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

Friday, 29 March 2013


No, not firewood (though this weather certainly makes it the first thing that comes to mind),but the action of putting your work on Kindle.
For many indie writers, or those with a backlist, there's no doubt the ease with which you can make your novel, short story or anything else you've written available to a wide readership has transformed the publishing world. Good gracious -I've even heard some writers are actually making money!
So, no more sending off your work to one publisher after another, waiting (and waiting) for a response : the call to say they want to sign you up...or the thud of the manuscript on the doormat. Not quite.
For many writers being published by an established company is the reassurance they need that their work is worthwhile. Others find the speed of the various e-formats suits them better.
Truth is, there's room for both versions and in this uncertain and rapidly changing world who is going to be brave enough to predict what might be the options ten years from now?
In the meantime, I've uploaded my latest book to Kindle!

Sunday, 3 March 2013


It's time to confess - I became an indie writer entirely by accident. I didn't spend years sending out manuscripts and being rejected, I didn't fall out with an agent or a publisher. It happened because I was incredibly naive about the fiction publishing business.
As a successful writer of non-fiction, I found myself a few years ago with more time to write fiction and set to work with a will. I'd always written fiction,but stories,novels and poetry were finished and filed carefully away.
Then one day all that changed. At my first Scottish Association of Writers conference, my crime novel was actually placed!Not long after a writing friend posted to say a publisher, funded by the Arts Council, was looking for novels and off my effort went.
Imagine my delight when almost by return  the reply came to say they would indeed publish my novel.The whole process was straightforward and smooth ...and you could even choose one of the covers they supplied.
Then,just before Christmas that year,someone told me my novel was for sale on Amazon. Friends and family sent off for copies and back came...a novel by a completely different writer. Not only was it not the kind of novel I would write, it wasn't the kind of book most people I knew would read.
Friends began to look at me strangely, perhaps suspecting I'd adopted a pen name and had hidden erotic depths.
Eventually the problems (including some with the first edition) were resolved and copies of my novel were available. Yes, I had stumbled into self-publishing without realising it.
It took quite some time to sort everything out,but but by then I was hooked. And with the advent of Kindle, the publishing world became even more interesting.
It's not that I wouldn't like to have a publisher,but with all the scare stories about the difficulties that are going the rounds at the moment,I'm happy to keep writing and being an indie!

I've been back on Bute doing some research for the WIP - Spring is on its way, though the boats are still snugly anchored.

My latest novel Last Dance at the Rothesay Pavilion will be available on Kindle soon.

                                  The 'real' Rothesay Pavilion.

Sunday, 3 February 2013


Or to be more accurate, book clearing. What to do with all those books with yellowing pages,years out of date,that have somehow crept on to the bookshelves. None, alas, are First Editions, rare volumes or sought after authors. And what do I want with Advanced Accounts (1952) or Pelmanism (in six volumes)?
Most of them would be rejected by Charity shops,even the most desperate, because while they would take up shelf space, they wouldn't bring in cash.
All suggestions welcome!

And on another topic, Gwen Kirkwood (  has kindly given a Blogger's Award to me on the understanding I provide some pieces of information about myself that you might not know.

I was born in a castle
I can't ride a bike
I've never eaten any kind of shellfish (and don't intend to)
I became an Indie author entirely by accident (more of that in another blog).
I've never learned to swim (though there is a photo of me somewhere making a brave attempt.)
Apart from writing, my main interest is family history

Thank you,Gwen!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Writer's Sloth

No, not Writer's block, the subject of much debate between those who believe writers can be crippled by it and those who dismiss any such idea as foolish. Nor even Writer's procrastination which involves doing anything other than writing - even the ironing!
I'm talking about good old Sloth - identified as one of the Seven Deadly Sins no less, though it's hard to understand why.That delicious feeling of doing absolutely nothing,of just being: no writing, no blogging, no tweeting, not even reading. Sitting in the garden (weather permitting),or lounging beside the fire(much more likely), knowing a pile of tasks awaits and deciding to ignore each and every one of them gives a freedom all too rare in this busy age.
Then again, perhaps it's impossible to be entirely free unless you've trained yourself to empty your mind of all thoughts. If not, little fragments of dialogue and threads of stories creep in unbidden, nibble at the empty space until you can no longer resist.
Excuses for not writing come thick and fast, but in the end there is no option - you have to go back to writing before all those characters in your head drive you mad!
I've had enough of sloth (even with the real excuse of Christmas).
In a quiet corner of the garden,Spring is peeping through. Back to work!