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 AurĂ©lien, 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!