To help you find my book in among all the wonderful books in the Children in Read auction for Children in Need, here’s the link to mine. They are all signed copies and will be delivered at the end of the auction in November, just in time for Christmas. Give them as presents to your friends and family!
It’s been ages since I wrote a blog, the beginning of July in fact, and here we are almost at the end of September. Under the coronavirus restrictions, life seems to fly by and most days follow the same pattern. So before you know it, almost three months has passed without a cheep out of me.
So what has been happening? The most important is the Children in Read auction for Children in Need. Many authors have donated signed copies of their books and the highest bidder will be the lucky recipient of the book of their choice. My light-hearted romance, Festival Fireworks, set in Edinburgh during Festival time is on there and just waiting for bids to come flooding in!
Here’s the link to the whole list of books on offer.
In other, less positive news, the American magazine, The Highlander, for which I have been writing historical articles, has been sold to a UK publisher. Unfortunately, it already has a magazine about Scotland and it has merged The Highlander with it to produce something which bears no resemblance to the original. I wonder what the US subscribers will make of it. As for us writers, none of us have heard what the new editor is looking for and whether she will want to use any of our articles.
One of the new things I am learning during lockdown is various systems of talking to people like WhatsApp, FaceTime, Jitsi and now Zoom. I logged on to the Society of Authors in Scotland’s AGM on Zoom and it was good too see so many weel-kent faces though nothing like actually meeting them in the flesh. But I think that’s still a long way off.
There was a reason for trying out Zoom – next month I am doing a Zoom talk along with my co-president and dear friend, Sheila, for Ayr Writers’ club as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. We are going to be reminiscing about the club and how we became writers through its help and support. There will be one or two laughs as well, hopefully, as we recall memorable moments from our long association with the club.
By now about a third of the population will have had a birthday under lockdown and it was my turn at the weekend. I wondered how it would go and in the event, it went very well with flowers and food and plenty of chat. In fact, there was a simultaneous rendition of Happy Birthday from London and Toronto which was almost in unison!
On top of everything else, what should thump through the letterbox but the latest edition of the Highlander magazine, containing not one but two of my articles, along with articles by a couple of my writer friends, Rosemary Gemmell and Anne-Mary Paterson.
Also in the mail was a cheque for another of my articles on the history of knitting in Scotland which will appear in a later issue. This was a fascinating topic to research, initially triggered by Rosie Thorpe, an archivist with Historic Environment Scotland,who, on taking up knitting during lockdown, decided to see what her archives held on the subject. My own searches uncovered a murder and two hangings associated with knitting – who knew it was such a bloodthirsty subject!
I’ve also had a blog tour for Festival Fireworks which I just may have mentioned previously! I’d never had one before so it was quite a learning curve for me but very enjoyable. Thanks to Kelly Lacey for organising it all.
Festival Fireworks is off to a great start with this review from Bookbustle!
* to wet your thrapple – to have a taste of something
An extract from Festival Fireworks before the blog tour which starts next week:
Andrew turned to her and took hold of her hands.
‘I want to thank you for arranging an absolutely fabulous party and to apologise for my bad-temper, my bad behaviour, and anything else bad about me that you don’t like.’
Jill stared at him, open-mouthed. He was apologising to her? Mr. Bossy Big-boots was actually saying sorry?
He must have seen her shock. ‘I really do mean it. It was one of the best parties we’ve ever had, and there were some interesting and hopefully lucrative contacts made. Some people will owe you a great vote of thanks.’
Jill nodded, still shocked. ‘Sam,’ she said. ‘He said he might get a contract from tonight.’
‘Exactly. And it’s all thanks to you.’
‘Not entirely. You made up the guest list, I just did what you asked. Well, after a fashion,’ she added, remembering the fiasco about the venue.
‘But the party wouldn’t have been so relaxed, and people wouldn’t have mixed so well if we’d had it where you booked it originally.’
‘Then, thank your neighbours. They really got things going.’
Andrew smiled at her. ‘You’re determined not to take any credit for it, are you? But I’m thanking you… like this.’
He pulled her towards him and bent his mouth to hers. Jill closed her eyes as his lips met hers. They were warm and sweet tasting, soft and tender, and kissed just the way she liked being kissed. She sighed gently and let herself draw even closer into his arms. Their kiss deepened, their mouths opened to each other, their bodies fitted themselves into each other, adjusting till closeness and warmth were satisfied. Heaven could not be any more perfect.
Their lips parted, their eyes opened, and they looked at each other in a new way; a new recognition taking over from the old. Mr. Bossy was gone, Mr. MacCallum-Blair was gone, only Andrew was left. Her Andrew. Jill smiled up at him and moved to kiss him again.
A loud buzz sounded.
Andrew drew apart from her. ‘Who can be wanting in at this time of the night?’ he said. He walked into the hall, flipped the switch on the entry phone, and said sharply, ‘Yes?’ into the speaker.
‘Police,’ came the tinny reply.
I’m delighted to say that I’m having a blog tour in a couple of weeks for my book, Festival Fireworks. The Edinburgh Festival may have been cancelled this year because of coronavirus, but you can still read about the festival and sense the atmosphere in the book, and be hooked by the fireworks in it!
I was a scriptwriter for the children’s Radio and TV programmes on the BBC for many years and wrote loads of stories for them. Here’s one I wrote about Fergie who was pestered by a wee pest, the bogeyman. I hope your kids and grandkids enjoy reading it.
Fergie Ferguson was a clockmaker who lived in a little village on an island off the west coast of Scotland where the great Atlantic Ocean smashed and crashed on to the shore. He spent his days mending and repairing clocks and when he’d fixed them, setting them at the correct times that they could chime along with the rest. For Fergie Ferguson’s house was full of clocks. They sat on every surface in every room of his house and stood on every square of floor he had.
From every room in his house could be heard the tick tocking of his clocks. Some were slow, deep sounds….
TICK …. TOCK…..
….others were busy, hurried rhythms…..
….and others were so quick and quiet you had to put your ear tight up against them in order to hear them……..
tick tock tick tock
All day long, the sound of ticking and tocking could be heard through the house. It was so loud it drowned out the thunder of the Atlantic waves crashing on the nearby shore. Fergie didn’t notice the noise, he was used to it but not many people came to visit because they couldn’t stand it for very long.
One day a visitor came to stay in Fergie’s house. Fergie hadn’t invited him and he didn’t even know he was there until one morning, Fergie got up as usual.
He was just in the middle of washing his face when he stopped.
‘Something’s wrong,’ he said to himself. ‘Something’s not right.’
He stood and listened, the water still dripping off the end of his nose and his hands all soapy. He could hear the clocks all ticking away – the big grandfather clock with its deep slow tick….
TICK …. TOCK…..
the clock that sat on the mantelpiece with its quicker ticking…..
and the little clocks whose ticks could hardly be heard…..
tick tock tick tock….
….yes they were all there and none of them had stopped.
But still Fergie was sure that something was wrong. He quickly dried his face and rushed downstairs. Then it dawned on him.
‘They’re ticking the wrong way,’ he said. ‘My clocks aren’t going tick tock any more, they’re going tock tick.’
He listened carefully to each one. Sure enough, every clock was going tock tick. The big grandfather clock,
the clock on the mantelpiece,
and the little quiet clocks….
tock tick tock tick.
‘Who’s done this?’ he shouted. ‘Who’s been tampering with my clocks?’
It was then that Fergie heard a little chuckle. It was so quiet that he scarcely heard it over the ticking, or rather tocking, of the clocks.
‘A bogey-man!’ said Fergie. ‘Don’t tell me a bogey-man has moved in.’
There was another little giggle.
‘Come out, you wee rascal!’ Fergie yelled. ‘Come out and show yourself!’
But of course, the wee bogey-man didn’t.
Fergus spent all day putting his clocks right so that they went tick tock and not tock tick, and then after supper he turned his whole house upside down looking for the bogey-man.
He didn’t find the wee man so at midnight, tired out, he gave up and went to bed.
It was very early the next morning when Fergie suddenly awoke. This time he knew at once that something was wrong. Very definitely wrong.
‘My clocks have lost their tick,’ he cried jumping out of bed and scuffling for his slippers in the half light. Sure enough, all his clocks were just going tock.
The big grandfather clock said,
TOCK………..TOCK…………TOCK very slowly and sadly,
the clock on the mantelpiece said
tock – tock – tock as if it had a limp
and the little clocks seemed to start and stop all the time,
tock. tock. tock.
Fergie was furious. ‘Just wait till I catch you, you wee menace,’ he yelled.
The wee bogey-man just laughed. Fergie chased after it till the sun was high in the sky but he did not manage to catch it or even a glimpse of it. All he heard was its laugh leading him a merry chase.
The rest of the day Fergie spent fixing his clocks so that they all went tick tock again. That night he was so exhausted he fell into bed with his clothes and boots on. When he woke the next morning, it was to the sound of the Atlantic Ocean crashing on the shore nearby. Fergie listened for a moment then leapt out of bed.
‘Where are my clocks?’ he shouted. ‘I can’t hear any of them.’
He ran downstairs and there they all were, still keeping good time but silently. Not a tick or a tock from any of them.
‘What have you done with all my ticks and tock, you wee pest?’ he yelled. ‘Give them back to me at once.’
But the wee bogey-man just laughed.
Fergie hunted high and low throughout the house looking for his ticks and tocks. It wasn’t until he took the lid off his teapot that he found them all crammed in and desperate to get out. It took Fergie many hours to sort out what tick went where but at last all the clocks were back to their usual tick tocking.
‘I’ve had enough,’ said Fergie, mopping his brow. ‘You win. You can have this house to yourself. I’m leaving.’
The wee bogey-man was quiet. The next morning, Fergie was surprised to find that nothing had happened to his clocks overnight, every one was ticking and tocking as it ought to.
But Fergie’s mind was made up. He hitched his pony to the cart and loaded all his belongings and all his clocks on to it. The grandfather clock with its deep
the clock from the mantelpiece with its
and all the little clocks with their quiet
tick tock tick tock.
Then he shouted ‘Giddy-up!’ and he and his pony set off for a place as far away from the wee bogey-man as he could find. But the noise from the Atlantic waves crashing on the shore was so loud that Fergie didn’t hear a little laugh coming from the back of his cart!
I collected many of the poems and stories I wrote for the BBC into A Drop of Rainbow Magic leaving blank pages for the children to use their imaginations to illustrate the stories in their own way.
I thought for a change I’d post one of my short stories that I had published. This one was in an Australian magazine and I was delighted to buy a copy in a New Zealand newspaper shop where we were holidaying at the time. The photo, no prizes for guessing, is Sydney Harbour Bridge which we have driven across, walked across and climbed to the top of.
There’s a First Time for Everything
“Is this your first?” I say.
She nods and chews her bottom lip. She is just so nervous. I try to think of ways to calm her. I put my hand on top of hers. It’s cold and there’s a tremor which she’s trying to conceal.
“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine, you’ll see. It’s an everyday thing; hundreds of people are doing it, no problem.”
She nods again and this time a glimmer of a half smile flickers over her features. She’s so young, it makes me feel ancient, though forty isn’t nowadays. Her pale skin has a flare of spots round her mouth as if she’s been touching them and spreading them around. Fine, mousy blonde hair falls over her eyes and her cheeks and I want to tell her to pin it back so that she can see clearly.
As if I’ve spoken aloud, at that moment she digs into the pocket of her coat and pulls out a blue sparkly hair-band. It’s so little-girlish I can’t help smiling. She drags it over her forehead, capturing the wayward strands of her hair and revealing a high forehead which she’s obviously been trying to cover up. She looks even younger, like a modern day Alice. I grin at her, aware that I probably look like the Cheshire Cat to her, my teeth revealed in the rictus of my smile. I’m not feeling terribly confident myself.
“I don’t want it to hurt,” she stammers. “That would be awful.”
“It won’t,” I reassure her. “Not nowadays with all those new drugs and things. Before, it used to hurt something terrible, but that’s all past. It’s all quite painless now.” I hope she doesn’t notice my crossed fingers behind my back. I can’t stand pain and I certainly don’t want to even think about it.
“I hope it won’t take too long,” she says and her voice has disappeared to a whisper. Her hands are shaking even more.
“It will be over before you know it,” I say. I take hold of both her hands to still the trembling. “Stop worrying. You’ll be fine, believe me.”
“Excuse me.” She jerks her hands away. “I have to go to the loo.”
She rushes out and leaves me alone. I look around at the equipment waiting to be used. It’s all clean and sterile, instruments neatly lined up in their plastic wrappers, Through the frosted glass of the window I can just see the vague shape of the chestnut tree in the driveway. The candles on it are large and white and pregnant with fruits to come. The branches quiver in the freshening breeze. They remind me of her hands.
When she returns, there are two red spots on her cheeks but she looks calmer.
“Feeling better?” I ask.
“Yes, thanks. It’s my first time, you see, and I don’t want to make a fool of myself.”
“You won’t,” I reassure her. “You’ll see. You’ll soon get used to it. I have every confidence in you.” But I don’t. Not with shaky hands like that.
“Take some deep breaths,” I suggest. “They’re supposed to be calming.” So she deep breathes for a few minutes, her chest rising and falling as she does. I frantically think of other ways of helping her to relax.
“Exercise,” I say. I’ve read somewhere that exercising releases endorphins which calm you down. “Couldn’t you run round the block? Do press-ups? Touch your toes ten times?”
She’s looking at me as if I’m demented, which I admit, I’m getting close to. It’s those shaky hands. I have to drag my mind back from the horrible pictures they’re trying to sneak into my brain.
I’m just about to run out of the room myself when the door opens and a man in a white coat enters.
“Good morning Mrs Brown,” he says to me. “I’m here to supervise Janine as she does her first filling. We don’t want anything to go wrong, do we?”
“No,” we both chorus wholeheartedly.
I lie back in the dentist’s chair and watch as Janine reaches for the drill. Her hands are steady as a rock. I relax and close my eyes.
Not that any of us can go to the dentist these days! Keep safe, keep well and may your teeth stay healthy!
We are pleased that our house overlooks what is unfortunately known as the Suds Basin but which has a circular cinder path around the so-called basin. As the playpark for the kids has been shut due to lockdown, this has become a popular area for the children to ride their bikes round.
And round and round they go; some are super confident and have races with each other, the smaller siblings trying desperately to keep up with the older ones. But it’s the toddlers on their balance bikes that I love watching, from their first tentative attempts at pushing them along to eventually whizzing down the slope just as fast as the older brothers and sisters. These bikes apparently teach them how to balance quicker than ones with stabilisers so that they can graduate to pedal bikes at a younger age.
The first bikes at the start of the nineteenth century were like that, and known as hobbyhorses, with the young gentlemen scooting along the highways just like today’s toddlers. But as they were heavy on the shoe leather, Doc Martins being unknown then, they did not prove popular. Then in the 1830’s the pedal bike was invented; some claim that Kirkpartick Macmillan from Dumfries was the one who should be credited, and cycling really took off with women also learning to ride.
My own experiences of learning to ride a bike were rather fraught. My parents rode a tandem so in order that I did not curtail their outings, my father acquired an old sidecar from a motor bike and affixed it to the tandem. I did not enjoy the view, six inches from the ground, of two pairs of muscly legs, one decorated with immense varicose veins, going like the clappers. Looking back, it’s a wonder the sidecar did not separate from the tandem as they rounded bends or rode across Glasgow’s tram lines.
I graduated eventually to a red tricycle, second-hand of course, which I had for many years until I eventually mastered the art of riding a two-wheeler. My method was to prop the bike against a wall and try to climb on putting both feet on the pedals before actually moving. If I had been able to do that, I’d have joined the circus!
Today’s children are so much more confident and it’s a great way to use their hour of exercise this way. Their parents are also joining in so maybe after lockdown eases, we’ll have many more bikes on the road and a lot less cars.
If you’re interested in what it was like growing up after World War Two, then read A Scottish Childhood, a compilation of the articles I wrote for the magazine, Scottish Memories.
This has been an ideal opportunity for people to get out into their gardens. Sales of compost, fence paint and plants have been doing well and are even out of stock in some places. My local garden centre, though closed, has been running an excellent online ordering and delivery service so we’ve been busy, especially during this nice weather, in the garden. Thank you Merryhatton garden centre!
Ours is a new garden, (originally a block of new laid turf on a slope) so this time last year we had a wee man round to make me three raised beds, a patio area and dig out another bed so shrubs this year are coming into flower for the first time. Pieris and exocorda (Bride’s Bouquet) are in flower and remind me of our previous garden, while clematis montana is coming into bloom as well as a dwarf rhododendron.
But my pride and joy are the cabbages! I planted seedlings in the autumn, covered them with fleece and left them to get on with it. We ate the first one the other night and it was so tasty and no doubt very good for us.
Along with the cabbages, I put in carrot seedlings. They are also doing well but I’m not exactly sure what in fact they are. Typically, I can’t find the wee stick with their name anywhere so they’re either old style yellow carrots or perhaps, parsnips. The foliage is lush but not quite as carroty looking as what I grew before. Any ideas folks?
I planted potatoes in two of the raised beds after last year’s roaring success with a crop. The chips were to die for! I got criticised last year for writing more about them than publicising my books but hey ho, you can read my books any time. And if you want to buy them, the link for one of them is at the bottom of the page.
Anyway, the potatoes are starting to appear though the ground though it will be a while before they’re ready. I wonder if we’ll still be in lockdown then? But we will hopefully have a crop of new spuds to eat with melted butter dripping over them. Yum!