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!

Articles Galore!

Recently I’ve been writing articles for an American magazine, The Highlander. The magazine focusses on Scotland before the 20th century and takes all sorts of interesting stories about people and places and events.

So far this year, they have published two of mine, both on the town of Haddington; one about Bruce’s Charter which he gave to the town in 1318 and which is kept in the John Gray Centre in the town, and another on the street where we lived temporarily while waiting for our new home to be ready. There aren’t many streets that can claim  to have a Custom Stone at one end and the site of a battle at the other with John Knox’s school in the middle for good measure!

They are also publishing my article on Susan Ferrier, known as ‘Scotland’s Jane Austen’  who lived in Edinburgh, was a great friend of Sir Walter Scott and was a very successful writer in her day, with a caustic wit and wonderful characters in her books.

So now I’m researching more stories to write up. Yesterday we visited Dunbar and John Muir’s Birthplace. John Muir is revered in the United States for his work in setting up the first National Parks there, particularly Yosemite, so I want to find a different angle to write about as I’m sure the magazine will have published many articles about him.

I’m also trying to find out more about Vaclav Jicha, a much decorated World War II Czech pilot who was killed near Soutra Hill just south of here when his plane crashed in a snowstorm. He is buried in Haddington and now has a street named after him here.

And then of course, there are the competitions for the Scottish Association of Writers conference to enter…..

I think I’m going to be busy!

Back to Work!

Now that we are settled in our temporary home – an old town house set over three floors with one room on each and doing wonders for our calf muscles as we trundle up and down – I have no excuse for not getting on with writing tasks.

The edits for my next novel for Tirgearr Publishing, Love Begins at 40, have arrived so I’m working my way through them. I have a great editor, Christine, who picks up on all sorts of details that I miss, like commas and other punctuation marks. I assume that in the heat of creation, I tend to miss them out but in reality, I’m not entirely sure when and what to use. And anyway, each publishing house has its own style so what is acceptable for one is a no-no in another.

Love Begins at 40 will be out in August, about the time when we finally move into our new home so a double celebration will be in order.

And in another success, I’ve just heard that an article I wrote on the Palaces in Kirkwall, Orkney has been accepted for an American magazine, the Highlander. I’ve sent loads of photos for it as well so I’m looking forward to seeing it in print.

Summer appears to be here at last, at least for a few days, and it’s brought everyone out into the sunshine. Long may it continue!

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Down by the River

 

Susan Ferrier, the Scottish Jane Austen

I am thoroughly enjoying reading Marriage by Susan Ferrier. I had never heard of this author, yet she was a very successful writer in the nineteenth century and her books were much admired by Sir Walter Scott. In fact, she earned far more from her writing than Jane Austen herself. But her name has disappeared from readers’ minds.

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Thanks to the Scottish writer, Val McDermid, that, hopefully, will change soon. She is publicising Ferrier’s work by having it illuminated across buildings in Edinburgh, Susan’s home town. Follow the link to read all about it.

Marriage is set in Edinburgh, the Highlands and London and follows two generations of women, mother and daughter, with very different views of life and love. Lady Juliana elopes with her lover, whom she marries and almost instantly regrets it when she meets up with his family in the Highlands. One of her daughters, Mary, is brought up by her aunt there while Lady Juliana returns to London and life, as she sees it. Mary eventually joins her there but is not enamoured of her mother and her behaviour.

Throughout, Ferrier’s wit and humour enliven the story and her telling little details of Scottish life in the capital and in the north, as well as her knowledge of London society, combine to produce a story to rival that of Austen at her best.

I can’t tell you the ending as I’m not there yet, but I wouldn’t spoil it for any of you potential readers even if I did.

Society of Authors Christmas Lunch

It was off to Edinburgh on a clear, very cold morning for the Society of Authors Christmas lunch. As the train travelled up the coast towards Glasgow, I could see the Isle of Arran glittering in its light dusting of snow. The quiet, peaceful scene was soon shattered when we reached Glasgow and its hordes of shoppers already out looking for Christmas bargains.view arran

The train to Edinburgh was packed. Were they all going there to shop? What was wrong with the Glasgow shops? Or were the trains going the opposite way also packed with people coming to Glasgow to shop? I sat beside a lovely young Polish family, the two girls practising their knowledge of the language while writing and drawing. They were very talented young artists so I couldn’t resist handing over a couple of my bookmarks and suggesting they buy A Drop of Rainbow Magic where they could be the illustrators of the stories. Never miss an opportunity – that’s my motto!

Edinburgh is a city of stairs and steps and we climbed the Scotsman Steps, all 105 of them to reach our venue in the Royal Mile, the Radisson Blu hotel, reputed to be haunted!royal mile

Lunch was a constant babble of voices as we chatted and caught up with friends, but not a ghost was to be seen, fortunately.hotel

Two of my fellow Tirgearr authors were there and they filled me in on what to expect as I went through the processing of editing, launching and publicising my book. (Festival Fireworks in case you’re asking, out in March 2018. And set in Edinburgh too.)lunch 2

Self-publishing, virtual book launches and book and craft fairs were other topics I learned a lot about from speaking to other authors and I came away with plenty to mull over and swot up. lunch 1

And Scotrail decided that after all that lovely food and drink, we would need some exercise to walk it off. So after climbing down the Scotsman Steps again to Waverley Station, we crossed and recrossed the station trying to find a train going to Glasgow that wasn’t cancelled. Third time lucky, we squeezed into a carriage and set off home.

Why is it that the trains to and from Ayr to Glasgow are long, comfortable with plenty of seats and lovely views while the trains between the two main cities in Scotland are much smaller, cramped, packed out and liable to be cancelled there and then? Or is that a question for another time, another blog?

But we all had a lovely day and many thanks to the President Linda Strachan and her committee for organising it all. Here’s to the next one!

 

An ABC – Aviemore, Books, Cairngorm

And I can go on from there – Drookit*, Energised, Fort William, Glencoe….

We’ve been in the Highlands for a week and as well as admiring the scenery when the weather allowed, I’ve been browsing the books available in the Visitor Centres.

funicularWe travelled in the funicular railway to the top of Cairngorm on a day when the rain stopped and the sun came out. As it’s sub-Arctic on the top, it was pretty cold, but well wrapped up, it didn’t feel too bad. Pity the tourists who hadn’t expected such conditions and were feeling the chill as they gazed at the magnificent views cairngormacross the hills and lochs before disappearing into the warmth of the restaurant where the ceilidh band from Tain Academy was playing. Tain Academy

In the Visitor Centre, among the cashmere scarves and warm clothing, were beautifully illustrated books showing the Cairngorms at their best as well as children’s books with a Scottish flavour. Mairi Hedderwick‘s Katie Morag series was there as was Lynley Dodd‘s Hairy Mclary books.

The Potting Shed in Aviemore had other attractions – delicious cakes and red squirrels, both of which we thoroughly enjoyed.red squirrel

At Culloden, site of the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746 at the hands of the Government forces, John Prebble’s book Culloden was to the forefront as was Maggie Craig’s Damn’ Rebel Bitches, the women of the 45, and Bare-Arsed Banditti, about the men who fought there.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness had a well stocked book display of the usual titles but wouldn’t it be nice if all the visitor centres had a section purely for Scottish writers and promoted them as such? uruquhart castle

Glencoe was shrouded in mist, just the right atmosphere for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books and associated merchandise while Harry Potter had a shelf although the Glenfinnan Viaduct where the Hogwarts Express steamed across on its way to Hogwarts is not that close.Glencoe

And I was delighted to see that Elizabeth McKay’s Wee Granny and the Ceilidh was prominent!

In one B&B we stayed in, another guest was heading to Sanday in the Orkney Islands.  I was able to tell her about Lin Anderson’s latest crime novel, None But The Dead, which is set on Sanday and she immediately downloaded it on to her kindle. Result!

Now if I could come up with a children’s story about the Loch Ness Monster, Bonnie Prince Charlie, a Highland Cow and haggis, I’m sure it would be a roaring success!

*drookit – good Scots word meaning absolutely soaked with the water dripping off you.

 

Killer Heels and Lunch to Die For

killer heels & lunch to die for 090617Is it off-putting listening to two lady crime writers read about a gruesome murder in Glasgow and digging up skeletal remains in Orkney while in the middle of a delicious lunch? Surprisingly no. In fact I immediately bought the books in question and had not a pang of indigestion either.

Alex Gray and Lin Anderson were the crime writers and they kept an audience of ladies who lunch (and one gentleman) enthralled over their starters and main course. It was an interesting experience but a great idea; have a starter, then listen to an entertaining speaker followed by the main course and another equally fascinating speaker.

Alex Grey read from her latest DS Lorimer book, Still Dark. Lorimer is traumatised by aalex gray scene he witnesses one Hogmanay and struggles to return to duty in order to solve his latest case. Glasgow is again the setting for this intriguing addition to the Scottish crime genre.

Lin Anderson‘s main character is forensic scientist Dr Rhona Mcleod, who travels to Orkney in Lin’s latest book, None But the Dead, to investigate the uncovering of human remains on the island of Sanday. As I’d visited Orkney recently I wanted immediately to read it and experience again in my mind those fierce winds which are a constant feature of Orkney life and which can make a forensic investigation more of a battle against the elements.Lin Anderson

But Lin and Alex have another claim to fame as well as being prolific and rightly celebrated writers of crime fiction; they were the founders, six years ago, of Bloody Scotland, a crime fest of magnificent proportions, celebrating the genre at its best. It is held in the historic town of Stirling and begins with a Gala Opening in the Great Hall of Stirling Castle, where many of Scotland’s kings and queens resided.bloody scotland

Over dessert and coffee, the audience could digest (along with the lunch) all the funny stories and information Alex and Lin had delighted us with in their talks. Their research skills are impeccable, both having studied for a Diploma in Forensic Science to enhance their knowledge of crime scene investigations. Both had been teachers at one point in their lives (Lin on Orkney) but had given up their careers to forge new ones as crime writers.

Killer Heels and Lunch to Die For was organised to raise funds for Hansel Village, a community for people with support needs. They are looking to expand their work with young adults and this lunch would go some way to achieving their aim.

lin and alex

Lin Anderson on the left and Alex Grey on the right.

Kirsty from Waterstones was in attendance to sell Alex and Lin’s books afterwards and she did a brisk trade. A thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon in aid of a good cause.