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articles about life as a writer


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Latest Entry

Radio Interview

Previous Entries

Christmas Cheer - Early

In Demand!

Meeting Readers

The Road to Recovery

Luncheon at the Scottish Parliament

Lifetime achievements


Game, Set and Match

Computer Crashes and Deadlines

Seven trains to Leicester and Back

Launches, Lunches and a Taste of Scotland

High Notes and Low Notes
Waiting for feedback...
Correcting Proofs and Researching
Receiving Reviews

My Writing Routine
Sorting Out Problems

Radio Interview

It’s February 29th and the postman has just brought me an unexpected gift.  It’s a CD of a Radio programme called I met….. the Kennedys, and it features me being interviewed by the respected Scottish journalist, Kaye Adams.

    Late last year a producer from Radio Scotland rang me to ask if I would participate in a series she wanted to do on people whose lives had been changed by meeting someone famous. To say that I was surprised is an understatement; I can still hardly believe how much she knew about my life.  I was a teacher in the States in the 1960’s and I met many famous people and Mrs Mcphail listed them – some of whom I’d forgotten! 

During my first chat with this clever young woman I couldn’t for the life of me think of any famous person who had changed my life radically.  I can number several very poor people who taught me a lot – about kindness and hard work and gratitude and pride and respect – but I couldn’t think of any ‘famous’ person.  There’s a very lovely lady in her nineties living in Georgia to whom I probably owe more than I owe anyone else – I’m certainly a very different person from the one I might have been had I not had the good fortune to teach at the school her daughters attended, and to be almost adopted by the entire family – but she’s not famous as the World sees fame.

    But is there a writer anywhere who wouldn’t want to be interviewed by Kaye Adams? I thought hard.  Then I realized that a very famous person whom I have met and who has changed my life is the tenor Plácido Domingo.   Opera is my favourite art form and Domingo my favourite tenor and when I was writing Never Call it Loving and Someday Somewhere I called on all my memories of Domingo performances, on everything that I have heard him say and everything he has written about his art and a great deal that has been written about him and, of course, I listened over and over again to many of his glorious recordings.  Research is fun!  I think the novels are good.  Many people agree with me but they would not be good if I didn’t know what the world of a famous singer is really like.

    When I got to the studio I realized very quickly that Miss Adams had done a great deal of research on me – I can’t think it was much fun – and that we were ‘singing from different hymn sheets.’  She thought I was there to talk about the extended family of President John Kennedy and I thought I was there to talk about Señor Domingo.
Now, I’m not really used to being interviewed by very respected, well-prepared journalists; time was passing and I hadn’t mentioned my books or the tenor.  Finally I plucked up courage to mention him and I will never forget Kaye’s face.  She certainly had not been expecting it, but, bless her, like a true professional she was right in there with questions I was happy to answer.
I like to think the programme, the first of a really interesting series, was good.  I’m off to play my CD to find out for sure.

Christmas Cheer - Early
The day starts with a cup of coffee – in bed.  Lovely.  I enjoy sitting up sipping coffee and looking out of the windows.  Then I go to the desktop, which is the only machine attached to the Internet and access my emails.  Too much spam, if spam is the word for all those ghastly messages offering to sell me things in which I have no interest – and I am not talking ‘watches at knock-down prices.’  If I’m very lucky there will be a message from one or other of my sons, some business mails, and chat from friends, sometimes with really ribald jokes attached.  Sometimes the early morning needs a really ‘good’ ribald joke.

I answer the mail, have another cup of coffee and get ready for the day.  Monday was unusual.  I took the train into Edinburgh to meet a business associate, who is also a friend, who was taking me to a talk I had agreed to give at a home for the elderly.  Although I had been quite full of trepidation I loved the visit. The staff was delightful and the residents were interested, interesting and, for the most part, lively.  They listened to me chatter for about 45 mins during which very few fell asleep – and then, although they must have been anxious for tea, they asked questions, intelligent and searching ones. I hope they enjoyed the visit as much as I did.

I didn’t sell a single book during the visit: not a book was in sight, but for me it was a great success.  Oh, I will be paid for the visit.  The lovely, supportive Diane Allen from the Ulverscroft Publishing Company sponsored my visit and Ulverscroft takes care of its writers, but I loved talking to the residents, including one lady who has actually written a little book about her feelings on losing her husband. She wanted to know about finding an agent.  Fantastic.  I visited a home recently where the residents seemed to sit staring at walls all day while unwatched televisions droned around them.  This was so different.  Well done, Staff.

How do you cheer yourself up when everything is gloomy?
I go to the recycling centre.  My husband calls me a cheap date – I don’t need to be taken to an expensive restaurant and I don’t have to be taken to New York, although I would refuse neither if it were offered.  I go to the local recycling centre.  My family think I’m slightly paranoid but you either recycle or you don’t and since we live too far from town to get pickups we have to do it ourselves.  For three weeks out of every four my laundry room is my private ‘tip’.  It’s a mess; bottles, milk cartons, tins, newspapers; you name it, I recycle it.  There comes a day when I can stand no more and my husband loads everything in to the car and off we go and oh, boy, does my depression lift. I’m not only tidying up my laundry room but I’m saving the planet!!  Every bottle or coffee jar going in to that bin lightens my spirits: every cardboard box or useless unsolicited catalogue disappearing into the great mouths of the appropriate ‘bin’ makes me feel wonderful. I will continue to recycle BUT I have found a naughtier but truly delightful way to lift my spirits.

 I have discovered The House of Farnell which is near Brechin in Angus.  They have a website  http://www.houseoffarnell.co.uk

How to explain this wonderland? It’s a shop with a café attached.  I should be able to do better than that.  After all I am a writer!!
A lovely Danish woman called Paula ..no, that’s not good enough either.  After a long but beautiful drive through Angus, one comes to the tiny village of Farnell and there, in an old church hall or barn – I’m not sure which – Paula Nissen makes magic.  She creates a Danish Christmas Fair, a fairyland.  One enters through a beautifully decorated porch and is met by the scents of coffee or freshly baked Danish pastries or evergreens or candles or… On the right is the shop where not one but two massive wood burning stoves take care of any cold that dares enter.  Don’t look straight ahead. Oh, if you do you will see much to delight for Paula is an artist and cannot put a candle on a table without creating a work of art, but look up and around and down for if you don’t you will miss a great deal.  The light fixtures – this year the theme is stars – are so carefully contrived that even someone like me thinks, ‘Gosh, I could do that.’ That is part of Paula’s genius.  She makes it look simple and in many ways it is, but she is there, all the time, and will answer your questions.  Many of the lovely things on sale are already beautifully wrapped and, since I am spending Christmas with my daughter-in-law’s entire delightful family this year, I have bought several small things already tastefully wrapped by Paula and her team.  On Friday I bought two candles with co-ordinated Christmas napkins, all wrapped up and tied with a pretty ribbon – did I ever tell you that wrapping presents is one of the many things I ‘can’t’ do.  Paula has done it for me.  I bought a lovely linen napkin in a beautiful Christmas napkin ring and I know the friend who will love it – if I don’t keep it for myself!   A black lantern – darling daughter-in-law is in a ‘black’ period – and there are many examples of how to use this lantern and the others in red or white and in sizes from tiny table top to ‘foot-of-the-driveway.
If you can tear yourself away from the shop with its glorious decorations and gift ideas you can go to the café, just across the hall.  It too is beautifully decorated.  Usually we go for ‘coffee and Danish’, lovely coffee with freshly baked Danish pastries, but this year we have stayed for lunch.  We love soup and half a Danish sandwich but I tried the Danish open sandwiches on our last visit and I’m a convert.  Last year I spent some time at a local hospital and I have to say that, lovely though the consultants and staff were, the knowledge that I was going to stop at House of Farnell on my way home certainly speeded my recovery.

Yes, yes, I know it’s only October but every life needs a little stardust and it’s there in plenty with Paul and her elves.  Oh, and by the way, my Christmas cards arrived yesterday!!  I buy from SOS Children’s Villages.  I’ve been involved with this charity for many years now – if it’s good enough for Placido Domingo it’s good enough for me!! Now, I merely have to write them and get them into the post, and since Paula has wrapped several of my Christmas presents I just might manage to have time to write a good story.
I’ll tell you next time.

In Demand!

I had a phone call recently.  The editor of a national magazine rang me up to say that she had loved Rainbow’s End – (that makes three of us!) – and would I consider writing a story for her.  I said ‘yes.’  Later she told me that she had written out two pages of reasons why I should write for her and I had flummoxed her by agreeing without a fight.  Why should I fight?  She likes my work, I respect her magazine and she was offering to pay me.  Starving in a garret lost all its appeal many moons ago. I look forward to working with her.

A few days later I had a telephone call from the Highlands of Scotland.  A ladies group wanted me to speak to them in April of 2008!! I accepted – of course – and asked them where they had heard of me. (I live in hope that someone will call one day who has actually read something I’ve written!) The very nice lady on the phone had heard from a friend that I was a good speaker.  I hope I am but I’m a good writer, am I not?

This is my month for requests.  This time a call from the south of Scotland.  The local literary society wanted me to speak to them in February of 2008!  A member of the society who is actually an old friend from our California days had recommended me as writer and speaker.  I was happy to accept.  I don’t get many calls from literary societies.  Writers who are classed as romantic novelists don’t – especially in the land of my birth.  We are below the salt so mega thanks to this group.  They want a talk based on my talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival last year – The Genre that Dare not Speak its Name.

Why is it not acceptable to the literary establishment that a book has a happy ending?  Murder stories have happy endings – we learn who dun it and he/she gets caught but many of these books – the good ones – are reviewed by the Broadsheets.  Literary festivals are breaking out all over Scotland like nappy rash on a baby’s behind but how many ‘romantic’ novelists are on the stage? You won’t need the fingers of one hand.  Somehow we are unacceptable.  Why?  Answers on a postcard please!   And don’t say the standard of writing, the quality, is lower, because it is not.  There are very badly written books in every genre.
End of tirade.  

The paperback of the German edition of The Stuff of Dreams – Sternschnuppennächte – is out now and it looks lovely. 
SternschnuppennächteBUY NOW! JETZT KAUFEN!
I do like Lubbe’s covers, very atmospheric.

Meeting Readers

My days have been particularly busy these past few months.  Apart from the fun of participating in BBC Scotland’s "Write Here Write Now" programme, I had the privilege of taking part in a few actual on-air programmes.  Love the anonymity of radio broadcasting – no one except the poor producer knows that I needed a haircut!  I was terrified when asked to do a television interview – but the interviewer and the very nice cameraman made it easy or easier than I had expected.  Thanks too to the librarian in Dundee who had gone to a lot of trouble to line up all my titles for a terrific shot!  Thirty minutes of shooting and twenty nine and a half ended up on the old cutting room floor but my hair did look good for the thirty seconds!  A friend told me so – didn’t say a word about my passionate praise of the entire scope of all novels that might possibly be called romantic – but said, and I quote, Saw you on the tele the other day – great hair!!  All bows to young Dawn in Kirriemuir who makes sure that I can leave the house ‘without  frightening the horses.’  The last quote is from my husband.

    Then I went to Killin to discuss Someday, Somewhere with a reading group.  Marion and John Strang very kindly invited me – and my husband - to stay with them in their lovely Bed and Breakfast hotel that is on the Main Street in Killin and very well fed and comfortable we were too.  We’re fond of that area of Scotland and Breadalbane House would make a great base for a holiday.  As some readers have pointed out quite a few of my books have at least one mention of the humble sausage – one lovely lady in Killin had noted that the very rich, very powerful and, oh yes, very handsome Taylor Hartmann in Someday, Somewhere had enjoyed venison sausages.  (Those we get from the butcher in Braemar)   I love sausages, might even claim to be somewhat of an authority , but the Strangs had a new one, a Cumberland sausage made by Mr Comrie in Comrie.  We enjoyed them so much that we stopped in the delightful village of Comrie on the way home and I now have quite a few Comrie sausages in the freezer.

    Oh, I have to tell you about a lovely experience I had at the St Ninian’s library, which is near Stirling.  The superb librarians up there asked me to come to discuss my latest paperback, Rainbow’s End, and off we went.  There was a flatteringly large group of people, including some men, and they asked a number of very pertinent questions and an hour just flew past.  Those of you who have read this book will know that it deals with the ups and downs of a group of highly talented young musicians.  Now I am not a musician, have never pretended to be, and had to do a great deal of research for this book – loving great music and listening to it as often as possible is not counted as research. At the tea and coffee time I was signing books, some for readers who had read me previously and some for readers who had never heard of me before they saw the poster on the library wall – thank you, St Ninian’s – and a very sweet elderly lady came up to speak to me with a copy of A Way of Forgiving for me to sign. When she had finished speaking I almost kissed her.  She had not read me before but had loved the way I spoke about music.  What made that compliment especially meaningful was that she had been a professional accompanist.
I wonder if she knows she made my day.

By the way, I was invited to speak to a group of ‘ladies who lunch’ recently.  What an eye-opener that was.  One had read all my sagas and another had found A Way of Forgiving in a rented cottage in Yorkshire just the week before. ‘I read it because there was nothing else there,’ she said, ‘and I loved it.’  That started a frank and open discussion about titles and covers and one or two of mine were found wanting! Publishers really do work hard to try to get everything right; it’s never a question of ‘Oh, that’ll do,’ but still -  Food for thought.

The Road to Recovery

I’ve found writing difficult lately, part of recovery from debilitating illness, I suppose.  Even getting to my desk was hard and when I got there I wrote nothing of any worth or, at least that’s how it seems to me.  Today, and sorry folks, we’re now into January 2007, I wrote 1500 words and hope to keep some of them!! Recovery may be on the way.
I’ve been listening to a CD.  My husband bought me Aled Jones’s latest for Christmas.  I like Aled but I never believed he would turn into a tenor and he has.  On this CD, The Best of Aled Jones,  he sings two old folk songs that I have always loved and I find the words playing over and over in my head.  The first is Marble Halls – (incidentally there is exquisite cello on this track played by Julian Lloyd Webber) – and the second is Did You Not Hear my Lady.  The words accompany me everywhere and I find that I’ve learned them by heart.  Try sitting at a computer with a blank screen and playing a song like Marble Halls – (we used to sing a very naughty version of this at school) – and see what happens. The blank mind suddenly finds itself working away like billyoo.  Is the singer- the suitor – happy or sad?  Does she love him just the same?  And just the same as – what?  There’s a novel in there.  The same with Did you Not Hear My Lady.  Listening to Aled’s lovely voice and Handel’s exquisite music I find I’m seeing pictures – and the lovesick boy looks a bit like Aled!  Another novel or two or three?  Ideas come rushing in.
Try it.

By the way there is a duet between Aled Jones and probably the finest base-baritone in the world, Bryn Terfel, on the disc.  Panis Angelicus.  It’s a master class from big Bryn on how to colour the voice.  Aled has a lovely tenor but it’s not a big voice.  All I’ll say about Bryn’s – apart from the fact that it is gorgeous - is that when he was singing in the Usher Hall before the refurbishment those of us in the Gods used to look somewhat apprehensively at the cracked ceiling.  (Mind you he controls the voice as effortlessly as he colours it.)  The duet is absolutely lovely and as I listen and appreciate Mr Terfel’s ability, I find myself thinking about ‘colouring’ my writing – too much emphasis there or not enough,  etcetera.  Fabulous stuff.

I’m off to Buckie and Elgin to the libraries on Tuesday January 16th.  Buckie in the afternoon and Elgin in the evening.  If you’re anywhere in the vicinity, please drop in.  I’ll be discussing my latest novel, Rainbow’s End.

Sometime in February, if weather allows, I’m off up to Killin in Perthshire to discuss Someday, Somewhere with one of the reading groups in this lovely Perthshire town.  Since I no longer drive long distances my husband is coming with me. He’s thrilled – he loves the scenery!!

Luncheon at the Scottish Parliament

The RNA luncheon at the Scottish Parliament was, I am delighted to say, a fantastic success.  Only one thing cast a shadow on the day and that was that one of her guests of honour, the lovely Lucilla Andrews – and I use the adjective advisedly – was unable to attend because of illness.  Jenny Haddon, RNA chair, and some other committee members, managed to visit Lucilla and deliver flowers and good wishes.  Not yours truly, unfortunately, since I was sitting up in bed at my friend Joan’s house, redoing the table arrangements!!
It’s always like that, isn’t it?  The organiser rings the restaurant manager on the appointed day, gives him the numbers and then sits down – for hours – trying to decide who should sit where. We had famous writers, new writers, readers, librarians, journalists and editors and I tried to ensure that every single person felt special by being seated at a table with someone they really would enjoy meeting.  Then, of course, there were the requests, the friends who had booked together and nervously wanted to sit together, the friends who wanted to be seated as far apart as possible so that they could compare notes on the train… I worked them all out, rang my friend Jenny Harper who was going to make beautiful seating plans for each table, and then my husband telephoned to say two requests had just arrived – one from a reader on holiday from America who had happened to see the notice of the lunch on my website – could I do anything?

I rang the catering manager – almost sure he’d bite my head off.  He didn’t.  Whatever he thought he said immediately, 'Of course we’ll manage,' and he did. Bless you, Thomas, and all your staff.  They were fantastic.

What did I do then?  Started all over again, of course, and so did Jenny!!
Was it worth it?  Absolutely.
The venue was special and very beautiful and the food was superb.  Robin Harper MSP, who had kindly sponsored our use of the restaurant, gave an impassioned speech about the building. Sue Fletcher from Hodder, representing Lady Stewart, and also, as it happens, Mrs Pilcher’s editor, spoke movingly and sincerely about the writers.  And Rosamunde Pilcher?  She is a star.  No other word for it. She chatted with everyone who wanted to chat; she was photographed by and with everyone who wanted a photograph, and at the end of the lunch she stood up and talked, completely without notes, about the romantic novel.  Rosamunde, we salute you.
Next time I’ll tell you about my nerve wracking but extremely educational stint at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Lifetime achievements

I went to my desk this morning, after five days away at a conference,  and my head is still so full of lovely people and beautiful scenery that I’m finding it difficult to connect with the imaginary people I was so engrossed with last week.  That’s the difficulty  - for me – of being away.  One gets so many other ideas, for stories, for articles, that’s it’s difficult to prioritise.  I need to finish the book I’m writing – usually by the time in the year I’m on the last stages but the new book, called at the moment, Henriqueta’s Journey, is growing like Topsy.  Shall I take a morning to jot down all the ideas for future work or should I work on the novel?  If I don’t write down everything now those precious ideas will melt away like winter snow.

I’m also working very hard on organising a luncheon for the Romantic Novelists Association and I’m thrilled to be doing it – but it is very time consuming.  Now, of course, I have a mega-talented sub committee made up of two writer friends of mine, chosen because they are so talented, knowledgeable and generous, and the workload is shared.  I’ll thank them publicly when I have permission to use their names.
The Society ( http://www.rna-uk.org )  wants to honour the lifetime achievements of three great women writers who all happen to live in Scotland, Mary Stewart, Rosamunde Pilcher and Lucilla Andrews.  Is there a writer or reader out there who has not been inspired, motivated, entranced by one if not all three of these women?

First thing, of course, was to find out if the ladies would be available and I’m so thrilled to say that Lucilla Andrews and Rosamunde Pilcher are free to join us.  Lady Stewart unfortunately is unable to attend but will be represented by her editor.

The luncheon will be held in the new Scottish Parliament on Friday 18th August and if you would like more information or to attend do email me here at the website.  There are still a few places available.   I was rather touched to hear from a delightful young woman in Spain who was so anxious to attend to honour three writers who meant a great deal to her that she telephoned me – all the way from Spain.  Had we been sold out I would have found a space for her!!  Her telephone call, more than anything else, showed me the power of books, of the invisible bond that stretches from the writer to the reader.

What an accolade, Lucilla, Rosamunde, Mary.  We salute you.


I’m trying to write a synopsis; it’s not going well and so I have decided to update the website instead.

Writing a proposal is one thing – I envisage a book about … betrayal, delusion, hypocrisy  whatever and there will be x main characters.  It will take place between x and y and will be set in….
            You get the picture.

            But my publisher wants a detailed synopsis.  It takes me a long time to get to know my characters.  It’s a bit like marriage – you only really get to know your partner once you’ve lived with him/her for a while.  Ergo, how can I tell what x will do in a situation I pull out of the air like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat?  The magician cheats, doesn’t he?  Surely he puts a rabbit in the hat before he starts!  Since my last book was approved I’ve written at least four proposals each of which I think would work into a compelling novel but that takes time and my editor has liked all the ones my agent has shown her but each time she has said, I want a bigger story – where is it?

            Well, it’s in there somewhere but I have to chip it out of the stone.

            That reminds me of The Stone Carvers, the book by the fabulous Canadian writer, Jane Urquhart.  Her characters are carving memorials and the wonderful way Ms Urquhart describes how the carvers find the characters that are already in the stone and slowly, painstakingly bring them out into the world seems to me exactly what a writer does.  So picture me faced by a huge block of marble and I’ve chipped it very badly so far.  Let’s hope by next month I’ll be able to release the beauty and power.

            One brighter note is that I like the cover the brilliant people at Hodder have found for Rainbow’s End, which is now to be published in June.  I have just stopped writing to send it to Janice, my so helpful web-mistress, and so I’m sure that it will be up there for you to look at it. 
Rainbow's End

(Thanks, Janice)

            Other cheery events – my Spanish publisher has now bought both A Way of Forgiving and The Stuff of Dreams.  An Argentinean publisher had offered for A Way of Forgiving and there’s nothing like a little healthy competition!  I’ve become very fond of my German editor over the last few years and she has unfortunately been very ill, but you’ll be glad to know that she’s back at her desk.  She wrote to me to say that she finished reading the manuscript of Rainbow’s End on her way to the operating theatre and told her associate to offer for it.  Thank you, Regina.  She says she was enjoying the story so much she didn’t want to leave it unfinished!  I’m really lucky with the people who work with me.  Not that I want people reading me in such circumstances but it does make a writer feel good to hear stories like this.
            I’ve prevaricated enough.  Back to the synopsis.

Game, Set and Match

Thank goodness the WIP was finished this week for I have watched some outstanding tennis from Wimbledon; it’s the first time I’ve watched in several years.  Grunting turns me right off but I did watch the Sharipova/Davenport match because I really like Davenport –(hoped she’d win the title although Venus Williams was quite superb) - both men’s semi-finals and the finals today.  Thank goodness it only went to three sets – leaves me some working time!!

On Friday I had a long conversation with my British editor who has just read my new novel.  My agent had pointed out two areas where – like Roddick – I need to raise my game!!! Upping of tension when my heroine is having a hard time was the main problem but a sentence here and there will take care of that. But the editor has a concern that I will have to think over very carefully.  I have mentioned the terrible Tsunamis in Asia in this work and that, of course, almost to the day, fixes the novel in time.  Since I have set the main part of the book in a real orchestra in a real London concert hall that might not be a good idea.  What if a member of the ‘real’ orchestra thinks a character is based on or inspired by them?  Needless to say you and I know that my characters are all made up – I have walk on parts for two or three world famous musicians – but I could inadvertently have echoed a real person’s experience with my characters!! Yes, the Tsunami has to go.

I’ll wait until her notes arrive before I do anything and in the meantime I’m making notes for another story. As always happens when a book is finishing new characters start to introduce themselves and so I spend time every day sitting in the garden thinking about a new book which looks as if it will be very different from the previous books.  There are three women - all different generations - and the only man who has shown up so far is a gardener.  I like gardeners. 

There has been time to read too lately.  I’ve read and enjoyed Anita Burgh’s  ‘Distinctions of Class’ – been trying to find time to read that for years, two books from the new imprint, Transita, Pond Lane and Paris by Susie Vereker, and Uphill all the Way, by Sue Moorcroft – nice stories with skilfully created characters and lovely settings – Paris and Malta, and Divided City by Theresa Breslin.  This last book is for teenagers and deals with the sectarian divide in – no, not Belfast, Glasgow.  It’s extremely good, even had me enjoying the football scenes and that takes some doing.  I’ve posted a review of Ms Breslin’s book on a new website www.roundthecampfire.co.uk

Now I’m off to the Romantic Novelists Conference at Egham in Surrey.  I’ll meet friends, make new ones, learn a lot and – my husband talking – buy too many books.

Computer Crashes and Deadlines

February 18th.

It has just begun to snow and I’m a little worried since in twenty minutes I am taking a train to Glasgow where I am, with many other writers, a guest of Glasgow City Council at a dinner they are giving to kick off their book festival, called Aye Write.  I’m giving a talk at the Festival on Saturday 26th and am co-hosting a seminar with my friend, Maggie Craig.  Maggie will be at the dinner tonight and I shall enjoy seeing her.

February 27th.

Well, I caught that train and went to Glasgow and what fun it was.  Since the dinner finished too late for me to catch a train home, I stayed overnight with my friend, Theresa Breslin.  Theresa is, of course, the wonderful children’s writer and we have known each other for several years.  In fact, she came to my classroom when I was a teacher.  We used to be on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland together but have seen very little of each other these past few years, and therefore, it really was a delight to spend some time with her.  Mind you, we stayed up until 2am talking and that’s definitely on the list of things I used to do!!

My laptop computer died or crashed or whatever the term is, last week, and, naturally – Sod’s Law – it chose to do it on the morning after I had stayed up working until midnight and forgot to back up! Aagh.  No excuses and Father Christmas even brought one of those little things like a penknife that one sticks into the back of the computer.  Naturally, being me, I hadn’t got round to figuring out how to work it but my friend, Tansy Hawksley, has given me monosyllabic –idiot proof – instructions and I will be brave enough to try it. David Spink in Arbroath, who services my machines, managed to rescue the document for me so all in all, all I lost was time but the stress of losing material and time, with a looming deadline, is really not worth the stress involved.  Back up constantly!

The new book is finally beginning to jell.  For weeks I was afraid that I was wasting my time; the story just didn’t seem to have life.  My agent, Teresa Chris, seems to have a sixth sense where my mental state is concerned and always rings me when I’m at my lowest ebb.  Two minutes on the phone with her and I’m raring to go.  She always says, Eileen, it’s supposed to be fun, and if it’s not, take a break.  Thinking about myself and my writing habits I realised that when I was writing Someday, Somewhere I walked a lot with our deerhound, Thane.  Since he died, I’ve limited my walks to a nightly walk with my husband and our other two dogs and I’ve decided that’s not enough.  The mind frees itself when one is walking; at least, mine seems to and so every day, after lunch, no matter the weather, out I go, even if it’s just to potter around the garden.  We have several large trees and I collect fallen branches which tidies the garden and feeds the fire in the kitchen where I’m working during the winter; at least I was working there until the laptop died but it’s all fixed and I will pick it up tomorrow! Yippee.  We’ve had some snow recently and I take pictures when I’m out, mainly of the winter sky.  It’s never the same and the colours of clouds are quite amazing.  I’m having CD’s made of the pictures and I’m using them as a research tool.  If I’m writing a scene and I want to describe a winter sky, or the sea with a sinking sun shining on it, all I have to do is to call the pictures up and there they are in glorious colour and always even more beautiful than I remembered.

Books since I last updated.  One of the best, if not the best was Half Broken Things by Morag Joss.   I bought this book and had Morag sign it for my husband as a birthday gift but I had decided not to read it since Morag has abandoned her cellist protagonist and I assumed that I wouldn’t enjoy this book as much.  Was I wrong? It’s mind blowing; the writing is exquisite – she’s a very literary writer, but gently – and the storyline and subplots are so original that I can’t recommend it highly enough.  Morag, being Morag, didn’t tell me the book actually won the Crime Writers Silver Dagger last year and boy, can I see why.

Another wonderful and interesting read was My Life in Music by the great pianist, conductor, and humanitarian, Daniel Barenboim. I have admired this man for many years but did not know this book existed until I needed to find books about or by conductors to read as research material.  How generous he is with advice and sharing of knowledge; he’s very modest and it’s not at all dry and didactic but is a fascinating read even for those of you who have little interest in music.

Most of the other books read this year have been for research, DF Tovey’s splendid, scholarly, but unfinished, Beethoven, being just one.  I’m looking forward to finishing my next book and then I shall wallow in other people’s fiction.

I have just written to my editor to tell her that I can’t meet my deadline.  She knows because Teresa keeps her up to date and because we had breakfast together in London a few weeks ago and I hinted!!! – but I thought I’d write to formally ask for an extension.  Courtesy costs nothing as my late father-in-law used to say.

See you …….. soon!

Seven Trains to Leicester and Back

At the beginning of July I went to the Romantic Novelists Conference in Leicester.  I go to the local station and say, I would like to go to X on such and such a date and usually get a reply something like, ‘Oh, Missus, you can’t get there from here.’  The station staff is wonderful though and always take time to find the most convenient route.  This time it meant three trains down and because of timing four back on the Sunday.  I almost changed my mind about going but I was doing an after dinner talk, my agent was speaking, I like listening to other writers speak, and there are such nice people there.

On the way down I read a book, Katie Fforde’s Saving Grace, just perfect for a long journey – or a beach, a slightly off beat situation which was realistic and therefore interesting and a cast of pleasant characters with one or two ‘pains’ thrown in.  I loved it.

The main speaker at the Conference was Barbara Taylor Bradfield who spoke on Saturday afternoon. I enjoyed listening to her and I did buy a copy of her last paperback.  When A Woman of Substance came out all those years ago I bought it and loved it but this one, Emma’s Secret, was, for me at least, a big disappointment. Too many characters telling each other what they already knew and far too much use of Winston Churchill’s career and speeches.  I’ll be interested to hear what others out there think of it.

On the way home I reread The Devil’s Advocate by Morris L. West which I must have read sometime in the 1960’s.  It was as thrilling a read this year as it was then.  I would love to think someone might reread one of my books forty years or so after first publication and enjoy it all over again.

Not much time to think about writing when I got home as my husband and I turned around and went back down to London.  We were going to a party but in the morning we went to Hodder and had coffee with my editor and said hello to some of the many people who help to make my books a lovely finished article.  The publicist who has worked on both my Hodder books has been head hunted by another company and I shall miss her.  Nothing was ever too much trouble and I wish her well.

But now it’s back to work.  I have a few events in the next few months and visits from my American God daughter and some Spanish friends but other than that it will be nose to the grindstone.  I already know the heroine of my next book, not completely, but she is making herself known and there is a man, a very charismatic and talented man but is he the hero … ?  I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll be able to tell you next month.

Launches, Lunches and a taste of Scotland

March 31st.
(I can’t believe it- look at the date, March!  I actually thought I had finished and published the following half article:-)
What a wonderful day.  My new title A Way of Forgiving is being launched today at the University of Dundee.  The paperback of Someday Somewhere is also being launched at the same event.  The paperback has been chosen as Ottakar's Book of the Month.  This is such a great honour and I am absolutely thrilled.  One of the real perks though is being asked to visit almost every Ottakar’s bookshop in the country to meet the public and to sign copies of the books.  Some shops are doing little tea parties.  I love the idea and hope I’ll meet some of the many people who write to say they have loved this story. 

What a whirlwind I have been on, not all of it good.  You will remember that Someday, Somewhere was short listed for the prestigious Parker RNA romantic novel of the year award. Absolutely great but - suddenly there is an interest in Eileen Ramsay - she’s been around for years and no one has ever paid her the least attention but now!! I’m losing track of the number of interviews I have had, the number of photographers who have become completely lost trying to find our house, which is, to be honest, slightly off the beaten track.  Since there are road works all over the place most journalists arrive very late and much in need of a restorative.  Ah, the powers of a nice cup of tea.

May 5th
- that’s as far as I got but I was soooo sure.  My husband says he can’t understand how anyone can be so sure and so wrong at the same time.  There must be an argument there but I haven’t come up with it yet! 

The books were published - parties in Dundee and Edinburgh - and lots of fun was had by all.  Then I started the mad rush around Scotland which I’ve detailed in my diary

I did not win the Parker RNA award 2004. It was won by another Hodder writer, Jojo Moyes, and so I got to share the champagne!!!  What a day that was.  The announcement luncheon was held at the Savoy, which is a really lovely hotel.  I wanted to buy a new dress and to have my hair done but had no time to do either.  The short listed writers, with their publicists, met at 10.30 and the morning was spent chatting to one another and in having single and group photo shoots.  I equate having my photograph taken with going to the dentist but the photographers were very friendly.  I was able to chat with the historical novelist, Elizabeth Chadwick, whom I had met a few times before and I enjoyed that and it was also lovely meeting the Irish writer, Sheila O’Flannagan.  Agents and editors arrived around noon and we separated to go to the publishers’ parties, which were fun.  My agent, Teresa Chris, and I then went around the room meeting other friends but there was such a crowd, it was impossible to see everyone.

At lunch I chatted with Hodder editor, Sue Fletcher.  Sue edits my friend, David Wishart, and she knows that I enjoy the books of Elizabeth George.  Ms George’s latest book is a book about writing and I now have a copy which I am thoroughly enjoying.  I recommend it to any writer, no matter what their stage.  It’s called Write Away and it’s Ms George’s ‘approach to fiction and the writing life.’  On my other side was a magazine editor whom I knew only from her work.  We had a great chat about vegetarian food and have since exchanged recipes!

The main speaker at the lunch was Professor Germaine Greer.  She’s a very good speaker; in fact she’s probably the most exciting lecturer on Shakespeare that I have ever heard but I can’t say I was impressed by the ‘meat’ of her talk, no matter how well it was delivered.  Chacun à son goût.  If you haven’t read a report there is an excellent one by Sue Moorcraft at www.rna-uk.org/savoy2004.html

            I have finally finished my work in progress, the WIP, as it’s called.  I don’t think I have ever edited a novel with the intensity that I lavished on this one.  Teresa had seen my first novel Someday, Somewhere, as a completed script and then the second one, A Way of Forgiving, she had seen a few chapters at a time.  She was a crutch and I was leaning on her.  This time we agreed that I would try to remember all the lessons I have learned over the past few years and complete the novel ALL ON MY OWN.  Gosh, it was hard but I have to rely on myself and I did it. One thing I needed to do before submitting was to find out some information about flight and I had a lucky break with that one.  I took the publicity girl from Hodder to Dundee airport and while she was waiting to board, thought I’d look for a pilot!!! Would you believe the first man to whom I spoke was a pilot, Forbes Sime, and he is the managing director of ‘ fly Chart Air Ltd’.  Forbes knew the answers to all my questions and, as importantly, he knew the answers to some questions that I had not known I needed to ask about arranging private flights.  That’s the joy of face to face research; experts always tell you more than you thought you needed.  Forbes’s website is www.flychartair.com

 The book was finished and posted to London just before the RNA award lunch.  And yippee, it has worked.  It’s not perfect but it needs only a few ‘tweaks’ here and there. Actually she thinks the book really starts on page 4 and rereading last night I have to say I believe she’s right.  I was teaching a lovely group of writers in Aberdeen last week and one thing I told them was that it is often difficult to know when the story really starts.  So here we have a case of ‘physician, heal thyself.’  I shall be reworking that opening over the next few days so that it is as good as it possibly can be before I submit it to my editor at Hodder.

Next month I hope I’ll be able to tell you that she loves it.

In the meantime, here is an article I wrote for the Glasgow Herald...

Scotland and its writers as an influence on my own work

Scotland is the premier holiday destination for thousands of people.  Is it our food, our hospitality, or is it value for money that reels them in?  Hardly.  Why does at least one major publisher of romantic fiction encourage aspiring writers – except those actually living and working in Scotland- to set their novels here? I myself write what is called commercial women’s fiction, contemporary women’s fiction, and sometimes romantic fiction, and my publisher and my readers love that the stories are set mainly in Scotland.  Why?
It’s because Scotland is seen by millions world-wide as the land of Romance, the land of great glens and misty mountains, inland lochs and stormy seas, the haunting music of the pipes and the even more haunting tragedies of places like Culloden, the triumph of the underdog at Bannockburn, tragic heroines like Mary, Queen of Scots,  heroines to emulate like Flora Macdonald, heroes like…well, no, I’ve grown out of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
This year seven books were short-listed for the prestigious Parker RNA Romantic Novel of the Year award.  Four of the seven are English, one is Irish and two are Scots:  my friend, Isla Dewar, with her lovely book Dancing in a Different Place,  and myself.  Pretty good ratio.   But what is a romantic novel?
Picture in your mind your favourite view of Schiehallion.  There it sits towering above the surrounding hills,  all beautiful, all necessary to complete an exquisite picture.  That’s more or less the plan of any novel with each peak representing a plot or subplot.  If the dominant story line, Schiehallion itself,  is whether in the end the girl will get the boy then it’s a romantic novel.  Simple but it works.  If the tallest peak is whether the wonder detective will get the bad guy, it’s a detective story, a police procedural.  A romantic thriller à la John Buchan is where good versus evil is Schiehallion and the romance is the next peak down.
    My dictionaries state that Romance is – an idealized, poetic or unworldly atmospheric work of literature concerning romantic love or stirring action, medieval tales of chivalry.  Romantic means concerned more with emotion than with form; characterised by or suggestive of romance.  I love the use of the word literature in the definition but I’m not going to define that too.
    The afore mentioned John Buchan loved Scotland; his passion for the countryside is evident in his writings and many of them could easily be classified as romantic novels, both in the simple boy gets girl and in the more idealized stories of Romance, deeds of derring do.  Some of my own favourites, read at an impressionable age, are Green Mantle, Prester John, and John McNab.  Buchan created romantic heroes and liked them so much he used them in several books; Richard Hannay, Dickson McCunn, and Sir Edward Leithen.
    When I was in college  in the early nineteen sixties Dorothy Dunnett created in her book The Game of Kings, Francis Lymond, the consummate romantic hero.  No, no, I hear the  soi-disant literati shout, Dorothy Dunnett was a great historical novelist. Romantic novelist!  Fie on you, Ramsay. I agree that Mrs. Dunnett was first and foremost a historical novelist but she knew perfectly well what she was doing when she created Crawford and sent him buckling and swashing his way across Europe, and in the process stealing and breaking the hearts of women all over the world.  He’s still there, still doing it, almost forty years later.
Does my knowledge of my country’s history affect my writing?  I would say, yes.  As a child I sat in a cave with Robert the Bruce and watched that spider, I crawled through the snows of Culloden Moor- probably dying from some hideous wound- I went over the sea to Skye with the young Pretender. These are the stuff of legend and legend is the stuff of romance.
Other great Scottish writers have written novels where romance plays a large part.  Think of Sir Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian. The heart of the title is partly what Scott saw as the sick heart of some facets of Scottish life and behaviour set against the healing heart of, it has to be said, mainly sturdy peasants like his superb creation, Jeanie Deans.  Ivanhoe is a romantic novel but is also classed as literature. Is that perhaps because it was written by a man?
Another great romantic novelist, avidly devoured in my formative years, is Robert Lewis Stevenson whose stirring tales were very probably responsible for the revival of the Romantic novel at the end of the nineteenth century.  Stevenson paints beautiful word pictures of desolate highlands and rocky coasts; we have high drama, skulduggery, honour, bravery, all ingredients of the Romantic novel par excellence. In Kidnapped he created David Balfour and the romantic and mysterious Jacobite hero, Alan Breck Stewart.  In its sequel, Catriona, he gives us his first fully developed female character.   The unfinished novel Weir of Hermiston, which many authorities claim would have been the ‘great Scottish novel’, also has better pictures of women.
For the purposes of this article I have awarded honorary Scottish nationality to two superb writers whose work influenced me strongly and continues to enthral me.  They are D.K. Broster and Mary Stewart. Mary Stewart has lived in Argyle for many years and Dorothy Kathleen Broster set three of her finest novels in Scotland.  Now known as the Jacobite Trilogy they are The Flight of the Heron which she published in 1927,  The Gleam in the North and The Dark Mile, published two and four years later respectively.  In Ewen Cameron, Miss Broster created a character possibly more complex than Dunnet’s Crawford but equally appealing.  I read the trilogy several times in secondary school although they were not then designated as ‘teenage reading’ and still dip into them, and I also read her French series and still sigh at the thought of the poor Duchesse de Trelan sitting alone remembering the brief passionate love affair with her own husband. They don’t write them like that any more.  French aristocrats saving their best satin suits to wear on the guillotine: ah, the stuff of Romance.
Mary Stewart’s Arthurian novels are intensely romantic but it is her romantic thrillers such as Airs above the Ground that I particularly enjoyed.
Some writers today tend to use Scotland as a piece of elastoplast- bring your walking wounded, especially rich English ones, and Scottish air, Scottish mountains, and salt-of-the-earth farmers or gamekeepers will cure them of all ills and set them on the road to happiness which usually means wedded bliss. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in this and some of them are extremely well written; some are not but the same is true of books in every genre.  For some inexplicable reason only in the wide ranging field of romantic fiction is the worst example of the genre held up as the definitive example of the art form. 
A few weeks ago I got caught in a deluge.  My husband who had read, at an impressionable age, Lin Yutang’s The Importance of Understanding, suggested that I merely relax and enjoy the experience; I was going to get soaked and my expensive shoes would be ruined.  Accept it.  My older son, had he been there, would have picked me up and carried me, shoes intact, to dry land.
    Now that’s Romance.

Sorting out Problems

All my creativity and energy is going into my WIP, that's work in progress! I'm not being patronising; I needed to have the letters explained to me ­ I'm still not sure what a TS is and is a Ts different from a Ms. Answers on a postcard please or by email!
The book just did not seem to be going anywhere and I was getting in a real muddle. I printed everything I'd written out, spread it all over the dining room table- once I'd cleaned up from New Year's Day dinner- and read it and read it again. Then I took a notebook and analysed each chapter. This is not the way I usually work but, would you believe, it seems to be working for me. I saw areas that were weak, and, thank goodness for the morale, saw some bits that were quite good, and found several holes in the story line that needed to be plugged up. There is such a difference between plugging and padding; I certainly do not want to pad the story out but.. Well, I'll give you a 'for instance'. The story hinges on an event that took place twenty years or so before the novel opens. One of the men in my heroine's life wants to help her but all he did for several chapters was think about it. I now have him acting on his impulse much earlier in the story and it makes more sense! That's all I can tell you without spoiling the story! I'm now enjoying myself again; for weeks I was afraid that I was wasting my time, going on and on with a novel that I felt had no life. I would wake up in the middle of the night saying, Why should my heroine love my hero; he's not very loveable. She's an intelligent articulate woman; surely she'd tell him to get lost. And then I realised that I know him, I know his strengths and weaknesses and I know what makes him special. I just hadn't written it down very well. Now his charm, such an overused word, is evident. At least, I hope it is.

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High Notes and Low Notes

No two days have been alike the past few months. My computer was moved into the downstairs hall so that our bedroom could be redecorated (my office is off the bedroom) and so I have been sitting in the hall, trying to work while everybody and his uncle raced past me on journeys up or downstairs. Mind you it was lovely when it was done but I couldn't get back to my office immediately because the dust from stripping the bedroom floor was everywhere. I'm home now and feeling quite reassured again.
As well as working on my synopsis for my third novel for Hodder which is to be called The Stuff of Dreams and which will be published in April 2004, I judged a competition for the Scottish Association of Christian Writers. Quite a difficult thing to do since the standard varied so much and I had no way of knowing where each writer was in his game plan as it were. Still I laboured over it and hope each person benefited from my comments.
The Dundee Book Group of which I am a committee member had a very busy month. We try to have a writer discuss his work with our members at least once every four to six weeks. Lately we had three very different writers within three weeks! That meant at least one committee meeting- there goes the writing- and another afternoon meeting to help stuff envelopes. Three nights to help host the speaker and for me this month two books to read since I was doing the Vote of thanks for two of the speakers. One was the utterly charming Santa Montefiore, author of The Forget-me-Not Sonata, a lovely story of family secrets which is set in Argentina, and the other was the foreign correspondent and broadcaster Jeremy Bowen who was discussing his book on The Six Day War. Having both Israeli and Arab friends this area of the world interests me deeply and Jeremy has written a very readable and accessible book which explains quite a lot that I had found confusing. And by the way, he's charmer too!
One morning Teresa rang to tell me Schmetterlingstage, the German edition of Someday, Somewhere had been bought by a book club in Germany ­ so lots more happy dancing round the kitchen. Note to self- next time, take a mop and a bucket of water and kill two birds with one stone.
Next an invitation to 'say a few words' at the launch of a new book about the literary scene in Dundee. Have you ever noticed that the shorter the talk, the longer it takes you to write down the gist of what you're going to say? Anyway, the book is called Dundee's Literary Lives and is by the Dundee writer Andrew Murray Scott; having read the proofs I have to say it's fascinating. What a lot of thorough research, Andy. Well done. (p.s. I'm in it!)
Back to the new novel and then time out to begin to put together something on 'My life in Opera' for The Friends of Scottish Opera-Tayside Branch. In a moment of conceit I agreed to be the speaker at their Christmas meeting. Help! They all know more about opera than I do.
Other books read lately. Finally bought Chocolat by Joann Harris and loved it and Mr Golightly's holiday by Salley Vickers which I did not enjoy quite so much and yet I had loved Miss Garnet's holiday. I read a proof copy of the wonderful Joanna Trollope's new book Brother and Sister. I like the later books so much better than the Aga sagas. Isn't it fun that we all have different tastes? A friend has just sent me The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor which may have to wait until the new book is finished and another friend gave me a stunning cookbook called La France Gourmande by Marolyn Charpentier, an American travel writer who now lives in France with her French husband. It's more than a cook book; it's an exploration of France and I loved it and have even used one of the recipes- chicken in a saffron sauce. Cooking is not my greatest talent but boy, this was yummy- the sauce is worth making on its own.
One utterly miserable day lately. Ian and I drove in to Edinburgh to attend the funeral service of my friend, Giles Gordon. He died as the result of an accident and will be greatly missed by his clients, and the whole literary scene in Scotland. He was a wonderful help to me in my years as secretary of the Society of Authors and was one of the funniest, wittiest, and most charming of men. My heart goes out to his wife and children.
Rather a sad note to end the year on . It's been a year of success and disappointment, work and worry, great happiness and great sadness. I've had some wonderful experiences and met some lovely people and ­ phone call just in- our sons will be with us for Christmas.
So, love and joy to all of you.
See you next year.
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Waiting for feedback...

I've just come back from London and I am still walking on air. What a lovely time I had. I went down to meet my German publisher who had come over to meet some of their British writers.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's exhibition of mainly Victorian paintings is on at the Royal Academy and I thought, I'll see that, see my editor, see Teresa, see Alistair-(our younger son) and see Regina. I get my money's worth out of a train fare to London!!
I went down on Monday and spent the evening with Alistair. I meant to read on the train but I met some really delightful people and we talked all the way - that gets filed under 'research'!! Up at the crack of dawn on Tuesday and hurried along Piccadilly to the Royal Academy. Big shock for this country girl. NOTHING opens in London before ten o'clock. At least it gave me a chance to walk and to discover London. Somewhere near the Theatre Royal I found the most fabulous equestrian statue - four huge stallions bursting out of a fountain. I hope I can find it again; I had forgotten my notebook. What writer worth her laptop forgets a notebook~??
Trafalgar Square suddenly loomed up - I had had no idea that I was so close. Learning a place is very exciting. New York is more familiar to me because whenever I am there I walk everywhere possible; now I'm learning London. Back I went and by this time the Academy was open.
The exhibition is fascinating although sometimes I feel if I've seen one beautiful pre- Raphaelite portrait I've seen em all. The William Morris tapestries were absolutely fabulous and some of the paintings breath taking. Two hours went by and it was time to meet my editor for lunch. She was busy with editorial meetings and so we had no more than a very productive- and delicious lunch together- and then we walked back to her Underground station. I stopped at Fortnum and Mason to buy a slice of game pie for Ian whose birthday it was and then went back to my hotel to prepare for the evening.
Someone told me once that since publishing is an image conscious business, make sure your hair your hands and your shoes are in tiptop condition. I'd had my hair done and bought new short boots. My nails have to be content with clean and neat since they will not grow.
My agent came; we sat in the garden for a while and then walked to the restaurant where we were to have dinner. What a lovely evening. The food and wine were delicious but the company was great. I have to say that to be treated so well by publishers is a brand new phenomenon for this writer and I hope every one of you ­ who wants it - gets it!. We laughed, we talked, we ate and the hours flew past. It was like being out to dinner with three of your closest friends and I had to keep pinching myself to make sure I wasn't just having a lovely dream. The icing on the cake was when Regina told me that ­ after two weeks!!!- they have already ordered a reprinting of Scmetterlingstage, the German title for Someday, Somewhere. Teresa has to restrain me from happy dancing all the way back to my hotel!
It was a wonderful evening and we all hope there will be more such evenings but, for now, I have to get busy and write the next book.
My editor has the synopsis; maybe she'll hate it. Nothing is a certainty in this business. My nose will be firmly to the grindstone for months ­ except- I will have to take a little time off to buy a baby gift!
At the end of August we all flew to Spain to attend the wedding of a lovely young man who used to stay with us in the summers when he was a schoolboy. Inaki would come to us for a few weeks and Alistair would go to Madrid for a few weeks. Those schoolboys are now grown men and we had never managed to find time or money to visit Inaki's family. Last Christmas he wrote to say he was getting married in the beautiful mediaeval town of Avila and would we come!! You bet. We booked flights immediately and went for the weekend. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of our entire married life. Inaki's parents were staying in the same hotel and we met them the night before the wedding with some other relatives and that was so lovely. It was like meeting someone I'd known for a long time- and then I realized, we did know one another; Dolores and Ignacio had loved and cared for our son as we had for theirs.
The wedding was in a beautiful old church and as custom dictates we waited with all the guests outside for the bride to arrive. We met other members of both families including Inaki's beautiful sister, Sonia, who had been driven, very carefully, from Madrid for the wedding since Sonia and her husband, Marcelo, were expecting their first baby. More about the wedding next month but baby Marcelo arrived last week- and all his Scottish family are absolutely delighted.
While I wait for feedback on the synopsis, I'll spend time on reading some assignments set for their members by the Christian Writers Group. Their conference is in Stirling in November and I'm their featured speaker and I hope I'll also be able to give them a hand with these plot ideas. In December I've been asked to be the speaker at the Christmas dinner of the Tayside branch of the Friends of Scottish Opera. I was petrified to see that they wanted me to speak on 'My Life in Opera.' I haven't had a life in opera and most of the members of the Friends have forgotten more about opera than I know. They accepted my title 'Even Wagner can be Fun' and so now I have to write something that will at least raise a smile.
Next month, I hope to let you know how I get on. Hm. Wagner and fun? What a puzzle I have set myself!
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Correcting Proofs and Researching

Yahoo! The Synopsis is finished and with my agent and my proofs of book number two A Way of Forgiving are corrected and back with Hodder. Correcting proofs is not a favourite part of my writing day but I got some very useful advice this time. An RNA member suggested working down the page line by line with a ruler and that's excellent as your eyes tend to see what you want them to see and not what's there. I brought this piece of advice up at the conference in Durham and the same lady stood up and said, 'And then read again from the back.' What a worthwhile piece of advice that turned out to be. By the time a book is written, accepted, and being readied for publication, the writer is so familiar with it that he/she can probably recite it- and too often does!! Reading from the back is a totally new experience and I did find errors that way, some even my own!!
If you're out there, nice person from the RNA, please tell me your name.
At the moment I have a breathing space before the Edinburgh Festival so I start the day by reading emails and answering them. One this morning was from my God-daughter Megan, just graduated from university in California, and on her own in Europe for the first time. She had watched the finale of the Tour de France and her enthusiasm and excitement just burst off the page. She's a very good young writer- I shall have to watch for competition on the home front. Enjoy, Megan. Another was from Adele Geras who has very sweetly asked me to be her guest at her Edinburgh Festival event on August 15th. I've read Adele's lovely Facing the Light  but I shall enjoy listening to her- she's an excellent speaker. Might pick up some tips for my own event with Isla on the 19th!!
After emails, business mail, bills to pay, boring but necessary.
Now a chance to access the Internet to find out something about embroidery. I want my next heroine to have a particular skill; I just don't know what it is yet! And no, I can't sew but then I can't paint either and I wrote about an artist. I'm definitely a 'write what you're prepared to find out about' writer. For this next book too I needed to know a little about police procedure. I rang our local police station and eventually found a senior officer with the experience and expertness to guide me through- and he is prepared to talk to me now and again. A little advice here for the would be researcher. Know as much as you can about what you want to find out. Does that sound odd? All the people I have asked for help and advice over the years have been very busy professionals. Try not to waste their valuable time. I told this policeman what I wanted or hoped to do and asked him a few prepared but basic questions. He answered them and I made notes like mad- language is very important. Then I told him that I would have to write my scene or scenes before I discovered the next step that I did not know, and he said he would be quite willing to help me when I get to that stage. I thanked him and said goodbye - short and sweet conversation. I'm almost ready to ring him again WITH my list of carefully thought out questions. It's no use winging it. If he allows me to use his name I will thank him in the acknowledgements.
Day almost over and I think I can reward myself by reading someone else. This month I read and thoroughly enjoyed Dancing in a Different Place by Isla Dewar. What a terrific read, characters one cares about, problems too many of us have and over all Isla's delightful humour and goodness. I can't think why there aren't huge placards at every station telling the great British public to read this writer. Another great read was The Way the Crow Flies by a Canadian writer Ann-Marie MacDonald. I'll tell you more about that book when it's published. Oh, and I thoroughly enjoyed Katie Fforde's Paradise Fields. Katie's another writer with a delicate touch. This morning, over my second cup of coffee, I finished Joanne Harris's Five Quarters of The Orange. I have to confess that I had read nothing by this fine writer and then I saw Chocolat when we were in Italy and decided to read the book as soon as I got back. Chocolat was checked out at my local library- I don't buy books unless I know I'm going to like them- and so I took Five Quarters of The Orange. Disturbing but gripping book and my goodness she can paint pictures in my head. I shall read them all now.
My physiotherapist has signed me off but I suppose I had better go and exercise now.
I shall listen to Traviata, a great favourite, while I do.

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Receiving Reviews

I'm still not into my usual routine and that's sad. Routine suits me. I like to know where I'm going to be at any given time. Is that sad too?
Cross your fingers but I think I have finished the synopsis for my next book. Teresa and I will discuss that next week in London. Perhaps we'll walk in Kensington Gardens or Hyde Park - no fuggy room full of cigarette smoke for us. Mind you not all business is conducted over expense account lunches; I enjoy both a nice lunch and a walk in the park. London at this time of the year should be lovely.
The best part of getting the synopsis out of the way is that I can write. The new book has been started and I'm quite pleased with the way it's going so far. I haven't worked out a structure for it yet. The subconscious tends to take care of that once I'm really into writing and unfortunately I'm not really into writing. Too many interruptions.
One interruption has been the dreaded review. For a while I thought SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE wasn't going to be reviewed at all but at last they're coming in and they're a mixed bag. One of the problems seems to be that reviewers need a label that they can attach to the book and if it doesn't really suit any of the labels they have a problem. I had, to me, a devastating review a few days ago in the Herald, a very fine Scottish newspaper published in Glasgow. SOMEDAY, SOMEWERE, was reviewed as a historical novel and compared with 'real' historical novels like Maggie Craig's A STAR TO STEER BY and Evelyn Hood's A SPARKLE OF SALT. The reviewer praises these books for their fine sense of history and then says that in my book 'the heartbeat of history is rather less strong.' You bet your life it is because SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE is NOT a historical novel. It's women's fiction which happens to have a back story. Not a level playing field. Should I ask the reviewer to read it again as women's fiction or even as a straightforward romance? Wouldn't get anywhere. The reviewer ends by saying my book is 'clever, competent, predictable groin-exercised stuff.' I'm having real trouble with 'groin-exercised' and I've had some emails from erudite and intellectual friends who are having trouble with it too!
Don't misunderstand me; I don't expect everyone to like my work. What a dull world this would be were we all the same but I do expect parity. Over my shoulder I can hear good friends who write romantic novels and novels for the Harlequin, Mills and Boon market laughing at my naivety. They don't get reviewed at all. What a lot of snobbery there is in this writing world. If a frothy romance makes for two hours of escape for an overburdened woman, then it's earned its place just as much, possibly even more, than the latest heavy 'literary' novel. A friend rang me up the other day to tell me about some publicity for a conference at which I'm appearing. 'Do you really want to be called a popular novelist?' she asked in some kind of shock.
You bet; I'd be thrilled!
According to the Evening Telegraph my new novel 'could provide a comforting, undemanding, if slightly bulky, companion' on summer holiday.
Caledonia Magazine says it's 'romance as good as it gets.' Thank you, reviewer.
My favourite came in this morning and it's so beautifully written that I have to write it out in full. It was written by Claire- Marie Watson, the writer who last year won the prestigious, and financially rewarding, Dundee Book Prize with her amazing first novel- a real historical, by the way - The Curewife. I loved it. Reminded me, with its depth of research and authentic language of As Meat Loves Salt, a novel I read a few years ago, having been asked to introduce the writer, Maria McCann, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I would never have read this book had Catherine Lockerbie not asked me to chair the event and I would have been the loser. It's a remarkable novel as is Claire- Marie's. Check them out for yourself.
Here's Claire- Marie's review.
'You created an opera.  A glittering cast, luscious costume and scenery and a love story that survives tragedy and death all written with the same changes of pace and mood as opera music. Very clever indeed. I really enjoyed it.'
I love that and am especially interested in the 'scenery.' When I was in Cleethorpes I talked about the book and how I came to write it - and I remember telling the audience about waking up in a country house in Argyll and drowning in the view from my bedroom window. I couldn't get it out of my head - knocked down the lovely house where I was a guest and put up a wee but-n-ben in its place- no way to thank my dear hosts- and eventually set SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE there but at the Cleethorpes lunch I was delighted to hear people asking for 'the Argyll book'. The scenery is definitely a character. Don't forget that - characters do not have to be human. Place is very important in my books.
My other big annoyance lately is physiotherapy. I have osteoporosis and real back problems and so, as well as being on a new medication which means I swallow a pill once a week, I have to attend Arbroath Infirmary where a young man puts me through a series of exercises. It's doing me good but oh, it messes up my day - and what's worse, he expects me to do the same set of exercises at home. Note to self for this month, 'will do better.'
Do you think the physiotherapist will understand when I tell him I can't possibly take my big rubber ball to London!!

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My Writing Routine...

When I'm actually working on a novel I am in my office almost all day - and most evenings too.

Right now though, I'm working on the synopsis for what I hope will be my next book, I'm doing events to promote Someday Somewhere, and I've been judging competitions and that makes my day different. Usually I wake up about seven- gone are the days when I used to get up at four a.m. to write before my day job. My husband who also works at home brings me a cup of coffee - my reward for years of getting up early to cook breakfast for him and our two sons- and then he takes the dogs - an elderly but game springer and a young chocolate lab -for a run while I check my email. I spend far too much time on email but I love it. My friends and family are all over the world and this way I can be in touch several times a week. I belong to the Romantic Novelists Association and several of these writers are generous enough to share URLS of interesting articles with those of us who are not so IT literate. If my friend Anne Weale, a journalist and Harlequin Mills and Boon writer, posts an URL I usually access it and then read it while I'm having a second cup of coffee.

Then I'm ready for the day.

I work fairly steadily but I have a bone problem and so I can't spend hours sitting at the computer. Besides I have a home and a family and have always believed in first things first. When I'm not writing to a deadline I like to do a little housework before I start work. I have a wonderful and now very elderly American friend who told me years ago that - I paraphrase - dirt doesn't care who you are. She was washing her kitchen floor at the time and she had full time live in help! Her housekeeper wasn't feeling very well and the kitchen floor was dirty and so she cleaned it. I have no help except from Ian and so when that floor needs washing I wash it. Ian, and the boys have been very supportive and never fussed about beautiful home cooked meals but now that the boys are grown up and pursuing their careers I treasure every minute with them. When one or other is coming home for a day or two I cook for Scotland! Number 1 son- that means broccoli and stilton soup; Number 2 son -peanut butter soup! Doing an hour or so of housework or cooking means I can listen to Radio 4; I have several favourite programmes and broadcasters, Andrew Marr's Start the Week for example, and I try never to miss Desert Island Discs. Fabulous material for a writer in that programme. Sometimes I even like the music!

After my stint in the kitchen it's back upstairs to the desk.

For the past few years I've been invited - with my husband - to the literary dinner at St Leonard's School in beautiful St. Andrews. I've really enjoyed these events, met some lovely people and been very impressed by the work exhibited by the pupils. This year they asked me to judge their competition. I was scarcely able to enjoy the excellent meal provided because my stomach was thinking of the speech I had to make. I have a love hate relationship with competitions; it's exciting to find something original in an entry but I still spend too much time wondering if I'm being accurate and kind enough and severe enough because that part has to be there too. But someone has to win and that means others have to lose. I spent a lot of time reading and rereading to try to do the best possible job. I used to enter competitions and never gave much thought to the judge. Well, thank you all- a little late, but sincere.

When I've had enough of the competition I might go back downstairs and wash some clothes- they won't wash themselves- and then it's back to look at the synopsis. Today my agent rang to see how I'm progressing and to ask me to email my last novel- that's the one that will be coming out in 2004 - to an international scout and to print the whole thing out to send to a publisher in the Netherlands. I did that straight away. My husband always packs manuscripts for me- he says I have no idea of what he calls quality control!

Then, of course, it's lunchtime. I've been dieting - how vain can you get - to look good at the launch and so poor Ian diets with me. To be honest, the less fat I'm carrying the easier it is on my spine, so salads all round at lunchtime. I got a fabulous salad out of a clothing catalogue a few years ago, strange but true.

If I've been washing I hang the clothes up after lunch. We have a marvellous old pulley in the laundry room that is worth its weight in gold. Sorry but I've stopped hanging clothes outside because I have to wash most of them all over again! The electric dryer is used only in times of crisis!

Back upstairs and a quick look at any emails. I might answer some- if I don't answer at once I tend to forget - and I think I must be a real nuisance to some people. Email in, email out. A telephone call out of the blue from an old old friend. Will I go to the theatre with him in London? How I would love to go - my embryo heroine tells me she's an actress - but I have an event that day. I love an opportunity to get to London. Our younger son lives there and we enjoy going to the theatre or having a meal together.

Back to work and then some time to read. I read a lot and have very catholic tastes. Usually I have two or three books on the go at the same time. One is usually something 'improving' and then perhaps a good thriller and a nice big novel. I've just read Artemesia by Susan Vreeland - what a wonderful story - and I read Michael Dibdin's superb latest, A Long Finish

After dinner, which could be quite nice since I'm not really 'working' and therefore have time to cook, I might watch television with Ian for a while. We love University Challenge, watch far too many news broadcasts, and will watch any good detective/police procedural. We saw a wonderful 'Magic Flute' some weeks ago and I'm really pleased that Ian and the boys enjoy good music as much as I do. I sent our older son an email just after Christmas - 'remember the Messiah's on tonight' and got one back, 'Sorry Mum, had far too much good music over Christmas.' I meant of course the thriller but will have to tone down my Christmas music 'must listen to's' next year. Sorry boys.

When we switch off the television the dogs decide it's time for a before bed walk. All four of us enjoy these walks. Usually I carry a torch but it's getting lighter every evening and soon I won't need one. We have a little winking light on the lab's collar- must be very disconcerting for stray motorists to see this blinking light hurtling through space. We live so far from a town that we can see the stars and the dogs enjoy the scents. The new story line occupies my thoughts at the moment and walking is a great way to let the subconscious mind help me out.

Will I check my emails before bed? No- they'll wait till morning.
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Websites Worth Visiting....

The Romantic Novelists Association

Romantic fiction is the best-selling, widest-read type of fiction, universally enjoyed because everyone knows something about love. If you write or work with books and want to join us we welcome published and unpublished writers, agents and editors, and other people involved in publishing or connected to books.

The Society of Authors

The Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society

The Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society is the British Rights management society for all writers. Its principal business is to distribute fees to writers whose work has been copied, broadcast or recorded.

Sara Sheridan
Sara Sheridan
Sara Sheridan was born in Edinburgh and studied English Literature at Trinity College Dublin. She has written a wide range of stories including contemporary novels, short films, teen and children's books as well as historical fiction.

Creative Writing Courses in France

7-day residential Courses in the aptly named Hotel Victor Hugo in St Cere.
Fantastic value for money, they offer something for every writer, published or unpublished. I learned a lot. I hope to finish my play one day - with a little help from friends in St Cere - Tom and Jean-Luc talking care of body and soul and Janice and Peter taking great care of the mind. Visit their websites, too:

Peter May & Janice Hally

Although these centres are names after their founder, Maggie Keswick Jenks, they are not just for women. They are for everyone with or affected by Cancer. Please check out their website.

 Chrissie's website about her writing
http://www.Rough-Clay.com about Chrissie's latest book
http://www.arthurbowker.com for her father's fine bone china.


the book lovers'website

Romance Junkies

Journalist Lynne Hackles Website

Girl Guides Scotland

Writers News magazine

Ask About Writing - a great site for writers

Romantic Novelists' Association Blog

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