Thursday, August 29, 2019

Reading Round comes to Perth!

I'm very excited to say that from 18th September 2019 I shall be running a Royal Literary Fund Reading Round group at Perth!

Reading Round is a bit different from other reading/book groups. I've  taken part in a book group myself, and I'm sorry to say that I didn't manage to keep up with the reading at all, especially the books I didn't particularly fancy! There's no "homework" with Reading Round - the group members simply turn up each week and listen as the group leader (Lector) reads a short story and later, a poem. The group discuss each of these works in turn. There is absolutely no need to be an expert on fiction or poetry to take part - just come along and enjoy the experience of hearing stories and poems read aloud, and then join in the friendly discussion.

I chose to run my Reading Round group in the wonderful Fair Maid's House in Perth. I fell in love with this place last year, when one of my teenage kids did a few days' work experience there. The Explorers' Room, where we'll be meeting (see photo) is an amazing venue and the perfect place to "explore" literature!

Participation in Reading Round is FREE. We'll be meeting on Wednesdays from 10.30am until 12 noon. This timing allows residents of outlying towns such as Crieff and Pitlochry to use the morning bus services if required. Places are limited, so if you'd like to take part, or ask anything about Reading Round, get in touch soon at:

PS If you're hesitating, don't be shy - everyone is welcome and no special expertise or knowledge is needed!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Ghosts at Cymera

Last weekend (7-9th June) saw the first ever CYMERA, Scotland's Festival of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Writing. The brainchild of Festival Director, Ann Landmann, Cymera had a very impressive line-up of 80 authors across 50 events throughout three days. It also offered book discussion groups, a writing competition, a Creators' Hall and a ceilidh. Featured authors included V.E. Schwab and Ben Aaronovitch  plus - naturally - Scottish/Scotland based writers including Moira McPartlin, Philip Caveney and Lari Don...and me. 

I went to the festival on the Saturday to see Zoe Marriott and Natasha Ngan discussing Eastern-inspired Fantasy with Chair Amy McCulloch. I went back on Sunday to run the M.R.James book discussion and appear in a panel about Ghosts, alongside Claire McFall and Rachel Burge, and chaired by Sarah Broadley (above; photo by Claire Cain of Fledgling Press). The discussion was wide ranging, covering nightmares, real-life paranormal experiences, urban exploration, tarot cards and Norse legends. Claire and Rachel are both immensely likeable and after reading their books (I like to do my homework!) and enjoying them, it was great to meet the authors in person. Sarah was a brilliant Chair, and kept things moving very smoothly. We all read short excerpts from our books, so I read the prologue from Ghost. I never get tired of reading out the first line, "Langlands House is haunted, but not by the ghost you think." One of the audience questions was whether Langlands is a real place, to which the answer is (as it is so often): sort of. The house was inspired by my visits to derelict Gothic mansions like Dunmore Park House; the location is round about Fowlis Wester in Perthshire, although there is no such mansion there; the name - Langlands - comes from a farmhouse my father stayed in as a child during World War Two.

I'd never visited Cymera's venue (The Pleasance in Edinburgh) before Saturday. It felt like an absolute rabbit warren, but none the worse for that! There was a big team of incredibly friendly and helpful volunteers on hand to direct audience members (or indeed, lost authors!) to the correct room. There was also a comfy Green Room for the authors, offering tea, coffee, squash and wine (sadly I couldn't have any of the latter because I had to drive later, but the thought was appreciated). They also had shortbread (well, it was a Scottish festival, after all), crisps, and - oh joy! - mint Viscount biscuits. My first ever novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, was pretty much fuelled by the consumption of Viscounts, so I fell on those with great delight. 

My overall impression of the Festival was that it was enthusiastic, friendly, welcoming and inclusive. Ann and her team can feel justly proud of what they achieved this weekend.

Hopefully this was the first of many Cymera Festivals - there is talk of Cymera 2020 on Twitter! NB You can follow Cymera on Twitter here: - keep an eye out for news!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Haunted Event: The Dublin Ghost Story Festival 2018

Last weekend saw the second ever Dublin Ghost Story Festival, organised by the indefatigable Brian J. Showers of Swan River Press. I was unfortunately unable to attend the first one, so I was absolutely thrilled to be invited to take part in this one, alongside some very illustrious guests including Joyce Carol Oates and Reggie Oliver. Other guests included Andrew Michael Hurley, author of The Loney, winner of the 2015 Costa First Novel Award and the British Book Awards Book of the Year 2016, plus V.H.Leslie, Lisa Tuttle, Rosalie Parker, Nicholas Royle and Ray Russell. So it was a varied and impressive event for lovers of supernatural fiction! On Saturday I moderated a panel comprising Joyce Carol Oates, Reggie Oliver and Andrew Michael Hurley, which was a bit nerve racking, especially as I had never taken part in a festival panel before, let alone moderated one - and with the guest of honour on it...! However, the audience was a friendly one and it seemed to go alright. (At any rate, I didn't call Joyce "Reggie" by accident or vice versa, as I was afraid nerves might lead me to do!)

Above: me with Nicholas Royle (left) and Reggie Oliver (right). Photo by Gerry Hayes. 

Above: Joyce Carol Oates reading from her work. 

The Festival began with a pre-festival reception on Thursday evening and then ran from Friday evening through to Sunday afternoon, with a range of panels, readings and signings, as well as an interview with Joyce Carol Oates. The panel discussions included such interesting topics as "overlooked favourites" and "how do ghost stories work and when do they simply fail?" There were also a number of publishers and booksellers offering a simply mouthwatering range of volumes. I regret that I am not in the market for early editions of the ghost stories of M.R.James (sob!), but I did pick up several ancient paperback anthologies of spooky tales. There was genuinely something to suit the pocket of every ghost story lover, and plenty of treasures to yearn hopelessly after, in a suitably Gothic manner! I was pleased to see that amongst those attending was Zagava, who recently republished the first issue of the early German fantasy mag The Orchid Garden with a translation into English by yours truly.

Above: The Orchid Garden - German/English, from Zagava press

I thoroughly enjoyed the Festival. People are sometimes sniffy about "genre" fiction so it was wonderful to be with those who really appreciate a well-written eerie tale - and who understand that a ghost story may be far deeper than a cheap thrill. It was also brilliant to exchange reading recommendations with people who are really immersed in ghostly literature - I came away with a small stack of books, including a copy of The Loney, which has queue-jumped to the head of my TBR pile. I was delighted to meet Sean Hogan, director of The Devil's Business, a film I have watched three times and thoroughly recommend. I am thrilled to say that I also met John Connolly, who was not officially at the Festival this time, but who dropped by anyway - his two Nocturnes volumes are great favourites of mine and I was finally able to shake his hand and tell him how much I loved reading both of them.

Brian J. Showers should be congratulated for organising such a successful event. On Twitter (below), he said that he had had "an incredible weekend". So did we all!

Credit: the Dublin Ghost Story Festival artwork at the top of this post is by illustrator Alisdair Wood.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Ghost haunts Edinburgh!

If the heroine of my latest book, Ghost, were a real person, yesterday would have been her 19th birthday. So it was rather fitting that 12th April was chosen (entirely coincidentally) for the rescheduled Edinburgh book launch, at Blackwell's.

The interview format is one I really like, as it's a bit more dynamic than me just standing there talking for half an hour! So fellow author Che Golden came along to ask the questions. I'm not sure whether to describe Che as "a great friend" or "my old nemesis"; our trading of increasingly inventive insults on Facebook has occasionally led other friends to message us, asking why we tolerate each other..! In real life, we do manage to get along without any name calling. I have even gone so far as to take Che over to Innerpeffray Library to check out the leper squint (you can read about this interesting excursion here). Anyway, Che asked me some excellent and interesting questions, and we managed to be (relatively) civil for a whole hour and a half! A big thank you to Che, to Fledgling Press for arranging the event, and to Blackwell's, and especially the wonderful Ann Landmann, for hosting it!

The photo of me and Che is from a review of the launch by the Bookwitch, who was in attendance along with Mr. Witch and Witch Junior. Other attendees included fellow writers Joan Lennon, Roy Gill, Philip Caveney and Alex Nye. Bloggers in attendance included and
There was also another visitor, a rather haunting one:

Those familiar with the Scottish book scene may be able to hazard a guess about who is underneath that sheet - yes, it's the irrepressible Kirkland Ciccone! It's certainly a first for me to have anyone attend one of my events in a book-themed costume. Perhaps it's just as well the book is called Ghost and not Bikini Babes from Mars...

Wine was consumed, books were signed, and bookmarks were bandied about. After that, we went for pizza to fortify ourselves for the trip back to Perthshire, which proved to be a bit more of an epic journey than I had planned. Somehow, being preoccupied with the book event itself, I had managed to overlook the fact that there is currently engineering work on the Stirling line after 7.30pm in the evening! Eventually we managed to get a late train to Polmont and from there we took the replacement bus. At midnight, we were looking at this view:

Yes: a red light, on a pretty much deserted country road. It seemed to stay red for ages and ages too. Nothing came the other way...not even a ghost.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


Yesterday I had lunch at Corrieri's in Bridge of Allan with my friend Ann. I'm not posting a photograph of us having lunch, because Ann is a modest person and does not very much enjoy being photographed (especially not when she is in the middle of eating a dish of pasta). So here is a picture of a Corrieri's cup of tea instead. 

My new novel Ghost is dedicated to Ann, who was a huge support when I was working on it. Ghost took me longer to write than any of my other books, and the process was far more difficult. 
I think many authors probably have a tricky bit in the middle of writing a book; you start out feeling fresh and optimistic, and hopefully you eventually type "The End" with a sense of achievement, but somewhere in the middle your spirits sink like a poorly-made soufflĂ©. The plot seems ludicrous, the characters seem wooden, and the whole thing seems to be taking far too long. 
If you are an author who is reading this, and you never have that soufflĂ© moment, I salute you. But I always have one. And that is only during the first draft. Several rounds of structural edits later, I often start to wonder whether I can "write" at all, and other careers suddenly seem amazingly attractive: gargoyle carver, perhaps, or hermit-in-residence on a large country estate (NB that second one really does exist; they are called "garden hermits", apparently). 
Writing Ghost was a particularly grisly experience and there were points where it would have been easy to give up the entire project and tackle something else altogether. But when I was feeling at my lowest ebb, there were two people whose support kept me going: my daughter Iona, and Ann.  Both of them are mentioned in the acknowledgements; a previous novel, The Glass Demon, is dedicated to Iona, and so Ghost belongs to Ann. I would like to thank them both for "believing in" Ghost.