Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Who was St Blane?

                                                    The ruins of the chapel at St Blane's
As the sun rises on Easter morning, singing can be heard echoing over the still waters of the Sound of Bute. While the rest of the world sleeps, a few hardy souls have risen early to climb the steep path through the field that leads to the ruined chapel of St Blane on the south side of the Isle of Bute. Little survives of the monastery itself apart from the bell, which once rang out over St Blane's as a summons to prayer. It is now in Dunblane cathedral.
Legend has it that Blane's mother, Ertha, could not explain his birth and she and her child were turned adrift in a coracle. Fair winds drove them to Ireland where Blane was educated by monks before returning to Kingarth.
Blane's influence on the early Christian church was extensive and his name can be found in many places throughout Scotland: Strathblane, Dunblane and Auchenblane to name a few.
All around the site are reminders of how the monks spent their days. As well as the usual domestic work such as tending sheep, they carved stones, using slates as sketch books. Some of these can be seen in the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.
They kept fish in the pond in the hollow south of the wicket gate and beyond the Cashel, or high wall, the foundation of the pilgrims' dormitory can be seen still. In the far corner is the stone basin where the pilgrims would have stopped to wash their feet.
Nearby is the Devil's Cauldron, a massive structure whose use is uncertain. Suggestions range from a place of penance, to a tower, to a building pre-dating Blane's settlement. Until it is fully excavated, one guess is as good as another.
Beside the Cauldron stands the 'Dreaming Tree' probably a corruption of the Gaelic 'Druim-en- tre'(the little ridge dwelling). At one time it was a favourite haunt of lovers as picking and eating the leaves was supposed to guarantee dreams of a future spouse.
The well beside the chapel was reputed to be the home of a 'sith' or fairy who could cure sterility when given gifts of silver or gold. As late as the first half of the twentieth century offerings were still being made. This blurring of the boundaries between Christianity and paganism is one of the fascinations of the site.
A 'hogback' tomb right at the doorway to the burial ground is said to be the tomb of St Blane, though it is more likely to be Norse or mediaeval and the burial ground itself would no longer be approved of as men are buried in the upper part nearer the chapel and women in the lower ground .
One explanation for this is that St Blane was bringing earth from the holy city of Rome up from the shore when the rope broke. He asked a woman gathering shellfish on the nearby seashore to help by lending him her girdle to mend the rope and she refused. In great wrath he cursed her and decreed that men and women should not be buried together but that women should have the lower place. He didn't always live up to his name of "Blane the Mild". Sadly for the story this segregation, even in death, was a common practice in many early Christian burial sites.

The St Blane's site
After Blane died, the site was a place of worship until 790 when the Norsemen reached Scotland, burning and ravaging as they swept through the country. St Blane's was one of the casualties of these raids, but it was such an important site it was rebuilt as part of the See of Paisley.
St Blane's is worth a trip at any time but if you want to experience it at its most powerful, it is worth rising early on Easter morning and climbing the path with the other pilgrims. As you stand in the dark in the ruined chapel, waiting for the first rays of the rising sun, you will feel the centuries roll back and the boundaries between past and present blur.
'Grave Matters at St Blane's' is now available on Kindle or as a paperback from the Print Point,Rothesay or, and to order from bookshops.
                                            Photographs by kind permission of E.J.Weeple

Wednesday, 15 January 2014


Inspired by a prompt from fellow writer Bill Kirton (see Bill's post on 6th January at've been inspired to write my first blog of the New Year and join in a 'blog tour' saying a bit about my writing process. A New Year is always a good time for reflection so perhaps writing this down will help me structure my thoughts for 2014.

WHAT AM I WORKING ON? At the moment I'm writing the fifth in the Isle of Bute mystery series with Alison Cameron again as the main character. This one is provisionally titled 'Grave Matters at St Blane's' and is set in the remains of the 8th Century monastery which once stood on this site.

Plans are afoot to cash in on the current trend for historical 'theme' parks, a decision that doesn't delight everyone and Alison again finds herself involved in murder and mystery.

HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE? This series of novels is set on the Isle of Bute and though there are murders in the stories, the genre is very much 'cosy crime'. I suppose you could say they are 'Tartan Blanc' rather than 'Tartan Noir.' The important aspect is the puzzle - who did it and why - and the crimes take place on what is in reality a very quiet island with a very low crime rate.

WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO? Over many years there have been family associations with Bute and we have a home on the island. It seems an ideal place for 'cosy crime' - a small community where there are plenty of opportunities for gossip. And it's such a beautiful spot - an impression of which I try to give my readers. A number of people have told me that as a result of reading the books they've been inspired to visit the island.

HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK? The first line of the novel always pops into my head and it's usually specific to a particular place. I use many local sites, but often I disguise them or alter them for purposes of the plot. The first novel, for example, was 'The House at Ettrick Bay'. There's no Victorian House in that part of the island, though there are lots of examples of Victorian villas in other areas as Bute was a favourite holiday destination in Victorian times. I don't plot ahead much,preferring to let the writing flow, but I do lots and lots of revision once the story is complete!

I love reading blogs written by other writers so if you want to have a perspective on what's happening in the writing world, have a look at these!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Saying goodbye to characters

That’s it - the characters in the new novel have departed to reside for a while with the publisher and although I’ll have a chance to see them again when the copies of the book arrive, I feel I’ve said good bye to them. Endgame at Port Bannatyne is the fourth in the Isle of Bute mystery series and the main character, Alison Cameron, features in all of them, but most of the others only come together for one novel. In this mystery, the characters are the cast and the crew of Pelias Productions who are making a film on the island and in spite of the huge egos of some of the cast in particular, I grew rather fond of them. After all, I spent enough time with them. The only consolation is that characters for the next novel have already started to arrive. I hope I’ll have as much fun with them!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Reality in Fiction

My mystery novels are set on the Isle of Bute and I like to mix real places with imaginary ones.
This is partly because Bute has so many interesting and beautiful locations and partly because people who know the island like to be able to imagine themselves there. But I also hope this sense of place makes the plot more alive.
One of my favourite places on the island and one my characters use frequently is the Tearoom at Ettrick Bay. A cafe has stood on this spot for many years and under the present owners is something of a local legend.

Sandy hard at work

Alex pauses for a photo!

The tearoom overlooks the bay and no matter what the weather, or time of year, the views are stunning.

The tearoom has been recently refurbished and you don't often see it empty like this.

My first Bute mystery novel is set at Ettrick Bay and though the Tearoom is real, the house is imaginary, as are the characters.

If you manage to visit, make sure you sample the home baking, especially the meringues!

Monday, 17 June 2013

To Review or not To Review?

A piece of advice given to a writer fretting over a bad review was ‘Don’t read them, count them.’ After all, the more you have, the more people (at least in theory) are buying your books.
As a writer, what should be your role, if any, as a reviewer? There has been a lot of controversy about some writers rubbishing rivals’ work and praising their own under an assumed name. A practice almost, but not quite, universally condemned.
And what if a writer friend asks you to review their latest work? Do you mumble something about planning to do it later and then conveniently forget about it? Or do you treat everyone equally and give 5 stars on Amazon when all you’ve read is the blurb? Surely not!
I enjoy writing reviews: it forces you to look at a piece of work more closely, to examine it critically and find out what works and what doesn’t. All of this helps with your own writing, makes you more aware of what you should do to improve and helps develop the ability to write concisely.
There are certain things I try to bear in mind before embarking on a review. They are not exclusive, but if you are new to reviewing, or would like to try reviewing a favourite book, they may help you decide if the role of reviewer is one you want to add to your skills. After all, as writers we will also be looking for reviews, hopefully very positive ones.
1. Consider the book within its genre. How does it work in this context? If it’s a romance, don’t review it as if it was a crime novel.
2. Tell the readers what the book is about, but keep it short. Two or three sentences are usually enough…and make sure there are no spoilers. A review is not a synopsis.
3. Consider how the author develops the characters and the plot. Refer to specifics and illustrate with a couple of quotes.
4. Say what you liked, or didn’t like, about the book but remember you are criticising the book, not the writer.
5. Try to come up with a compelling opening sentence. Reviewing is like any other kind of writing - if the readers’ attention is caught immediately they will read on.
6. Try to find positives. Fortunately not every reader likes the same kind of book, else there would be very few writers.
If I really don’t like a book, I ditch the review (and sometimes the book!) rather than being tempted to give it a very low rating. Unless you are an experienced reviewer all you'll do is upset the writer and your comments won't necessarily be of help to a reader. 
If you are in doubt, look at the reviews for some of the ‘big names’ and you will see that among the 5 stars there’s often a sprinkling of 1 and 2 star reviews. The positive reviews show there is nothing wrong with the book - it's just not to my taste.
If you haven’t reviewed before, do give it a try.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

100 Years and Counting

No, thankfully the 100 year birthday isn't mine, but Westerton Village near where I live.
Being a Gemini, I enjoy a dual existence in Westerton (close to Glasgow) and in Bute, where my novels are set.
And after being transported back to the Victorian Age last week on Bute, this week I managed to move a little forward into the Edwardian Age at the Westerton Village Gala day.

The Village children

The village has the distinction of being the first Garden Suburb built in Scotland on land given by Sir Archibald Campbell and the village road followed the same route as the railway line.

The Village under construction

The main road didn't go as far as Bearsden and the milk supplied by Westerton Farm was left at the top of the hill for the men of the village to collect in rotation and take down to the shop. The road was known locally as The Milky Way until the the villagers decided to build the road themselves and The Milky Way became Maxwell Avenue.

The Milky Way

Today's villagers participated enthusiastically in the event and it was particulary good to see such community spirit and interest in an age when so many people seem too busy to have much time for neighbours.
Perhaps the Edwardian spirit infused us all!

 Daisy Henderson,Colin MacKay and George MacIlwham of Classical Musicians Scotland ready to entertain the villagers in the tea room.

Votes for women!
The Station Master's House

Is this really Stephen, our librarian?

Photos by kind permission of

EDLC - contact Janice
Miller,Information and Archives Officer

Classical Musicians Scotland

The Westerton Villagers

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


On a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon visitors and locals alike had to look twice at some of the people strolling around Guildford Square in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Had we all been the subject of time travel without realising it?
No, these 'Victorians' were in fact part of the Rothesay Heritage Town Trail, a joint enterprise by Brandanii Archaeology and Heritage, Achievement Bute and the Rothesay THI.
For one day only the town returned to the Victorian era with the creation of a Victorian parlour reoccupied by the Tannock family (who feature in the 1871 census), the display of objects from everyday life at the Bute Museum and a variety of 'pop-up' activities in the Square.
A number of the onlookers could be spied miming along to the old songs ably delivered by the schoolchildren and their teacher,suitably dressed in Victorian clothes, of course. A particular favourite seemed to be 'Ma wee school's the best wee school...'
And not to be outdone, the 'actors' staged an extract from their current play 'She stoops to Conquer' - a reminder of how important theatre was to everyone at that time.
When you added in the individual 'Victorians' talking about the history of the town, and the number of families going from venue to venue to complete the town trail quiz, the day proved a great success.
Now, I wonder who won the competition for the best set of whiskers? That's something I must find out!
A trio of gentlemen about to set off ... though the one on the left looks highly suspicious!

Fancy some buns,anyone?
The Tannock family at home
The schoolchildren seem remarkably well behaved.

Some very elegant ladies...and a friend!

Thank goodness it's all going well!
Who's going to try the Pennyfarthing first?



For more information about the Victorian Day, visit The Buteman website