A Coronavirus Birthday

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!

birthday 2020

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.

cover

My articles were on two local subjects, Cockenzie House and Tantallon Castle, both of which we had visited before lockdown.

cockenzie p1  Tantallon

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 Fireworkds

Coronavirus Cycling

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.

suds basin

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.

balance bike

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.

veolicpede

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.

tandem + sidecar c1948

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!

jeep

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.

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!

 

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.

magazine cover

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.

Cockenzie ladies

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!

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.

treasure

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.

book cover 2

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.

Jicha-portrait1

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.

Maclagan_-_Keir_of_Gargunnock

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.