Do You Remember That Spring?

A wee poem looking ahead perhaps.

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Do you remember that spring
When the sea waters chilled and the ice stayed hard?
When polar bears marched across firmer ground
Sniffed fresh, clear air and hunted for seal?
Do you remember that spring?

Do you remember that spring
When dawn birds chorussed to the silent world
And rookeries exploded with noise and news?
When skylarks soared in startling blue?
Do you remember that spring?

Do you remember that spring
When the sparrow-hawk watched while far below
Rabbit prey romped in empty roads,
And ducks dog-paddled in city fountains?
Do you remember that spring?

Do you remember that spring
When insects thrummed and hummed
In daisy spreads and buttercup blankets,
And an urban fox strolled through a mall?
Do you remember that spring?

Do you remember that spring
When Gaia shook off her dusty skirts,
Quaffed draughts of pure invigorating air
Arose and kissed the burgeoning earth?
And the healing began
That spring.

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Putting Up with Coronavirus 3: Books for Kids

So the kids are at home for the duration. And you have to entertain and educate them all day, every day for the next 12 weeks or however long it takes to get rid of the Covid 19 epidemic. Here’s a selection of a few of the books from my bookshelves that would help to keep them occupied while you have a coffee/tea/G&T/meltdown.

For younger children, Linda Strachan’s What Colour is Love? follows a baby elephant as he asks that question of lots of other animals till he gets the perfect answer. The kids can listen to it being read here by Linda:

For kids who are learning to read, then The Loch Ness Monster Spotters is for them. The McFee family are desperate to spot Nessie but do they?

My book, A Drop of Rainbow Magic  is a collection of stories and poems I wrote for the BBC’s Children’s programmes on radio and TV. But it has no pictures to  go with them. There are spaces left for the kids to use their imaginations and draw their own pictures to accompany the stories. And give you a break as well!

Pirates are always popular and The Jolley-Rogers and the Monster’s Gold is a swash-buckling tale of a monster who eats those who come in search of gold. Can they defeat the monster and find the treasure?

For older kids (and not just girls) Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is a beautiful, funny and intriguing book with a secret book hidden in the back of it. Ada Goth has no friends but Ishmael, a mouse ghost, and together they set out to find what is going on in their spooky home.

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Putting up With Coronavirus Part 2

Having settled into your restricted lifestyle while outside, all hell seems to be raging, here’s another selection of books to keep you occupied. I’ve read and enjoyed them all, some I’ve bought, others are courtesy of my local library. I enjoy going to the library as I can make a random selection of titles to borrow and find out new authors to try. I often choose a book that the librarians have set out apart from the rows of books on the shelves or a book that has been recently returned. Or I simply reach out my hand and grab one from a shelf. It makes for an interesting reading selection.

A bookshop is a different matter; a long browse is essential unless I know specifically what I’m looking for. Often an assistant will approach clutching a book and saying that I must read it. That can be a good choice though I have had some that I didn’t really enjoy, usually because it’s not a genre I read much of. Or appreciate.

And Amazon? Mixed feelings. Yes, my books are on sale there but often their prices mean that the author’s cut of the profits is minuscule. But it’s convenient for the buyers and it does send my books out to a much wider audience.

Anyway, to my next selection:

The Memory Tree by Linda Gillard features a beech tree which holds secrets. Ann finds a box hidden in the trunk after the tree is brought down in a storm. What is in the box leads her on a quest to find out more about the family who lived there, antecedents of Connor who comes to help her. What were the family secrets that his grandmother tried to destroy and what part did the First World War play in events?

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd. A Victorian detective, Bridie Devine, is tasked with recovering a stolen child. But this is no ordinary child but a freak of nature, destined to be put on show for the delectation of the public. Kidd mixes Irish myths and the macabre and even romance in an entertaining story difficult to put down.

Bill Bryson’s The Body: a Guide for Occupants is just what you need to read at present. It’s an entertaining and informative trip around the body and its constituent parts starting at the outside and working its way in. What stands out through, is the body’s amazing capability to recover from all we throw at it as well as its complex and ingenious systems which are built in. I was left amazed that we can function as well as we do, given the many things that could potentially go wrong. Written in his usual unique style, the amount of research he has done is impressive.

The Binding by Bridget Collins is about books and the power they have. Except in this story, they are used as repositories for unhappy, difficult memories that you would wish to forget. These books with their secrets must be kept hidden but are they? Emmett Farmer is an apprentice bookbinder learning his trade only to discover that one of the books is about him. But why? What is it that he has chosen to forget?

And something completely different. Wendy Mitchell was diagnosed with early dementia which changed her life. She had to give up work and became dependent on her daughters for help. But she persisted and through her difficulties became a spokesperson for dementia sufferers everywhere. Somebody I Used to Know tells her story and her fight to have dementia better understood and treated. There is life after such a devastating diagnosis. She blogs most days at https://whichmeamitoday.wordpress.com/

Enjoy your reading! What books would you like to recommend?

How to Cope With Coronavirus!

So you’ve stocked up on toilet paper, packets of which are decorating every available space, you’ve got your tissues to hand and the fridge is full of ready meals. You’re ready to self-isolate for as long as it takes for this latest plague to go away. But wait! Haven’t you forgotten the most important item?

Books! How else are you going to while away the hours and days until you can surface like a mole blinking in the daylight? You don’t want to dwell on the awful updates on news channels and social media; instead you want to be able to escape into other worlds, far away from reality. And what better than to curl up in a comfy seat with a book, a cuppa and hours of uninterrupted reading. Bliss!

Here are some of the books that I can recommend for you to enjoy. This selection are all set in Scotland:

Catherine Czerkawska’s The Posy Ring is set on an imaginary Hebridean island but the atmosphere rings true. Daisy Graham, an antiques dealer, has inherited an old house on the island, filled with old furniture and items of interest to her. Cal Galbraith is also interested but are his motives what they seem? Their story runs in parallel with that of two cousins who are survivors from the Spanish Armada and who end up on the island. The Posy Ring links their stories,

Motherwell by Deborah Orr is a memoir of growing up in Motherwell, a former steel town in Central Scotland. She became an award-winning Guardian columnist before dying prematurely from cancer in 2019. She was renowned for outspokenness and she writes frankly about her family and early life and the lasting effects their views and values had on her. It’s a great read.

Something completely different from Ambrose Parry, aka Christopher Brookmyre and his wife, Dr Maris Haetzman, The Way of All Flesh. Medicine meets crime in 19th century Edinburgh with anaesthetics just being introduced to ease the pains of childbirth as well as other nefarious uses. Just be grateful medicine has improved since then.

The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating by Nina Kaye is an ebook again set in Edinburgh, but this time it’s very up to date, full of laughs and sighs as we follow Liv in her quest for a job, a man and gin, not necessarily in that order. A light-hearted tale to enjoy.

And I couldn’t not mention my own novel, Festival Fireworks, also set in Edinburgh but with a visit to Australia in it as well. Jill and Andrew get off to a very bad start and it doesn’t seem to improve as he’s not only her boss but her next-door neighbour as well and Jill somehow can’t get things right.

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So sit down, switch off all your devices, and enjoy some peaceful escapism.

I’ll post another selection in my next blog so you won’t run short of reading material. And keep well!

Publication Days

Publication days come like buses – nothing for ages then two come at once.

Not only is this publication day of  Festival Fireworks in ebook format – paperback following soon!annburnett 1

 

– but, as I discovered when the post arrived this morning, my article on the Traprain Law silver is also published in the latest edition of the Highlander magazine.

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The hoard of Roman silver was found locally and can now be seen in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

A double whammy for the city as my novel is also set in Edinburgh!

 

Festival Fireworks – New Edition

Those of you who follow my author page on Facebook will have read that I am re-issuing my contemporary Scottish romance, Festival Fireworks, under my own imprint, Ladybug Publications.      Ladybug_clip_art_smallLadybug_clip_art_smallLadybug_clip_art_small

It will not only be published as an ebook but also a paperback with a new cover. The story is mainly set in Edinburgh with a trip to Australia as well, as Jill and Andrew try to keep their romantic fireworks from blowing up in their faces, helped or hindered by agony auntie Linda. annburnett 1

So save your Christmas Book tokens for the New Year and watch this space for when it becomes available.

In the meantime, enjoy the festive season however you choose to spend it and may your stocking be filled with lots of books to read!

The Times They are A-Changin’

For almost two years now, we’ve had nothing but change in our lives and it will continue.   Some changes are good and invigorating, others less so and difficult to get our heads round. But we persevere and take the good with the not so great. One result is that blog pieces and posts have diminished somewhat as time and energy have been taken up by other responsibilities.

Another result is that my writing has changed too. At the moment, I’m publishing short pieces, articles on the history which our new area is steeped in, and which are being published in a variety of magazines and online.

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The American magazine, The Highlander, popped through my door and I was delighted to find I had two articles in it. One, Orkney’s Ancient Palaces, was the very first piece I sent several years ago and which gave me a fillip when it was accepted, and the other, on Christian Maclagan, was a more recent one that I wrote. Christian who? I hear you say. Scotland’s first female archaeologist, no less, and a redoubtable woman to boot. Like many other intelligent and learned Victorian women, she was ignored and her researches and findings were disregarded.  She was also denied full membership of the Society of Antiquaries, a situation she was extremely angry about.

Recently, Scottish Field magazine published a piece about Susan Ferrier, another clever Victorian lady writer, now almost unheard of, and online, a piece on the Cadell family of Cockenzie House, a few miles away from where we now live.

What’s in a name – the history of the Cadell family

The men of the family were an interesting lot, entrepreneurs, artists, publishers and actors, and of course the inevitable black sheep who made a name for himself in Australia and who came to a sticky end.

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The unknown women of the Cadell family  (c) Cockenzie House

But what of the women of the family? More Victorian women who live on only in the photographs left behind and in a slim volume of writing penned by one of them? It is hoped that funding will be available to allow research into their hidden lives, through hopefully, diaries, household accounts and letters.

On another front, I have bought back my rights to my two ebooks and will republish them myself at a later date with revisions and new covers. Watch this space!

And a new tack – I have written a song! A singing group we attend is run by a very talented musician who has composed a piece just for our group and who asked if I would write the words. It will be premiered at the Gathering, a getting together of the many groups around East Lothian supporting those with dementia at which we will be singing. I hope they like Morning, Mrs Magpie!

Morning Mrs Magpie,
Here comes the day!
You bring a fresh start to life and living again
Good times are on their way.
Laughter and sunshine
Embracing me.
Voices uniting in music,
Friendship and harmony.

Gathering in the Harvest

The field outside my house has been shorn of its golden rapeseed and the harvest sent to the local rapeseed oil producing plant. Soon we’ll be able to buy a bottle of it to use for cooking. I’ve watched the crop grow and change from green to startling yellow and then to bronze and now reduced to a field of stubble. I wonder what the farmer will grow there next.

As for my own writing harvest, articles written over the long winter days are now surfacing. The Highlander magazine in the USA, taking articles on all things historical and Scottish, has just published The First Nursery School in the World, which Robert Owen set up in New Lanark in the early years of the nineteenth century. The ideas he put into practice about the education of young children are now standard but were revolutionary in his day.cover highlander

article R owenAnd my writing buddy, Sheila Grant, also has an article in the magazine, a powerful piece on The Killing Times, the struggle the Covenanters in Ayrshire had to worship in the way they wished.

September’s Scottish Field carries my piece on Susan Ferrier, Scotland’s Own Austen, and her best-selling books published in the first half of the nineteenth century. She was a great friend of Sir Walter Scott, and although she was, in her time, more successful than him, she only has a small blue plaque on the outside of her Edinburgh home whereas the Scott Monument dominates Princes Street.book cover 2

But the most successful harvest of all must be my potatoes. Regular readers of my blog will have followed their progress from seed potatoes chitting on my window ledge through to their breaking through the soil of their beds and burgeoning in the sun. I am almost tempted to say that I have too many. Certainly friends, family and neighbours have all been presented with some and we have been manfully eating our way through them. Fortunately, YouTube enlightened me on the method of freezing them so I have bags of frozen chips and roasties ready to see us through the winter.pots

At the moment, writing articles suits me best. It gets us out and about and meeting people as I research my latest topic. This afternoon, I hope to meet up with some metal detectorists and amateur archaeologists who have been excavating the lost palace of the Setons, burned down in 1715 after the first Jacobite Rebellion. Who knows what I shall harvest from the meeting!

It’s Festival Time Again!

The sun is out, the schools are on holiday and the festivals are in full swing.fringe

The Fringe by the Sea Festival is held every year in August in the seaside town of North Berwick. Stalls and marquees are set up by the harbour, just below the Seabird Centre and a packed programme of speakers, workshops, personal development therapies, music and kids’ activities is filled with visitors from all airts and pairts, as we say hereabouts.

Parking in such a small, popular spot is difficult, so to ease the congestion, and do our bit towards saving the planet, we left the car at home and took the bus there. It was a leisurely deedle-dawdle through pretty little villages, their roadside stone cottages filled with kaleidoscopic flowers, and past fields of barley and brassicas, with stunning views towards the Firth of Forth and the Bass Rock. It took twice as long as driving but who cares? We weren’t in a hurry.

We settled ourselves into the Spiegeltent ready for our first speaker, Doug Allan. He is a film cameraman who has worked extensively with David Attenborough on series such as Blue Planet and who specialises in filming in the Arctic and Antarctic. He had many stills and film clips which had us gasping in amazement at the beauty of the Poles and appalled at the damage we are inflicting on it. Doug spoke strongly about the need to act now, not just as individuals but to force governments to do far more now otherwise, as he called it, we face climate breakdown. He gave the audience much food for thought.

Ian Rankin is one of Scotland’s most successful crime writers and his character, Inspector Rebus, now retired, refuses to do just that. Ian has recently donated 50 boxes of his manuscripts and correspondence to the National Library of Scotland, and his interviewer had picked out some of the items that were in the boxes. Rejection letters, letters from the likes of Ian Crichton Smith and Alexander McCall Smith, a certificate for reciting Burns’ verse aged 8 or 9 – all brought back memories of his early life in Cardenden, his first attempts at writing a novel and his later successes, and the problems of introducing a pet in his books. The body count can rise exponentially but whatever, happens, don’t harm the dog – or forget to mention it. Readers apparently get very upset by that. And all spoken about in his trademark casual, friendly manner.`Ian Rankin

The following week, the Edinburgh Book Festival opened in Charlotte Square. It has now grown so large and successful that it has spilled out into George Street as well. What better occupation than to wander round a tent filled with books, books and more books! I know of no greater pleasure than to spend time in among books, browsing and reading snippets of them before choosing some to buy. So much, much more satisfying than clicking on Amazon’s website and waiting for the purchase to be delivered. And as for downloading on to a kindle…. a featureless, bland experience. And after buying them (as usual, far more than I meant to) carrying them home in the special Book Festival bag, cradling them carefully on the bus until, at home, I can settle down to reading them. Bliss!books

But before that, speakers Kaite Welsh and Caroline Lea spoke about their historical thrillers set in Edinburgh and Iceland. Kaite’s book, The Unquiet Heart, was triggered by the Edinburgh 7, the first women to become medical students at the University, and who suffered many trials and tribulations in their attempts to become doctors. Kaite’s main protagonist finds herself defending her fiancé from a charge of murder while trying to study medicine.

Caroline spoke about her love and knowledge of the old Icelandic sagas and the belief in the supernatural, still apparent today, among some Icelanders. Her book, The Glass Woman, begins with a hand apparently waving from the sea ice and the attempts by some men to bring it back on shore despite one of them, in particular, not wishing to do so.

Then to something completely different – afternoon tea with food writer and broadcaster, Ghillie Basan. While munching our way up the plate stand and sipping at the whisky supplied, we listened to Ghillie talk about her life experiences which had developed her love of spices and flavours and how to match whisky to various foods. Despite living as she described it, in ‘the back of the back of beyond’ in the Scottish Highlands and frequently being snowed up in winter, she still manages to produce interesting and flavourful meals, helped by her kitchen drawers packed full of spices which she obtains from her spice merchant in Istanbul. Her latest book is Spirit and Spice, where she talks of her life with food and includes many mouth-watering recipes.afternoon tea

Plenty of food for thought in all of that!