Spring 2012

Spring 2012 Eileen Ramsay

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"Eileen Ramsay has a storytelling gift that is hard to match."
Romance Junkies


Read an interview with me in Suite101 Magazine

Spring 2012

First, Rebecca Leith wrote about me on her blog, you can read the piece, here, but do remember to come back to read my news!

I seem to spend a lot of time these days writing stories that no one wants to publish.
'It's the recession.'  'It's the market.'  The list of reasons is endless.  The only one I really loathe is, 'I loved this novel BUT.. '
My agent is still working hard for me and - too soon to confirm - but 'something' might be in the pipeline.

I have decided, therefore, while I keep on writing the stories that seem to 'miss the boat' I'm going to enter the world of the ebook.
Last November I began with a Regency that was originally published in, I think, 1999.  It's called Lace For a Lady and is a story based on smuggling tales from the area in which I live.  I was quite happy with the cover.  I took a photograph of the great tower of the ancient Arbroath Abbey which is where much of the action is set.  Of course, the first pictures I took were landscape and the friend who was helping me with the technical side pointed out that the picture must be 'portrait'.  Sales are slow but quite a few free samples have been downloaded.  It's an attempt to both remind readers that I'm still here, and a way of introducing my writing to people who have never heard of me.
I have just - no, to be truthful, my husband has just uploaded another title for me.  It's called Never Call it Loving, a title which won the Scottish Association of Writers Constable Award for best novel about twelve years ago, and which quite a few people have said is my best story yet.
I have to admit that I was stunned when I read the book over the Christmas period. Because the book is so old, I no longer have the elderly computer on which it was typed.  I had to scan it!! Cruel and unusual punishment.  It took almost three months of really hard work BUT errors leaped out at me; spelling, grammatical errors, plot.  You name it, I'd done it.  Therefore, I sat down and edited the novel again with the skills I've learned in an extra twelve years of reading and writing.  There were bits that really needed to be rewritten too.  In fact a salutary lesson was learned.
But I had one fabulous piece of luck.  At an anniversary party in the superb Edinburgh Oloroso restaurant I met Alan Lennon of lennon design, a graphic design company in Edinburgh . Alan offered to design a new cover for my rewritten story. Wow.  I wrote a synopsis of the novel and sent it to him and he grasped the edginess, passion and ultimate tragedy of the story immediately.  He sent me four images and I could have used every one but I chose this one

Never Call It
        Loving by Eileen Ramsay

Great thing about working with Lennon Design was that although I know Alan and see him socially, I never actually met him during the entire process.  My home is 75+ miles from Edinburgh but I was able to sit in my little room while Alan worked in his studio and the result, I firmly believe, is fantastic!  Everything was done by email and so wherever you are, if you need an artist, here he is.

Next I plan to finish a book I started some years ago but have never finished.  The first few chapters won the Romantic Novelists Elizabeth Goudge Award and I called my then editor in great excitement.  She/they sent me a lovely bottle of champagne but showed no interest in the book!
'Writers look for good writing,' she said. 'Editors look for writing that sells.'
Well, at least two of my novels have been best sellers - Someday, Somewhere and A Way of Forgiving.  I like to think the writing was pretty good!
And books, my friends, what have I read?
A mixture as usual.
Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James.   I have to say I sorely missed her lovely policeman, Inspector Dalgleish, but still enjoyed the book.
When the Clyde Ran Red by Maggie Craig.  Superbly researched and written history of the Scottish Labour movement in the early days of the 20th century.  Made me quite ashamed at how little I know of my country's social history.
Then another Scotland-based novel, The Lewis Man by the incredibly gifted Peter May.
It's a second novel featuring the former policeman, Fin Macleod; not a sequel but it does take us back to the islands that Peter May obviously knows well and loves.  I'm just so delighted to read that there is to be a third -but final -novel with Fin as the main protagonist, and quite frankly, I'm already in mourning.  The plots are intricate, exciting, the writing is superb, and at times is pure poetry. As my daughter-in-law says, 'Enjoy him while you have him.'
I haven't finished, but am enjoying Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester.  Wow, I thought I knew everything there was to know about this incredible writer. 
And Santa Claus brought me a Kindle, a gadget that it had never occurred to me would fit into my life BUT I have downloaded several books including the two latest Inspector Gamache novels by the Canadian writer, Louise Penny.  I love her books and these are my rewards to myself.  First advantage of the Kindle - I can't just pick one up and read it because I have to turn it on first - very good for someone like me who says, 'I'll only read a few pages... ' Huh! and 2. I can adjust the font size.  Don't tell anyone but I'm having trouble with my eyes - possibly need an operation in a month or two, but for now I sit in bed, adjust the light and the size of the font and I'm in the depths of the His Lit in Montreal!!  If you haven't tried her and you like well written crime, go for it.
I have had two speaking engagements this year, and both in February.
I went to Perth to speak to the Perth Writers Circle and to adjudicate their short story competition.  Truthfully, some of the work was excellent and there was something in every one that could be commended.  What was particularly lovely though, was the attitude of the members. They were absolutely delightful plus two members had baked cookies!!
 It's not easy for me to walk into a room of strangers and then proceed to tear their work apart  - not that I had to do too much of that - but everyone was receptive and took any criticism in the spirit in which it was offered.  And they even bought some of my books!!  Perth, call me.  I'll come back!
A week later I went to the little country school near my home to talk to the whole school about books and writing. It's quite some time since I've written anything for children but with me I had research materials, first drafts, copy edits etc and three of my books for children, two that were written for educational publishers and one written at the request of a school district.  I was a tad nervous - these children are the children of my neighbours - but there was no need.  The whole experience was delightful and to add icing to my cake of enjoyment, I received the most beautiful thank you letter signed by every single child in the school - it is a small school!!  They had scanned the cover of one of my books and used it as the picture around which they had written their delightful messages. So sweet; a real treasure to keep.
I saw a news broadcast from DC, my old home city, the other day - The cherry blossom is out - so beautiful. 
Cherry Blossom in
        Washington DC

Spring is coming. 
Enjoy it, my friends, preferably with good music and good books.


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October 2011

October update

What a mixed bag this year has been.  

Let’s look at the highlights.  First and foremost, of course, is the joy of having two new grandchildren, a little girl and a little boy.  The baby boy’s older brother isn’t too sure about this new small person but I think he’s prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Everyone in the other family, including the very beloved and important Chocolate Labrador, has welcomed the little girl whole heartedly.

    Then there was our holiday with some of our extended family in Corsica and Italy.  All I knew about Corsica was that Napoleon Bonaparte was born there and so was very anxious to visit.  Corsica is the favourite holiday destination of one of our nieces and how grateful I am that she asked us to share it with her family this year.  The weather was glorious, the views from out hotel, the Cesario near Calvi, were sensational and every morning we ate breakfast by the pool and listened to operatic recordings.  The manager loves opera and has worked out how to play recordings every morning so quietly that non music lovers can’t possibly be annoyed but loudly enough so that opera lovers like me can enjoy every glorious note.


One morning we were surprised to see parachutes dropping nearby.  The French Foreign Legion, training recruits in the Maquis, the wonderful scrubland which is host to a multitude of herbs and wild flowers!!  My niece and I lived in hope that just one Legionaire might be blown of course and float gently down beside us.  But, alas, no luck!
    But what a story I could have written – might one day write!!
    In a restaurant called L’Ange D’or, which is not too from the hotel, we had several delicious meals.  Monsieur goes out early to fish and Madame cooks whatever he catches the same evening.  Superb.  She also uses selections of herbs out of the Maquis and one of our extended family favourites was her Maquis ice cream, basically, I think, vanilla but with a mixture of herbs; taste and perfume both subtle and delicious.
    Corsica needs more than one short visit.  We fully intend to return.
    We left Corsica by ferry to Italy and drove down to our beloved Tuscany. This year, for several reasons, we lived, not with family, but in a fantastic village house, Casa Giulia, in the little village of Panicale, near Aulla.  I can’t talk highly enough about the house, and the village.  A local multi-lingual agency have this beautifully renovated – it’s part of a Medici Fortess!! – and modernised  village house on their books.  Do check www.l’architrave.com

As you can see , we spent a lot of time right here by the pool!


The house sleeps eight comfortably on four floors.  The front of the house looks into the Borgo which is a narrow alley that reaches from the great gate at the entrance – part of a still-inhabited Medici Palace - to the top of the village.  The rest of Casa Giulia looks out over the hills and valleys all the way to the mountains. The entrance is through a gate out of the Borgo onto a private courtyard where there is a large table, complete with umbrella – for sun, not rain!!!  A door on the courtyard level leads to a separate double bedroom, bath, and private sitting room.  A stone staircase leads up to the main floor which boasts a large fully-equipped kitchen, complete with central aisle where we prepared our simple meals, a lovely dining-room – which we never used, and a comfortable sitting-room in which we very rarely sat.  There’s also a toilet with a window looking out towards the mountains and this window has the same view as the French doors in the sitting room which lead out to a balcony.
    On the floor above this there are three bedrooms, one of them very large and with magnificent original beams, and a large family bathroom with separate bath tub and shower.  The shower had the cutest green ‘scraper-like’ tool for the glass and it was so successful, I bought several to bring home.
    ‘What did you bring me from Italy, wine, salami, cheese?’
    ‘No, a thingie for cleaning the shower!’
    This area of Tuscany now boasts fantastic internet capabilities and next time, I’ll take my laptop which I’ll use if I can pull myself away from the pool or the several terraces outside.
    We took two trips, one to Verona where we saw an incredible production of La Traviata.  This is one of my favourite operas and one of the two that made me fall in love with the art form but this production will take some beating.  The set was three huge ornate picture frames and the ‘action’ took place in the largest centre one.  The side ones were truly amazing as sometimes it was almost impossible to tell if they were paintings – think Renoir and picnics – or inhabited by real people.  Utterly, absolutely fabulous.  Viva Verdi!
    Our second outing was a long leisurely drive along the coast, cliffs almost as frightening as those in Corsica but oh the views!  


    Apart from that we did nothing but eat, sleep, swim, walk, and revisit old friends whom we have been visiting for over forty years.  Because all my husband’s family love Tuscany, we had several huge family gatherings and I loved every minute.  The little rolls in this picture were baked by a friend of one of the girls - they’re special to this area of Tuscany and they are unbelievab;y delicious.
As usual, I came back with at least three story ideas and am now wondering which one, if any, to write first!!

As I write I am hoping that the interest expressed in my latest novel at the Frankfurt book fair will result in a sale or two and in the meantime, while I sit by the telephone, I am reading a novel written by a friend – ON A KINDLE.   I fight technology tooth and nail – I suppose because I’m afraid of it, but I have been persuaded to buy a Kindle and without help – apart from having to ring Chris Longmuir to ask her how to turn the darn thin on and off, I managed to download her novel A Salt Splashed Cradle.  This will be my bed time reading for the next week or so and then I’m moving on to The Blackhouse by Peter May, another friend,  and what is proving -yes, I’ve peeped - to be a delightful sequel to the terrific Trade Winds by the lovely Christina Courtenay, Highland Storms.    Maggie Craig’s latest, When the Clyde ran Red, has just arrived but this copy is a hard-back with a stunning cover.  I have every book Ms Craig has written and just couldn’t spoil my collection.
 I’m facing the most enormous over-stuffed bookcase as I write – this year we have boxed up many many old friends and consigned them to the attic - and although I will always love what I still call REAL books, I believe my kindle and I are going to become fast friends.

And now I really must do something about Christmas cards. Bye for now!


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Where Have I Been?

I had almost forgotten that I have a website.

It’s easy to find a perfectly good reason for NOT updating it – for instance  – why on earth would anyone find what I have to say interesting?   Perhaps a blog would be better but would I say anything intelligent on a blog?  I have a feeling that I might rant and rage about everything that I think is wrong with this world – inequality, racial and religious prejudice, the unbelievable arrogance and pomposity of politicians who lose track or should I say lose the plot? - the abominable treatment of women and children in too many parts of this world,– a world that if you can get past its ugliness, is incredibly beautiful – and so on and so on. Maybe there are too many ranters out there already!!

    Here’s a picture I took on the west coast in March.  Lovely isn’t it, and its beauty gave me an idea for a story!!

Loch Melfort

It's been a bit of a mixed bag this year so far but isn't that what life is all about?!!  
I'll start with writing.  Before Christmas the publisher who had asked me to write a saga for them and with whom I had worked for almost a year changed its mind and said they were no longer interested.  Great.  One year of in-depth research and writing down the tubes.  Merci mille fois.    

In February of this year my agent decided to send what I had written to other publishers.  Four came back saying they liked what they'd read - FOUR chapters - and when could they see the rest?  I took a deep breath and said Mid April.  Well, mes anges, I worked 12 hour days but the completed ms was with my agent by mid April - right in the middle of the London Book Fair.  Anyway, all four now have a copy and I wait, and wait, and wait.
        While I was waiting I discovered by chance that a serial I had written for the People's Friend magazine was already published! Someone had a wrong email.  No matter, it's out there and that is special to me because one plotline involves kidney disease - from which two of my sisters died.    Writing it was a tribute to them and a thank you to all the wonderful nurses who took care of them – and of all dialysis patients everywhere.   Diane Allen of Magnaprint has bought the serial to publish as a paperback and that should happen later this year.  Thank you, Diane.  Title  - Love Changes everything.  Well, it does, doesn't it?  Now, while I wait to hear what the publishers have to say I have returned to the book I was writing last year – and stolen a little private time to spend in my garden...

white lilac

This white lilac is very very old but this year the blossom was more beautiful than ever and what do you think of these peonies?  
In my garden

      I – black thumb personified – grew them myself and I’m so pleased with myself.  Gardens teach one about patience.  That little lot took four years to get to this lovely flowering – and I complain about a year to write a book!!

Mystery Short Competition - Writers Take Note!

     I judged a short mystery story competition a month or so ago and that has taken a great deal of time but how worthwhile.  There are some really terrific stories in there and I changed my mind about winners several times.  When I'm judging I read the work through very quickly and then I sit down to try to remember them.  Sometimes one jumps out at me.  This time none of them did.  I read them again and this time I made quick - and often not very flattering - comments.  The writers won't see those.  Then I read them again looking for specifics, plot, characterisation, language, and yes, even grammar, punctuation and set out.  I eventually ended up with eleven stories that stood out - in a positive way.  And we started all over again.  Luckily the competition committee wanted the winner a week before the big day so that his/her name could be put on a trophy.  Otherwise I might have been in the car on the relevant Saturday morning, changing my mind yet again!!  BUT, and I’ve said this before – did I work harder on the entries than some of the writers did?  It wasn’t just the condition of the entries; some had obviously been previously submitted – and judged - elsewhere.  It was a mystery story competition.  A Miss Marple fan,   I saw the clues – fonts that were different, paper of a different weight on a new front page, the occasional change-mid story of pseudonym etcetera.  Please contestants, do yourselves a favour.  Be professional.  See what I mean about ranting!

Internet Groups

Anyone else being inundated with invitations to join various internet groups?   I certainly would like to accept some of the invitations BUT – I don’t seem to have the technical skills.  I spend too much time trying to fill in forms, create passwords, you name it, I do it – AND nada.  So, if you have asked me to join you, especially if you are someone I know and love, forgive me.  I’m too thick!!!

Books  I’ve Enjoyed Lately

A very mixed bag this year.  One I thoroughly enjoyed and would heartily recommend is Dear Mr Harper, which is the story of Britain’s first Green parliamentarian, Robin Harper.  What an interesting, multi-talented man of clear convictions.  The odd chapters are stories of his personal life – and some of them are very funny, and the even ones, co-authored by the journalist, Fred Bridgland, are about his political life.  Believe me, there is more to Mr Harper than a long scarf – which I personally find very cute.  (It’s published by Birlinn and is available everywhere.)

I’ve just discovered Sophie Hannah and have begun with 'the other half lives’.  It is a psychological thriller – not a genre I read a lot – but I could not put it down and will certainly be adding Ms Hannah’s books to my wish lists. Compelling, informative and some lovely writing.

Apart from books for research, I read and loved To Marry a Prince, by Sophie Page.  (Just noticed it’s my season for Sophies!!)  I was glued to my television set for every lovely moment of the royal wedding and sincerely hope that this delightful young people will live ‘happily ever after.’  As will the prince and his bride in Ms Page’s book.  I haven’t laughed so much since I first read Three Men in a Boat.   When I’m in London I spend a lot of time walking in St James’s Park but after the hilarious encounter in this book, a walk in the park will never be the same again.


I’ve just bought a CD by a young  American pianist,  Andrew von Oyen.  It’s a first CD and I hope there will be many more.  I don’t know enough about music to review this recording but it’s so good I play it all the time when I’m working.  Mr von Oyen is playing music by Liszt, including one of my all time favourite pieces, the Liszt variations on Verdi’s Rigoletto.  I put the CD on my laptop and managed – don’t ask me how since my technical skills are zilch – to have it playing when I look at pictures of my baby grandchildren.  Tell you, Grannies of the world, to look at your darlings while a great pianist plays Bella Figlia, seemingly just for them, is something else.  Andrew, as Oliver Twist said, Please sir, I want some more.

We have finally heard the violinist, Nicola Benedetti play live.  It was a charity concert for MacMillan nurses in Dundee’s lovely Caird Hall.   The Royal Scottish National Orchestra was on great form; I particularly liked Finlandia – memories of Alexander Gibson – but I had gone mainly to hear Ms Benedetti and she was stunning.  Because of the nature of the concert, Ms Benedetti did not play an entire concerto but we are determined to hear her again soon.  It was a lovely evening.

    Once again, thanks to my dear friend, Wilma Paterson, we have enjoyed lovely chamber music at St Athernase Church in Leuchars.  This time Wilma’s friend, Margot Scott, played and conducted a group of women singers that she and a friend have put together.  – sorry, I can’t find my programme but will tell you the group’s name next time!  It was a lovely evening.  Apart from being amazed as always by Margot’s musical skills, I absolutely loved The Meditation from Thais as played by old friend and superb violinist, Angus Anderson.   They’ll all be playing together later this month in concerts promoted by the National Trust for Scotland.    I wish I could be at Kellie Castle on Friday 25th as Jennifer Galloway, the oboist (Who is also Margot’s daughter) will be joining them.  Don’t miss it.

    And one hint for wannabe writers – carry a camera everywhere.  I took my brand-new baby grand-daughter for a walk in a wooded area near her home and was totally astounded by the varieties of flowers growing together under, over, and beside the trees.  No notebook!  But Granny had her camera and now has twenty four fabulous pictures with which to jog her memory.
    And here’s one as a goodbye till next time.



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Edinburgh Festival 2010

Since June 1st I have spent quite a few days lying flat on my back, and no, not soaking up sunshine. 
Very frustrating but I did try to write.  Complaining to my husband got me nowhere.

‘Remember Michelangelo,’ he said.  ‘He painted the Sistine Chapel lying on his back – and you’re worrying about a wee story.’

Husbands, you can’t help but love ‘em.

I managed to write almost fourteen thousand words, some of which I could read when I was on my feet again.   Once again I am writing about a musician and as always I find myself wondering if I know enough about music to make a decent job of it.  For instance I found that it was absolutely imperative that I find out who a conductor calls if he/she has to cancel a concert.  My friend, Sue, in Washington DC, has a friend who is an internationally known conductor.  I sent her an email.  ‘Can you possibly ask x who he calls if he has to cancel?’

Would you believe a day or two later I received an email from the Maestro himself.  ‘No one, because you’re dead or in a coma and death is the preferable option.’

When I’d stopped laughing I noted that the Maestro had finished by offering to answer any questions I would ask.  What generosity.  I will be very careful not to make a nuisance of myself.  Right now I’m trying to rewrite the extremely important scene where my fictional conductor has to cancel and I have to do this without killing him off or putting him in a coma!!

Apart from not being strong enough to work this summer I missed my garden. 

My rhododendrons bloomed and faded without me, and so did my beloved peony roses which I planted after my daughter-in-law, Pippa, gave me some one Mothers Day.  And I can’t bear to think about my roses, each one planted in memory of an honoured friend.

This picture of rhodies is of last year’s lovely blooms and the picture of the lovely rose is one I took only last week.  Its perfume is as beautiful as its appearance and it’s the rose we planted the week after our younger son’s wedding five years ago.  We planted it in October and each October it seems to feel obliged to challenge the magnificence of the Autumn leaves.

While waiting for an editor to decide whether or not to buy my latest offering, I sent off a short story to the magazine Ireland’s Own and had the fastest acceptance I have ever had.  Twenty three hours after I submitted it, the courteous and helpful editor, Sean Nolan, sent an email accepting it.  My sadly deflated morale puffed itself up.  Thank you, Sean.

The story, The Fruit Bowl, was published on October 22nd.  Do we ever take publication for granted?  It always takes me by surprise.  I was completely taken by surprise when a writer chum, Rosemary Gemmel, emailed me in September to tell me that a story of mine , The Adventures of Kitty Langlands, was in a summer edition of Woman’s Weekly Fiction.  A lovely surprise since I have never been accepted by the magazine; sneaked in by the back door as it were!    Loved the illustrations, Woman’s Weekly.

In the middle of July we went over the river into Fife to have lunch with our dear friend, Wilma.  Wilma is a pianist and composer but actually the list of her talents is much longer and she’s also the most modest, unassuming person I have ever known – and boy, will she be cross that I’ve written that!

She had invited some old friends to lunch as she had a house guest, the distinguished Slovenian composer, Ivo Petric.  It was a great afternoon as we ate, talked music – me rather quietly in that company – books, films, art and we compared the Scottish and Slovenian landscapes.  What a beautiful country.  When we were leaving Ivo gave me some CD’s of his music – I could scarcely believe it.  In my hand I had a CD signed by the composer!   This afternoon I spent time on Ivo’s website. www.ivopetric.com  Do give it a try – the Internet is so amazing and so too is this delightful man. 

I had promised to send the Maestro one of my novels.  In the first picture he’s holding Wilma’s copy of A Way of Forgiving  and I’m holding The Song of Life, a cantata for Mezzo-soprano and orchestra and it’s signed by the composer!!!   The music and the voice are good but the CD is priceless!!  

In the second picture he’s reading, while on holiday, his own copy of my novel.  It’s available in German but he preferred to read it in the original!  I don’t know one word of Slovene!

A few weeks after Ivo’s visit we went to Kellie Castle in Fife to hear a concert, part of the Pittenweem Festival.  We’ve visited this lovely building before – and its fabulous garden, but it was extra special to sit in the drawing-room and listen  to lovely music performed by the Munro String Trio.  These more experienced musicians won’t mind my saying that a highlight of the evening was listening to the superb talent that is the young flautist, Yvonne Paterson.

  Speaking of talented musicians, a few weeks ago we went to a fund raiser for the ART fund, which is a group of people who work hard to raise funds to save art works for the nation.  At this event two young men, both classically trained musicians, Robert Berry and Peter Borthwick, treated us to a programme of romantic songs from Broadway shows and all those fabulous black and white movies we watch when we’re supposed to be editing.  How encouraging to see and hear talented young men speak so knowingly and appreciatively of songs such as Moon River, Smoke Gets in your Eyes, As Time Goes By and then to perform them with both skill and Joie de Vivre.

As my readers know I’m more likely to be found listening to Bach than Broadway but my goodness was this ever a wonderful evening.  Peter’s pleasant tenor voice was shown off to advantage in the programme they had selected and Robert’s playing is, quite simply, exceptional.  I should have asked if the arrangements were his.  All in all two professional talented young musicians.  We need to save them, and their like, for the nation too!

Do check their websites.

Robert Berry

Peter Borthwick

I was told never to use clichés when writing and I suppose ‘It’s a small world’ is a cliché but it’s also true.  When he returned to Slovenia Mr Petric wrote to a German friend, a musician, and told him that he had met a Scottish novelist, Eileen Ramsay, while in Scotland.  Imagine my surprise and pleasure when Herr Kontressowitz wrote to me to say that his wife has read every one of my novels published in Germany.  A few days later Frau Kontressowitz sent me a photograph which showed her with all the books spread out around her.   It was quite moving to see a real – and lovely – woman enjoying my work.  Thank you for the support, Christina, and I hope that, before long, there will be another German title for you to read.

And here it is, November already and I did try to finish this in October.  In no time at all it will be Christmas and so I plan to update the Christmas card list – too many dear friends gone this year but there are new ones to add – and to make a Christmas stocking for my grandson.  My sister in California actually went to the trouble of buying the materials and cutting it out for me so B, no excuses.  Granny will get it done. 

Among the books read this period.

A Change in Altitude by the one and only Anita Shreve.  She just gets better and better; I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman.  I was talking to my friend, Adèle Geras, at the Romantic Novelists Conference in Greenwich this summer and we found that we had both – and our husbands too -  been reading the brilliant Harry Kemelman for years.  (His The Nine Nile Walk is one of the finest short stories I have ever read.)  When I got home I began clearing some space in book cases and found not one but three Rabbi Small stories.  Unlike their neighbours they will go right back on the shelves when I’ve finished re-reading.

A third read I’d recommend is a first novel, Trade Winds, by Christina Courtenay.  Strangely enough it also deals with the tea trade with China, (Remember The Secret Mandarin by Sara Sheridan) but it’s very different.   The hero is a Scot and how well Ms Courtenay has drawn Mr Kinross – he’s real and he speaks as an educated Scot of the time would have spoken.  (Another beautifully created character is the Edinburgh street boy, Adair, who also jumps right off the page. ) And then there is the lovely heroine, Jess van Sandt.  The Swedish winter, which the author knows well, is a character in the story too.  Well-plotted, beautifully written, I look forward to her next novel.   

A few days ago I came across a little anthology of poetry, A Nest of Singing Birds, published by Fettes College in Edinburgh which is a famous public school.  The singing birds are former pupils and boy, can they sing. There is an amazing range of poetry here and I look forward very much to reading all of them.

Time to go.  I have just heard the wild geese in the sky above our home.  It’s a lovely evocative sound and I rushed first to the window and then out on to the lawn to bid them a good journey.  At first they were too high for me to see them at all but then they seemed to spill out of a cloud and flash above my head.  Winter is coming.  I hope it’s not a Swedish one!!

Keep warm, everyone.


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Edinburgh Festival 2010
Edinburgh Festival date with me and Sara Sheridan
find out more here

Favourite Historical Novels
(Selected by Sara Sheridan and Eileen Ramsay.)

For those of you who can’t be with us as the multi-talented award-winning Sara Sheridan and I discuss our favourite subject – The Historical Novel – at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, we thought we would give you a little slice of the afternoon’s fun.  We have spent weeks revisiting favourite books and, time permitting, will discuss at least some of them with our audience. 

Our choices are very different, and only once did we choose the same writer, (but not the same book), and decided that we would extol each novelist only once.  So, here they are. Sara’s choices are first since she managed to discipline herself to select ten

Sara’s Choices

1  Water Music by T C Boyle.  He's a genius and this is absolutely my favourite of all his books.  It's his best.  I'm unbelievably jealous every time I read this epic tale of Mungo Park's doomed trip down the Niger. I am always banging on about this story - here is an article I wrote in The Sunday Times about how great it is, and here I am on YouTube and on BBC Radio Scotland taking part in the Scottish Book Trust's "Book That Changed My Life Project". And last but not least, here I am blogging about it on  Norman Geras's wonderful  Normblog.

2 If I'm not going on about Water Music I'm probably going on about Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor. I've recommended this to so many people and I don't think one of them hasn't loved it - it's a tale that brings the Irish Famine alive. Gritty and moving, if you like historical fiction, I can't see how this book would fail to hit the mark.

3 The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling.  It's a tragedy that Belinda Starling died shortly after she finished writing this lively and atmospheric debut novel about a Victorian bookbinder fallen on hard times who reluctantly takes on pornographic commissions from a mysterious gentlemen's club.

4 Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susannah Clark.  This is Harry Potter for grown ups.  Yes I know lots of grown ups read Harry Potter, myself included.  But this is one the 8-12 year olds are simply too young to enjoy.

5 Because its atmosphere is so like Jonathan Strange I love Neil Gaman’s The Graveyard Book.

6 Probably my favourite children's book is the first in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights.  The opening paragraph where Lara is sneaking around her Oxford college, is incredibly evocative and vivid and the story is spellbinding. I used to read this to my daughter at bedtime. I didn't want to stop when she fell asleep and I'd sneak a peek at the pages ahead to find out what happened next.

7 Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.  The first half of this book transfixes me every time because it's so evocative and fabulously well written.  I re-read this one when I need a holiday and it does the trick - it's Sarah's finest so far.

8 The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory is my favourite of all her, great, historical books, but I'd happily recommend any of them.

9 The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.  A great, modern novel which sucked me into its world.  I loved this book.

10 The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  A fantastic novel that plays around with its genre and a great movie too.  I'm always really interested by the contrast between the same story in different media - what works in one and not in the other.  Goldman is a master - it's worth reading the book before watching the movie and then comparing the two.

Eileen’s Choices

Cry the Beloved Country                                   
Allan Paton

This is the novel that immediately springs to mind when anyone asks me my favourite novel.   Published in 1948 it, quite simply, changed my life.  I read it in the fifties.  Alone in the house, I had washed my very long hair and was going to sit before the gas fire to dry it.  I needed something to read and there on the shelf was this wee book.  When I sat down on the rug I was a sixteen year old child.  A few hours later when I stood up clutching the book I was years older.  No other book has ever done that to me. Set in 1947, it’s basically it’s the story of Stephen Kumalo, a Zulu Anglican  priest,  deeply concerned about the disintegrating Zulu society which he is trying to reconstruct.  He goes to Johannesburg because his sister is ill and also to find his son Absolom who has disappeared.  I drove here in two hours and compared it to Mr Kumalo’s journey.   How much we take for granted, especially if we’re white.
Absolom has murdered a white activist – a truly moral and decent man - and is eventually found and executed but before he dies he marries the girl he has impregnated.  At the end of the story she returns to the village with Pastor Kumalo.  The murdered activist’s father, having finally read all his son’s essays, takes up his political baton and so we end on a note of hope although Apartheid became legal shortly after the publication of this novel.
This is a deeply moving story, and its scope and vision is endless.  I think that Paton is unbiased in the way he writes this story showing the problems encountered by both white and black races.

The Stone Carvers                                                                
Jane Urquhart

One of the great regrets of my life is that I gave away my original copy of this extraordinary novel.
The story opens in the Canadian backwoods in 1867 and ends in 1934 when the sculptor, Walter Allward, and his assistants are carving the last names on Allward’s sublime memorial to the Canadian dead of WW1
In 1867 Joseph Beck, who has emigrated to Canada from Bavaria, meets his future wife.  Joseph is a master woodcarver but it his beloved grand-daughter who inherits his talent. She falls in love but her soul mate dies in the horror of the war.  Klara eventually manages to be accepted as an assistant by Allward and participates in the carving of the names of the fallen, including that of her husband.
 Allward lived; the memorial is his finest work and this extraordinary epic of love, loss and the redemptive healing power of time is accessible, literary, enthralling, completely unforgettable – a Requiem for the fallen.

Great Expectations                                                                    
Charles Dickens

I was forced to read this novel and many other great classics when I was too young to appreciate them.  Fortunately I have always been lucky enough to meet someone, a teacher, a writer, an unknown fellow passenger on a train, who has encouraged me to go back as an adult to reread.  
Dickens stands out among great writers; he is an entertainer, a master of the English language and many scholars have asked if he created a world or reflected the world as it was.  Much of his material is based on his own experiences.
This novel is the story of Pip and his expectations.  Unlike many of Dickens’s heroes, Pip’s early home life is perfectly happy although his parents are dead and his sister tends to yell a lot but his brother-in-law is the delightful Joe Gargery, surely one of the kindest and most decent of literature’s creations.  
At the beginning of the novel Pip helps an escaped convict because he is too afraid not to do so. 
Later we see him visit the astonishing Miss Havisham who sits in her dining room dressed in her decaying wedding finery – a truly memorable character but certainly the one I most want to slap!!  Pip falls for her niece Estella who, to my mind, has been taught by her aunt to hate men.  Pip who begins as a rather sweet little boy becomes a snob and despises those around him including the lovely Joe who much later in the novel gets him out of debtor’s prison.
All through the novel Pip believes that he has expectations of money from Miss Havisham but it is in fact the convict whose life he saved who has left him money. 
It’s basically a story of growing up, gripping drama blended with satire, and although all ends well for Pip by the time he has learned to despise himself for his treatment of Joe it is too late.
Dickens at his unbeatable best.

An Infamous Army                                                   
Georgette Heyer  1937

At school I devoured Georgette Heyer; the Regencies, the crime stories, the historicals.  I am still trying to find hard back copies of many of the titles as I revisit them constantly.  This one is at the top of the list for not only does it have two of my all time favourite Heyer men, Lord Worth and the Devil’s Cub, the Marquis of Vidal, but it is one of the best-written books about the battle of Waterloo ever published.  It’s so accurate that it is used at Sandhurst Military Academy.  I love the picture of all those handsome young cadets in their natty uniforms, backs against some of the many magnificent trees on the college grounds, avidly reading a Georgette Heyer, one in the eye for critics who continually said she wrote fluffy little romances.

The Flight of the Heron                           
DK Broster

This is the first of a trilogy about the 1745 Jacobite uprising and aftermath. The hero, Ewan Cameron, is a small landowner and relative of Lochiel, chief of the clan Cameron with all the responsibilities that entails.  Ewan’s blind foster-father foresees that Ewan’s fate will become entwined with that of an officer on the opposite side – through the agency of a heron – and so it happens.  The enemies meet, and respect and like, even love each other, almost from the beginning.  It’s a tragedy, of course, with one of them dying. Like Arthur and his knights, it’s a tale of chivalry, deep love, honour.  The highlands during this desperate time are evocatively brought to life. Ms Broster uses Gaelic phrases occasionally especially in the beautifully romantic encounters with Ewan’s dearly loved wife and I felt this added to the charm of the magnificent and historically accurate writing.   It’s a stand-alone novel but the reader will want to carry on to read the two others that complete the trilogy,  The Gleam in the North and The Dark Mile.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter                                 
Amy Tan    

This has got to be the most moving story I have read this year. For years it sat on a pile waiting to be read and something continually got in the way – I think I was somehow afraid of it – when I finally plucked up courage I found that it was so beautifully written, so fascinating, so full of love that when it was finished I was distraught.  I missed the characters so much.   It’s a story rich in Chinese history and culture.  It’s full of emotion, of such insight into human personality – there’s unbelievable suffering and tragedy, and love in so many guises, the heart-stopping exposition of the love of a mother for her child, a delicate love story, a very modern picture of a bi-cultural marriage.  Quite simply it is a must read.

Young Bess                                                               
Margaret Irwin    

It’s universally accepted that Irwin was a master of historical fiction.  Her research was meticulous but how beautifully she mixed it with first-rate story telling. 
The Bess of this novel is, of course, Elizabeth, daughter of  Henry V111 and Anne Boleyn.  In this novel we see Young Bess learn to watch constantly for the political games  being played out around her.
When her father – sometimes spoiling her but more often totally ignoring her – dies, things look up.  Katherine Parr, her last step-mother, takes the 12 yr old into her household BUT Katherine has a new husband, Thomas Seymour, and he is playing a very risky game.  Flirting with his wife’s ward who is not only the new king’s sister but second-in-line to the throne is sheer folly, not only for him but for Elizabeth and, in that Court, there were too many people who would do or say anything to advance their own families and careers.
The Seymours were the most powerful family – having married their sister, Jane, to the King and Jane having the good fortune to present Henry with a legitimate son.  But they too have their enemies and eventually, as a result of rumours about improper relations between the princess, who certainly seems to have been fond of Thomas, and her new stepfather, Thomas is arrested.  A lie, that Elizabeth was already pregnant by Seymour, was ‘believed’ by those who wished to believe and for some time the young princess is in grave danger.
As we all know, she survived, and became one of England’s greatest sovereigns but, even so the reader gasps with every twist and turn of this story of how she was treated by the despicable self-serving people whose main aim should have been to keep her safe. 

St Thomas’s Eve                                                                       
Jean Plaidy

This novel begins when Thomas More comes to the attention of Henry V11 who warns his son against More, a man of unimpeachable integrity and moral courage, and ends with More’s death, ordered by Henry V111.
An enthralling story of a grim period in history, told with rare skill.  The period detail and the characters are vividly brought to life by this accomplished novelist and historian.
Thomas More is a humble man, a family man, lawyer, writer – and devout Roman Catholic.  Henry V111 is a man of giant appetites, the greatest and most powerful of these being his thirst for power.
Early in their tumultuous relationship, the king admires and respects Thomas More, so much so that he wants him to become Chancellor, an honour More resists.  He is not blind to the king’s appetites and foresees problems but is at last unable to resist pressure.  Unfortunately for him his religious fervour and integrity rise as rapidly as his career.
His beloved daughter, Meg, falls in love with a young lawyer, Will Roper- a student in More’s own home - who has read Martin Luther’s teachings and is drawn to the idea of the new religion, and despite his own strong convictions, Thomas allows Meg to marry. The young couple are aware that her father fully understands the perils of his existence and is prepared to accept the ultimate sacrifice rather than abandon his principles.  History, of course, has already told the reader Thomas’s fate.  The last few scenes in the book where Meg and Will risk their own lives to remove Thomas’s head from the pole on which it has been placed and row it back home to Chelsea will stay long with the reader.

I just couldn’t make up my mind about ten favourite novels.  How does one choose between As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCarthy, Winter in Madrid   by C J Sansom,     Green Dolphin Street  by  Elizabeth Goudge,  The Red Badge of Courage  by Stephen Crane,  The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara,   The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, Nigel Tranter’s  The Riven Realm, Rose Tremaine’s  Colour and too many others?                         

And recently I read a really fascinating book called The Secret Mandarin by one Sara Sheridan.  I couldn’t believe that she has never been to China because I went with her on the journey – every exhausting step of the way.    A cup of tea will never again be swallowed so carelessly!   . 
Sara and I hope you will find at least one new novel among our selections. We did.  Enjoy!


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Spring/Summer 2010
STOP PRESS: Edinburgh Festival date with me and Sara Sheridan
find out more here

Loch Melfort
Loch Melfort

Is there anything more romantic than a Scottish wedding? Well, yes, if it’s a military wedding on the shores of a loch in Agyll. 
At the end of March we attended a wedding at Loch Melfort.  All weddings are romantic or at least they should be, but this one was very special.  The groom is a soldier and there were many men in fabulous uniforms there, and at least five of them, the bridegroom and a guard of honour, carried swords.    The bride and her two ‘best women’ were wrapped in beautiful Scottish shawls.
The invitations stated ‘Posh frocks and wellington boots.’   I had my posh frock, my Wellingtons, pink and purple, plus a full-length coat and a fur hat – I was taking no chances - and so did most of the female guests. The honour guard escorted all the guests down to the loch side where the minister, his robes blowing around him, stood waiting, his back to the waves which battered against the rocks.  On another rock just off to the side, stood a handsome young piper - the bride’s brother - who played stirring music while we waited for the bride.
The piper began to play the hauntingly beautiful and appropriate Highland Cathedral - the bride was on her way.
And then the heavens opened!
First came the two ‘best women’ attired in posh frocks and Wellingtons but wearing their glorious shawls.  Then the bride with her kilted father, her exquisite gown hidden under a full-length tweed coat.  Around her was her shawl and in her hands a lovely bouquet of white roses.  The one thing that stopped the onlookers from thinking we were in either a Hollywood block bluster or a medieval re-enactment was the use of umbrellas!!  At several times during the lovely service the mother of the groom, standing just behind him and seeing his not-inconsiderable muscles strain as he held his bride and her umbrella, thought that at the next gust of wind bride, groom, minister et al might well disappear like Mary Poppins into the sky.  Puts a whole new meaning to Over the sea to Skye, except there in Argyll it would have been over the sea to Jura!  We couldn’t hold back the giggles as one of the ‘best’ ladies began to read The Apache Wedding Prayer   - And you will feel no more rain etcetera.
Well, the bride was dry under that umbrella but as for the rest of us…
The celebrations went on into the wee sma oors with a magnificent dinner which included a wedding cake made of cheese!! Fabulous and quite beautiful.  The groom never eats cake, the bride and some of her family are allergic to wheat but everyone likes cheese.  I see this idea really taking off.
The bride is a successful events organiser and one of her colleagues provided a fireworks display. 

This picture is by my friend, Jenny Harper.  It was stunningly beautiful.

The young ones danced into the wee sma oors to music provided by an accordionist, Calum Ross, the hotel owner who is a really fine fiddler - and a certain well-known Scottish MSP who did sterling service on the spoons!

I can’t speak highly enough of the beautiful and comfortable Loch Melfort Hotel which has to have the most beautiful views in Scotland.  The food is fabulous and, as a matter of fact, our younger son, who had driven up with his wife from London, is still complaining that Pippa made him leave before breakfast on Sunday so that they could get home before their baby, my darling Barnaby, went to sleep.  A adores his son but he keeps thinking of fabulous black pudding, locally sourced sausages and eggs, bacon, fabulous coffee etcetera.  For dog people, the first time we went to Loch Melfort, we took our – shall I say exuberant - chocolate lab with us.  He was made very welcome – the hotel has rooms especially designed for people who cannot leave a beloved pet at home – and he likes nothing better than an early swim in the loch, especially with any young soldier who happens to be around!

Unfortunately I have not yet mastered photography in a gale and so can’t show you any pictures of the wedding itself – I have some splendid photographs of rain!!

Now it’s May and I’m looking out into the branches of a blossom-covered cherry tree – a  superb CD of Don Giovanni is playing in the background and my agent has just  ’phoned to say she likes what’s she’s read - so far - of the proposal I’m working on.  See writer jumping up and down in glee and not in time to Mozart’s glorious score.  (Incidentally I can’t work if anyone is singing but I do listen when I’m writing letters or updating my website – which is why I rarely write a decent letter and rarely update!!)

Back to the proposal – I am delighted because I have been working on it for weeks and it’s been rejected three or is it four times.  At the same time I’ve been judging a novel competition for a writing group.  Some entries showed tremendous ability but often I found myself wondering if I was spending more time on the entry than the writer had and I asked myself why I should take the writer seriously if he or she didn’t seem to take their own work very seriously.  READ, REREAD, EDIT, AND EDIT AGAIN, SET IT OUT PROPERLY.   That’s the error I can’t get my head around.  It’s not necessary to join a writing group to learn how to set out a manuscript - Surely if you read a book, you see how a page should look. Anyway I did my best and only hope it was good enough.  (I did tell one commended writer that I didn’t think a policeman would behave as his central character had. Found out the writer was a VERY senior retired policeman!! Oops.)

We’ve been travelling, first to South Carolina to meet up with the family who unofficially adopted me when I first went to Washing to DC .  The matriarch of the family had just died aged 97 and we gathered to say goodbye.  Her oldest grandson made a remark that has stuck with me.  He said, ‘Until this year I didn’t realize that Grandmother was getting old.’   Neither did I.

About ten days before P’s death, our younger son’s godfather died in New Zealand  but we couldn’t attend that farewell.   We met him when we moved to California after our marriage and have seen little of his family for the past twenty-five years but it didn’t make any difference to our friendship.  Each time we met or talked it was as if we were merely continuing a conversation.

We’ll miss you both but never forget everything you taught us.

We took ourselves off to Venice for a few days to cheer ourselves up.  We had been upgraded to the Hotel Palazzo Giovanelli which is in the San Croce area of Venice and just beside the San Stae vaporetto stop.  

Hotel Palazzo

Hotel Palazzo

The hotel had only been open a few weeks after having lain empty for thirty years.  For hundreds of years it was the Venice home of the Giovanelli family and a very good architect has restored the house, incorporating original stonework and painted beams where possible.  Our room, overlooking  the lovely church of San Stae (I think that’s Venetian, not Italian, for Eustace) boasted original beams but everything else was the last word in modern efficiency.


Beams in Bedroom

Had there been a large enough window in the bathroom, I would have been tempted to spend more time in there, but who can linger in even the most luxurious and friendly hotel when Venice is waiting.  We walked almost everywhere for Venice is surprisingly easy to negotiate.  We stumbled on the church of Saint Barnaba and so had to take pictures for our baby grandson!  Besides my all-time favourite policeman,  Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti, had just walked past the same Campo in the novel I was reading, ABOUT FACE.          

We overdosed on spirituality and paintings in the magnificent Frari’s Basilica but, although I was moved to tears when I found myself in front of the St Mark’s Basilico, I didn’t sense much in the way of spirituality.  Perhaps it’s because the first time I went to St Mark’s I was, believe it or not, completely alone, apart from one or two members of religious orders – anyway, that’s how I remember it.

A concert of music by Vivaldi in one of the famous music schools and some fabulous meals – what a Venetian chef does with baby artichokes has to be eaten to be believed – cheered me up no end.  I really liked the people too, not just the employees of our hotel who were fantastic but the shopkeepers, waiters, people in the street.  We got lost after attending the concert and a young boy took pity on us and led us through a maze of alleyways and across bridges until we recognized our area, and all he wanted was to be friendly – and to speak English.

We’re already looking forward to another visit.

I have at last finished my WIP, which I have called The Summer House.  My agent took it to the London Book Fair and my lovely German publisher has bought it.  I’m sure it’s being read in a London publisher’s as I write.
The People’s Friend magazine has finally accepted my last episode of a serial I’ve been writing.  I’m so pleased as it was written for my sister, Anne, who died eighteen months ago.  Visiting her, year after year, in one hospital or another I was always moved by the professionalism of everyone involved in her care.  So, Dumfries Royal Infirmary, one of the girls in my serial is a nurse on a dialysis ward.  I hope you’ll all like her. I do


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Winter 2009/10
THE book is finished. Well, not exactly. I told my agent that it was finished and, since it’s so important for me to get it right this time, T asked me if I could find a reliable friend to read it - with several salient points in mind - before I sent it to her. Well, I am surely blessed for a dear friend, a far more successful writer than I, immediately put her entire life on hold to read my manuscript and to comment. I am immensely grateful. I searched out the bits of her crit that said, Wonderful writing, and groaned at all the ’you have got to be joking’ parts - (not serious!!) but, guess who will spend Christmas rewriting - when not playing with my adorable baby grandson who is spending his first Christmas with us?
Here’s a lovely picture of him having a wonderful time emptying his mother’s handbag.
We put B on the floor beside Pippa's chair.  The lovely waitress insisted on putting a beautifully laundered table cloth on the floor for him to sit on.  He sat there while we finished our delicious lunch, calmly taking everything out of his mum's handbag and causing much mirth.

I was going to write this as a page in the ‘A Day in the Life of…’ but I won’t. No one would be interested in a typical day lately. We have had tradesmen in, joiners and painters. There’s a stone mason leaping like a gazelle all over the roof as I write. I spoke to one of them about noise.
‘Oh, I thought all you did was write wee stories.’
Absolutely right. That’s all I do. I prefer, however, to write said ‘wee stories’ in silence.
Now it’s impossible to have someone sand floors in silence and I can work around that. Have laptop will travel! But for me, even great music is no more than a noise when I’m trying to work.
Today I have cleaned three pictures - dust gets everywhere - and my better half has re-hung them, a task that requires much thought and consultation, and I have tried to update and print out the Christmas card lists. Quite sad this year - too many names removed - but also happy as we added new friends. I have even managed to write a bit of a ‘wee story.’ Is it any good? Time will tell.

So what fascinating things have happened since I last wrote. I promised to write about a wonderful concert we attended and, since I now have some pictures, here goes.
The concert took place in the ancient crypt of St Athernase Church in Leuchars in Fife. I’m ashamed to say I lived near this historical building for four years, meant to go in and never did. The loss was mine. Built in the late 12th century this glorious building has managed to survive - in part - despite concerted efforts to ‘improve’ it. Inside there remains the 12th century chancel and apse, (probably the second finest piece of Norman work in the whole of Britain) and it was here, in this sacred medieval place, that Angus Anderson, former leader of the orchestra of Scottish opera, and some friends, including the sublime Jennifer Galloway, Principal Oboe of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, gathered to play in aid of church funds.
Angus Anderson, Paul Livingstone, violins, Kay Stephen, viola, and Rachel Sanders-Hewitt, cello, playing the Mendelssohn string quartet.

I don’t know much about music. In fact the more I study and learn the more I realize just how little I know. But I believe I know when it’s good and some of the music that enchanted evening was sublime. The late great Lesley Crowther said at a Christmas concert over forty years ago, ‘The oboe is an ill wind that nobody blows any good!’ Dear Lesley never heard Jenny Galloway. Her breath control, her beauty of phrasing, her technical skill but above all the sheer beauty of the sound she makes - what can I say? It was sheer magic.
All six musicians deserve their own stream of praise but the young violinist, Paul Livingston, took my breath away with his playing - with Kay Stephen - of his own arrangement of Bist Du Bei Mir, formerly attributed to Bach. I absolutely love this piece of music and was unbelievably moved by the music and by the youth of these two players. What we all have to look forward to if this is how they can play now.
Bist du bei Mir here.
Paul Livingston and Kay Stephen playing Stephen's beautiful arrangement of Bist Du Bei Mir.

The other players were Stephen Shakeshaft, former Principal Viola with the RSNO, and Rachel Sanders- Hewitt, cellist. We have heard Angus and Stephen many times over the years but never before in such an intimate setting and it was a privilege to be there and to hear the musicians of tomorrow.
Greater joys were in store for Angus hosted a party at his home after the concert. I could hardly believe it - me, in the same room as these musicians, and no one threw me out as an interloper. I had congratulated young Paul on his playing and just as my husband and I were preparing to leave he told me that he was going to play Bist Du Bei Mir, just for me, in Angus’s music room. I will never forget it and can hear every note in my head still. The arrangement was for two violins and Paul, as before, played first violin and the second violin was played by Angus himself. What was even more exciting was that Paul was playing a brand new violin crafted for Angus by Scottish violin maker, Colin Adamson. Colin was there too to hear his violin and I’ll talk more about this brilliant man another time. The picture of Angus and Jenny was taken, as were the other pictures of the evening, by Colin and I thank him for sharing them with me.

Violinist, Angus Anderson and oboist, Jennifer Galloway.

November brought more fun. There was a party - to celebrate the launch of the RNA 50th anniversary anthology - at the Cavalry and Guards Club on Piccadilly. Many of the contributors attended, some agents, and some editors. The club is rather splendid, the food and wine delicious, and I must say we all enjoyed tripping up and down the marvellous staircase and posing there for photographs. This photograph was taken by Phil Weedon...
Here are many of the contributors to the anthology, Loves Me Loves Me Not, on the rather splendid staircase at the Cavalry and Guards Club.  The photographer of this picture and the one of Jenny, Diane and me is Philip Weedon

My agent, Teresa Chris, was there and we had a marvellous ’catching-up’. We email and telephone regularly but there really is nothing like talking face to face. My husband took this picture of Teresa -in the middle - with me and another of her clients, the talented Debby Holt.
Debbie Holt, our agent Teresa Chris, and me at the Loves Me Loves Me not launch party
I had bought a few copies of the anthology to give to my ‘girls’ but unfortunately left them on my bed in a friend’s house and so I could only watch as others had their copies signed.
The president of the Romantic Novelists Association, Diane Pearson, has a special place in my heart - she knows why!! - and so it was lovely, not only to be next to her in the anthology but to be with her at the party.
The launch of LMLMN.  Here I am with the lovely Jenny Haddon, former chair of the RNA and the wonderful Diane Pearson, writer and former senior editor at Trans World.
(This treasured picture was also taken by Phil Weedon.)

Determined to work on my manuscript, I returned home and have been very hard working - Christmas shopping, preparing meals, hovering up dust!!! We did however, have one more lovely event.
We went into Edinburgh to the historical Canongate Kirk to hear Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, all six parts.
It was sublime. We went with Edinburgh friends, and can’t thank them enough. If we’re lucky enough to attend next year I plan to take a cushion. Presbyterian church benches are awfully hard.
Mind you, most of the time one was only aware of the music. I had never heard Ludus Baroque, a baroque chamber orchestra, before but boy will we look out for them again. The chorus was stunning, and the soloists, absolutely mind-blowing. I have to say that I immediately fell in like with the counter-tenor, Robin Blaze. The voice is superb but what a quality of enjoyment he brings to his singing and therefore to everyone who is listening to him.
An absolutely joyous evening and a perfect beginning to the Christmas season.
Finally, to finish, my dearest daughter-in-law elect has just sent me a message from the sublime George Clooney. With a glass of champers in his hand and as many sparkles in his eyes, he wishes me - okay, and you - a wonderful Christmas and a Fabulous New Year.


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Autumn 2009

It’s a particularly nasty day here in Angus; rain is falling steadily and we hear that it threatens to continue for some days.  One morning in late summer we woke to find ourselves living in a lake and with two bursting streams dashing down - one on either side of the house - into the wood. 

Ian and the joiner, bless him, spent a day constructing a barrier between the top of the garden and the field which is, unfortunately, where rainwater gathers, forms a lake and then spills out into our garden.  It’s a rare occurrence but each time it’s worse than the time before and so we are watching the rain, the field and the barrier with bated breath...

The end of July was particularly ghastly - our lovely Springer spaniel, Zebedee, left us after sixteen years.  He had been failing for some time and once when we took him to our Vet, the Vet said to me, ‘Zeb’s ready to leave but you’re not.’  Actually I don’t see myself as a 'dog person.’  I like animals well enough, think horses are the most beautiful creatures in the animal kingdom, but I have never wanted animals in my home.  A houseful of animal-mad boys and men demanded some give and take and so for twenty-three years we have lived with dogs: deerhounds, spaniels and totally insane but delightful chocolate Labradors.  Lately, Dougal, the lab, has lived mainly with our soldier son’s fiancée, but Zeb stayed, content to wander around the garden occasionally, to eat frugally and to sleep - most of the time.  Now he was clearly saying, ‘It’s time to go, family.’  And the vet was saying that I wasn’t ready.  I burst into tears - not good for Zebbie - and went out to sit in the car.  Eventually Ian carried him back to me and we took him home.  Before we reached the house I was almost sure that I had been utterly selfish but we made him comfortable, threw out all the rules about what dogs should eat and fed him  little bits of whatever he fancied.  Dougal came home, lay down beside him, and looked at me with great sad brown eyes.  My dear friend, the lovely novelist - and dog person extraordinaire - Anita Burgh, wrote telling me that often dogs stay for us when they really want to leave.  How right she was.  We sat with Zeb for two days and then Ian took him back to the Vet.  I’m ashamed to say that I chickened out  and my dear Ian went through it alone.

It’s two months now and we miss him every minute of the day.  I wake expecting to hear him; I hear myself saying, Zebbie’ll love a bit of this.’
But we have decided not to have another dog.  Young Barnaby’s parents are talking about buying a puppy, and there’s Dougal  who likes the odd weekend in the country; I’m sure the years ahead will involve baby-sitting of various kinds.

My young friend, Alison Daniels, being presented with the romance prize by our lovely chair, Katie Fforde.   Well done, Alison

August was a book month, buying, reading or hearing writers speak about them - or even speaking about them myself.   On August 31st  I ran a workshop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and enjoyed it very much.  I was surprised and delighted to find that all places had been taken and I do hope that the participants learned something useful.   A great deal of work goes into events like this and it’s always nice to feel that it’s worthwhile.

One writer asked me if Mills and Boon editors allowed sex in the books!  What worried me about the question was that the student hoped to write for the line.  Basic - read the line first.

In early September I heard Ian Rankin read from and talk about his latest book, The Complaints.  What an articulate, intelligent man he is.  I heard him speaking on Radio 3 programme a few weeks later and, apart from his often terrible taste in music, it was a fascinating hour!!! (Actually I have to admit to enjoying some of it.  One day I‘m sure he‘ll discover Beethoven‘s Fidelio!)

At the beginning of December I heard another favourite, Bernard MacLaverty, speak at the main library in Dundee.   He reads his own work so well but his answers to audience questions were both fascinating and generous.  At one point a woman asked him how on earth he had managed to get into the mind of  a woman who has just given birth.  See his phenomenal novel Grace Notes. 
‘But they’re my feelings,’ says he. 

He went on to explain what it had been like for him to see his firstborn child and, of course, when he had come to write that lovely scene, he had looked into himself to explain how she felt.

I used Mr MacLaverty’s talk in one I gave to a group of writers at Durham University.  Never have I seen so many male heads nodding in agreement to something I have said - or, more accurately, that I have reported.

Teresa, my agent

Meanwhile I have submitted early chapters of my novel to my agent who has now read it and pronounced.   Basically she likes what I’m doing but, as always, she had some interesting observations.  A good agent is, like a good husband, someone to be cherished.  I don’t always like what she has to say but more often it’s as if little and sometimes big light bulbs are going off in my head.  I am quite happily back at the ’drawing board.’

  I have just finished episode 5 of my serial for The People’s Friend and I will drive into Dundee with it rather than risk it to the vagaries of the postal system.

Books enjoyed since I last updated.

Henning Mankel  Before the Frost
I loved this; I’ve seen adaptations of the Wallender novels and thought I’d enjoy reading them and I found this book, the first featuring Wallender’s daughter, just entering the police force.  Daddy’s around to make sure all is well but young Ms Wallender does a really good job on her own.  I shall look out for more.

Kate Atkinson  One Good Turn
Ms Atkinson has done it again.  There’s a chapter in this book that should be bronzed for the nation.  Actually we should cherish the whole book.  It’s a literary novel, a fantastic crime story, a cast of characters that only the most superb of ‘people watchers’ could paint for us, irrepressible humour and Jackson Brodie.  Who could want more? 
Me, actually.  Please, Miss Atkinson, when does the next one hit the book stores?

 Ian Rankin  The Complaints
I enjoyed this book very much - and incidentally so did my baby grandson who attempted to cut his first tooth on Granny’s new hardback!  There’s a very complex plot, a new protagonist whom I must confess to liking much more than the fabled Rebus, several other likeable characters - one at least so engaging that I found myself sending up silent prayers that he wouldn’t turn out to be a ’bad guy.’  Mr Rankin’s plots always make me shiver and I followed every thread he spun right to the last page where I found myself saying, Oh, of course. 
I look forward to the next one.

Frances Mayes  Bella Tuscany   
I can’t seem to read enough about Italy and  that glorious place, Tuscany.  Gardening, wine making, cooking, exploring, everything is here.  I lend these books but can’t give them away.  Dreich day here in Bonny Scotland and a quick dip into Bella Tuscany and all is right again with my world.  

Amy Tan  The Bonesetter’s Daughter.
I thought I had read this book but when furniture was moved during some redecorating I found an entire TBR heap and right on top, this mystical, magical book.  Exquisite writing, so much information about China, history, art, painting, and the tragic comic story of three generations of the same family plus a delicate and poignant love scene that takes place in a grotty room in an old orphanage. I will never forget Precious Auntie or Ruth or Liu Ling and was quite sad when I read the last word.  I’ve not read Ms Tan before but I look forward to months of pleasure with her back list.

So there we are.  I seemed to spend a great deal of time rewriting or researching for my two big workshops.  As always I looked to friends for help and would recommend the blogs of Anita Burgh, Kate Harrison, Liz Fenwick, Jenny Haddon and the Romantic Novelists Association.  Each of these blogs and web sites will lead you to many others.  I know I’ve forgotten someone but will mention them next month.
Wilma making magic.

As always music is an important part of my life and there have been incredible evenings, one of which, involving the most superb oboist, two incredibly gifted violinists and a Scottish maker of violins, I will tell you about next time.

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Summer 2009

Today I finished printing out the ‘first’ draft of my latest novel, The Summer House.  I’ve high-lighted the word ‘first’ for I cannot really say how many drafts I’ve written.   Initially I saw the story as the life of one woman; I wrote thousands of words from her point of view but something wasn’t right.  My agent, always helpful, looked at it for me when I felt I was in difficulty.

    ‘Is it possible that you’ve got the wrong heroine; perhaps you should turn it upside down.’

    I went off and read it all again. Before I made a decision real life - and death - got in the way.  I can’t take refuge in a make-believe world when real tragedy strikes and I didn’t write for several months last year.  When I did get back to the WIP I tried, I really did,  but sometimes trying to write a novel seemed somewhat irrelevant with everything that was going on in my own little world and the world in general.  I kept hearing from writer friends about the 3000 words they’d managed to write that day, the 1800 words that made them angry with themselves, the 5000+ that made them happy.  Every day I totalled my score! 68 was a good day!

    In October my husband’s nephew loaned us his house in Tuscany. Italy, most magnanimous of all countries. Tuscany, possibly my favourite place in all the world. We accepted the very generous invitation even though I was having terrible problems with a long-time health issue. Italy wove its magic. Despite almost constant pain I felt creative. I looked out of the bedroom window and saw that I was looking into the branches of a chestnut tree bowed down by the weight of chestnuts. I started to write a children’s story. We went to a chestnut fiesta - another story; we visited Lucca and marvelled at its beauty and at the incredibly delicious fruits of the forest ice-cream. If I could write poetry, Lucca and that ice-cream would certainly feature! If making copious notes is writing then I was writing again. I was certainly thinking.

Once I was back home I looked again at the work in progress and decided that my agent had been correct; the story was being told from the wrong point of view. So what does a poor writer do? All those words covering page after page. I read and read again. Some pieces sounded quite good. Could I rewrite them? Quite frankly I dithered. I remembered something that Ian Rankin, the crime writer, said at a conference. ‘Kill your babies.’ Not so easy to do. It wasn’t even as if I loved them. They merely represented hours, days, weeks of work and I couldn’t bring myself to highlight and press delete.

cliff cottage
The view from Cliff Cottage where I began to ‘kill babies’!

I hadn’t murdered nearly enough of them though and I was writing very little. I looked at my work habits and had to admit that I was spending far too much time answering emails. I used to be able to run a household, read books, read manuscripts and write reports on them, do a little gardening and work on a novel or short story all in one day but I don’t seem to have the energy these days! I had lightened the novel by almost twenty thousand words and have to admit that I felt lighter; it was as if I had been dragging extra weight around, knowing I should diet but not quite being able to make myself. But now I’ve cut Email time too; I read almost everything but I answer only important ones and comment only if I have anything really worthwhile to say. So far no one has missed me!!

BUT I had begun to write and the more relevant material I wrote, the easier it was to delete extraneous material. I still have a long way to go with this particular WIP but ’I can see clearly now the rain has gone.’ I’m trying not to think about it for a week or two but sometimes thoughts catch me off guard and I know that this chapter or that will be better for rewriting. I’m looking forward to it with gathering excitement.
    I am still writing a serial for The People’s Friend.  They do take quite a long time to get back to me with acceptance, rejection or edits though. 

    On SEPT 18TH, MIRA  will publish an anthology of short stories, Loves Me, Loves Me Not,  written by members of the Romantic Novelists Association to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association (1960-2010) and I am delighted to announce that it will feature a short story I wrote especially for the anthology. For the story I returned to my first love - the Regency.  I’m honoured - and a little surprised - to say that I was one of a group of writers who were specifically asked to write for the book.  It had never occurred to me even to attempt to submit to the editor.  I was struggling with the WIP, writing the serial; there was no time to try anything else.  But then I was asked point blank to send in a story and although I wanted to do so - everyone likes to feel wanted - the file in my brain that is labelled Short Stories - Romantic was absolutely empty.
    Believe it or not, one night I dreamed the story which is called The Adventures of Kitty Langlands, and it wrote itself very quickly.
  Loves Me,
        Loves Me Not

    Doesn’t the book have a lovely cover.  I plan to buy a few copies  to give as Christmas presents because there are some favourite writers in there, Joanna Trollope, Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell,  Sue Moorcroft, oh too many to mention.  I look forward to curling up  on the sofa with it.  Join me, on your own sofa!!

    On May 12th Jene Tage in Lissabon (English title Henriqueta’s Treasure) was published by Luebbe in Germany.  I love the cover.  Luebbe have always given me striking covers but I have to say this one is really something out of the ordinary.  Thank you all very much.
Jene Tag in

    What else have I been doing lately?  In June I went off to The Hague with a friend.  We had arranged to spend a weekend at a charming boutique hotel, Hotel Mozaic (www.hotelmozaic.nl) with some other writers.  One writer flew in from Puerto Rico, two actually live in Den Haag and found the hotel for us - and what a find it was - and the rest of us flew in from the UK.  Because of other commitments Jenny and I did not arrive until Saturday morning and we were met in Amsterdam and driven to the hotel - thanks, Jo, that was over and above - where we met the others. 

My room was absolutely beautiful, fantastic bed which turned out to be extremely comfortable, a large and easy to operate shower, the fluffiest of white towels, a carafe of drinking water replaced each day.  Just superb.  For our working sessions we had been given a large room for our private use.  Like all the other rooms the décor was stunning - lots of black and white and silver and - well, it is in Holland - beautiful fresh flowers, water juice, tea and coffee available all day, and one of our number, no, not me, managed to eat quite a few muffins every day.  (Actually I regret not sampling the muffins or the Gouda cheese with cumin seeds, but since everyone talked about that particular cheese all weekend, I bought some at the airport to bring home.  Yummy!) 

    I’m an early riser and was always up and about before the others;  I would go downstairs, pour a lovely cup of coffee and then go out for a walk.  Back, still none of the party about; I’d have more coffee and sit in the television/reading room and write, mostly notes about what I had seen on my walk or the drive from Amsterdam but I did start a short story which I called Best Served Cold.  I think you can work out what that’s about - if I ever finish it!  One morning I chatted to the manageress, who, like the other staff, speaks excellent English.  We chatted about perceptions of Holland, tulips, cheese and windmills, and I asked her about a book that I read over fifty years ago called Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates.  She is much younger than I am so I wasn’t too surprised when she said she had never heard of it.   (When I got home I checked the book out on the Internet and discovered that it was actually written by an American, Mary Mapes Dodge in 1865 - and writers of the world, it’s never been out of print!!   Ms Dodge had never visited The Netherlands but in creating her masterpiece she introduced Americans to the sport of speed skating.  The family values in this lovely book are worth praising and I shall have to find a copy for my grandson. Mind you since he’s only 4 mths old it will be a wee while before he can read it! )
    When the others wandered down we had breakfast.    Absolutely mouth watering; fabulous fresh fruit juices, several types of freshly-baked breads, boiled eggs, meats, cheeses - including the gouda with cumin - cereals, a feast.

    After breakfast we worked.  Several of my fellow guests are fairly new to writing fiction although several of them are established as non-fiction writers or as journalists.  For weeks before our weekend those who wanted their wips critted submitted them to one another on line or emailed them to the technically-challenged -me. A lot of hours were devoted to reading them and thinking and reading again. 
Here's a picture of the girls reading a menu instead of a manuscript, just for a change!

    Like most professionals I have assessed many manuscripts but I have never read so many manuscripts at one time that showed such skill, knowledge and potential.   It really was terribly exciting and if my comments help at all I will be deeply honoured. Some of the group met at a course given by the gifted and generous multi-published writer, Anita Burgh, and all I can say is, ‘Wow, Annie, may I  sign up for one of your classes.’ (www.anitaburgh.com)

    On the Sunday night a friend of one of our group invited us to a Bar-B-Q at her glorious home on a canal.  We sat out in the secluded garden - 
Here’s a picture of me taken in the garden by Debbie Porteous, one of our group - and enjoyed delicious food, a leg of lamb with the most delicious marinade, fine wines- (several of them; thank you to our very generous hosts, cheeses - and stimulating conversation with other guests.  After the meal we went upstairs to the drawing room and sat down looking out over the canals to enjoy a cello concert.  Just below the house a boat was anchored and several young musicians added lovely music to an already incredible evening. 

     This stunningly beautiful house and garden - but not the cellists - are for sale since our hosts are moving abroad.  If anyone is relocating to The Hague I suggest you make an appointment to view quickly as this lovely property will not stay long on the market. 
    It’s Houtweg 1, 2514 BN Den Haag, Netherlands

Books I’ve been reading lately.
Run by Anne Patchet.  Fabulous literary novel. I loved Bel Canto and this book is equally compelling.
When Will there be Good News by Kate Atkinson.  This is the first of the sublime Kate’s crime novels and it is outstanding.  I was totally gripped from the first page and will definitely be looking for the others.
The Lady in the Palazzo by Marlena de Blasi.   I read the first of her ‘Italian’ books a few years ago,  One Thousand Days in Venice and loved it.  My copy spends more time in friends’ homes than in mine; there is a second book about Tuscany that I still have to read.  I can’t quite put my finger on the reason I like her books so much - in this one, for instance, all her characters sound the same, dukes, shepherds, peasant women and I think she is translating, not what people say to her but the idea of what they’re saying, into her own very poetic and literate style.  Maybe I’m wrong; perhaps Italian herdsmen have a classical education.  If so that’s nice.  Whatever it is her books  weave a spell.

    And, of course, I have thoroughly enjoyed my friend Aline Templeton’s latest Marjorie Fleming novel, Dead in the Water.  My husband found my first Aline Templeton book several years ago when he went to our local bookshop looking for ‘a nice clean murder’ to put in my Christmas stocking.  Gordon Dow, bookshop manager per excellence, suggested an Aline Templeton and we have both been hooked ever since.  We met, writers do in Scotland, and became friends.  I met Maggie Craig - Bare Arsed Banditi and One Sweet Moment at a writers’ conference almost twenty years ago and met Chris Longmuir, winner of the 2009 Dundee International Book Prize with her gripping debut novel Dead Wood  at - correct me if I’m wrong, Chris,  a creative writing class in Arbroath around the time that I met Maggie.  I was at the dinner where Chris’s prize was announced and burst into tears of joy.  How hard she has worked over the years and how much she deserves success!
Future Events
August 31st - writing workshop at the Edinburgh International book Festival
October 17th - Talk on writing romance at Durham University.  (Northern Chapter of the Society of Authors.)  There will be a talk earlier about writing crime and I will drive down in time to hear that one too.( Margaret Murphy, author of stunning psychological thrillers.)

    Perhaps I’ll meet some of you at one of these events.

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March 2009

  Read an interview with me in Suite101 Magazine

Spring has sprung... though you'd never know it from the view from my study window!
But more importantly....
Guess who is a granny!! I'm so full of myself you'd think I'd done the whole thing.
This is moi pushing young Barnaby on Wimbledon Common!

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20th January 2009

I did mean to update on the 1st but illness got in the way.  Like millions of people all over the world I have spent the day watching the inauguration of President Barack Obama, laughing and crying and cheering along with everyone.  Wouldn’t change places with him for a million dollars even if it meant that Yo-Yo Ma, Itzak Perlman, Anthony McGill and Gabriela Montero would turn up to play for me – didn’t they all look as if they were enjoying themselves, even in fingerless gloves!  I have attended two inaugurations and still remember how cold it is out there.

    We began the year as we have done for the past twenty years – watching the sublime concert from the glorious golden hall of Vienna’s Musikverein.  This year the music and the dance were as wonderful as ever but there was extra joy for me because the incredible Daniel Barenboim was on the podium.  No scores!  The entire concert conducted without one note of music before him.  I remembered that when President Obama was speaking – no notes, or were they there somewhere?  The world was watching and will be watching – what a weight of responsibility for such slender shoulders – but I believe he is up to the challenge before him and, for what it’s worth, I wish him well.
My husband and I went to the swearing-in ceremony in 1969, really as tourists witnessing an important event in our host country but I got caught up in the 1965 Inauguration and even went to a ball.  That was really something, not so much the ball itself, but the amazing kindness of al the American friends who got me there.  I was teaching in a prestigious girls’ school in DC and lived in the school.  Another teacher, dear kind Mrs Willard, invited me to stay with her so that my date could bring me home after curfew!  I made my dress and I bought a pair of elbow-length kid gloves.  Remember those?  I still have them – scarcely worn.  Then the neighbours got to work on me.  One did my hair, another plucked my eyebrows – ouch, ouch and another prevailed on her husband, an obstetrician – to pierce my ears!!   I still laugh about that.  Tom sat me down on the lavatory seat and gave me two ice cubes, one for each ear.  Then he sterilised two needles and, wham, the deed was done.  I’ve heard that he was a wonderful obstetrician, which is just as well because he wasn’t too hot with ear piercing.  The hole is in a different place  - very slightly – in each ear but every time I’m probing my right ear I think about all those dear people and smile.  The President, Lyndon Johnson, turned up at the ball and that was exciting.  I believe they tried to drop in on every ball being held that night and there were at least ten.  Being me, I found myself wondering if anyone got anything to eat; I’m sure I did.

 There was a small piece in the newspaper that Mr Obama his existed on grilled salmon during his campaign.  Salmon is very nice and extremely nutritious but the piece made me think of all those people who read only romance or only crime or only whatever.  Three times a day salmon.  Or bananas – how boring.  While I was hors de combat I read a few books that had been sitting waiting for some time.  One was The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin.  I think, says she modestly, that this is the best novel he has ever written.  Half the time I don’t understand what’s going on in his books – which I have to say I usually buy for my boys – but I devoured this one.  Superb writing.  Funny thing was, although I really like Ken Stott as an actor and enjoyed his portrayals of Rebus, reading this one, the voice I heard was David Hayman’s.  I love Rankin’s short stories, by the way, and wish he’d find time to write more. Another crime novel I read was by the American writer, Sue Grafton.  It was A is for Alibi.  Yes, an old one and I’m sure I’ve read it before but I love her work and plan to go through them in alphabetical order this year.  (I reread several Agatha Christie’s late last year and I never remember who dun it – so I always enjoy them.)  Then I read a big commercial women’s fiction novel, purported to be the best-selling new novel by the best-selling….  First and last for me, I’m afraid.  I found it self-indulgent; it’s almost as long as War and Peace, but less compelling.  I think the problem was that I didn’t really care for any of the characters or what happened to them and I was terribly disappointed.  I did like the characters in Katie Fforde’s The Wedding Planner.  I usually enjoy Katie’s books; they’re perfect for a few stress-free hours of relaxation so thank you, Ms Fforde, your wedding planner certainly ticked all the boxes.  As always when I’m under the weather, I reread an old favourite, Friend of My Youth, by the great Canadian writer, Alice Monro.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to write like Alice Monro! 
      A few days ago I listened to an interview with Daniel Tammet, the autistic savant.  It was fascinating and on our first day out we bought his new book, Embracing the Wide Sky.  I think I understood what Mr Hammet’s was saying in the interview and really hope I can understand the book.  What chance – this woman who can’t remember the ending of an Agatha Christie – but I’ll try.

    Among my Christmas presents this year were CD’s from our sons.  They know I’m a classical music buff and so imagine my surprise when I opened the packages and found John Denver and Simon and Garfunkel.  Fantastic.  And the most fantastic thing about it is that I have loved these performers for years and my sons, both in their thirties, have discovered them too.  I can still see the expression of amazement on the face of my then sixteen year-old son when I started singing along with a record of Bob Dylan he was playing!!

    Oh, and writing.  Yes, I’ve written a few short stories but am finally on the home strait with my WIP.  Maybe by the next time I update, I will have finished.

    Happy Chinese New Year, everyone. 

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July 2008

Last week we went to Tuscany for a family celebration.  Since we were going to be there for only a few days we decided to stay in a hotel and we were sent some information about the many lovely hotels in the Lunigiana area.  (Lunigiana is that little finger of land that juts up in Northern Tuscany.  The nearby coast is washed by the Gulf of La Spezia.)  The first hotel on the list was Castel del Piano which is a few minutes from Licciana Nardi.  
    I don’t know anyone who would not want to live, for even just a few days, in a castle and my daughter-in-law felt the same. 
We looked up the castle’s website
and we were hooked.
    This ancient fortress was bought a few years ago by a charming and highly-talented couple, Andrea and Sabina Rufaldi, and skilfully and sensitively restored.  There are now two mini-suites, and six rooms all with private and top-of-the-l