November 2014 – ‘Cry at Midnight’ goes to England

My first stop was London for Hallowe’en book signings in ‘Olive Loves Alfie’, a children’s lifestyle shop in Stoke Newington. There I sat, wearing my witch’s hat among beautiful fair trade clothes and carefully chosen toys and books. Hallowe’en is a big affair in London. The streets were busy with parents and children in fancy dress, all intent on filling bags and buckets with treats.

       

I also led an afternoon workshop for 11-13 year olds along with some of their parents. After reading from ‘Cry at Midnight’ I set a writing task. Everyone, even the adults, wrote about their names and read their writing to the group. I think the children particularly enjoyed hearing what their parents had to say. It made me realise that it isn’t necessary to have separate writing workshops for children and adults. In fact I think both groups gained from the experience, and it is certainly something I intend to do again.

Second stop was Kidderminster where I did two ‘Cry at Midnight’ sessions with First Year pupils at Baxter College. I turned up wearing purple to find that purple is the school colour. So I was very much at home among purple carpets and purple ties. It was my first session in a Secondary School so I was a little apprehensive, but it went down well and I had positive feedback from both boys and girls. Most comments indicated that they particularly appreciated seeing the photo of the fence post, handling the necklace and discovering what had inspired me to write the story.

Besides writing there is a need to promote my books, so I set up a ‘Cry at Midnight’ Facebook page and have picked up 46 ‘likes’ which isn’t bad considering that my main readers are too young to join Facebook. Reviews in Amazon are all five star and a recommendation from a reader resulted in ‘Chocolates and Charms’, a lovely gift shop on Tiree stocking ‘Cry at Midnight.’ It was also good to see ‘Slate Voices’ for sale in Waterstones in Oban.

On returning to Islay it was time to settle down to writing. A deadline for the ‘Waymarks’ Poetry collection was drawing close and there were poems to redraft and put in order. Three of the poems destined for ‘Waymarks’ appeared in ‘Poetry Saltzberg’ and one will go into a ‘Grey Hen’ pamphlet before the end of the year. I worked hard on the collection, but in the back of my mind, ‘The Snake Wand’ was beginning to make its presence felt. Initially I had no idea how to start the book, but writing a sequel means that I know my characters well. They are very real to me and I trust them to come up with ideas. Once I sat down at my laptop Hamish took over, leading me in quite unexpected directions. When characters come alive like this it is the most exciting thing that can happen to a writer.

August 2014 – A Month at Home

August’s hot sunny weather was interspersed with days of drizzle and spells of heavy rain. Despite this, my daughter Caryl and grandchildren Joe and Cerys enjoyed their stay. Caryl achieved a personal best time in the Islay Half-Marathon, but the highlight was kayaking round Kilnaughton Bay with www.kayakwildislay.co.uk This was an energetic afternoon during which they landed at the bottom of our garden for a snack.

While she was here, my daughter proofread Clickfinger, Book Two of The Hagstone Chronicles. That was extremely helpful and I was delighted that she found only two typos and no more than three points needing clarification. I did one more careful read through and sent it off to my publisher. www.cinnamonpress.com

On a trip to Colonsay to deliver more copies of ‘Cry at Midnight’ I was joined by John Humphries, Editor of Scottish Islands Explorer. As I’ve been writing for the magazine since 2009 it was good to finally meet him for a face-to-face chat. My article – Inspired by Tiree, about the writing of Cry at Midnight, appeared in the new issue with the added bonus of my photo of Dun Mor Vaul on the back cover.

Colonsay Bookshop again sold out of ‘Cry at Midnight’ so I went up to Port Askaig to see if I could find someone to take a parcel of 12 copies over for me. I approached one car and the four people inside looked aghast. It turned out they were from the US where one never accepts a parcel from anyone. Luckily, we got talking and I discovered that the driver was an author too. Even so, he wouldn’t agree to take the parcel until he’d checked with a Calmac official that it was OK. I suppose I could have been smuggling drugs or guns, or wanting him to plant a bomb on board; but regarding people with such suspicion struck me as a sad reflection on the state of the world. I’m so glad I live in the Hebrides.

A week later I had to repeat the process with another twelve copies, but this time without difficulty. Sales are doing well on Islay too. Bruichladdich Distillery shop have sold twelve copies and ordered another twenty.

The first review of ‘Cry at Midnight’ appeared on the Friends of Colonsay Facebook page – a glowing report from eleven year old Amelia Neilson who bought the book while on holiday.Since then, further reviews have appeared on Amazon where the book is now available on Kindle.

The garden has been a joy, the heather has come into bloom and the fuchsia is heavy with its tasseled blooms; but nothing gives me more pleasure than the wildflowers that arrive of their own accord. Spear thistles are attracting goldfinches in search of seeds and sea aster is growing among the rocks at the bottom of the garden. This is especially welcome as few plants can survive the endless spray from salt-laden waves.

The end of the month sees us packing for a brief holiday at Callander before taking part in The Callander Poetry Weekend where I will be reading from ‘Slate Voices: Islands of Netherlorn’.

July 2014 – “Cry at Midnight” arrives

The wait between completing the manuscript and opening a box of 100 copies of my book seemed interminable. Now it’s here and the joy of reading it in book form is indescribable. I am thrilled with the cover. It’s exactly as requested – with the bonus of a perfect font that adds to the magic.

I recall the Arvon Course at Moniack Mhor where I discussed my ideas with tutors Cathy MacPhail and Linda Strachan.

Authors Linda Strachan and Catherine MacPhail were outstanding tutors on a Course entitled ‘Writing for Children’.

When I attended the Course I had just returned from Tiree with the germ of an idea. Over the week with Cathy and Linda it began to grow into a novel. At the end of every day we had to say, out loud, ‘I am a writer.’ I was desperate to be a writer, but at that stage it was still a dream. Now, with a published children’s novel I’m beginning to believe that it’s true.

Of course, that week was only the beginning. The really hard work started when I returned home. As a first venture into children’s fiction it was daunting and I was so lacking in confidence that even when I’d completed the first draft I let it lie for almost two years. When I returned to it I re-wrote whole sections but the basic story remained the same. I spent hours in re-reading, cutting back surplus words and adjusting the pace. I immersed myself in the story, felt the emotions of Merryn, my heroine, and allowed those feelings to lead the story into quite unexpected places. I grew so attached to the characters that I had to leave a ‘hook’ for another book. Thus Cry at Midnight became the first of The Hagstone Chronicles.

Over the last few days I’ve been busy signing copies for mail orders, but the biggest buzz came from the Colonsay Bookshop. They had almost sold out and I went over on the ferry to deliver more. As I went into the shop two children were buying the last copy. I signed if for them and I think I was even more delighted than they were.

Signing copies of “Cry at Midnight”.

Slate Voices: Islands of Netherlorn featured this month too. My daughter and my grandchildren, Joe and Cerys were with us for a fortnight so I did a reading for them together with a small group of friends. It was a lovely evening as can be seen from the view through my living room window.

Reading from “Slate Voices”.

June 2014 – Back to the Slate Islands

Twelve days were spent at home during which, in between gardening and writing I worked on my website with Lesley Lutomski of islaywebdesign.co.uk

Friday 13th saw Richard and I heading, once again for the slate islands. Together with co-writer Jan Fortune, her partner Adam Craig and her son, Rowan Fortune we rented Creagard, a cottage on the Isle of Luing. The weather was glorious, there wasn’t a drop of rain, and sun hats and sunscreen were necessary before venturing out.

We had Slate Voices launches in Luing ‘s Cullipool Village Hall and in Seil’s Village Hall at Ellenabeich. Bruichladdich Distillery Islay generously provided us with bottles of The Botanist Gin and Islay Barley Whisky. The addition of wine, soft drinks, dips and savoury biscuits made for a very pleasant interval. But the highlight of the week for me was reading the poems in the places that had inspired them. We shared cars on Luing, visiting Cullipool, Toberonochy and the graveside of Janet MacPhail in Kilchattan Kirkyard. On Seil we walked round Ellenabeich village and on Easdale our walk took us round the entire island.

From Luing, Richard and I drove to Oban and crossed over to the Isle of Lismore. This limestone island has a rich and interesting flora. The orchids were spectacular – Common Spotted being the most frequent but with Fragrant, Northern Marsh, Twayblade, Lesser Butterfly and a few Heath Spotted and Early Marsh Orchids as well. At low tide we walked over to the tiny island of Bernera, a wonderful day, undoubtedly the best of a very enjoyable week.

The crossing from Lismore to Bernera.

Pebbles collect in hollows in the limestone rock on Bernera’s shore.

Weed covered boulders at low tide on Bernera.

Before reaching Lismore I had offered to go into the school to talk about Cry at Midnight. It was the last week of term and the school timetable was filled with events. However, I was asked to return from 18th to 24th October for the Lismore Book Week, not just to do children’s sessions but to be involved in writing workshops. The same cottage will be made available for us and I’m greatly looking forward to interacting with other writers.

Castle Coefin, Lismore.

Achaduin Castle, Lismore.

By the time we returned to Islay there were only two days of June left. These were spent in cutting the grass, dealing with a backlog of mail, and a fortnight’s washing which consisted mainly of dirty socks. Trying to find time to write was almost impossible. This will have to be a priority in July.