Friday, July 10, 2015

Scottish book event!

22nd-23rd August 2015 sees the third ever Crieff Arts Festival, with exhibitions, live music, arts and crafts sessions - plus a literary event hosted by arts hub Strathearn Artspace.

Crieff is home to the renowned Crieff Hydro with its Victorian spa and outdoor activity centre, the Famous Grouse distillery, MacRosty Park with its Pavilion cafe and children's play area, and near to it Lady Mary's Walk, an area of great natural beauty on the banks of the river Earn. A short drive also brings you to the Library of Innerpeffray, Scotland's oldest lending library. All these things attract visitors to the town. If you are thinking of coming, why not make it during Arts Festival weekend, when there are arty events to enjoy too?

I'm very pleased to say that I shall be taking part in a literary event at Strathearn Artspace on the Saturday, 22nd August. The plan is to have a "mini book festival" with a range of authors and poets reading from their work. I shall be reading a thrilling passage from one of my books! Doors will open at 10.00 am for a 10.30 am start, and run through until mid-afternoon. If you have a particular interest in one of the authors or one of the genres covered, you can drop in for that, or you can stay for the whole event and enjoy a variety of works. The full line-up is still being finalised but I will post it on this blog when it is all confirmed.

The event will conclude with a talk by myself about "getting published". (Like many other authors, no doubt) I am often asked questions about this - things like whether it is a better idea to send your work to an agent first or straight to a publisher, do you have to write the entire book before sending it to anyone, etc etc. In fact I think I get a lot more questions about this than I ever do about my own work! I've even run an evening class on it at Perth College UHI. So I'll be talking about that, and if you are able to come, and have your own work-in-progress in a drawer at home, come and ask me what you ought to do with it! NB I won't be looking at anyone's manuscript - the talk is about what to do with your finished work, rather than how to write it!

The event will finish mid-afternoon, after which there will be live music at the Artspace, and of course, continuing exhibitions to browse in the town. For further details check out and or see my future blog posts with the literary line up!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Dyeing for love

This is a story that has nothing to do with my books.

I don't think of myself as a person who is particularly sentimental about objects. We've moved around a lot over the years - Spain, Germany, Belgium, now Scotland - and it was never practical to take too many unnecessary belongings with us. When we left Britain in 2001, I gave away a lot of our baby stuff including the rocking cradle both our children slept in for their first few months, and when we moved from Germany to Belgium I gave away the rest. In a fit of throw-it-all-overboard I threw out my university matriculation photograph. I even gave away my treasured collection of Asian outfits (salwar kamiz, saris etc) because it really wasn't sensible to cart everything from country to country with us. The one thing I could never bear to part with was my wedding dress.

You can see me in the dress in the photo above. I bought it from Chanticleer in Cheltenham. It had a skirt made of ivory wild silk and a jacket made of dark red velvet. I had a headdress made of artificial flowers and raspberries in red, gold and green, and carried a bouquet of red roses with green and gold foliage.

I nearly did give it away, once. A charity was appealing for wedding dresses in good condition to resell to raise funds. I got as far as telephoning them and agreeing to donate the dress, and then at the last minute I just couldn't do it. I had to ring back and apologise. I don't know why I couldn't part with it. It's not as though we were planning a Hollywood-style renewal of vows at any point! Anyway, I kept it, and it travelled round with us over the years, inconveniently taking up far too much of my wardrobe space (the skirt was enormous).

Last year, though, I finally gave my dress away.

My daughter is now a teenager, and a passionate fan of manga and anime (Japanese style cartoons). I've taken her to the anime convention at Dundee University a few times, where we have rubbed shoulders with people cosplaying as Alucard out of Hellsing, L from Death Note, etc. She fancied cosplaying herself, but buying an entire costume including wig can be quite expensive, particularly if you are trying to budget for it on a teen allowance. I asked her what character she wanted to dress as, and she said Lacie Baskerville from the popular series Pandora Hearts. You can see Lacie on the Pandora Hearts Wiki site. Her costume is usually shown as purple, or sometimes a deep red colour.

I looked at the costume and wondered how on earth we could possibly get together a cosplay outfit based on it. The skirts alone are huge and voluminous, not the sort of thing you have lying around at the back of your wardrobe. Except...I did have something exactly like that.

I thought about it for a while before we did anything with the dress. Ruffles can be unpicked, but ivory silk, once dyed, is going to stay that colour forever. In the end, though, I decided to go ahead. I'm not saying it didn't give me a pang, because it did. But I liked the idea of using the dress for something new, instead of keeping it like a museum piece. Here's what happened.

First, we had to wet the silk overskirt. The best place was the kitchen sink, since it was metal and wouldn't stain.

Then my husband mixed up the red dye. This was definitely a family project! 

This was the point of No Return. The silk part of the dress went into the red dye. 

Afterwards, the skirt had to be rinsed in cold water, squeezed gently and left to dry. 

When the skirt was dry, we sewed on the white ruffles. My husband is much better with the sewing machine than I am, so he did the skirt, which seemed to need miles and miles of ruffles. I hand sewed the ruffles onto the velvet jacket myself; the material was thick and the job was quite fiddly. I ran out of ruffle ribbon at one point and had to go and buy some more! 

Finally, the costume was finished. The only thing my daughter actually had to buy was the wig to go with it, which was black and red. And here she is, wearing the whole outfit:

I said at the beginning that I'm not particularly sentimental about objects. I'm sentimental about people, though. I think she looks lovely in it. 

A grand day out in Fife

I saw the sea this weekend. Also hills, an ancient abbey, a square rigged sailing ship and a lot, really a lot, of motorway.

On Saturday (4th July) I had two book signings in Fife: one at Waterstone's in Kirkcaldy and the other at Waterstone's in Dunfermline. This was a fairly straightforward trip - except my husband was spending the day in Dundee as part of a Mountain Rescue team organising a charity abseil off the top of the dental hospital. And we only have one car. So my itinerary for the day took in not only Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline but Perth and Dundee! Anyway, although we set off in torrential rain in the morning, by lunchtime Fife was bathed in glorious sunshine, so it was actually rather nice to spend the day on a road trip. My teen daughter came with me, because she loves car drives and bookshops. At Waterstone's in Kirkcaldy she was offered chocolate chip cookies too, so I think her cup of joy pretty much overflowed.

I'd been to Dunfermline fairly recently, to visit the Abbey (well worth a visit - it's beautiful), but I'd only ever been to Kirkcaldy once before, years ago, when my kids were small. On that occasion we went to see Scottish kids' show The Singing Kettle. The show had a deep sea theme and as it was shortly after Finding Nemo came out, my kids both demanded to dress up as clownfish. I mainly remember tearing my hair trying to think of a way of making clownfish costumes! Anyway, after Saturday's visits, my daughter and I have vowed to visit both places again soon. We'd love to see Ravenscraig Castle, and my daughter would like to go around Dunfermline Abbey, as she wasn't with me last time.

Both branches of Waterstone's were extremely welcoming and had obviously put some thought into where to locate visiting authors, etc. Particular thanks to Alice at the Kirkcaldy store, who was absolutely brilliant and a super supportive host, and Ilse at Dunfermline, with whom I had some great chats about living abroad and the Dutch language (Veerle, the heroine of my Forbidden Spaces trilogy, is a Dutch speaker).
It was great to be so well looked after. Authors, if you are invited to either of these stores, take the opportunity and go if you can!

I very much enjoyed chatting to book lovers at both stores, and doing a bit of sneaky people-watching in quieter moments. I had to laugh about the man who came into one of the shops, asked me whether I was an author, and then said he never read books! I wonder what he was doing in a bookshop? I also smiled inwardly at the elderly lady who lingered for a long time outside the store, eyeing the display of 50 Shades of Grey books, and then came inside, looking distinctly furtive... Meanwhile, a big TSK TSK to the young man who saw his friend trying to come into the shop and pulled him outside again!

Thanks to those who chatted with me, and those who bought books. If anyone local to either of the stores would like a signed copy of any of my Forbidden Spaces books, there is a limited number of them at both Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline.

After the second signing, my daughter and I drove to Dundee to collect my husband, stopping off briefly in Perth to get something to eat. It sounded as though he had had a hair-raising day; for a large part of it, he was the team member actually at the edge of the roof of the hospital, gazing down at the grisly drop to the street below. The building is 150 feet high, which is frankly further off the ground than I like to be. We picked him up in front of the sailing ship Discovery, and I made him drive home.  Daughter and I had enjoyed our girls' road trip, but sometimes it's nice to sit in the passenger seat and vegetate!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Local horrors: Terror Tales of the Scottish Highlands

Regular readers of this blog (if there is any such thing) may recall that last autumn I mentioned an upcoming anthology of scary stories, Terror Tales of the Scottish Highlands, which includes one by me. The book is the latest in the excellent regional Terror Tales series edited by Paul Finch.

Although my novels are contemporary thrillers, with occasional hints of the supernatural, I also write short ghost stories. I'm a great fan of the classic ghost story and sometimes run ghost story writing workshops - I think creating them is a great way to hone writing skills. There is a craft in making the reader's flesh creep without resorting to outright gore. It's one of the things that makes me continue writing them, when I probably ought to be concentrating on my novels. That, and the fact that I often visit places that demand their own spectral tale!

Anyway, I'm delighted to say that Terror Tales of the Scottish Highlands is now available for order, either from the publisher Gray Friar Press or from that usual suspect, amazon.

The anthology includes stories by Peter Bell, Johnny Mains, Barbara Roden and many others - you can see the full contents list here on Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews.

Mine is called The Dove, and in common with the majority of my writing, it is inspired by and set in a real location, one I've blogged about before. Perthshire, where I live, is peppered with ancient and abandoned buildings. My theory is that because some of the locations of these places are remote and unvisited, it is not worth anyone's while to pull these ruins down or fence them off. I've spent many a happy afternoon poking about in the ivy-covered remains of a mediaeval parish church. Such a one is the ruined St. Bean's in the hamlet of Kinkell Bridge, which inspired The Dove. 

It was not only the topography of Kinkell Bridge's old kirkyard and church that inspired the story, but also its tragic history. These things are the starting point for the tale, but the rest is my creation. I decided not to use the genuine local historical characters of the Rev. Richard Duncan and Catherine Stalker in the story because when I was researching them I developed a certain affection for them, and some of my own theories about what really happened. So I decided to let them rest. The protagonists of my story have other names and other characters.

If anyone's interested, here is a photo I took of the churchyard at Kinkell Bridge (below). The object to the left of the gravestones, covered with dried creepers, is the ruined church. The trees you can see are growing up through the east end of it!