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.

Dundee – Books, Ships and More Ships


Last weekend saw us head to Dundee for a Book Fair, wonderfully well organised by Wendy Jones. 32 authors and their partners/friends/minders congregated at the Friary and set out a most tempting display of goodies – books, sweets, more books, more sweets -and cakes!

My stall at the Dundee Book Fair

I met many friends there as well as making many more new ones and had some great conversations with them all. In between I even sold some books. All sorts of genres were represented – from Children and Young Adult to Romance and Crime, Fantasy and Horror. Add to that mix some Short Stories, Memoir and How To books and you have the makings of a successful day.

The Book Fair in full swing

To book-end the Book Fair, we had come to Dundee a day earlier and were leaving a day later to make the most of what is on offer in the city. So first to the new V&A museum, down at the waterfront. It’s a stunning building sitting  proud over the water and just as impressive inside. 

The V&A Museum Dundee

The museum showcases the best of design and the processes behind them and also had an exhibition about the ocean-going liners of former days, famed for their luxury.  Some of the clothing worn by the richest passengers, (including royalty) was quite exquisite and beautifully made, and obviously very expensive. They even brought their tiaras with them!

The stunning interior of the V&A

Next door to the museum, sits the ship, the Discovery, built in Dundee especially to sail to the Antarctic for exploring this great unknown continent as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. Robert Falcon Scott was the leader of the 1901-04 expedition which included Ernest Shackleton, also to achieve fame as an Antarctic explorer. 

The Discovery in dock next to the V&A

They achieved many scientific goals and learned much about the geology, biology and weather of Antarctica which would help later expeditions in their turn. The hardships they endured until they returned safely four years later was graphically depicted in the exhibition. The ship itself has been restored and is docked next its new companion, the V&A, both fitting jewels in Dundee’s crown.

The Crow’s Nest on the Discovery
Carrying out scientific experiments in Antarctica wasn’t easy

A great time was had by all, as they say, and material for some more articles? I hope so!

Books to Buy for the Holidays

This is shameless advertising but how else can I tell you about what’s on offer? Big publishers have budgets for promotion and advertising and events and giveaways but us lowly authors (and that’s most of us in the writing game) have to do it all ourselves.

So, to paraphrase that old rhyme,

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat

Please put a penny in the poor writer’s hat

If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do

Please buy a book by me and  God bless you!

 

So what have I to tempt you to buy?

Contemporary ebook romances

Love Begins at 40

LoveBeginsAt40byAnnBurnett200

Set in Largs, a small Scottish seaside resort, it tells the story of Maisie, a successful businesswoman approaching her 40th birthday and wondering what’s missing from her life. Will she find it in the quiet town of Largs or is Glasgow a better bet? Is James the answer or is Lenny?

Festival Fireworks  FestivalFireworksbyAnnBurnett200

Young Aussie lass Jill arrives in Edinburgh in Festival time, keen to explore the city and the country. But her next door neighbour, Andrew, seems set on spoiling her plans, especially when she discovers he’s also her boss. Can she still achieve her goals despite Mr Bossy, as she calls him, apparently out to thwart them?

Memoir

A Scottish Childhood; Growing up a Baby Boomer book cover2

My father, a keen amateur photographer, took loads of photos of us as children. I’ve collected the articles I wrote for the late, lamented magazine, Scottish Memories, on growing up after the Second World War and put them together as a snapshot of life in the West of Scotland in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Writing for Children

A Drop of Rainbow Magic 9780955854057

This is a collection of stimulating and vivid stories and poems originally written for the BBC children’s programmes, but with a difference. The children, themselves, are the illustrators. There are pages for them to do their own drawings of what happens in the stories. It’s so important nowadays to give children the opportunity to develop their own imaginations rather than have it fed by computer games, TV and animations.

Short Stories

Take  Leaf Out of My Book leaf-cover-09-16

A selection of prize-winning short stories which illustrate my tagline ‘writer of many things’. From a war-torn country to a city in the near future trying to survive economic disaster, to an inept Glasgow private eye, and a fantasy concerning Scotland’s Robert Burns and a determined fan in a pleated skirt, there’s something for everybody in this eclectic mix.

So buy a book and make everybody happy this Christmas!

 

 

 

Postman Pat – RIP

I was saddened to read of the death of John Cunliffe, the originator and author of Postman Pat. He first wrote about him in 1978 after a request from a BBC producer for a series for pre-school children set in the countryside. The series was an immediate success and many children delighted in watching Postman Pat and Jess, his black and white cat, as they drove on their rounds in Greendale meeting the inhabitants. There was Mrs Goggins who worked in the Post Office, the Reverend Timms, Granny Dryden and Ted Glen, the twins Katy and Tom Pottage and many more.20170413_124128_resized-1

John Cunliffe wrote all the books too, as well as a weekly Postman Pat story for the children’s comic, Buttons, but when the work became too demanding, I was called in to take over the weekly comic slot. For five years, I wrote a story a week, an enjoyable task as the characters he had created were so real and alive and believable. As I had two young sons at the time, much of what Postman Pat did was based on what we did, so when the boys had chickenpox, so did Postman Pat’s son Julian, and when we went on holiday or picked apples and brambles to make jam, so did Pat and the Greendale folk.P Pat

I wrote an article for a writing magazine about producing a Postman Pat story every week and shortly after, received a gentlemanly letter from John tactfully pointing out where I had gone wrong. I had misplaced Greendale from its origin in Cumbria over to the east coast but I was able to escape any censure as I had a letter from the editor revealing that it was she who had made the original mistake.

Postman Pat will live on even though his creator is no longer with us. The series is a worldwide success forty years on and shows no signs of losing popularity among the youngsters of today.

John Cunliffe has left a wonderful legacy for generations to enjoy.

Editing Stuff – And I Mean STUFF!

It’s a while since I posted and that is because at last, at long, long last we moved into our new home. Our belongings, which we’d placed into store several months ago, arrived in a huge truck and were unloaded to fill every room of the house with an explosion of boxes. Including the garage. Especially the garage. Stuff everywhere! Where did it all come from? We had cleared out our old house (or so we thought)  before the rest of our possessions were packed in boxes, so what had happened? Have they been breeding while tucked away safely in a store somewhere in deepest Ayrshire?

And so began the daily task of opening a box to reveal its contents, groaning in despair at what we found (a plastic lid for some unknown plastic box? A bashed teapot? A bowl still filled with paperclips?) and consigning the lot to what is known in the West of Scotland as the Coup, and to the rest of the world as the recycling centre.

van

While dealing with this mish-mash of disorganised and unwanted belongings, which I’ll call Stuff, it struck me that dealing with my Stuff in the boxes was not dissimilar to the process of editing in creative writing. The same rules seemed to apply to both.

My Rule number 1 of editing my writing is to put it away for a while, quite a long while, not just a few days and then bring it out for a fresh look.

That is precisely what we did with our Stuff. We put it away in store for quite a few months. And now we’re looking at it with fresh eyes.

When I look at my writing after I’ve put it aside for a while, I can see plenty of bits I want to cut, bits that I want to change and bits that look jaded and cliched.

When we opened the boxes filled with our Stuff…. yup, you get it.

Rule number 2 of editing says that pruning and cutting your work enhances what’s left. Every sentence, every word should earn its place.

Our trips to the Coup with redundant Stuff are becoming an almost daily occurrence and we will shortly be on first name terms with the wee man in charge. At home, we can now almost see the carpet and can move freely around the house without it being like an assault course.boxes

Rule number 3 states that moving the position of an incident to eg the end of a chapter, adds drama and encourages the reader to continue.

I don’t know about drama, unless you count the arguments, heated discussions and explosions of sweary words as we attempt to move furniture around the house. There is too much of it and where we thought to put it doesn’t work. There is a limit to the number of chairs a room can support unless you intend holding a public meeting there.. Why have we so much furniture anyway? Give me the Japanese minimalist style any day.

Rule number 4 says to look out for clumsy phrasing, typos, tautologies and any other errors that detract from the text.

Ok, who put that glass coffee table right where I couldn’t see it? And why is there a huge roll of sticky tape sitting in the cutlery drawer? No, I don’t know where the spare toilet rolls are. Try the fridge.

Rule number 5? Have a coffee. We’ve earned it.

My Granny Went on Holiday…..

When I was a child we used to play a game, My Granny went on holiday and in her suitcase she packed... each person would add an item, the sillier the better, to the list for the next person to remember. Eventually, as the list grew longer and full of unusual things, people would get knocked out of the game as they forgot items or had them in the wrong order.

I am at present, living out of two suitcases, while we wait for our new home to be ready. Their contents closely resemble those of the game. I packed those suitcases at the end of April just after the storm nicknamed the ‘Beast from the East’ because of its Siberian origins, had covered the country in feet of crisp white snow and ice. The countryside was quite beautiful if you didn’t have to go places, had plenty of food and heat and were not in need of medical assistance.

In my mind as well, was last year’s disastrous summer with heavy rain, temperatures far below normal and little sunshine. On top of all that, we had a wedding in Iceland to pack for, with the service taking place outdoors at the foot of a glacier.

suitcase

Not required at this stage of the journey.

So, in my suitcase I packed… thermal underwear, numerous thick woolly polo neck sweaters, two heavy jackets with hoods, knitted hat, scarf and gloves, waterproof trousers, sturdy walking shoes, a rain poncho and a hot water bottle. And what happens? We have the longest, driest, hottest spell of sunny weather in decades!

I had to head for the sales and buy a couple of cheap t-shirts so that I had something to wear without dying of heat exhaustion.

My Work in Progress (WIP) is in a similar state to my suitcases – full of stuff that I don’t actually need at the moment. I have written around 10,00 words and have ground to a halt. Why? Because I have crammed in loads of situations and backstory and details I might use at a later date but which are simply tangling up the story at the moment. I don’t know what direction to take my WIP next. Should I follow A’s problem which involves B not knowing about C but has a mystery at its source? Or what about Z who hates C but is in love secretly with W although he is married to B? And what of M who has suddenly appeared on page 19 but fits in nowhere that I can envisage?

All this is going on and I have only reached chapter 4.

When I finally move into our new home, I shall unpack the contents of my suitcases and hang them in wardrobes or stash them in cupboards until such time as I need them again. I’ll know where they are and can easily bring them out to use when the weather requires them. Similarly with my WIP I shall cut away all the extraneous complications, but won’t consign them to the trash can. I’ll keep them safely in a file marked KEEP until I reach a point in the story when I know they will have the maximum impact and will earn their place in the book. Then I shall introduce them into the action and watch while my characters react to the new situation I have created to stir them up.

No doubt at that time my woolly sweaters and hats will also be called into service as the year creeps towards its end and the hot weather is far in the past.

As my granny used to say, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.’

To everything there is a season….

Publication Day

 

It’s exciting when Publication Day arrives. After weeks, months, even years of hard work the great day comes at last and The Book is finally out there! Will it sell? Will the reviewers like it? Where will it be on Amazon rankings?

The important thing for an author to remember is that people’s tastes differ – fortunately – as what one person loves in a book, another hates. And I’m the same. Some books I devour with a great deal of pleasure, others I give up on after only a few pages. So some reviewers will give it a resounding 5 stars while others, more circumspect, award 3 or 4 and there’s always some idiot that you’ll vow to hate for life who hands out a measly singleton.

So what of Love Begins at 40? It’s about Maisie, approaching her fortieth birthday with some trepidation. She’s a successful businesswoman in Glasgow, who, in order to have better life-work balance, buys a holiday flat in Largs, a seaside resort on the west coast of Scotland. There she meets James dealing with his own difficulties in life. But they are attracted to each other. Can they overcome their problems, make some hard decisions and end up happily ever after?

Read it and see!

LoveBeginsAt40byAnnBurnett200