Blog Archive

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Garden. (Watching flowers grow)

kitchen after
living room before
As most of my dear friends know, I moved to this wee house on the 30th of August 2017. Of course then my wee garden was not looking its best but I had dreams, I still have dreams, let’s face it, I always have dreams. I saw my house as it was going to look back when I started, and thanks to my builders, it has surpassed my expectations.

stairway before

living room after
Anyway back to my garden. After I moved in, I heard of someone giving away top soil, for free!  Free! Good top soil costs! I should have known right there that there was a catch. The lovely boys who were building me a patio offered to go and pick it up. I should have gone with them. The free top soil consisted of small stones and clayish soil, but by the time I realised, it was already filling the empty spaces of my garden!

garden before
Well, I couldn’t ask them to take it back, could I? Not when they had been so kind as to do it gratis. Anyway, long story short, as my daughter would say, I spent a small fortune on compost to cover the offending soil, this providing a welcome bed for my plants. Once the roots are established, I thought, the plants will hopefully not mind the rubbish underneath. And, of course, the worms would do their stuff. Strangely enough, in all my attempts at gardening, I have not encountered a single worm.
garden in progress

By the end of February the weather looked promising, so out I went and bought some plants. Now I’m not so optimistic that I believe the Scottish weather would not throw more plant destroying frost our way, so I went for plants that normally withstand our winter. Primroses, (every colour in Homebase) dwarf Daffodils (Having a very small garden, I need dwarf everything), dwarf lupins, a patio rose, snowdrops. Of course, as luck would have it, not long after I had slaved for days, the weather gods decided to throw a spanner in the works. March came in like a freezing lion, and covered my newly created garden in the white stuff. Now, most of these plants could weather the storm. Let’s face it, if they want to survive up here, they have to, and mostly they do, so I wasn't too worried.  
Now the snow has gone. The daffodils still stand proud as do the snow drops, but the primroses do not seem to have stood up to the Beast from the East. Yet their cousins do survive. All over the countryside they grow wild, their yellow flame covering the hills and slopes and the edges of the woods. Maybe the tame variety, cultured beneath glass, are not so hardy. Methinks I shall have to go out into the country with my spade!
Let’s hope that the old saying is true. If March comes in like a lion it goes out like a lamb. I spend so many hours watching the plants grow, each day looking for new shoots, wondering if the primroses will take a second wind, and decide after all, to bloom again. We shall see.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Letter to the Haggis Protection League

With reference to your letter dated 16th inst regarding the age old custom of haggis hunting in the Highlands of Scotland, I am pleased to forward the following information. 
Contrary to your statement that the hunt causes unnecessary suffering to these small creatures and can therefore be termed as a blood sport, I would stand by my affirmation that no haggis is subjected to any pain whatsoever and in fact one could go as far as to say they actually enjoy the hunt.  The best way to kill a haggis, although many would disagree with me here, is to drown it with whisky.
From the contents of your letter, I would surmise that you have no concept at all of how the hunt is conducted.  As haggii by nature are very shy creatures and seldom seen with the naked eye, a variety of  web cams are set up in different locations of Scotland.  Once the haggis has been spotted, the hunter, wearing a pair of rubber gloves, races to the scene, sets out an open  bottle of best malt whisky, and conceals himself in a nearby location.   Chances are, however, that before the intended prey gets a chance to come forward, the bottle will be picked up by a torch branding chav, one of Scotland’s less desirable species.  However, if the hunter manages to fight off the chavs and the vagrants,  the haggis will eventually be unable to resist the luring aroma of our national nectar .  Once he is legless, this not taking long as his legs are different lengths to begin with, he is easily picked up and simply falls into a deep dreamless sleep not even stirring when he is dropped into a pan of boiling water. 
Before cooking, the size of the haggis is recorded using a tape measure approved by the National trust For Scottish measurements.
Also from your communication, it would appear that you are in fact unaware of the true nature of the haggis.    Perhaps you and your claim to be God’s eyes, may be less ready to interfere with our national customs if you understood more about the wee beastie.
I will therefore endeavor to give you information in the many areas in which you appear to be ignorant.

The original haggis was formed in Frankensteinian fashion from the belly and organs of the sheep.  The heart, liver and lungs were chopped up and mixed liberally with copious amounts of oatmeal, thus creating an entirely new strain.  Once the swarthy Highlanders, their bellies rumbling after a prolonged and bloody battle during which they had no sustenance whatsoever, discovered this tasty delicacy, it quickly became Scotland’s national dish, greatly enjoyed for at least four hundred years.
Where it actually originated is still very much in speculation. In early Roman times, a comic cook was claimed to have brandished a haggis-like creature on a stick while performing in the theatre. But even earlier than that there are written clues from ancient Greece. In Aristophanes’ play 'The Clouds' there is  a comic kitchen scene where a sheep’s bladder is filled with organs and oats thus creating a creature remarkably similar to a haggis. There is a mouth watering account of the dish as it cooks and a mention of the golden beads of fat which is also referred to by our own national poet, Robert Burns  two thousand years later when, penicil in hand,  he immortalised the dish in the poem,    ’Ode to a Haggis’  and claims it to be  ‘the great chieftain o’ the pudding race’ .  This was when the noble wee beastie gained it’s greatest fame and we claimed it as our own. 

Also  to reply to your further concerns that breeding animals with the legs on the right side of their body  shorter than on the left  just so that they will remain indigenous to Scotland is entirely misinformed. The wee crature evolved that way with no interference from man at all.  It is all due to the terrain in the Highlands and the  habit the haggii have of running around the base of the hills. Neither is it true that we have forced them to fly backwards so as to keep an eye on whoever may have a gun trained on them.   Haggii fly backwards over the moor, simply to protect their eyes from the biting winds.  No haggis has ever been able to survive in captivity, thus making the domesticating or farming of them impossible.  Anything you may have heard to the contrary is propaganda  spouted by the Sassenachs who would wish to claim these tasty wee morsels for themselves.

The hunting season begins in the month of January so that fresh haggii can be brought to the table as Scotsmen and women everywhere celebrate the birth of their national poet on the 25th. 
Originally it was reported that  after the  newly cooked haggis was brought to the table to the accompaniment of a piper, the assembled kilted clan members would leap onto their chairs, set one foot upon the table, swallow their dram of whisky and toss the glass over their shoulders.  Then the Clan chief would recite the above poem, briefly apologize to the haggis for having killed it and  plunge a dirk - a short sharp knife worn inside a highlanders sock - into it’s steaming belly.  It’s entrails was then eaten with relish by the assembled company.  After their hunger was sated, the Highlanders would spend the night sampling the many different brands of Scots whisky

Nowadays there is seldom any jumping on tables or breaking of glass, but the drams are still liberally served. The night is enjoyed by locals and incomers alike.  At our last supper, we were even joined by a Dutchman, complete with national costume and bargee’s hat.
However, there is one point in your letter with which I totally agree.  I, too, object to  the noble haggis being  sometimes subjected to the indignation of being dressed in kilt and tam. And once, horror of horrors, some well-meaning English lady photographed the wee beasty wearing heather sprouting earrings and eltered in lip balm.

In conclusion,  I would  ask that now, having a better understanding of the haggis and his ways, you would refrain from taking the matter up with the Scottish parliament as I’m sure they have much more important issues  concerning them than the plight of the simple Scottish haggis.

Yours faithfully

Etc etc

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Interview with Linda Gillard

May I extend a warm welcome to the talented Linda Gillard.

Hello Linda. Firstly, please could you tell readers a little about yourself and your books?
I’m English but I’ve lived in Scotland since 2001, mostly in the Highlands and Islands where some of my novels are set.
I write mixed-genre, issue-led women’s fiction and I’m told it’s difficult to put down! My books are all different. They always involve a love story but they tackle challenging themes such as bereavement, PTSD, mental illness and disability. A couple of them are contemporary ghost stories.
My first three novels were traditionally published, but I’ve been an indie author since 2011. I parted ways with my publisher over my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE. They said it would be difficult to market and needed a complete re-write. Rather than do that I withdrew the manuscript which was professional suicide, but I really believed in my book as it stood. I hoped I’d get another publisher, but after two years my agent still hadn’t found one. We had a lot of rejection emails saying editors liked my books but couldn’t see how to market them as they didn’t belong to a particular genre.
My fans kept asking about a new book and I had two waiting that my agent had been unable to sell, so I decided to publish them myself. HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller and then Amazon selected it as one of their Top Ten of 2011 in the Indie Author category.
I’ve re-published my out-of-print backlist and several new books and I now earn a modest living from writing non-genre fiction. Not many authors manage to do that.

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
I’ve had several careers and one of them was journalism. I did that for twelve years so I knew I could write, but I didn’t really think of myself as a writer. Freelance journalism was something that fitted in with being a stay-at-home mum. A later career was teaching but I had to abandon it after a mental breakdown so I started writing again, therapeutically. An online writing group encouraged me to find a publisher for my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY which was about the links between bipolar affective disorder (manic depression) and creativity.
It was published in 2005 and I was 53. It wasn’t until I was offered a contract that I thought writing might be what I would do with the rest of my life. But it wasn’t just the contract. By the time I was halfway through drafting EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, I was hooked on writing fiction. Then when EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was short-listed in 2006 for The Waverton Good Read Award (for a first UK novel) I realised I might actually be a writer!

If you hadn't become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
Writing fiction is my fourth career – fifth, if you count raising a family. I’ve been an actress, journalist, teacher and now novelist. My other creative outlet has been making quilts, but once I took up writing professionally, I found I didn’t have much time for patchwork. But it found its way into the novels. Two books feature heroines who work with textiles and in HOUSE OF SILENCE a patchwork quilt contains clues to the mystery.

How do you carry out the research for your novels?
I do enough background reading and Google research to be able to make a start on the writing, then I research as I go along, looking up what I need to know. I’m careful with research because there’s a temptation to use what you’ve discovered. You should use as little as possible – and only the fascinating bits – otherwise readers will skip to get on with the story. Writers research so we can write a convincing story, but readers don’t need to know all that we know. They just need to believe.
Some things are difficult to research. I wasn’t able to find many sources of information about brother-sister incest (A LIFETIME BURNING) or what it’s like to be congenitally blind. (STAR GAZING.) There’s lots of information about going blind, but the heroine of STAR GAZING was born blind, a very different experience.
So sometimes I just have to use my imagination and make stuff up, which fortunately I find quite easy, perhaps because I used to be an actress. When have to imagine what I can’t research, I apparently get it right. STAR GAZING was shortlisted for various awards and one of the judges I met said she’d assumed I must be blind myself or have a blind family member. Her father was blind and she said I’d nailed his experience. But I’d never even met a blind person.
Some readers assume I wrote EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY when I was living on the Isle of Skye. In fact, I started it years before when I lived in a Norwich suburb, as a cracked-up teacher.  Finding myself with lots of convalescent time on my hands, I took up quilting. I found it therapeutic working with colour and design, but as I got better, I longed to do something with words. I decided I would try to write some fiction, just for fun, just for me.

I embarked on a self-indulgent, fantasy-fulfilling novel about all the things I was interested in – quilts, Scottish islands, mountains, geology, poetry, Gaelic and teaching. The book was about a woman who went to live alone on a remote Scottish island. Pure fantasy!

Then life got very complicated and I stopped writing. There was a double bereavement, both my kids went off to uni and my husband took up a teaching post on the isle of Harris. I ended up living alone on Skye. In my solitude, I started to think about my abandoned novel. I dug it out and found to my amazement that all the things I’d imagined – moving to an island community, the enveloping silence, the blackout darkness at night, the weird shifts between past and present that take place in your mind when you live alone and rarely speak – these had all become part of my new island life. (The two hunky heroes, unfortunately, had not.)

When you're not writing, what do you like to read?
Nowadays most of my reading is research, but when I read for pleasure I relax with classic crime (Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey) and historical fiction (Dorothy Dunnett, Patrick O’Brian). One of my favourite authors is Elizabeth Jane Howard and I like the sort of authors Persephone Books publish.
My tastes are rather old-fashioned, I suppose, but for me it’s all about the quality of the writing. I recently discovered Elizabeth Goudge who writes so beautifully, I have to stop to re-read sentences. I don’t need a complicated plot or lots of action.

Which of your characters would you most like to be and why?

Hmmm… I’m tempted to think which heroine ends up with the most gorgeous of my heroes? Actually I wouldn’t mind being a few of my heroes who, apart from being rather tortured individuals, have interesting careers in theatre, classical music, psychiatry, horticulture and bomb disposal. CAULDSTANE’s Alec is a swordsmith who lives in a decaying Scottish castle.
But I think I’ll opt for STAR GAZING’s Louisa. She’s fun, fifty, single and the heroine’s older sister. Louisa looks after her blind sister and writes trashy vampire romance, about which she has no illusions. It pays the bills. She’s kind, loyal, resilient, funny and ready for anything – which is how she acquires a very unusual and much younger boyfriend, a subsidiary character who turned out to be one of my favourite creations.

If one of your books became a film, which would you choose and why? 
I’ve sold screen rights to EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and the producer is currently trying to raise the finance to make a movie filmed on location in North Uist. Despite the role landscape plays in the book. I would never have thought this novel could be cinematic. It’s a small cast of characters and not much happens. The story is about how traumatic events in the past still affect the characters in the present.
The adaptation is very faithful to the original. When I read the screenplay I was pleased to see most of the dialogue is mine.
But the novel I would most like to see on the screen is A LIFETIME BURNING. That’s a family saga covering the second half of the 20th century. I think it would make a great TV series. Imagine A Bouquet of Barbed Wire meets The Forsyte Saga

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that your latest book, THE TRYSTING TREE should be their next read, what would you say?
Did you enjoy TESTAMENT OF YOUTH? ATONEMENT? Ever felt like hugging a tree? Then click!

Linda’s website:

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Just a small extract

Isa sat on the flagstone seat in the soft night, hugging her knees and staring at the darkening sky.  With shadows in her eyes, she turned her head and waited until he joined her before she spoke.  ‘Ye’ve been a while.’

Davie gazed upwards.  A single seagull flew silently across the moon.  ‘I got a lot of driftwood.   Is the baby sleeping?’

‘Aye. Jessie’s rocking the cot.  Where’s that music coming from?’

‘Maybe the loft at the Mains.  The lads and lassies often get together for a dance on a Saturday night.’

‘Do ye wish ye were with them?’

‘No, I want to be nowhere else than right here.’ He slipped his arm around her.

‘Are ye still mad at me for making ye leave yer mam’s?’

He gave a short laugh. ‘I don't blame ye.’

‘Davie,’ she whispered, and waited until he looked into her face. ‘I’ve never danced.’


She shook her head.

‘Then how about now.’ He sprung to his feet, and pulled her upright.

‘I don’t know how.’

He put one arm around her waist and clasped her free hand in his.  ‘Now watch my feet and do as I do.’  He swirled her round and led her over the green.   A wave of sound flowed through her until it was part of her and her first awkward steps became fluid and easy. And as their baby slept, Davie and Isa danced among the stooks of corn, under the light of a harvest moon.

This is a small extract from Follow the Dove.


Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Floating Shops of Orkney

When choosing our goods from the supermarket shelf, how many of us reflect on how much the methods of shopping have changed during the span of one generation.  Many elderly inhabitants of the Northern Isles of Scotland can still recall when a good day's shopping depended on the weather. 
The floating shops of Orkney were a feature of island life from as early as 1897, although many smaller islands did not receive this service until 1910.  These sturdy vessels continued to brave the vagaries of the Pentland Firth until the first world war, and for a few years after 1918 the service was resumed with engine driven ships.
Robert Garden, who was born in Rayne Aberdeenshire, was to become the biggest merchant in Kirkwall at that time.  A floating market must have seemed an obvious business opportunity, when all around him, in the Shetland Islands, the North and South Islands of Orkney, and  the northern coast of Caithness, lay many potential customers.
Each floating shop had a crew of three, and each man was in charge of a department.  These men must have had a hard working five hours or so in their often hot, cramped premises.  Frequently too, there was a strong swell causing considerate discomfort to some of the women customers, who had never had the chance to develop ‘sea legs.’ 
The grocer had his domain nearest the bow.  Along the bulkheads and sides of the ship were shelves on which the groceries were displayed.  Bars of wood were nailed along the fronts to stop the goods tumbling off in heavy seas.
Midship was used for the meal and feeding stuffs.  A large weighing machine stood in the centre, and sacks of flour, oatmeal, bran and corn were built up along the sides.
At the stern, and the least busy, was the drapery.  The draper had  shoes, boots, rolls of wax cloth, oilskins, overalls and other items of clothing set out on a bench, as well as on barred shelves and hanging on lines above his head.  When a lull came, he was expected to jump on deck and deal with incoming lobsters and fish.  Because as well as selling, the merchants of the floating shops also bought the local produce of the islands.
At the sight of the white sails approaching from Orkney, word was passed around.  The women folk gathered eggs into white enamel pails and lidded baskets.  Fishermen set about preparing what they called ‘wet fish’.  At the time of year when fish were plentiful, the excess was pickled.
When the fish were brought ashore, they were cleaned, split, boned and washed in fresh water.  After being allowed to drip dry, they were laid, layer about with salt, in a barrel.  Three days later, the fish would be afloat in a salt pickle.
When the floating shop was sighted, the fish were swished around in the brine to remove any slime, piled up, covered with canvas, and large stones placed on top to press out the water.  Then in barrows and baskets, they were taken to the shore and loaded into boats.   Boxes of lobsters were also put on board.
By the time the floating shop had reached its anchorage, the pier would be crowded with people.  Not only did the adults set aside their tools, but the children took a holiday from school.
The local boats, with their loads for sale were ready to go out to the ship.  The customers settled down to await their turn to be ferried out, three or four at a time in the ship’s own rowing boats.
These ships included Gleaner, Endeavour, Zoona, Klydon, Thankful, Aberdeen, Lizzie Bain, Star of Bethlehem, Summer Cloud and the Star of Hope.
One of the islands regularly served by these vessels was Stroma, Caithness’ only island.  The Star of Hope called once a fortnight at the north end and the Endeavour came to the south side each alternate week.
There are a few expatriates who still recall the boats and their popularity, although at that time there were four other shops on the islands.  The arrival of a floating shop is remembered as a time of great excitement, no matter what the weather, and for the children, it was an excuse to lay aside their slates and chalk.
The floating shops also brought employment to many of the womenfolk of Kirkwall.   There are few alive who remember working for Robert Garden and packing boxes for the floating shops.  They  filled huge wooden boxes  with boots, bales of men’s shirting, wool, and the half bleached  cotton ladies used for making their underwear, all for six shillings a week.
James Allan, a resident of the North End of Stroma, recalled how the draper, when there was a lull in his trade, counted the lobsters brought by the fishermen and paid out  one shilling or one and two pence each and packed them into the ship’s own boxes.  Those when full, he dumped overboard to keep the supply fresh and alive.  The fish were weighed on deck, giving about eight shillings to ten shillings per hundredweight, and then they were stacked and covered over with canvas.  The grocer  bought in the dozens of eggs at six pence per dozen and packed them between layers of straw in boxes.
I have been unable to find a report of any of the ships being lost.
Now with the depopulation of many of the smaller islands, and the advent of ferries to the places where supermarkets abound, there is no more need for the floating shops.
Robert Garden, described by The Orcadian as Orkney’s merchant Prince died in 1912.  His legacy to the county would be what became Kirkwall’s Balfour  Hospital after his widow bequeathed the money to erect in his memory, The Garden Memorial Building which opened in 1927.

Shopping methods of today.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Locket and a Five Taka Note

When Abdul Mkith left Bangladesh with nothing other than his clothes, the locket his mother placed around his neck, and a five taka note, neither he nor his family had any idea what lay in store for him.

Abdul before he was sent to then UK
In October 2012, an English teacher contacted me.  He told me he had been working with a boy who was keen to tell his tale to the world. I met with Abdul, then twenty-four and was mmediately drawn to this personable and attractive young man.   Bit by bit he told me his story and supplied me with the notes that the authorities held on him.
He left a family where he was loved and pampered and sent to an "Aunt" and "Uncle"who his family trusted to love and care for him the way they had done. The truth was different. The "Aunt" and "Uncle" effectively sold him into a life of what can only be described as a horror story.

It’s been extremely brave of this young man to revisit his past and lay it bare for the world to read. He not only wants to expose what’s going on in this country under our noses, but also warn parents from third world countries who believe they are doing the best for their children by sending them to the west.

Names of individuals have been changed, but otherwise The Locket and A Five Taka Note is his true story, as he told it to me.
Of course, never having been to Bangladesh, I needed to get a ‘feel’ for the country. Through the magic of You Tube, I visited the places Abdul spoke about, I saw the men fishing in the fields, gathering the dhal, and herding the cattle over the paddy stalks. I woke up to the beauty of a Bangladesh morning, saw the early sun shine through the palm leaves, heard the twitters of the birds, heard the call to prayer.
Abdul's true story
I watched trains laden with men and boys hanging onto the outside and riding on the roof, and I travelled through the streets of Bazar and Dhaka, and attended a Muslim wedding.
You Tube is a very handy tool.
That was the good bits.

Unfortunately other localities in Abdul’s story can only be envisaged. I have an eleven year old grandson and imaging the horror of what Abdul went through at the same age was hard, but it is important to see his life as it was through his eyes and understand his coping mechanisms.

It is not an easy read, it was not easy to write. How many other children out there are in this situation and never escape?
It is estimated that at least 129 refugee children have gone missing since the Calais Jungle has been disbanded. No one knows the real numbers. No one knows what they are enduring every day.

.The Locket and a five taka Note will be published next month both as an ebook and a paperback, and I’m sure we all wish Abdul every success in his future life

Sunday, 9 April 2017

How the The Broken Horizon came to be written

When Davie Reid gets a girl from another island pregnant, and brings her to his home, Chrissie is devastated. It was understood that she and Davie would be married one day, and he has already taken her innocence.
In despair, Chrissie turns to Davie’s violent brother, Jack, who has always coveted her. However, his nature does not lead to a happy marriage. (Follow the Dove)

Follow the Dove was meant to be the first in a trilogy and Isa's story, but Chrissie evolved into the stronger character and demanded a book of her own.
The Broken horizon is Chrissie's story.

After a brutal attack which leaves her concussed, Chrissie mixes poison in Jack's whisky.
Next day she only remembers snatches of what happened, but she does remember her intentions all too clearly. Jack has gone, there’s a fresh grave in the byre, she has dirt beneath her fingernails and on her boots. She has actually done it. But she must never tell a soul. Let the islanders think he has been lost at sea.

Over the years, she forms a close attachment to the young, dashing Charlie Rosie and eventually falls deeply in love with him.

Fourteen years since Jack’s disappearance, Chrissie receives a letter signed, Jack.

Read all about it in The Broken Horizon. On sale today and all this week, for 99p