Portsoy Harbour - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography

Saturday, 20 August 2016

My love of stationery refuses to stay stationary - it just grows and grows!!

I’m not a lover of supermarket shopping - is anyone? But at this time of the year my local French supermarkets call to me and I find it hard to resist their siren calls! Schools here return for the new school year at the end of August and because pupils have to provide their own stationery, the aisles are stuffed full of enticing pens, files, jotters, agendas, folders and, my personal downfall, notebooks. Notebooks of every size and description. Small, large, hardback, softback, covered in plastic, bejewelled, lined, blank, etc.etc. Temptation en mass.

I do feel guilty though when I buy and stockpile these notebooks. Is there any real need to buy notebooks these days when I can make notes on my telephone or my ipad either by text or by recording? Not that I do either of those things - far too technical for me!

Beside’s it’s not as though I don’t have lots of pristine notebooks waiting to be used already. I do. But there is something so different about French notebooks. For a start they rarely have lines as we know it. Pages are either blank, or have graph like squares on the pages - which take some getting used to I can tell you. Sometimes the exercise books are a mix of both blank and graph pages. Like this:

I know lots of writers write directly on to their computers these days and I do too when writing a short story but for novels I love opening a brand new notebook, writing the title on the first page (can’t start without the title!) and starting to make notes about characters and possible plot lines, writing scenes and just generally making notes. 

I find that the simple act of putting pen to paper frees my thoughts far more than hitting the keys does for some reason. Then, as I transfer my notes etc to my computer it all somehow jells in my small brain and I find myself adding more detail as I type it all up. 

My publishers sent me a lovely little notebook last Christmas and here it is on top of a selection of notebooks I already have. It’s unused of course because it’s much too precious to write in!

I’m sure lots of you have a notebook fetish too. So tell me, where do you find your favourite notebooks?

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Choosing your favourite child......

Crathes Castle

I have been fortunate enough to have been asked by our local hotel The Whitehorse to have a small exhibition evening in September.  To be fair its taken a year for me to say yes as I never feel that my photographs are good enough but now is the time to shake off that apprehension and go for it. 
If I am honest the other half has insisted that I/we do this as it is a fantastic opportunity and to be fair all I will have to do is turn up on the night. My organisational skills are practically nil so I will hand over the reins to the capable hands of the other half, hoping that my input will be minimal and limited to picking the photographs that will be on show. 
If I thought picking a selection of photographs would be easy, I was wrong it is a kin to choosing your favourite child, they all have  different qualities that make them each appealing. So how to choose.... 
I have decided to limit myself to a specific number of images which will be produced in varies prints and frames. I had though about a theme so all images would be in similar frames however life isn't like that and as I look round my home there are hardly two frames the same. So instead will pick frames that suit the photo. 
Stairs at Fittie, Aberdeen Beach
 Secondly narrowing my geographically coverage of Scotland to the North East, play to the local audience. Striking a balance between castles, beaches and countryside shots. Otherwise I would flood the evening with the photos I had taken when I was on the West Coast in July (as they are my favourites at the moment). 
Dunnottar Castle
So I have gone from making an appearance at the evening to negotiating my way through all my photographs to deciding which images best represent me and my skills. I am nervous already and still over a month to go before I have to witness first hand peoples reactions.  
Bow Fiddle, Portknockie
So wish me luck on choosing between my babies......... 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Taming the Jungle: A Motivational Tale

by Jennifer Young

Nothing like a challenge for motivation...
Sometimes you just lose motivation. No reason; it just goes. I’ve been feeling that way for a few months now, as anyone who’s asked me to do anything for them will testify. Most of the time I do it, but not until I’ve been nagged at or prompted or, in extreme cases, had my hand forced. It doesn’t matter what it is — responding to letters, tweets or emails; promoting my books; writing my books; catching up with friends; even taking the cat to the vet. (The cat, in fairness, has not chased me up about this.)

After a two-week staycation, however, I’m feeling that thing are on the up. A few days away in Cumbria and a few days out locally have made a difference to my motivational state. Look — I’m even doing my blog on the right date without having to be reminded. I wouldn’t say I’m raring to go but at least I’m thinking of making a list of all the things I really need to do. 

One thing I did do — and maybe it’s the thing that started me back on the right road — is turn to gardening. I’ve never been a natural gardener but one day I realised that I had not much else to do, that the sun was shining and that in front of me was a garden that had been badly neglected for the better part of two years and required more than a little attention. Armed with a trowel, a pair of secateurs and a roll of plastic bags, I set to.

Somewhere in a dense jungle of couch grass and orange hawkweed, I rediscovered my enthusiasm. I don’t know why or how. I don’t know if it was the fact that the seed of an idea (pun intended) that came into my head happened to fall on fertile ground. I don’t know if it’s the fact that teasing dandelion roots out of soft warm soil is, in its way, more than a little therapeutic. Or maybe it was just that I needed a holiday.

The long and the short of it is that I feel rejuvenated. I have an idea for a new story backing up behind all the other projects I have on at different stages (don’t worry — I like it that way). I have what feels like several acres of bare soil as evidence of my efforts. I’ve even pulled up the odd tree with my bare hands. Four foot saplings, perhaps, but trees nonetheless. 

I’ve still got a couple of days left of my holiday but come Monday, I expect t be back on the treadmill with a vengeance. And the first thing on my list is a full plan for that new story…

Monday, 1 August 2016

On being a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association

I’ve been a member of the RNA for many years, from the time my husband bought  me Mary Wibberley’s To Writers With Love, in which she recommended joining the Association to any aspiring writer. I joined, submitted to what is now the NWS, got second reads and an interview at M&B’s Richmond headquarters - fairly new, then - and then gave up. It was several years afterwards I met Marina Oliver when I was speaking at the International Comedy Writers conference, and she persuaded me to rejoin, telling me that they’d just started a new cyber chapter.

And look where we are now. I’m sure the RNA was one of the very first writers’ organisations which embraced “modern technology”, so we adapted to its proliferation throughout our industry better than most. In the US, of course, it spread far wider and quicker, and I remember when I was one of the few online back in the dark ages seeing the E-Publishers start up. I, along with several other people, didn’t take them seriously at the time, and, I’m ashamed to say, almost regarded those published by them as little better than vanity published. Indeed, epublished authors weren’t allowed full RNA membership.

But now, not only are digital-first books appearing in the New York Times best-seller lists, but so are self epublished books. And it is these same digital first publishing companies that have given so many opportunities to the writers of romantic and erotic fiction, arguably the genre to profit most from the revolution.

For revolution it is. It is received wisdom that the old publishing model is under threat and the power is being wrested from traditional agents and publishers. However, I don’t think, as so many worry-mongers have pronounced, that epublishing and the ebook sound the death-knell of the printed book. I think, as with nearly all forms of creative media, they will happily co-exist. There will be some jostling for position, but as long as we stay calm, and keep up with all the new developments just as we have done in the past, I don’t think we have too much to worry about. But I would hope that we are all sensible enough to make sure our work is good enough to go out there. Good agents and editors currently do that for us, so let’s not throw those estimable babies out with the bath water.  We may need to adjust our positions, but we still need eagle eyes on our manuscripts, if not the “gatekeepers” of tradition.

I, of course, I don’t write romance, but I’ve remained a member because I’ve met so many wonderful people who have become true friends. And just as a little postscript, I had an email via my website this weekend, complaining that I’d spoilt the Whole Point of the books by giving away the fact that one character had married another, when this reader was avidly working through the series following their romance. Ashamed - I changed the website.

Saturday, 23 July 2016


As fellow blogger Linda wrote last week, sometimes a writer is due ‘time off’. Even if that time off is just to refill the well of ideas and tinker with plots and … OK, maybe a writer never really does have time off? But in summer, when many of us have so much going on, it’s definitely time to be kind to yourself and only do what you can do. So, no word targets for me at the moment. But I’ve still been working on websites, polishing synopses, uploading latest YA novel to Createspace. And doing a lot of thinking about things I’m going to write when I have the time and head space.

Some of the inspiring things that have happened so far this summer:

Walking along the fascinating Crinan Canal with friends I hadn’t seen for almost a year.
Showing my sister my new house and all those views.

Attending the Romantic Novelists’ Association annual conference. So much writing-related talk. Plus other talk. And there was wine.

Oh, and then there was my niece’s wedding which was such fun I’m definitely going to put a wedding in a book sometime soon.

Summer may be busy, but it certainly hasn’t left me short of ideas!

Monday, 18 July 2016


Like most writers I always have a notebook and pen(s) to hand. I think writing, I talk writing, I do writing. I've been known to write in a hospital restaurant while my husband was under anaesthetic, and in a queue in the supermarket (it was a very long queue!). Hardly a day goes by when I don't write something, be it to add words to the work-in-progress, to edit same, or to write a short story, or at least start one. Then there are blogs to write and social networking for a bit of book promotion. Am I bigging myself up enough here? Does the lady protest too much? Because I've decided to take a little time out for good behaviour now that summer seems to have arrived at long, long, last. Due to family circumstances I (and my husband) am having my grandchildren (5 and 9) to stay on a regular basis. They will soon be breaking up from school for the summer holidays. I cannot bring myself to shut myself away in my writing garret when they are with us. So, I have decided there is going to be time to blow dandelion clocks.
I live near the sea and one of my best memories is of the dawn of the new millennium when I walked down to a cove, sat on the beach with my son, and watched the sunrise. Watching sunsets is relatively easy but you have to be committed to get up and go and watch a sunrise. I think my grandchildren will think it huge fun to get up in the dark, walk down to the beach, and eat bacon butties as the sun comes up.
And then there will be picnics. A bit of education will go on here because the children love to cook, especially things like sausage rolls which involves making pastry and weighing out ingredients. And fairy cakes with some nifty artwork to decorate them. No, lessons won't be neglected, even if the children don't realise Grandma has taken on the role of teacher for the duration. But there will be picnics.
I know I shall probably feel guilty doing all the above - to begin with anyway. But do you know what? I'm willing to bet it will be all good intentions and a notebook and pen will creep into that picnic basket!

Sunday, 10 July 2016


Excitement is high this week as I’m blogging live from the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference, which this year is being held in the spacious, leafy grounds of Lancaster University. For those not familiar with Lancaster, it’s a historic city found in the North West of England, boasting a canal and imposing medieval castle. Originally a Roman fort, apparently Lancaster Castle stood as a bastion against the forces of marauding Picts and Scottish clans.

Today, however, this Scot is looking forward to spending a fantastic weekend with friends, as I signed up early to attend the best networking event of the year – the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Annual Conference.

So what makes the RNA conference so special? For me the answer’s three-fold.

Firstly, year on year the organisers offer a packed programme of talks, lectures, expert panels and
Rae, Gill and Jennifer
workshops by best-selling authors and publishing professionals at the top of their game. What a fantastic opportunity to learn what’s hot (and what’s not) in the business.

Secondly, attendees, whether published or unpublished, may opt for appointments with literary agents and editors, who provide advice/pointers on the first chapter of their novel. Critiquing gold for aspiring writers like me!

Finally, writing’s a solitary occupation, although being part of the RNA means it never truly feels that
way, and so I revel in the chance to meet up with ‘old’ friends – our own Gill Stewart and Jennifer Young are here – and to make new ones too.

So what’s happened so far?

My first choice of workshop was presented by award winning duo Liz Fenwick, who’s highly successful novels are set along the rugged Cornish coastline, and Brigid Coady, marketing professional and winner of the prestigious RNA Joan Hessayon award, who took an insightful look at author marketing, exploring the need to identify your brand, your plan, your goals. I was scribbling wildly - plenty food for thought there…
Liz Fenwick and Brigid Coady
(photo with thanks to Marie Macneill)

Next we gathered to be officially welcomed by Eileen Ramsay, our experienced RNA Chair and Jan Jones, writer and conference organiser extraordinaire.

Welcome over, it was down to business with the first of three industry appointments. Where else could an unpublished writer be granted such an amazing opportunity to have their work read and critiqued by industry professionals?   - Did I mention I love the RNA?

Today, Saturday, is also busy. With such a fantastic line-up of speakers, I feel like a child on Christmas morning, greedy to grab it all, but eventually plumped for sessions that include Alex Brown and her editor, Kate Bradley discussing what it takes to create a commercial novel; a workshop with Fiona Harper, using Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a case study to ensure the pace of a story keeps zinging along; viewing of a documentary that takes us into the multi-billion dollar romance fiction business in America; speed dating to find a critique partner… a few glasses of wine at the sparkling gala dinner!

With such a crammed itinerary there's little time left to explore Lancaster further but visiting the castle and learning of its legends has given me a taste for the area. Yet again the RNA conference is a winner, and, if the rumours of late night kitchen parties are true (I couldn't possibly comment), then Lancaster is proving to be the perfect location for writers to create tales of their own.