Carrbridge in Winter - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography





Saturday, 10 December 2016

LOVELY GRUB .........................................by Linda Mitchelmore

Well, there's no avoiding it. Try as I might to pretend it isn't happening Christmas is nearly here; that time of excess in the culinary department ... and in the liquid refreshment department, too. All that said, I don't go mad with either. Honest.
But this blogpost has got me thinking and I've realised how often I set a short story around characters who are in a cafe or a restaurant - and once on a train in the dining car - remember those? Two friends who meet for coffee is my favourite 1000 word short story situation. One will have a problem which the other will help (often without knowing it) sort while they drink cappuccinos and nibble on pecan danish (anyone who regularly reads my short stories will probably realise I have an over-fondness for pecan danish!). Food always features in some form because it brings the senses together, in my view - the look of it, the smell of it, the taste of it, the feel of it, even the crunch of crumbs can be feature in there. I've just said it will be two friends who meet, but sometimes it is sisters, or a couple who are having a bit of time apart. I've even set a story around strangers who end up having to share a table.
One of my favourite stories to write had a deeper feel to it. Four friends hadn't met for a while - well, three of them had but the fourth had been avoiding the group because her son was in prison. But when she did eventually find the courage to see her friends for lunch (lots of lovely description in there about Italian food!) she found their love and friendship saw her through the darkest days. So, see, it's not just romance that floats my boat.
So, without further ado, while our minds are on lovely grub and Christmas and sharing with loved ones, here's a cocktail for you - cake batter martini - how can you not? HAPPY CHRISTMAS.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Favourite Festive Reads - 2016

Well this must surely be one of the most diverse joint blog posts we’ve ever produced! Christmas is all about accepting everyone into the fold and boy we’ve gone wide with our favourite Christmas reads.
From new writing, fresh off the press, to nostalgic choices, which we hope might jog some happy memories too. We’d love if you might share some of your own personal favourites…
   

Rae - It was impossible for me to select only one festive read, so have limited myself to two!

One of my 2016 reading resolutions was to read more short stories and so was delighted to discover that four pieces, originally written for newspapers and magazines, by PD James have been made into a collection entitled The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories. PD James was a master of setting and characterisation and her writing very much reminds me of illicit evenings spent under the bedcovers reading Agatha Christie by torchlight. This collection is perfect if you are short on time, but still wish to enjoy pitting your wits against a fantastic crime writer.


I really struggled with my second choice as there are so many
sparkling Christmas reads out there (and so many pretty covers to enjoy). So I've opted to share one which I hope to find tucked in my stocking on Christmas morning - Christmas Under The Stars by Karen Swan. Set in Banff, amongst the majestic snow-topped mountains of the Canadian Rockies, I was immediately drawn to its location, as I was lucky enough to visit Banff a couple of summers ago and adored its alpine feel. (I also live not far from Banff - Scotland!) It's the story of couples, of tragedy, of secrets, of jealousy and love. If I'm unable to celebrate Christmas in the Canadian Rockies, then enjoying Christmas Under The Stars sounds like the next best thing. Happy reading!


Gill - I’m going to choose 2 books for this – the first came out only a few weeks ago, the second was practically the first book I ever fell in love with and it was old even then. So, quite a contrast! My first choice is Stella’s Christmas Wish by Kate Blackadder. I’ve read Kate’s short stories and serials before but this is her first full-length novel and it’s truly lovely. Family problems, a gorgeous Scottish setting (of course!) and a great love story. To me it felt like a modern-day D E Stevenson novel, and I can’t praise anything much higher than that.

My second selection is actually a children’s book, but one I return to year after year at Christmas-time, like many other Chalet School fans. It is Jo Of The Chalet School by Elinor M Brent-Dyer, and contains one of the most perfect
evocations of a traditional Christmas ever. It is set in Austria in the 1920s but the warmth of the characters and the beautiful snow-filled setting are timeless. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it!


Neil - The other half Audrey has taken the reins for this one... over to you Audrey.

Audrey - I must admit I have never knowingly bought or read a festive story since becoming an adult, so this week I received a £2 thank you credit from Amazon.

I decided to be brave and try an E-Book that I could read on my phone, and if that wasn't enough, I
downloaded The Cosy Christmas Teashop by Caroline Roberts.

It wasn't until I scrolled through reviews that I discovered this was the second in a series, however it didn’t impact on my enjoyment of the read.

Ellie the main character has breathed life into the teashop at Claversham Castle, expanding her business into wedding cakes and planning. The descriptions of delicious cakes in the teashop will have you reaching for the biscuit tin. I read the majority of this whilst sitting in a coffee shop, so the ambient noise added to Roberts wonderful descriptions of the tearoom. This novel was filled with the just the right amount of Christmas cheer, along with a few weddings and the emotional ups and downs that these bring. The Cosy Christmas Teashop was a fantastic introduction to festive reads.

Merry Christmas, when it comes… Audrey

Jennifer - I’m not a seasonal person. Not that I don’t like Christmas — far from it — but I don’t feel obliged to do everything in a particularly Chrismassy way. You’re more likely to find a summer fruit pavlova on our table on 25 December than a Christmas pudding, and I’m as likely to wear tinsel in summer as in winter.

That applies to reading, too. Over the year I’ve been building up a to-be-read pile so long that it’s a mercy it’s on a Kindle, because I certainly don’t have room for it on my bookshelves. But because it’s been accumulated over so long, there’s no real seasonality about it. I won’t be tucking into A Christmas Carol for the umpteenth time, just because it’s December. 

But I will read. I will read at times I never normally read. I’ll sit down after breakfast with a book. I’ll
read if I wake up unusually early. I’ll read while everyone else is sitting through Love, Actually. And I won’t get through the long list of books, but I’ll make a dent. So, in no particular order, here are just some of the ones I hope to tick off my list:

The Bowes Inheritance by Pam Lecky
The Family at Farrshore by Kate Blackadder
A Way From Heart to Heart by Helena Fairfax
The Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains by Brevet Col J C Fremont 
Courting the Countess by Anne Stenhouse
The Last Dreamseer by Katy Haye
The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Linda - I'm going off piste with my choice of  'Christmas Reads'. I have yet to have a Christmas where I have time to read much beyond the TV listings even though I doze off in front of what I've chosen
anyway. So.... I've gone for children's Christmas stories, which I do find a window of time to read aloud.  My first choice is Raymond Briggs' classic Father Christmas. My copy is rather dog-eared and the white of the cover and the pages rather less than that now. I bought it for my own children and I now read it to my grandchildren. What I - and they - love is the cartoon-strip way the story is told. The artwork is as good as the writing (imho!!) There is minimal dialogue, which means that the children are happy to have a stab at reading it by themselves. I like that Father Christmas has not one, not two, not three, but four (!!!) bottles of wine on his Christmas dinner table. Well, he would need a stiff drink after all that present-delivering worldwide, wouldn't he?

My other choice is a thick card book, written in rhyme (sort of, more doggerel really) which my five-year-old granddaughter
will happily look at any time of the year. The artwork is simple but bright and very engaging for a child. I've been known to read this one six or seven times in a row.... thank goodness there are only fourteen pages! And my excuse for choosing these over the hundreds of Christmas novels and novellas there are out there is that Christmas is for children. We have to make the time magical for them, I think, and that doesn't mean being swamped with expensive presents. What could be better than snuggling up with Grandma under a fleecy blanket, listening to a story, munching on Christmas chocolate?

Please don't be shy, we'd love to hear what will make it to the top of your festive reading pile... from all at Novel Points of View


Sunday, 27 November 2016

To Subscribe - or not To Subscribe?




I’ve always loved magazines. When I was younger it was the glossies - the glossier the better as far as I was concerned. Vogue. Harpers and Queen. Tatler. CountryLife. It didn’t matter that everything in them - the lifestyle, the cars, the clothes, the houses - oh the houses - were (are) all totally beyond my means, I could spend hours dreaming and saying ‘what if?’ 

Then, newly married and not having much spare money, my guilty pleasure became hiding a Woman’s Weekly or a Family Circle in amongst the supermarket shopping, telling myself it was for the recipes. For years I struggled with my obsession with magazines when they became labelled a ‘luxury’ in our money-strapped house, sneakily buying them and reading them in secret - in the bath usually! 

My love of magazines was really what started me off wanting to be a writer. Writing a novel was, I thought, way out of my league but I thought I could perhaps be a journalist. So, as I struggled to become ‘a writer’, I found the writing magazines. Writers News; Writers Forum; Mslexia: to name but three I have subscribed to regularly over the years. Bought to learn from and to keep me in the loop with publishing news etc. But these days I have a problem: do I really need to keep buying the actual magazine when I can read and learn everything I need to know, on-line? All with the added bonus of not paying a subscription to a dedicated magazine.

Well yes I’m afraid I do! Social media takes up a lot of time for writers these days (well it does for me as I don’t really have a clue as to what I’m doing!) and I already spend far too much time in front of my computer, writing. Switching off the computer and sitting on the sofa reading a magazine at the end of the day is a high point for me. 

Living in France I don’t have ready access to newsagents selling magazines in my mother tongue so friends are cajoled and bribed into bringing me their finished with copies of Good Housekeeping, Red, Marie Claire - or any other magazine they’ve finished with when they visit. My subscription to Writing Magazine is automatically renewed each year (I’m pleased to say over the years I’ve had the odd feature and mentions in there). This year I’ve even taken out a subscription for the French answer to Country Living - Campagne Decoration.

My large coffee table bears witness to the amount of magazines currently in the house.
So, do you subscribe to your favourite magazines or simply grab a copy off the shelves when you see them? Or, do you never bother with magazines?























Saturday, 19 November 2016

I Don't Know Why I Bother.......A Frustrated Photographer

Balmedie Beach

After coming home from a relaxing family holiday where the camera only made the briefest of appearances I was looking forward to getting back out and about. However the weather and work schedule seemed to be conspiring against me.
I missed some of the most amazing sunrises and intense coloured skies; all I could do was watch them through the windows at work, hoping that the sunset would be just as stunning.

Forvie Sands






On the odd occasion that I managed to get out take some sunsets I found that I couldn't take a photo and my mantra for the week became 'I don't no why I bother'. I started to become frustrated that I couldn't get out and that when I did find time or the weather cleared I found that I had lost my mojo. I decided that I would stop putting pressure on myself to take a photo and concentrate on editing the 1000's I have on the computer. Alas my editing skills (such as they are) had also left me. I was beginning to despair my only glimmer of hope was that I had a week off on the horizon. The week off coincided with the OH's week off so I would have freedom and no need to rush.

The week arrived and the first few mornings were grey, wet and miserable. I was on the verge of tears as I was desperate to get out and find my mojo. Wednesday came the alarm went off and peeping through the blinds I could see the beginnings of a beautiful sunrise. Off I set; it was a wonderful feeling to be out again. The weather up until then had been unusually mild but today there was a crispness to the air.

Rattray Head Lighthouse

Over the week I met up with some fellow photographer's who also had periods of frustration when work got in the way of photography. I often mention that I can't wait for retirement so I can head out for the whole day travelling near and far. But until then I will have to be happy with grabbing a few hours here and there.

Salmon Posts, Balmedie




Saturday, 12 November 2016

Wanted - Villain. Must Not Have a Black Heart...

by Jennifer Young

I know I’ve said this before, but I do like a good villain. That’s not to say I like someone whose heart is as rotten as an apple that’s lain under a tree all winter — far from it. I’ve tried that and, if I’m honest, I didn’t really find it particularly satisfying. Unless you’re far more skilled a writer than I am, you end up with a two-dimensional villain, no more real than the knave of spades.

One of my favourite real-life villains, Little Bad Jim, is commemorated in a plaque set into a pavement in downtown Denver, Colorado. (Read his story in the picture.) Little Bad Jim is the best of villains — a human one. I spend far longer than is healthy speculating about what drove him to be a villain when he so obviously didn’t fit the job description, and whether he ended up hanged for his trouble or was just sent to bed early wth no cocoa.

My villains usually don’t want to be villains, either. In No Time Like Now the villain overstepped the mark of organised crime and fell into company he couldn’t handle. In Running Man it was all to do with money and the need to prove himself. In my upcoming novel Blank Space, the villain (I won’t name him — it would be a spoiler) is torn between right and wrong and the choice he makes is what tips him over the edge. In the sequel, After Eden (currently at last edits stage) the villain is driven to violence by bereavement and grief.

When I write a villain I always start off with a someone who has the potential to be the hero. Just as our heroes, if they are to be real, ought to be flawed, our villains, if our readers are to invest in them, must have qualities. In Blank Space my villain could so easily have been my hero, but “if there was a weakness in the man’s armour-plated, guilt-resistant capability for the job, it was that he always liked to be in charge. That was what made him a maverick. He had the qualities of a potential hero, but a controlling weakness, nonetheless”.

I like to think that both Blank Space and After Eden have moved on a little from my usual straightforward romances. They are romances, certainly, but both are woven through with tragedy, with each villain a hero in his own sub-plot.

But maybe I’m over-thinking it. And in any case, neither of them is quite as much of a wuss as poor Little Bad Jim.

Blank Space is currently available for pre-order on Amazon at a special price of £1.63/$1.99 and will be published on December 21st.


Friday, 4 November 2016

LIGHTING CREATIVE FIREWORKS

Remember, remember the 5th of November...  a sparkling post in celebration of Guy Fawkes night! 


 Gill - I love bonfire night, possibly because it falls between my sister and my birthdays, so was always a time of great celebration in our household. I have not, however, thought of it in the light of ‘creativity’ until now. So here goes!
Sometimes you just need to let your imagination sore like a rocket at a firework display. Don’t go for control, just for effect. You won’t know where you are going to land, but let your writing flash and sparkle. Let the words come without thought. And, because you’re writing it down, unlike a spent rocket, you can edit and use them afterwards. I’m not saying there aren’t times when you need to pause and to plan, but every now and then I recommend you forget all that and shoot for the stars. You might be surprised where this takes you!

Neil - With the clocks going back and the nights drawing in there is nothing better than drawing the
curtains and settling down in a snug, cosy living room. However it is now the season for the elusive Northern Lights. These beautiful dancing lights are amazing to see and a wonder to capture on film. I have in the past captured the lights but I have never been happy with the shot and always want to achieve a better picture.
Being close to the coast allows for lovely dark skies with minimal light pollution so they can be seen clearly.
In order to capture the lights you must wrap up warm, wait and hope that they make an appearance, usually between midnight and 3am.
As you can see by the photos night photography is still a work in progress but these darker nights allows time for research and enhance my knowledge of editing software, I can easily lose myself in a blog or YouTube tutorial.



Linda - While I have a very active imagination it is not limitless. Sometimes it needs a nudge. I find postcards (or pictures cut from
glossy mags) are good for this, to which end I buy one or two in all sorts of interesting places when I see something that catches my eye. I was writing something recently which I knew was a little flat. The plot was okay, the characters were okay, but it lacked that bit of sparkle. So I rifled through my postcard collection and found one of a fig. So, my character eating a ripe, luscious, purple fig for breakfast upped the ‘visual’ impact in that story for my readers. Likewise, in another story, I had a character who was at a crossroads in her life. She didn’t need another man, but she needed something to put fire in her belly again, as it were. So, she went rash and bought a beautiful painting of a fiery, blood red tulip – not a botanical painting but something more personal and representational. The writing group I attend weekly – Brixham Writers – always sets a homework theme, which we can do, or not, as we wish. A recent theme was ‘Waiting for Richard’. But where to set it? A postcard of a Lowry painting - Market Scene, Northern Town – jumped out at me as I rifled through my pile of postcards. There are lots of people in this painting but they don’t seem to be connecting with one another somehow. My immediate thought was that it can be very lonely, even in a crowd – especially if the person one is waiting for doesn’t show. But what if someone you weren’t expecting turns up? Well, that created a spark or five!
So now, if you’ll excuse me, my creative juices need another nudge. I’m off to get my postcard collection...

Jennie - Iʼve interpreted this months joint blog ʻLighting Creative Fireworksʼ to talk about the old question non-writers are always asking: Where do you get your ideas from?
Answering this question is never easy. There are ideas all around - some good and useable, some that never get off the ground. It can be an over heard conversation. Something on the news that gets me thinking. A sentence in a book Iʼm reading. Recently a character in a film didnʼt give me an idea as much as he made me think about my writing.
The film was ʻOnce Moreʼ and starred Morgan Freeman. Briefly, he plays a wheel-chair bound alcoholic ex-writer who moves into a holiday complex for the summer. The family next door, single mum and three children, have mixed feelings about him but one of the children dreams of being a writer and badgers him for advice about imagination. In the end he reluctantly starts talking to her. The scene from the film which has stayed in my mind is the two of them looking down an empty country lane and he tells the girl to ʻwrite what you donʼt seeʼ. In other words, use your imagination.
So, with that in mind - what donʼt you see when you look at this picture of fireworks?

Have a happy - and safe - Guy Fawkes Night.


Rae - As well as celebrating Guy Fawkes night, this week also saw the start of the annual #Nanowrimo contest. For those not familiar with the term, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, when writers around the world come together in a large online writing blitz, with the aim of getting the rough first draft of a novel completed. The official target is to write fifty thousand words, but each writer may have their own writing goals.
I tried this a couple of years ago and managed approximately twenty five thousand words, but this time I’m more organised. I have a synopsis and chapter plan at the ready and am as determined as a two-year old with a fistful of candy. So, with the help and encouragement of Nanowrimo buddies, I’m hoping for a spectacular display of creative fireworks throughout November. (Psst – Jennifer is doing Nanowrimo too!) Look forward to catching up again on the other side…

Jennifer - I don’t do fireworks. No; really, I don’t. Never have done. Creatively, that is. I love the idea that writers sit down and write dramatic scenes. I imagine them shutting themselves away for an hour or a day or whatever — towel wrapped round the head, endless supply of tea, all the chocolate they could possibly want — and emerging with a stonking firework display of a family row or a shipwreck or any of the other scenes that stop you in your tracks.

I can’t do that. My first drafts are always dull as the proverbial ditchwater, so much so that I’m afraid to show them to my critique buddies because I know exactly what they’ll say. No emotion, they’ll say. No connection. No spark. 

No fireworks, in other words.

I take four or five goes, adding a little bit of colour every time, a little bit more scandal, a bit more fire. I’m never sure, in the end, that the drama is high enough. I’m the timid little girl with her hands over her ears when the rockets go up, watching the flowers but hating the noise. Dramatic scenes are my weakness. I’m learning from the rest of you!


NOW WE'D LOVE TO HEAR WHAT LIGHTS YOUR CREATIVE FIREWORKS ...


Saturday, 29 October 2016

READING OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE by Gill Stewart



You should read outside your comfort zone, shouldn’t you? Hmm, has been my usual answer to that, not me! I (like lots of other people!) don’t like going outside my comfort zone.

But I accidentally did just that. I’m working on a YA novel with a half-French heroine and was lucky enough to be on a writing retreat in France. The little place I had all to myself for writing was called Mon Rêve and it really was a dream - see pic.



So far so good. One day I was wandering around a French supermarket (so strangely different to a British one) and saw they had a large selection of French teen novels. I paged through a few. I used to be able to read French, but these looked difficult. Then I found one that was a mixture of words and pictures. Much better! I bought it, partly for fun and partly for research.

The book I ended up reading - almost every word ...

And I found that it was a) much harder than I had expected. French teenagers clearly use an awful lot of slang! There were words I’d never heard of, and then words I had heard of but they were being used in a peculiar new way. Oh dear. And then, amazingly, I found that, b), by pushing myself to read it, dictionary at my side, I was getting into the head of a French teenager in a way that I couldn’t have done otherwise. I was reading outside my comfort zone! 


Of course, what I was reading was the writer’s take on French teenagers, but it gave me something that I couldn’t have got any other way – a French view on a French teenager. And after a while, it even started to be fun. For anyone who is reasonably fluent in French I’d recommend giving the book a try. It's interesting and funny and engaging. It’s Toi + moi + tous les autres, Tome 1 : #MesAmisMesAmours* by Sylvaine Jaoui. As it is not (yet?) translated into English, this is your only way of reading it.


Now I want to make myself continue with this reading outside my comfort zone, although the suggestion from my fellow writing-retreater that I give horror a try might just be a step too far … Does anyone have any less scary suggestions?

*You + me + all the others, Volume 1: #MyFriendsMyLoves