelve, Casselle, ten, and Anneliese, eight. They often do sit around our hearth, but tonight they’re all safely tucked up in their own house in Crieff, some 50 plus miles North-West, a bit far to feel the heat of our fire.

Nepotism apart, I invited Stuart to join us for a chat because he may not be famous, he may not be published, but he is a writer.

Stuart: A wanabee writer!

No, you write regularly. You share your writing in your blogs. I reckon that makes you a writer. A wanabee published writer maybe. But a writer, certainly.

I know you worked in financial services for some years, but now, since Liz’s health declined, you’ve become her carer and house-husband and you home educate Kurt. A full-time job along with all the cooking and looking after the family, so I’m glad you still find time for writing and I know you enjoy an occasional game of golf and an even more occasional run on your bike. It’s very picturesque up your way, beautiful for cycling, Crieff being in rural Perthshire.

Stuart: For golfers it’s close to Gleneagles where the 2014 Ryder Cup will be.  For film watchers, it’s Ewan McGregor’s home town. It’s a small country town of about 8,000 that is handily placed to commute to Edinburgh or Glasgow if you don’t mind the drive.  But a lot of the population are retirees who come for the beautiful scenery and plentiful golf courses. 

With my parents & a brother who is 4 years younger, I have lived up and down the United Kingdom, having attended schools in Scotland, England & Wales.  Although a good chunk of my youth was spent on a council estate in Telford, Shropshire, my happiest childhood memories are all from times where we were living in the country.  I guess I am a country boy at heart, just without any desire to be a farmer.

Must say, I’m a country girl myself. As you know, we live in a tiny village in West Lothian, just the Main Street with a garage, a pub and a corner shop and a Crescent round the back, where we live. Nice and quiet, lots of country noises to call the creative muse forth. So, you may never have wanted to be a farmer, but when did you realise you did want to be a writer?

Stuart: It started with poetry at some point in my early twenties and for many years it was only poetry I wrote, mostly free verse, but with some sonnets and the occasional haiku.  Eventually I found I wanted to expand what I was writing and moved on to some prose and then some (very) short stories.  For quite a while I wasn’t really writing anything due to working and having a young family, but the desire and ideas still floated around my head.  A change in work circumstances a couple of years ago freed up some time and I have been able to start writing again, but wanted to develop further and so I am currently doing an Open University Creative Writing course (A215) which has been helpful in looking at forms and layout and how to develop ideas, and I will probably do the Advanced course (A363) which will add writing scripts.   

I also have a project underway to write a 5-10k word story for each of the 50 states of the USA.  The stories will be individual, although characters may re-appear.  I am trying to capture flavours of places I have never been to, but hope to visit some day.  At present I have stories for Delaware, California & Alabama underway and in advanced development.  I also have the ideas I want to develop for Montana (my favourite state), Texas & New York State. 

I hope to have a designated website for this project up and running in the next few months, and would love for any US readers to forward me either ideas for their own state or, when the stories are available to offer any corrections or amendments to help create a more authentic US feel.

You seem very drawn to the wide open spaces of the United States and I’m sure you and the family will get the chance to go for a holiday or something sometime. Meanwhile, you seem to draw inspiration from researching each different state. When it comes to the creative process, what else inspires you?

Stuart: No set thing – it can be a word, a phrase, a dream, a view.  A recent poem was inspired by the numerous wind farms that are being built around us, while a short ‘detective’ story I wrote came from the phrase, ‘The Jawline of Julie-Anne Moore’.  I also have a suite of poems that are either literally based on dreams or have a loose dream like feel to them.

 Is there a food or a drink, a place or an hour that helps you feel ready to write?

Stuart: Not really, but if any wine producers read this I am more than willing to try writing in the evening with a glass of decent wine to hand and would be a willing guinea pig for new bottlings.

That being said, I have just built a little desk in my bedroom and it is nice to sit and write at that while Liz – whose health is poor, rests in bed.  I will write and listen to music, she will knit and listen to the radio and we companionably get on with our own activities.

What a good idea. Sounds cosy. Writing can be such a solitary occupation, even a bit antisocial sometimes. That’s a good way round that.

‘You Know Who’ and I have desk areas at right angles to one another, elbow close, which is probably too close, but I find I can’t write when he’s working at his computer. I do need the solitude. I like the idea of companionably working together, but, in practice, I can’t do it. When I’m ‘in flow’, if anyone comes into the room, the phone rings, the house goes on fire, I just hate to be interrupted. I love when the house is empty or asleep and I can just get all those words and ideas that swirl around in my head out onto paper or screen. I love it! Love it! Love it! What do you love about writing?

Stuart: Getting an idea out of my head, and having it read as good as I imagined it. I seem to work best when I am writing to a deadline.  Without the goad of failure prodding me, I am capable of sitting trawling the internet while ‘writing’ or even jotting down a line or two and then wandering off to do something else.  Even in writing this I am meant to be working on the last 1000 words I need for my next Open University assignment! It is always easier to not write than it is to write, and if I allow it the inertia builds and I lose the writing rhythm.

Know what you mean.

I hope you get your assignment done…or I’ll feel guilty luring you away to sit with me by my cyber-fire. It can be hard enough to get going sometimes, even when you know you’re going to love it once you do.

What do you consider to be the most challenging part of the creative process?

Stuart: Writer’s ‘block’ and procrastination. Coming up with ideas, writing them and then editing them. I hate proofreading my work as I generally only see what I meant to write and therefore miss silly errors (like punctuation).

So that would be all of it!  Yet still I find myself compelled to write.  I wonder if this comes from the love affair I have had with books and reading since I was four.  

Probably! Like you, Stuart, I home-educated one of my children, my younger daughter, Aimee. When she was about three years old, I remember thinking that it would work out okay if I taught her, not only to read, but to love reading. I knew if she enjoyed reading, she would enjoy learning. There wouldn’t be much she couldn’t teach herself from a good handbook or internet site. The better quality the books she read, the better quality her vocabulary and communication skills would be, and it certainly worked out that way.

Reading is so important for anyone, but especially important for any aspiring writer, isn’t it? Read any writers’ handbook: they all stress the absolute necessity for writers to read, read, read!

So, which authors do you like to read & why?

Stuart: Matthew Reilly – over the top goofball thrillers for guys who like things that explode, and a writer unafraid of killing off a key character. Iain M Banks & Alistair Reynolds – sublime sci-fi writing – to a standard in some of their books that I am tempted to never write again as I don’t believe I will ever reach the standard they have. Marian Keyes – far cleverer than you initially think and while some bits are laugh out loud funny others will make your heart sore.

I also re-read John Galsworthy’s The Forsythe Saga every couple of years.  The scene where Old Jolyon dies makes me cry every single time.

I am not a literary reader, of all the Booker listed and winning books since 1969 I have only read 3 books (Staying On, Schindler’s Ark & The Remains of the Day); however I do enjoy the 19th century Russian authors and 20th century existentialists. However I am more likely to be found reading popular and science fiction (Grisham, Banks, Reilly, Sansom, Keys etc). I also have a fascination with cold war espionage and have built decent library of my own with biographies and writings on the subject.

What do you hope to accomplish as a writer?

Stuart: To write something I am not ashamed to say I wrote

Where can we find more information on you and your writing?

Stuart: At present I have three neglected blogs. One for short stories and two for poetry

http://diamondsanddross.blogspot.co.uk/stories (pretty rough stuff as mostly early writing and need re-edited)

http://justwhistlingintheshadows.blogspot.co.uk/poetry

http://cdatd.blogspot.co.uk/poetry – all a series under the title Come Dream a Thousand Dreams’

COMING SOON ‘These United States’ (probably as a .com) where I will be laying out my US cycle of stories.

 Thanks for the examples of your work. I’ll pop them on your page under the ‘Fireside Chats’ heading on my menu. I’ve enjoyed our blether, Stuart. I hope you enjoyed your cyber-Scotch. I’ll let you back to your assignment. Stretch, yawn…and I’d better get this posted on my blog before the heat of the fire makes me too sleepy.

Reality Check!

 Followers of this blog may have noticed in my post, ‘I look from my window…’, on March 24th, I made the grandiose claim: ‘We’re planning to go to America, California to be precise, but visiting St Louis and New York too. We’ve been to the States before, 2005, nearly eight years ago….

Well…on what parallel planet was I? What was I thinking? ‘…nearly eight years ago…’ may as well be a century. Things have changed: circumstances. My circumstances. I had poor health back then and I managed. We had a great time and were able to do most of what we planned and hoped to do. But in those intervening eight years, my health problems have increased. Don’t worry; I’m not going to bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, I can no longer contemplate such a trip. It is just not feasible for me.

The reality check came in the form of a week-long bad reaction to one tiny outing to a familiar place where I lost my spatial awareness and had a fall—stopped from being more serious by the corner of a nearby, friendly wall. It was ‘Ouch!’ but not ‘OUCH!’

I cannot be in airports, I cannot endure a long-haul flight, I cannot be in a hot climate—I just cannot. Not without paying a heavy price. Let’s face it, who wants to spend the first week or more of their visit to California in bed, recovering from getting there? And again, in St Louis, and again in New York?

This reality check came as no surprise to my husband.

By the way, slightly off topic, my ‘better half’ is not terribly happy that I have been blogging about his exploits in my ‘John o’Groats to Land’s End’ pages. He feels I’ve placed him in a goldfish bowl, open to the scrutiny of all and sundry, which I have and for which I apologise. However, I have started so he has recognised that I’m bound to finish…

In deference to his sensibility, I thought it might help if I didn’t talk about him by name too often, hence the clichéd ‘other half’ at the beginning of this paragraph. There are lots of ways of referring to him, all of them probably clichés, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I try some of them out from time to time while searching for an original, and deliciously witty, alternative.

As I was saying, this reality check came as no surprise to ‘him indoors’. He had been quietly worrying about the proposed trip, he having a much firmer grasp on reality. If he’s in a goldfish bowl, I am the original goldfish. ‘His nibs’ often tells me so. I have the memory of a goldfish. When I’m well, I don’t believe I’ll ever be ill again. I think I can do all the ‘normal’ things. It always comes as a surprise—a shock, even—when I can’t. My ‘other half’ knew I couldn’t do the trip I was planning, but, with his usual good insight, allowed me to come to that conclusion myself. It’s always the better way: I don’t really like to be ‘told’.

So, reality check—tick!

Dealing with disappointment—working on!

One of the ways I’m dealing with it is by continuing with the ‘John o’G…’ pages. I know it’s dwelling on the past, but I reckon that’s okay. Isn’t that why we make memories? So that we can remember them, share them, relive them? I have wonderful memories of that adventure. I felt so proud of ‘Big G’—as my granddaughter calls him. And I felt so proud of myself! We achieved something we hardly believed possible for us, which is one of the main reasons we didn’t tell anyone that was our plan before we were well underway with it—and it’s the main reason we didn’t seek sponsorship for one of the very worthy charities we sponsor. Somehow, that would have felt like tempting ‘time and unforeseen occurrence’ to befall.

Today, before adding  ‘Day 4’ of the trip, I want to tell you about ‘Embo’ because, not only is it where we were based for those first three days of the trip, it is also where we have spent time with our family and friends, some years in as many as seven or eight caravans, every year for the past twenty years or so.

 

 

Welcome!

It’s good you could visit.

I’m new to blogging, so I do hope you’ll bear with me while I learn.

My aim is to fill the pages with interesting things about writing, reading, crafting, people and life…but it’ll take a while, so do look back from time to time to see how I’m doing.