Progress – or Not?

What do the Traprain Law Treasure, Susan Ferrier, Vaclav Jicha, the first Nursery School in the world and Christian Maclagan have in common?

No idea? I’m not surprised as this random collection of topics are all subjects I’ve written articles about recently and which have all been accepted for publication in a variety of magazines here and overseas.

The Traprain Law Treasure is the largest hoard of Roman silver ever found in Europe and which was uncovered 100 years ago in East Lothian. At present, some of it is on display in Haddington. It is quite stunning and hard to believe that it spent almost 1500 years buried on a hillside.

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Traprain Law Treasure

Susan Ferrier was a best-selling author in her day (the 19th century) and a good friend of Sir Walter Scott while the first nursery school in the world was set up at New Lanark, near Glasgow, by Robert Owen in the 1800s.

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Susan Ferrier’s bestselling novel

Vaclav Jicha was a World War II flying ace killed in a plane crash near Haddington in 1945.  Jicha Street is named in his honour in the town where he is buried. Many years after the war, his Czech fianceé discovered where he was laid and visited his grave every year till her death in 2010.

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Fl Lt Vaclav Jicha DFC AFC

And Christian Maclagan was the first Scottish female archaeologist and a feisty woman to boot! She was unable to read her papers on her research to the Society of Antiquaries or be recognised for her work on Scottish prehistory because she was a woman.

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One of Maclagan’s drawings of a broch

 

 

Circumstances mean that at the moment articles are what I am writing rather than longer pieces. I can’t commit to the long-term tunnel vision I require to write novels but I don’t want my writing muscle to atrophy so article writing suits me fine. It also means we can have days out to research and visit places associated with my topics; these so far have included the National Museum in Edinburgh, a graveyard in Haddington and a lay-by on the A1!

I have also met and corresponded with some lovely people who have helped me in a variety of ways with photos and insights and pointed me in the right direction when I wandered off topic.

But I have realised that there are many more advantages to the type of writing I’m doing at present. I send the articles to the editors of the various magazines I’m contributing to and I receive a yes or a no and that’s all I have to do. No hassling people for reviews, no checking Amazon rankings to see where I appear, no constant feeding of social media to keep me in the spotlight, no blanket flooding of Facebook and Instagram and Twitter in the hope of a few sales. All that time I would normally have to spend on such activities I can spend WRITING!

Recently when I was totting up my earnings versus expenses from my writing, I realised that I had spent more on advertising my ebooks than I had actually earned from them. I know I only have two published and that I’m not the most dedicated of self-promoters but I would need to have many more ebooks out there to make it worthwhile. For articles, I sit back and wait for the cheque to arrive when the magazine publishes my piece. Simples!

There has been a change however. Perhaps the pendulum is swinging back again; apparently ebooks are losing their popularity compared with ‘real’ books and independent bookshops are making a comeback though they will never be as cheap as Amazon. However there is nothing more pleasant than browsing in a good bookshop, especially if there’s coffee to be had too, and there’s always the serendipitous chance of coming across a book that speaks to you, that you’ve never heard of, would never have thought of buying but which touches something in you. Until Amazon can give the browser an experience similar to that, then bookshops it is.

Maybe magazines are also due to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of their purported demise. There are still many out there which seem to defy all the odds and continue selling, if not as many copies as before, then enough to keep them viable. And the good old People’s Friend has just celebrated its 150th birthday and takes around 1000 feature articles each year.

I certainly hope magazines start to flourish again. I much prefer to read from a magazine or book rather than from a screen. A hard copy is there when you need it, you can flick backwards and forwards at will, and it won’t interfere with your reading pleasure by changing font size or page when you inadvertently stick a finger in the wrong place. And the batteries in a book or magazine never run out.

Sometimes, progress needs to take a step back now and again when we realise that the new ways are not as good as what we had before.

Wait and See

Two things are keeping me busy at the moment – developing my new garden and writing numerous articles.

The bare bones of the garden are now in place and I can see what it will be like – hopefully – in a couple of years. But there are still plenty of empty stretches which will take some time to fill. However I’m enjoying seeing my new shrubs putting out their first blossoms and the apple trees, all two feet of them, coming into leaf.IMG_20190429_100824

And I have seed potatoes chitting on my window ledge in my writing room. Another week or so and I will be able to plant them into one of the new raised beds all ready and waiting. I have plans too, to sow vegetables in the other beds so by summer, I should be able to harvest some fresh, organic produce, that is, if the slugs and other tiny predators allow me and they haven’t fattened themselves up on my labours.raised bed

Article writing, for me, follows much the same process if, again hopefully, a good bit faster. I research my subject first, amassing piles of paper and books scribbled and marked in pencil and adorned with colourful sticky bits. Then I work on a framework, putting down bits and pieces of the most important information that I want to include; the bare bones of the subject. Next, I peruse my notes to fill out the various aspects I have identified in my framework, one topic at a time. I find that my mounds of research materials can be off-putting and I get on better if I can reduce it to manageable bits. It’s not quite so daunting that way!IMG_20190429_100942

Eventually, I have an article that is beginning to meet the demands of the editor or magazine I am writing for. Then to proof-reading and checking the odd fact (some of them very odd!) and a final once over before attaching the article to an email, sending it off and waiting for the response. That’s the worst bit, the waiting. Sometimes you never hear at all. My quickest response (and I’m not saying if it was a rejection or an acceptance) was 40 minutes. Scarcely time for the recipient to read it!

Once the potatoes are planted, it’s a waiting game too. Will they flourish or will some pesky pest make the most of the generous bounty planted especially for them? It’s a case of wait and see. Fingers crossed.IMG_20190429_100930

The Edinburgh 7 Awarded Degrees After 150 Years

My article on the Edinburgh 7 was published recently in the Highlander magazine as The Edinburgh 7 and Their Fight to Become Doctors. It told how, in 1869, seven women applied to study medicine at Edinburgh University. They were accepted but with various restrictions and were the first women to register for a degree at any university in the UK.

cover highlander

After many difficulties, including a riot when they tried to sit an anatomy exam and male students pelted them with mud and shouted obscenities,  they completed four years study but were prevented from taking their exams. This meant that they could not graduate and they were forced to complete their degrees abroad. However, their leader, Sophia Jex-Blake, qualified in Dublin and returned to Edinburgh in 1878 where she was the first female doctor in the city.

article edinburgh 7

Now Edinburgh University has decided to right a wrong and on Saturday July 6th 2019, 150 years after they matriculated, it will award them posthumous MBChB degrees.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-47814747

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The Plaque at Surgeon’s Hall

Scottish Association of Writers 2019

The Scottish Association of Writers were celebrating their 50th conference this year and they did it in some style with cake and balloons and a Bookiversity quiz and a play written and performed by a bunch of crime writers and yes, it was criminal!

And of course, there were competitions, speakers and workshops galore!

Here are some of my photos from the event;

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The Gala Dinner

trophy winners

The Trophy Winners from Ayr Writers’ Club

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‘Carry on Sleuthing’ with Caro Ramsay, Pat Young, Michael J. Malone and Douglas Skelton hamming it up.

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Me and ma pal catching up on a year’s gossip.

Expect the Unexpected

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Credit: silver spoon

We were dealt a curve ball recently. Out of the blue it came, shocking us out of our complacency. We were halted in our tracks as we tried to make sense of what it meant, how our lives had to change and what exactly we could do about it.

To thoroughly tangle up the metaphors, the ripples spread outward to involve family members, friends and acquaintances and those we had yet to meet. And there were going to be quite a lot of them.

But the writer in me realised the potential of such an unexpected event. Looking at my WIP (work in progress) I realised that a curve ball, a googly, was exactly what my characters needed. Something to shake them up, stir them into action and have them deal with it.

The romance is going too well, the crime is almost solved, the goody is about to defeat the baddy, so throw your characters a curve ball and muddy the waters. (It’s a day for mixing metaphors, I see). How do they react? Are they stunned into immobility? Do they dissolve into hysterics? Do they explode with an uncontrollable rage? Are they numb? Pragmatic? Depressed? Do they rise above themselves, find hidden talents and strengths? Act in ways they thought were beyond them?

What emotions are they experiencing? Fear? Grief? Resentment? Jealousy? Anxiety? Shock? Hurt? How can you show this for after all, every good writer knows that you show and don’t tell?

Whatever you do, don’t have the cavalry appearing over the brow of the hill. This is your character’s problem. Force them to deal with it. They’ll have difficulties and setbacks along the way but in the end, they’ll cope and feel all the more capable and confident for doing so. And you’ll have the opportunity of bringing out facets of your character’s character that even you didn’t know they possessed.

And us? We’ll pick ourselves up and carry on. Like we all do when the curve ball comes our way.

 

Miss-prints and Tie-pos

I’ve been preparing my entries for March’s Scottish Association of Writers’ conference. There is a huge selection of competitions to try and as I’m not adjudicating this year, I have no excuse for not having a go. I enjoy adjudicating and receiving the bundle of entries for my category, though it’s quite a lot of work to go through each entry picking out its strengths and weaknesses. And then trying to choose the first three for prizes. So often it’s a close run thing though sometimes there is one outstanding attempt that just has to take the first prize.

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Ayr Writers’ Club winners 2018

I supply a critique for all the entries which hopefully the writers will benefit from, as it’s important to try to be positive and give constructive criticism. But this year it’s my turn to be on the receiving end and I’m hoping for some useful advice from the very experienced adjudicators in the categories I’ve entered.

So I’m carefully re-reading my pieces to tidy them up and correct any typos that I have missed before. I dislike reading pieces where the writer hasn’t bothered to edit their work and correct any misprints and I just hate it myself when I realise I’ve missed something on my pieces.

There is a very interesting article in the recent Author magazine on misprints and typos in poetry that have made it into publication, sometimes to the improvement of that particular line of verse. But the one  everyone quotes is the Barker and Lucas Bible of 1631 which proclaimed in the Ten Commandments that ‘thou shalt commit adultery’. And the recent hoo-ha over the Cathay-Pacific plane with Pacific spelt without an ‘F’ shows that no-one is immune from it.

Including myself. Confession time! Every year I make a calendar, using photos taken throughout the year, for close members of my family to use. It’s a fun thing as well as a reminder of what went on in our lives in the previous year. I use Vistaprint for templates and from my previous orders for a variety of things like flyers, business cards, posters and of course calendars, I can see that I’ve been using them since 2002.

So you’d think I knew my way around by now. There was a slight problem with the 2019 calendar template but I had the bright idea of using an older version and changing the photos. This I did and put in my order. I was delighted when they came but it was only when my husband tried to write in a dental appointment to remind himself, that he noticed something was very amiss. It was a calendar with the dates for 2012! I had forgotten that I had to change the dates as well.

calendar

Ooops!

Fortunately I hadn’t sent them round the family. I got back on to Vistaprint but was still unable to access the 2019 template. I messaged them and a few hours later, they messaged back to say they had changed the date on my calendar for me and were sending out new copies post-haste and free gratis. Now that’s what I call excellent service!

So in a couple of days I will have the new calendars and be able to fill in the important dates in my life – the dentist, optician, nurse, etc etc. And of course, the dates for the Scottish Association of Writers’ conference!

Society of Authors in Scotland Christmas Lunch

Here are some photos from the recent lunch held in Edinburgh. About 30 of us managed to reach the venue despite the ravages of Storm Deirdre and enjoyed a sumptuous meal with crackers and wine to fortify us for the journey home.

It was great to meet up with old friends as well as to make new ones. The range of writing published by members of the Society of Authors is awesome.

I think we covered just about every genre in fiction and many non-fiction topics as well.

Thanks to the organisers for a very enjoyable get-together and here’s to the next time.

A Merry Christmas to everyone!