Saturday, 31 December 2011


2011 saw the start of my writing blog followed swiftly by the start of my roping in guest bloggers to do the work for me.

It started in July with Sue Howe on putting together a short story anthology, Triclops
with two other writers.

In August we had Blood Dancers author Jo Reed on creative writing courses, and September brought us Gillian Hamer on literary failure. (As if she knows anything about that!)

October was a particularly good month. It started with Karen MacLeod on writing her romantic novel Garlands and Shadows, continued with Liza Perrat on Inspiration, and went out with a bang with JJ Marsh masquerading as Dr F.

November brought ABC Checklist writer Lorraine Mace on getting the most from a critique, while December gave us perigrinating-poet Kate Murray and award-winning writer AK Dawson on his novel MiG-23 Broke my Heart.

Thanks once again everyone for your generosity.

And a HAPPY NEW YEAR to all!

PS: I've no idea why those little boxes are there.


‘Time to go, Pussycat.’ Sammy hauls her into a sitting position and she leans against him, limp and moaning. He slips the dress over her head, struggling to get her arms through the sleeves, tugging the neckline into place, fastening the tiny pearl buttons. Her nipples are erect; he can see them through the loose silk.

Picking up her boots he pushes her bare feet into them and zips them up. He pulls her upright and drapes her black woollen cape around her shoulders.

‘Don’t worry, Pussycat. Soon get you warm.’ He walks her to the door, her feet dragging along the boards, and gives a last glance around the room. Her shoulder-bag is already in the boot of the Lada with her underwear stuffed into it. The thought of her without her bra, without tights, excites him. But there is no time now. Later, when they are safe. When they have the money.

Easing the front door closed, he listens for sounds on the stairs. When he is sure there is no one around, he half drags, half carries her to the car.


Friday, 16 December 2011

Mig-23 Broke my Heart: The Story Behind the Story

Award winning writer Andrew Dawson tells us how a novel sprang into being and wouldn't let go.

Mig-23 Broke my Heart: The Story Behind the Story

by Andrew Dawson

When I was nineteen, an idea for a story popped into my head and made itself at home. I won’t go into details about what it was about, but I will say that I sat down and spent about three weeks (a lifetime back then) typing out a novel that possibly violated a few rules of grammar and almost certainly made no sense. As soon as I was finished, I hit ‘print’ on the keyboard and then buried the manuscript in my bottom drawer. It was enough for me to know that I could do it, even if the result wasn’t all that great. I then went outside and got on with the rest of my life.

Fast-forward eight years and I enrolled on Northumbria University’s Creative Writing MA. By that time I had studied a couple of things, worked as an advertising copywriter and written a few short plays that had been produced. I was ready to tackle another novel.

MiG-23 Broke my Heart started out as a single sentence: ‘Thomas was bored.’ I didn’t know who Thomas was or why he was bored. I liked his name though, because it reminded me of the biblical doubter. So, I gave my Thomas a Bible. I also put him on the border between Angola and Namibia in 1988, because that was the worst situation I could imagine. From my background in writing for theatre, I knew that there was more satisfaction to be had from creating conflict than in describing days out at the beach.

I grew up in South Africa in the 1980s, with the shame of apartheid thick in the air and the spectre of military conscription hanging over my head. It was only natural that my subconscious would drag me back there.

In Britain, on my creative writing course, I wrote the first few pages of what would become my first ‘proper’ novel. I quickly realised that I wasn’t just drawing on my own experiences, but on tales told to me by older friends and cousins who had been called up to fight for the indefensible South African Defence Force. These memories weren’t enough though and I had to dig deeper. I scoured the internet and bought every book I could about the so-called ‘Border War’ between South Africa and its neighbours. Even though the story of Thomas is a kind of allegorical love story, I wanted to make sure that it fitted into its historical context. I wanted to do it properly.

Eventually, I finished the novel and submitted it to a few agents and publishers. The feedback was favourable, which I’ve heard is rare from a first approach (I now know that it’s rare to hear back at all), but there were no takers. No-one, apparently, wants to read about a forgotten war in an unfashionable part of the world.

I was furious. To spite them all, I went and wrote an even less accessible novel. After that, I wrote another book, without worrying who would read it, because I had got into the habit of writing prose. The habit became an addiction and I’ve now completed five novels in various genres.

Winning a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in 2010 gave me the confidence to see myself as a kind of semi-professional (I approach my work professionally, but am only semi-successful). It also led me to reassess the manuscripts sitting in cold storage in my hard-drive.

MiG-23 Broke my Heart, I decided, would be perfect for Kindle. It wasn’t the kind of thing that would ever be picked up by a mainstream publisher, but that didn’t mean that it was a ‘bad’ book. Somewhere out there, it had an audience – at least, that’s what I told myself. I also thought that it would be creatively fulfilling to produce something tangible. And it has been.

After editing the text, hiring a professional to give it a once-over and asking a friend to help with the cover design, I uploaded the book to Amazon. There was no category for allegorical love stories set in obscure African conflicts, so I had to make do with filing it under the ‘War’ and ‘Adventure’ sections. Any writer will tell you what a nightmare it is describing their own book, and I think I fluffed the description bit. But, generally, I’m happy with how the whole thing turned out.

I don’t, however, have any plans for releasing the novel I wrote when I was nineteen. That one stays in the bottom drawer.


MiG-23 Broke my Heart is available for Kindle on and; and for all formats at

Originally from South Africa, Andrew Dawson lives in Gateshead, in the North East of England. You can find links to some of his short stories at

Monday, 12 December 2011

DON'T LOOK DOWN - Thriller

Set in a wintry Germany, DON'T LOOK DOWN is a fast-paced thriller that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go until the icy denouement in a cave high in a hillside.

When Lauren Keane is kidnapped during a winter break in Germany, she doesn't take it personally. The kidnappers have, after all, mistaken her for her friend Katti. When she finds a dead Albanian cleaning woman in her shower, however, she figures it's time to fight back. Especially as she is now in the frame for the murder.

Along with Wolf, her ex, who's now engaged to the frigid Ingrid, and Gunther, an undercover-or-is-he?- policeman, Lauren sets about trying to find the vanished Katti, nail a bunch of sex-traffickers and discover why the cleaner was brutally murdered.

After fighting off dim-witted goons and a psychopathic gunman, getting lost in a forest in a snowstorm, and enlisting the help of the hypnotic Axel, Lauren pursues the kidnappers to a cave on a stolen Pizza delivery bike.

In the cave high in a hillside she discovers another body, comes face to face with the killer, and receives assistance from a giant icicle.

Not that she delights in putting herself in danger but, if she's ever going to get the chance to buy her presents at the Nuremberg Christmas market, she's going to have to get the mess sorted out somehow.


Friday, 9 December 2011

Sticky Catchfly and the Perigrinating Poet...

Kate Murray is a poet and novelist living in Edinburgh. This is the delightful story of how photographing a rare flower led to Kate becaming Writer in Residence - or Poet in Peregrination - at Holyrood Park.

My Poetry Pamphlet – From The Lang Rig
by Kate Murray
Sticky Catchfly

                                                   Poet in Peregrination

It all started with Sticky Catchfly – a gorgeous, pink-flowering, protected plant that I’d hunted down, photographed and versified in the summer of 2008 and which was then featured the following spring in a Historic Scotland Display Case at one of the Holyrood Park gates. How well my poem would fit alongside!

Buy From the Lang Rig
By October (format and cover design by my daughter, Anna!) I had my poems in pamphlet form. The opening poem was Holyrood Park A to Z and a few days later I saw in the Display Case not only photos illustrating this poem to perfection but, on the reverse, a flyer for ‘Art in the Park’ and three blank A4 sheets. Awaiting my poems?

With an unprecedented burst of entrepreneurial spirit I e-mailed Historic Scotland to see if there was any chance of my poems being displayed and told of my nine years/4,000 miles walking and waxing poetic in Holyrood Park.

Four days later they responded, speaking of: ‘an opportune moment …enhancing the public interpretation of the Park …potentially … etc. etc.’ and on February 3rd 2010 came the ‘All Clear’, followed by the poems’ display on 21st April. Whoopee!

From then on I became the 'Poet in Peregrination of the Park', poised to pounce on the unwary visitor.

From Toronto and Wisconsin came Bill and Kurt respectively, Continental Airlines pilots stranded by the ash cloud. Kurt tells me that after he’s read the poems my pamphlet will be placed on the bookshelf of his son, Parker Joseph, for his future delectation. Lovely! I’m up and running.

Next, Guy from Montreal, currently working at Moray House (Post-Grad Teacher-training) buys two pamphlets and asks if I will go there to read and speak of my poems. Well, of course I will!

Staying with North America, on the Radical Road I shake hands with Wendy & Chris from Idaho, congratulate honeymooners Jonathan and Betsy from Philadelphia and chat with two West Highland Way-walking women from Oregon. Then I sell to a second Guy – from Massachusetts, this one – and to sundry persons from New Hampshire, Virginia and Washington.

From the Southern Hemisphere are families from Melbourne and Sydney and an Australian/Canadian couple celebrating their 42nd Wedding Anniversary, following an ascent of their local Arthur’s Seat in Victoria, Australia.

On to Europe and Aurélien, a Parisian photographer/installations artist; Mary from Gdansk doing her M.Sc. here; delightful Maggie y Patricia from Valencia – ‘You write in for me, take picture, I buy’ – and sundry appreciative wanderers from Stuttgart, Munich, Wurzburg, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovenia and, not forgetting Demosthenes from Cyprus, who instigated a discussion on ‘enosis’.)

Endangered Species
There’s an engagement ascent (Nick and Joy from Leicester), another Wedding Anniversary couple ( Stoke-on-Trent) and newly-weds who smile and say, ‘We don’t read poetry – But we could’ and seem highly delighted with their purchase of a pamphlet.

A high point was an e-mail from an un-met admirer who’d contacted Historic Scotland after reading ‘Polyommatus Icarus’ (Common Blue butterfly) on the display board. I quote: ‘The poetry is brilliant …marvellous …reminded me of Christopher Logue’s style …shades of Kathleen Jamie …You are very talented … I’ll write a glowing review any day.’
Wow! Thank you!

And so, to my adopted homeland: the couple who’s just sailed around Shetland; the mother moving from Aberdeen to Edinburgh with her daughter whose job had just relocated from Edinburgh to Manchester; Elaine, who I found admiring ‘Polyommatus…’ in the Historic Scotland stand and many others.

Readings were done too: one – ‘From the Lang Rig' – by myself for a group of Scottish walkers high up, looking out over the penned landscape, one (Bird of Good Omen) by a teenage girl with her family, one by Bennett from the next street who did a flamboyant rendering of ‘Facing Down The Void’ for his partner, and, most stirring of all, the grandfather who read ‘Holyrood Park A-Z’ in a resonant Highland accent whilst looking over ‘sugar-cube Bass Rock’.

‘I shall bequeath this book to my grandson, Oscar,’ he declared and that latter (who’d been a tad embarrassed at first) looked most chuffed. Grandfather’s parting words were: ‘I met a witch coming up and an angel going down.’ (I should point out that he was going down when I encountered him!)

What a summer – two hundred people met, two hundred pamphlets sold.


To purchase a copy of From The Lang Rig contact

Seen from the Lang Rig

February sun.
Inchcolm becalmed
on a jade plateau;
sugar-cube Bass Rock
perched on a length
of bridesmaid-blue satin ribbon.

Due North by Burntisland
a reach of the Forth alchemised
to a golden crocodile
suns itself out of inertia,
glides westwards
through Mortimer’s Deep.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Pentalpha Publishing Edinburgh

Well, it's been a busy time for Pentalpha Publishing Edinburgh: Three new books to report and only one of them mine.

Firstly, there's COUNTERFEIT: Part II of the Warbeck Trilogy, by Karen MacLeod. This follows on from Doubtful Blood and features several of the same characters, now six years on and set at the time of the wedding of Mary Tudor to Philip of Spain.

Then there's THE IRON LADY OF THE WESTERN WORLD by J M Syngamy (a pseudonym if ever I heard one!). This is a delightful romp through the times of Margaret Thatcher but not in any way the Iron Lady would recognise!

And last, but hopefully not least, there's my own offering: DON'T LOOK DOWN, a thriller with a female protagonist, set in Nuremberg, Germany in the weeks before Christmas.

Bargains all!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Critically Speaking by Lorraine Mace

Today's guest blogger is the wonderful Lorraine Mace, a writer whose professionalism makes me feel like a lazy amateur. In addition to writing freelance articles and columns for magazines, Lorraine finds time to write novels for both adults and children. She also judges competitions and offers critiques to writers. Here she gives us some wise advice on responding to criticism and on resubmissions.

Many thanks to Lorraine for taking time out of her busy schedule to provide this blog.

Critically Speaking
Lorraine Mace

In the course of my work I get to see a lot of rewritten stories and novels and I’m always astounded at how quickly writers resubmit after receiving a critique.

Considering the writers are coughing up good money for the benefit of someone’s advice, it seems a bit odd not to take the time to at least digest the comments and suggestions. All too often, within a few days of a critique going out, the story reappears in my inbox (often with a note saying it has been rewritten following the advice given). Um, no, usually all that has happened is a few minor corrections have been made to tidy things up, but the major errors to do with plot, characterisation, dialogue and other important factors remain.

So, here’s some advice on how to get the most from a critique, whether it has been paid for, given freely on a peer review site, or is feedback from a writing buddy.

1. Do Nothing

That’s right. Do nothing. Don’t set to and rewrite immediately. Take a few days to read and reread the comments and suggestions. Only after absorbing the feedback and letting it run through your subconscious will you be able to decide which aspects of the criticism are valid and which would take your work in a direction you don’t want it to go.

2. Make Notes

Once you’ve absorbed the criticism, make notes on how to deal with it. How are you going to fix the plot holes? What layers can you add to give depth to the storyline? How are you going to flesh out the characters to make them less wooden? What can you do to improve the dialogue? How can you make transitions into and out of flashbacks smoother? What can you do to improve the settings? How can you balance telling and showing?

On this last point, don’t let anyone tell you that you should always show and not tell. A piece of advice given to me some time ago, which I felt summed up the balance perfectly, is to show (using dialogue and interaction to dramatise) what’s important and to tell (using narration to link dramatised scenes) what isn’t.

3. Rewrite

Okay, now you have your notes, it’s time to rewrite. If you’ve followed steps one and two above you should now be in a good position to make a really good job of the rewrite.

4. Be Patient

Put your rewritten story out of your mind for a few weeks. Don’t read it again until at least a week has gone by, but the longer you can leave it, the better it will be for you. It’s impossible to read something objectively too soon after you’ve been working on it. Take the time to write something new – or rewrite another story.

5. Read Critically

Get out the original critique and your notes and read your story with these in mind. Have you covered everything? If you stumble over a minor point, don’t tell yourself it’s nothing to worry about – make notes on how to fix it.

Finished? Nope, not even close. Repeat steps 1-5 until the story is the best it can possibly be. Then, and only then, resubmit it to the competition. However, by then it might be so good that you could submit it to a competition with even better prize money.

Lorraine Mace is a columnist with Writing Magazine and writing agony aunt for Words with JAM. She has had fiction published in various magazines including That’s Life, The Lady, My Weekly and Ireland’s Own. Lorraine, a tutor for Writers Bureau, is part of the Freelance Market News appraisal panel for both fiction and non-fiction. A writing competition judge and member of the short story critique team for Writers’ Forum, she also runs her own critique service for writers.
The Writer’s ABC Checklist
Critique Service
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Monday, 24 October 2011

Frankenfiction by Dr F.

Today's piece is by Jill Marsh (masquerading as Dr F). Jill writes international novels featuring DI Beatrice Stubbs, as well as clever short stories, humourous articles, and think-pieces. Whatever she writes, she is always sharp, witty and passionate. Jill has the sort of mind I'd love to have but am too lazy and apathetic to acquire!

Here she tells us how to write that novel - or maybe not...

Frankenfiction by Dr F.

Yo! Thinking about this book-writing how-to, what-not-to, where-to an’ all.

Listen up - it ain’t all that complicated.

Here’s the deal – Mary Shelley had the right idea. Frankenfiction.

Other words, Make Yo Own.

Get yourself a skeleton, yeah? Slap on some flesh. Wrap it all in skin and then animate that ugly mother. That, my friend, is how to write a book.

Whassat mean? I hear you snap, all whip-smart and sassy.

OK, let’s break it down.


Research: One word – Wikipedia. Find it, use it, check it, cut it, paste it, quote it and change it a bit in case of lawsuits.

Backstory: Know your story world. And share every itty bit of it with the reader. Start with a tense stand-off between two gunmen or a nun facing the noose, then go into a well-massive flashback involving Satanism, child abuse and cruelty to croissants.

(Not meant to be prescriptive – any pastry product will do.)

Plot: Not rocket science, my friend. Even if you’re writing Apollo 39. Beginning – something’s gonna happen. Middle – it gets way more complicated. End – guy beds gal, goodie shoots baddie, maverick saves world (unless your book is French – then you’re gonna need a shopping trolley and some spoons).


Character: Give your reader familiar points of reference and let them fill in the blanks from their own imaginations. The butler, standing in the half-light, looked somewhat like Alan Titchmarsh after a colonic irrigation.

Dialogue: The thing about dialogue is that is has to sound like people talking.

St John, I have decided to give you access to my undercarriage after your respectful attentions to Papa” works just fine for Corsets-in-Dorset.

Deep breath, Leroy, you’re goin’ in.” More your undersea tales for pre-schoolers.

(Be imaginative with speech tags. Said is dead. Go wild with purred, squeaked, growled, rocked, whinnied and regurgitated. Or spat.)

Pace: This is, like, well important. Best thing for pace? Start with some buttock-gripping stuff in the first bit, slack off for popcorn and then end with a massive fight. Even for rom-coms, but use ice-cream instead of grenades.


Imagery: An essential weapon in the writer’s arsenal. Metaphor = like.

Graham screamed like a blackboard with its tail in a mincer. Similies are as easy as falling off a dog - just don’t use clichés, especially if you can’t do the accent. Plunder your thesaurus, unless you’re vegetarian.

Language: Share the wealth of generous description. Adjectives are herbs to the bland potage of your prose. Especially if you alliterate. His cadaverous, cold eyes crept covetously over her crimson clutch. Adverbs, administered with caution, sauce up any tired old missionary position. “I’m most dreadfully sorry,” apologised the profuse physician, ideologically.

Red herrings:

Readers love it when you flag up that spooky monkey’s paw, the locked attic, the buried letters and NEVER REFER TO THEM AGAIN. Really makes ‘em think.


Once your Mum’s read it and said ooh-it’s-very-good-dear, send it to an agent, who will get you a well-massive publishing deal and film tie-in.

Top tips

Photocopy a standard letter and hand write the name

Do twenty at a time on yellow paper

If you gotta personalise your queries, let ‘em know you mean business by dissing their other clients.

And credit Dr F. in the acknowledgements. You’d be nothing without me.

Read more of Jill's work: jjmarsh's blog

Monday, 17 October 2011

INSPIRATION by Liza Perrat

Liza Perrat writes wonderful evocative novels that flit through time. Here she tells us how the inspiration for a new novel came about. If this new book, set in Australia, is anything like the previous ones, there will be descriptions to die for and intimacies that will touch your heart.

I can't wait.


The first photo captures my gaze: a wooden bench seat, the chipped paint and worn slats gleaming in the angle of morning sun. Splotches of rust trace the spirals of the iron arm rests.

My great-grandfather proposed to my great-grandmother on that seat,’ my friend says. ‘Ramsay and Henrietta.’ She shows me photos of Ramsay and Henrietta. ‘They look fierce, don’t they? But they weren’t at all; apparently they were very sweet and affectionate.’

The next photo is of her white, federation-style family home with its jacaranda, magnolia, and fruit tree blossoms. In the backyard, a dilapidated chook-run leans to one side, the hens long gone, and the thunderbox has lost its roof. We laugh, thinking about growing up with those outside toilets, alive with spiders, bats and mice.

So many stories, so much history,’ she says with a sigh. ‘What a pity we have to sell it. All that will be lost, forever.’

I feel it coming on then – the ticking mind, the quickening heartbeat, the thrill pulsing through my veins. Flashes of characters, dialogue, exotic settings. My mind’s eye visualizes the stories behind those photographs: the Australian convict settlement, the gold rush, fierce bushrangers galloping off into the hills.

It won’t be lost,’ I say. ‘Because I’m going to write their story.’

There’s nothing quite like inspiration; the exhilaration that sets my fingers itching, trembling even, over the keyboard. I want to drop everything and set off immediately, on this foray into the unknown. I never know where it will lead me, what will happen along the way, who I’ll meet, who I’ll like, love or despise. All I know is that it’s an adventure on which I’m obliged to embark; a magnetic pull into the clutches of my new, invented world.

After almost ten years of writing fiction I’ve come to realize that nobody, apart from fellow writers, can understand or sympathize with these impulsive snaps of stimuli.

My excitement taking hold, I stutter out ideas, quirky characters and dreamy scenes, my arms waving about in the air. Friends and colleagues gaze at me blankly. They smile politely and start discussing last weekend’s football match.

That’s it!’ I say to my mother. ‘Inspiration has struck.’

That’s nice, dear,’ she says, with that knowing smile.

I’ve got a new idea for the next novel,’ I say to my husband. ‘I’m sure it’s going to be good, this one.’

He stares at me aghast, not daring to dampen my flying spirits. ‘Oh right … another book.’ I note the hesitation, but he doesn’t comment on the four novels I’ve already sweated and slaved over, none of which are published. Yet.

Because when inspiration, enthusiasm and motivation strike – those things that propel me into an unexplored land – I live in the hope (or is that blind delusion?) that this will be the one; the novel that will capture the attention of publishers and readers. A story people will love to read which, for me, is what it’s all about.

Ah yes, but of course I know about that initial spark, that first kindling of literary genius, and how it doesn’t last. I realize that once I’ve pored over the photographs, read the books, trawled the internet for endless hours then sat for more endless hours actually writing the damn thing, that familiar mid-story chill will creep into my bones.

The winter months set in and, as they pass, I’ll become colder, stiffer and more brain-addled. I’ll search desperately for the light of that welcoming beacon: The End.

So, what can we do to avoid this mid-novel bog; to keep hold of that first revelatory hunch? Perhaps we should go back to the beginning? Look at those photos again, listen once more to our friends’ anecdotes; the stories that captivated us so?

Take a few days away from the computer, the internet, the family, the job. Go and sit on a beach, in a café, on a crowded bus. Anywhere you can clear your mind of the clutter and mist, leaving those neuronal pathways free for creative thought. And once you’ve recaptured them, hold onto them tightly, believe in your story and trust yourself as a writer.

Then, somehow, that inspiration may carry you through to The End.

Liza Perrat.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Weekend Read - Garlands & Shadows by Karen MacLeod

I've known Karen MacLeod for many years now and have always been impressed by her writing. She usually writes historical fiction so this contemporary romance is a departure in genre though not so much in style which, as ever, is lucid and compact. Here she tells us how Garlands and Shadows came into being:

Garlands and Shadows evolved from my earliest attempt at a novel, Castle In A Paperweight, not in terms of story (it was not a straight romance) but in terms of location and several of the characters. It did not have a happy ending – I was young, and didn’t really understand that people need to escape from the world, not find more gloom in it.

It got lots of favourable comments  – I particularly appreciated Allan Massie recommending it to Canongate and Carol Manderson at Century Hutchinson who took the trouble to write “A powerful novel – good luck” on the official typed rejection card  - but no takers. So it turned into a sequel called The Beaufort Weekend, which had a bittersweet ending (slight improvement on gloom) but which I ended up destroying (unlike Paperweight, which, being my first baby, I could not quite bear to destroy).

A long time later, I started Garlands and Shadows with two completely new principal characters, Maura and Jaime, and a happy ending. It is not a sequel to the first two versions, since its past is not their present. But I loved the Highlands, working in several hotels up there as a student, and I think I wanted to write about some of the characters again, since they never quite left me, and give them happiness this time.     

Karen MacLeod

Karen MacLeod works in an office in Edinburgh, not far from the Castle and Gardens. In her own time she writes – compulsively. A Glasgow University history graduate, she has concentrated mostly on historical fiction; an early novel of the Tudor period has now blossomed into a trilogy. This new novel, Garlands and Shadows, a romance set in the Scottish Highlands, is both a departure and a return to her earliest writing.

Karen’s MacLeod ancestors lived on the west coast of Lewis – the westernmost edge of Europe, three miles from the Bronze Age standing stones of Callanish. One of her great-grandfathers worked on Lord Lovat’s estate at Beauly, Invernessshire. A great grandmother left Ireland as a child for Glasgow during the potato famine and the family of her MacIntosh great-grandmother was displaced from Strathnaver in Sutherland during the Clearances. There’s a lot of  material there – which may yet be mined.

Ian MacLeod

Garlands and Shadows is available for Kindle at;; and in all ereader formats at

It will soon also be available at Barnes & Noble, Kobo and the Apple Bookstore.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

This week's blog comes from crime novelist Gillian Hamer

When I read Gillian Hamer's crime novel, The Gold Detectives, I fell in love with the characters. They were so warm and real I felt like I was spending time with friends and was bereft when it ended. If anyone deserves to be published, Gillian does. Here she bemoans the fact that, as yet, no publisher has been savvy enough to snap her up. It surely can't be long before someone has the sense to make her an offer. And don't believe the title - lack of a publisher does not a literary failure make!

My Life as a Literary Failure …
Gillian Hamer

I know self pity brings tears quicker than anything. And I know terming yourself as a failure is frowned upon in today’s age of molly-coddling – but hand on heart that’s how I’ve been feeling these past few months. And boy does it impact on any chance of writing anything borderline decent.

I’ve been with my current agent fourteen months and in total we’ve subbed to probably around a dozen publishers, maybe a few more. Big players, household names. At the beginning, I was flattered, delighted, overwhelmed, that someone had so much faith in my writing. My writing. Little old me who’d started this as a bit of a laugh, then an interesting hobby, and finally a time-consuming, blood, sweat and tears obsession.

But what I’ve come out of the past year learning principally – is that rejection is never easy no matter in what form it disguises itself.

When you’re unagented, every agent refusal is a smack in the face and a stamp on your ego. But you live with the burning desire that getting that agent, actually signing a contract, is like some kind of Holy Grail. As a new writer, you believe that having someone on board who appreciates your writing, understands you as person, and generally ‘gets’ what you’re trying to achieve – is all you need in this world. With a qualified, experienced, contacted, real-life agent by your side – you will have hit the big time running.

Link to Gillian's Blog


Increasingly, I am seeing talented writers (people who without doubt in the good times would have been snapped up by one of the big three publishers and currently be discussing Hollywood film rights) struggling in much the same way as I am.

I’m going to paste in a selection below of the responses I’ve received over the past months, replies that are echoed across genres, ages and styles. No one wants to put their money into new authors right now, that’s the truth of the matter. Money is tight, the economy is tighter, consumers aren’t parting with cash – and publishers want a fast return on any advances.

There’s only so many times, when after waiting six months, you’re told:

• ...but don’t quite know what to do as to be honest, we now have so many new writers that have come onto the crime list, marketing and publicity haven’t got the capacity to take on any more as pushing new authors – especially in fiction – as you know, is incredibly hard.

• I think the best I can do at this stage is to say that if you haven’t had an alternative offer by the new year I would love to reconsider.

• I just didn’t have the vision for how to publish this on our list, so I shall have to pass.

• I enjoyed it and found the narrative original and intriguing. However, despite the commercial potential of this series, I wasn’t as gripped by the writing as I had hoped to be.

• I enjoyed Gillian's writing, and thought the premise was great. However, I'm afraid I couldn't quite see how this novel would fit within our list at the moment, so this isn't one for us.

And I could … but won’t … go on!

So, what’s the answer? How do you fit in with lists? Grip the publishers? Supply extra vision? Tick all the boxes?? And so on and so on …

Self pity is all very well. Giving it all up and flouncing off to Zumba classes is an option. But you’re a writer, ergo you have to write and are probably not much cop at anything else truth be told.
I can’t wave a magic wand and solve everyone’s problems, but in my search for a solution I’ve taken a complete break from fiction writing. I’ve immersed myself in my non-fiction work for a literary magazine, and I’ve booked myself in for my first ever writer’s workshop at the end of the month.

What I’ve learned I think, is that in these tough times, it’s not enough to be good, mediocre, or maybe even great. You have to be phenomenal. Your writing, story and every aspect of your craft needs to shine like a new star and set you apart from the crowd.

Yes, you could do as I did for a while and bemoan the amount of published drivel – from Z list celebs to poor quality authors – and fine, do that. Kick the wall while you’re at it if it helps. But that won’t get you published, and if that’s seriously your aim, you need to sit down, work out a strategy, and write. That’s all you can do. Write and write some more, hone your work until it sparkles – because if you do that to the very best of your capabilities, I still believe, despite all the knock backs, that someone, somewhere, sometime will discover you as a tiny shiny diamond in one hell of an epic coalfield.

Read some excerpts from Gillian's work on her Blog.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Works in Progress

Just an update on what I'm up to as I haven't blogged for a week or two.

I've been formatting an ebook for Kindle (Garlands & Shadows by Karen MacLeod). It's a romance set in Scotland with a heroine who's no pushover and it features a dishy Spanish hotelier as the love interest. I'll be formatting this one for Smashwords as well soon.

I'm also doing some editing for another writer - Jimmy Bain - and I'll be formatting his new Bumble book (The Long Drop Goodbye) for Kindle shortly. I've got a great cover for it and will be redoing the cover for The Bumble's End to match when the new book is launched.
If anyone out there needs an ebook formatted for Kindle/Smashwords and/or a cover created, do get in touch either here or by Facebook or Twitter or my website. My rates are very reasonable.

Meanwhile, my own projects are proceeding as follows:

Don't Look Down formerly Chill Factor, a crime novel set in Germany, is currently being edited and will be available as an ebook later this year. Hopefully by Christmas!

Poetic Justice or The Spiritual Hunt, a novel about a Rimbaud manuscript, is my current writing project and should be available next year. Fingers very much crossed on this one.

Excerpts from novels in progress can be read on my website but bear in mind these are drafts and the final version will probably be completely different.
Oh, and I've been making blackberry wine, sloe gin, bramble brandy and lots of jam.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011



My Time in the Northern Territory and How it Turned into

The Land Beyond Goodbye

The story that became The Land Beyond Goodbye started to bubble up some years ago when I was working as a temp for a week or two in the dingy basement of a solicitorʼs office in Edinburgh. In my youth, Iʼd lived for a while in various small towns in the Northern Territory of Australia. The vibrant lifestyle had got into my consciousness and the stories, people and atmosphere of that beautiful stark landscape still had a hold on me and wouldnʼt let me go. So, to relieve the boredom of my temp job, I started typing up little snippets inspired by my time there. I still have these first attempts, badly typed on flimsy green file paper, though it was years before the book properly got going, and years more before I finally decided it was finished.

The people I met in the Northern Territory were like characters in a wild west film -- or perhaps some surrealist painting. Territorians were gutsy, eccentric, and individual. They didnʼt wait for other people to solve their problems but got on and did it themselves. This was summed up for me in the actions of Mrs Richardson, who spotted a deadly King Brown snake curling through the feet of her customers at the Mataranka Homestead one night. She went and got an axe, chopped its head off with one blow, and then continued serving drinks as if nothing much had happened.

I suppose I could have become a Territorian myself, since I received several proposals of marriage while I was there. One was from a cowpoke type who reminded me of Hoss from Bonanza. He proposed to me after Iʼd known him, ooh, a week or so. ʻYaʼd mike me real happy if yerʼd be ma woife,ʼ he said, and offered to give me a horse. I declined the horse and he offered a Labrador instead. When I told him I didnʼt want anything I had to feed, he suggested a marcasite watch. He even took me to see it in the Chinese general store that sold everything from hundredweight sacks of animal feed to, well, marcasite watches. I was touched by his offer but felt I really couldnʼt accept as I wasnʼt even going out with him at the time.

Another random proposal came from a 49 year old Italian man (I was 20). He kept assuring me (or possibly himself) that at 5'2" he was exactly the same height as Napoleon. He took me aside one day and told me quite seriously that, though he would happily divorce his German wife for me, he couldnʼt divorce his Italian wife because she was Catholic. Oddly, I found myself able to turn this offer down as well.

None of these characters found their way into The Land Beyond Goodbye but there were others who sparked off ideas for the novel. There was the man who reputedly owned a goldmine and drank rum and milk; the handsome cattle station manager who always dressed in cream denim; the hirsute hermit who lived in a shack made of packing cases; and the policeman who dressed in shorts and rubber flip-flops and and helped out at the telephone exchange; there was also the story told of a man who had killed someone in the bar.

In addition to the wild stockmen and miners who came in from far outposts every weekend, that same bar sometimes hosted horses and wallabies, and on one occasion, a crocodile. But there were also the aboriginal men and women who were not allowed to enter the bar and could only be served flagons of red biddy from a counter in the outside wall.

Though nothing in the book is true in the sense that it actually happened, all these various elements mingled together, fermented, and turned into The Land Beyond Goodbye. The title is taken from an old book about the history of Australia. I canʼt now remember which book I found this quote in and though Iʼve searched through everything Iʼve got, have been unable to track it down. If anyone knows the source, Iʼd love to hear from them.

Oh, and the sleazy lawyer isnʼt based on any of the wonderful solicitors I worked for in that dingy basement in Edinburgh, where it all started.



First published on Jo Reed's Blog
The Land Beyond Goodbye is available as an ebook from Amazon.

Friday, 2 September 2011

FREE short story: NOISES OFF

Here's another one I wrote for a women's magazine. Again, it's not my usual style.


It's the noises you miss. The sound of feet thundering up and down the stairs, of doors slamming, of music turned up far too loud. Did we listen to music that loud? I can't believe I ever did.
  It's the voices calling:
  'Mum, where's my clean shirt?'
  'Mum, can I go over to Angie's place?'
  'Oh Mum! I can't eat that. I'm on a diet!'
  It's the little sounds too. Noises in the night. The bathroom door opening and closing softly, then the crash as something is knocked over. It's the bleep of the computer. The tinny sound of music heard through headphones. The muted giggles.
  'Go to sleep!' I'd shout, knowing that would only make them giggle all the more.
  The girls are both married now, and living too far away. Well, they have their own lives, don't they? Helen brought the baby over a month or two ago, but Jenny doesn't want children yet. She's concentrating on her career, so she says. Steve, my youngest, is off travelling around Europe. It's his gap year. When he comes back he'll go straight to University. The house has been much less noisy since he went. In fact, the only sound in the night I've heard recently has been the soft snore of my husband, Peter. Until I'd dig him in the ribs and he'd turn on his side, that is.
  But now I don't even have that.
  The television helps, I suppose, but it's not the same, is it? It doesn't call out, 'I'm home!' at six o'clock each evening. It doesn't say, 'Thanks love, that was delicious,' when I've cooked a special meal. Oh it's distracting, the television, for a little while. Takes your mind off things. For a while.
  But it's the other sounds I miss most. The companionable rustle of a newspaper. The tuneless whistle through the teeth that he didn't even know he was doing. The chink of cups in the kitchen when he made me a cup of tea. The little things. Nothing can replace them. Nothing makes up for the silence in the early morning, when there should be water running and splashing noises coming from the shower. Nothing makes up for the missing scrape of a fork on a plate, across the dining room table.
  At first I thought there should be recording available for people like me. 'What a good idea!' I said to myself. You could go into a shop and buy a CD, a recording of ordinary, day to day noises. A cough or a sneeze, a drink being poured, the creak of an armchair as someone sits down. I'd be able to play it to fill in the gaps, the silences. It would keep me company. Come to think of it, there could be recordings for all sorts of occasions. CDs of do-it-yourself noises — hammerings and sawings, the noise of a drill, a muffled curse. There'd be getting-up-in-the-morning noises — the sound of teeth being cleaned and drawers being rummaged through. The clunk of a toe being stubbed on the blanket chest. And there'd be eating-dinner-together CDs — the soft clatter of cutlery, an appreciative 'Mmmm', maybe even a 'Pass the salt.'
   Of course I know it would never be the same. Because it's not just the noises, is it? It's the presence of another person that makes such a difference. The knowledge that someone is in the next room or upstairs, or out in the garden. That's what makes being alone acceptable, even welcome, for a little while. It's the knowledge that they will come back soon. That all those little sounds you take for granted, whether they irritate you, or whether you hardly even hear them, will continue to enliven the house and will go on forming the background music of your life.
  It's been six days now and the house rings with emptiness. That's why I'm so glad that this loneliness is only temporary. So grateful that this silence, which I can hardly bear, will soon end. You see, Peter is away on a training course this week. Something to do with transference of skills and updating his technical knowledge, with a bit of executive team building thrown in for good measure, but he'll be back tomorrow.
  And for that I thank Providence and never cease to appreciate just how lucky I truly am.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Honeymoon Hideaway - a bit of fun and froth

I wrote this short story for a women's magazine -not my usual style at all, just a bit of fun and froth.

Honeymoon Hideaway

'I knew coming to this hotel was a good idea.' Lindsay gave a blissful sigh as she turned sideways to admire herself in the long gilt-framed mirror. The dress fitted her perfectly, skimming over her slender figure. No one would guess it hadn't been made specially for her.

Outside, beyond the marble balcony, the sea sparkled and winked. A breeze fluttered the gauze draping the French windows and ruffled her long fair hair.

'If only life could always be like this,' she went on. 'Staying in a top hotel where people come to get married and spend their honeymoon. It's so romantic.'

'Just you enjoy it while you can,' said Crystal. She edged Lindsay away from the mirror and tugged at her own dress, settling it more comfortably around her waist. 'Hmm,' she said, staring at herself critically. 'I must have put on a pound or two.'

'Nonsense,' said Lindsay. 'You look fantastic.'

'And so do you, Linz.'

The girls hugged briefly then turned to look at themselves again in the mirror. Lindsay was tall and willowy in the silver satin wedding dress. Crystal was shorter and darker, her bronzed skin showing off the pearl pink bridesmaid's dress perfectly. They both sighed as they gazed at their reflections. Tears glittered in their eyes.

'We'll look like a couple of pandas if we carry on like this,' sniffed Crystal, breaking the mood. 'I knew I should have brought the waterproof mascara.'

Lindsay laughed. 'Come on, Crystal. Let's have a glass of champagne while we do our hair. There's plenty of time yet.'

The cork popped and the champagne frothed into the elegant tulip-shaped glasses. 'Here's to a wonderful time at Honeymoon Hideaway,' said Crystal. 'You're right, Linz, picking this place was the best idea you've ever had.' She sipped at the pale golden fizz then placed the glass on the dressing table. 'Now for your hair. Up or down?'

'Up, please.' Lindsay sipped her own champagne, her blue eyes sparkling like the sea. 'Is the door locked?' she said suddenly, glancing over her shoulder. ‘We don't want someone coming in unexpectedly. That would ruin everything.'

'I turned the key myself,' Crystal said, running a comb through her friend's pale blonde locks. 'We won't be disturbed. There's ages yet.'

She piled Lindsay's hair on top of her head, pinning it in an artful tumble but leaving sinuous tendrils snaking over her temples and the nape of her neck. When the diamanté tiara was slotted carefully into the woven strands of hair, Lindsay stood up and gave a gleeful twirl.

'Very stylish, thanks Crystal. I feel like a princess.'

Crystal took Lindsay's place on the carved gilt stool in front of the dressing table mirror. Her own short hair needed only a slick of gel and the careful placement of a matching diamanté clip and she was done.

'Perfect!' Lindsay checked her watch. 'Now let's relax for a while before we have to leave.'

They went out onto the balcony, champagne glasses in their hands. 'It's so beautiful here,' Lindsay said. 'Oh, it's going to be such fun.'

Sitting primly on the white metal chairs, careful not to crease their dresses, the girls gazed at the scene before them: golden beaches, palm trees and a dark blue sea with white surf curling on the shore.

'Paradise,' said Crystal. She turned to Lindsay for confirmation and was shocked at the expression on her friend's face. 'What's up, Linz?'

'There. Look!' Lindsay banged the champagne glass down on the table and pointed down into the curved driveway of the hotel. Two women were getting out of a taxi, patting their newly done hair and raising their professionally made-up faces to the sun. 'They're back early.'

'Quick,' said Crystal. 'We'd better get this place tidied up fast.'

With sigh, Lindsay scurried back into the hotel room and slipped out of the wedding dress. Grabbing her chambermaid's outfit from the brocade armchair where she'd flung it, she hurriedly put it on. 'I would have thought a sauna and facial, along with a full makeover and hair styling, would have taken longer than that,' she gasped.

Crystal struggled with the zip of the bridesmaid's dress. 'Help me off with this, Linz,' she panted, 'then you run on down to the kitchen and send up some more champagne. I'll pretend I'm still making the beds.'

For a second they looked at each other, stifling the urge to giggle. 'And don't worry,' Crystal went on, finally stepping out of her dress. 'There's another wedding party arriving tomorrow and one the day after that. We've got a whole summer of dressing up to look forward to.'

'Yes,' Lindsay smiled. 'And you can be the bride tomorrow.'



Saturday, 20 August 2011

How I Got into Writing Erotica as Barbie Scott

(First published on Sue Howe's Blog)

Some years ago a woman I knew through a writing group I used to attend submitted a story to Black Lace and had it accepted. It was published in one of the Wicked Women collections. I read the story and others in the same anthology and, though I wasn't especially interested in reading erotica, I realised I could probably write it. That's not to say it's particularly easy to write but I felt sure I had the right mind-set to produce saleable work.
So I gave it a go.
I wrote The Celibate and sent it off to Kerri Sharp at Black Lace Books and within a very short time I had an acceptance. Wow, I thought, my very first erotic story got snapped up!
So I wrote another one.
The Black Lace Wicked Women series was only published three or four times a year so while I was waiting for the next submission period, I sent my latest story off to For Women. I was astonished and immensely gratified to find it was accepted as well.
So I wrote another one. And another one. And... well, you get the idea.
I looked around for other markets for erotica and sent pieces off here and there. Everything I sent off got accepted, except a short story I entered for a Cosmopolitan competition. Cosmo rejected it because it 'contained illegal activity'. Not illegal sexual activity, I hasten to add, but an account of a break in. In this story, Collar and Cuffs, a young burglar is accosted by the the raunchy lady of the house with predictable consequences. It was later published by Scarlet Magazine, who obviously weren't as fussy about the depiction of crime.
I did start writing an erotic novel a while ago but never finished it (yet!) as I found there was a ready market for short stories and they were much easier to dash off. I've been thinking recently I should get to work on it again. Got to keep my public happy!
Some of the magazines I wrote for are no longer in existence sadly, so the print market has narrowed. Another market has arisen with the rise of online publishing, but the financial rewards are not as high and the quality is not always as good.

This is why I decided to publish some of my previous work as an ebook, The Stiletto Heel and Other Stories. It is available from Amazon for Kindle and Kindle Apps under my usual erotica name of Barbie Scott.
So, though I'm still not much interested in reading erotica, it does provide me with my best writing sales and seems to be likely to keep on doing so for the foreseeable future.
Sex, it seems, sells.

For tips on writing erotica, see my other blog.

The Stiletto Heel and Other Stories is available at, &

Monday, 15 August 2011

WASPS & SCORPIONS: Luv Pomes and Other Lies

WASPS & SCORPIONS: Luv Pomes and Other Lies - UK
WASPS & SCORPIONS: Luv Pomes and Other Lies - USA


Some of the poems in Wasps & Scorpions were first published in The Monster Love Pomes. Some have been published in magazines and anthologies and some are totally new.

Read a couple of examples on the Wasps & Scorpions Page

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Simpleton's Guide to Recording an MP3 for Podcasting (for TechnoCretins Only!)


A Simpleton's Guide

Audacity Controls
So you want to do a podcast but you have no idea how? Reader, I was as you are just a short time ago. To be honest, I still don't know very much about podcasting but I do now know how to make a simple recording using basic equipment, ie: a pc or laptop and some free software from Audacity.

This simple guide will take you through the steps required to create an MP3 file suitable for use as a podcast. I am assuming you know someone who will upload the podcast for you as this aspect will not be covered here. The steps outlined below are for a simple amateur voice recording suitable for reading out examples of written work.

First download the Audacity software from their website*. You will need to download the basic Audacity .exe for your particular operating system (see below). You will also need to download the LAME MP3 encoder available from the same website.

If you are asked whether you want to run or save, click 'run'. You will then install the software onto your computer and the appliction should open on your desktop.

If you have an external microphone plug it in now. Adequate microphones can be bought fairly cheaply. However, if you simply want to try out podcasting without going to any expense it is possible to record using the built-in microphone on your computer. I did this and though the quality would certainly have been improved by using an external microphone, I did manage to record my work.

Make sure the doors and windows are closed before you start, (you don't want to record next door's lawnmower like I did!) and turn your phones off. If you're not using an external mike, you will need to lean forward and speak loudly and clearly into the built-in mike on your pc or laptop. So get yourself comfortable!

Record Button
When you are ready to start, click the Record button (the one with the round brownish dot on it) and get going. If you need to stop for a moment, click the Pause button (the first one, with two blue lines on it). To start again, unclick the Pause button. Basically, it is exactly the same as using any other sound recorder. Remember to save your file as you go along (File, Save Project As, give it a name, and then save it where you can find it again).

Inevitably at some point you will stumble over a word. When this happens you can either click Pause, then start reading again from some point before you made your error and later go back and cut the stutter out. (More on this later.) Or, you can click Stop (the button with a square on it) and immediately delete the error.

To immediately delete move your cursor to some point on the recording timeline just before the error, press Play (green triangle) and listen so you can identify exactly where it is, then move your cursor to just before the error, or to a convenient point to start re-reading from, and drag (it will turn into a pointing finger). Drag to the end of the timeline and when it is highlighted (grey) click the little scissors icon to delete it. You can also hit Delete or Ctrl X on your keyboard to remove the offending part.

Now click the Record button and start reading again from the point at which you left off. A new timeline will open up underneath the first one because you used Stop rather than Pause. The next time you make an error and delete it, another new timeline will open up. You may end up with several.

Gap in Timeline
Using this method, you may find that your timelines either overlap or have gaps between them. In this event, you will need to make adjustments using the Time Shift Tool (the little double-ended arrow icon). Select this tool, click onto the timeline you want to adjust and drag it until it lines up with the one above or below. Ideally, start with the first timeline and work your way down.

Overlap in Timeline
To deselect the Time Shift Tool, click on the I-shaped selection tool which will give you your cursor back.

The other option for removing errors is simply to carry on recording, using Pause where necessary, and when the whole thing is finished go back over it removing the errors. Highlight the unwanted bits using the cursor and click the little scissors. Your recording will automatically close the gap. You will need to be fairly precise about this to ensure you only remove the bits you don't want and so that the recording continues to flow nicely.

Once your recording is finished and all the blips are removed, you will need to save it as an MP3 file. You will have been saving as you went along (I hope!) but this will only have saved it as an Audacity file. Now you need to save it so that other systems can play it.

Go to File, then Export, give it a name, or use the one you gave it before, and save it as an MP3 file. You will now be able to listen to it using iTunes, Real Player etc., and you will be able to use it for a podcast.

You will need:

NB: Windows 95 and NT are not supported.

Listen to my own first attempt at podcasting here. The sound quality is variable so turn it up a bit!