Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Oops... another book is waving at me

Action shot!
Taken on the hills above Ullapool
In the cold. And rain.
I knew it would... I went on holiday! Though, frankly, I need a new book brewing like I need a hole in my head. But, if I had to choose between having no ideas and having too many ideas, I would always choose the latter!

At the moment, the ideas are parked in notebooks. The book that's brewing is a development of the ideas I had a year ago (while sitting on a train, coming back from seeing my good friend Jackie McLean).

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Interview with Sandra Ireland

Sandra Ireland
This week, I am delighted to welcome back to the blog, the amazing Sandra Ireland. I've known Sandra since we were both 'Spotlighters' at Bloody Scotland in 2016 and since then, Sandra has gone from strength to strength. It is no lie to say that I adore her books and can't wait to read her latest, The Unmaking of Ellie Rook.

The Unmaking of Ellie Rook
A single phone call from halfway across the world is all it takes to bring her home . . . ‘Ellie, something bad has happened.’

Desperate to escape her ‘kid from the scrapyard’ reputation, Ellie Rook has forged a new life for herself abroad, but tragedy strikes when her mother, Imelda, falls from a notorious waterfall. Here, according to local legend, the warrior queen Finella jumped to her death after killing a king. In the wake of her mother’s disappearance, Ellie is forced to confront some disturbing truths about the family she left behind and the woman she has become. Can a long-dead queen hold the key to Ellie’s survival? And how far will she go to right a wrong?

The Unmaking of Ellie Rook is your third published novel. How has your writing method changed since the first novel? Do you plan more? Do you plan less? What lessons about writing have you learned over the three books?
I think the learning process only starts when you’re faced with the copy edits! It’s a bit like learning to drive a car, the journey really begins once you’ve passed your test and are ‘let loose’ on the open road. Novel-writing is a bit like that - there’s no substitute for practical experience, and you just have to pick things up as you go along. The process definitely gets easier, mainly because you understand what NOT to do! Planning the chronology beforehand is a must - I was forever getting bogged down in difficulties of timing. Be realistic about how long it will take your character to get somewhere, and make note of the time of day. Don’t have someone arriving at a destination in daylight if they only set off at 8pm! I’ve got a lot better at doing suspense, by withholding information and playing up the reactions and emotions of the characters.

Your characters and settings are always so vividly drawn, that I feel as if I’ve just looked in on their lives, and that they were all going along, minding their own business, long before I peeked in, and will carry on after the book has finished. How do you make it all so real? Do you make a lot of notes on each character or place? Or does it all come naturally (in which case, I may just have to hate you a tiny bit!)?

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Update on trying to reduce my plastic use...

A while ago, I talked about how I was cutting down on plastics where possible and trying to move to plastic-free products. I'm still muddling along, trying to do my best... Today I want to share my successes and fails.

Let's do successes first.

1. Tea
I drink a gazillion cups of tea a year. I don't drink coffee. I use a teapot with a stainless steel inner (London Pottery Teapot) and loose tea. Finding plastic-free decaffeinated loose tea has been an uphill battle that I've not yet won, but I've gone for the least plastic to tea ratio I can in buying a 1 kg pack of Taylors of Harrogate tea. This gets decanted into airtight storage jars and I send the wrapper to be recycled via Walkers crisps (as it's the same construction). Not perfect. In an ideal world, I would be able to buy the tea wrapped in paper, but there's nowhere near here that does that. I buy Tesco's Scottish Blend loose leaf tea and it comes in a cardboard and paper pack - no silver paper/silver plastic bag around the tea. I suspect that there are more teabags available plastic-free than when I started doing this, but I've got used to making my tea like this and the used leaves are thrown on the garden so get incorporated into the soil.

2. Soap
About a year ago, I started to use soaps made by Friendly Soap Ltd. Not only are their soaps amazing, they're also vegan (if that matters to you), not tested on animals, are biodegradable, contain no palm oil... essentially, they tick all the right boxes, and their prices are sensible! I love them for my skin (but you'll see a fail a bit later in the post...)

3. Loo rolls
I'm still buying my loo rolls from Who Gives a Crap - I like the company ethos and the fact that 50% of their profits go to charities involved with clean water and sanitation. I've moved from the recycled paper loo rolls to the bamboo ones - partly because the bamboo is nicer, but also because I read that some recycled paper can get contaminated with plastic if it's not sorted properly and I was concerned that I was flushing microplstics into the water system.

If you'd like to try Who Gives a Crap, you can get £5 off your first order by following this link: https://www.talkable.com/x/seofIR You could get 48 rolls of the bamboo toilet paper for £35 with free delivery using the link. Of course, they also do tissues and kitchen roll and stuff too!

Okay, so what's not worked?

1. Shampoo bar
I desperately wanted this to work, but I don't know if it's the soap, my hair or the water where we live, but it just turns my hair to straw. I used the Friendly Soap bar and I know others have sworn by it and have great responses, but not me. In fairness, I haven't tried any other brands. In the past, I used Lush, but they are so heavily scented and there's something in them that makes my eczema flare up. I'll keep trying, but that was not a success.

2. Grocery Shopping
We've definitely cut back - using our own paper bags and buying loose fruit and veg - but it's absolutely impossible to be completely plastic-free with the shops we have available here. What's worse, is that the plastic used is often non-recyclable too. I'm trying to console myself that at least we're cutting back and also have been putting pressure on the supermarkets to reduce their plastic (emails, customer satisfaction surveys, online protests etc.). But it's still a fail...

What tips do you have to help cut plastic use? I'm desperate to reduce my footprint on the planet!

Tuesday, 25 June 2019


Picture from last year taken by Colin Nicol
Holidays... If other years are anything to go by, I will come back from my holiday this summer with more ideas for books than I can possibly write in a lifetime. It's a curse... but it's a curse I don't mind!

Perhaps it's because my brain gets to switch off from current projects, but as soon as I'm away, my brain fills up with a gazillion other ideas for books! The whole idea of the trilogy came about after a walking holiday in Yorkshire (though in fairness, it started as one book and then grew arms and legs). Last year, just a train trip to Glasgow led to me writing half a notebook of notes for the next book. I suspect I'll come back from this holiday with a heap of notes for that book. I'm genuinely hoping I don't come back with ideas for another book as I have three already lined up to be written!

Of course, the scenery is always inspiring, as I hope the picture at the start of the post, taken by my amazingly talented hubby shows! How could I not be inspired when staying in a cottage where we could see the stones at Calanais from the lounge? One of my favourite runs was to run from our cottage up past the stones, even given the one in three slope up to them! Pretty much everywhere on Harris and Lewis looked amazing and was a huge inspiration.

We always go on a walking holiday, and I think that the combination of not being at my desk, the amazing scenery and walking, frees something up in my brain. I always have a notebook with me (I shall also be road-testing some outdoor-specific notebooks for my role with Nero's Notes this year) and since hubby frequently spends ages getting his camera set up, I have plenty of time to sit and look at the view or make notes on ideas. Charles Darwin used to walk every day and used his daily walks for significant thinking time (see "Charles Darwin's Daily Walks - The mental rewards of exercise" for more information). Scientists think that doing a physical activity that doesn't need much concentration (walking, jogging, running) allows the brain to freewheel, so perhaps it's no great surprise that I come up with lots of new ideas while I'm out walking!

I'm sure I'm going to come back from my holiday with several notebooks' worth of new ideas. But let me leave you with another of my hubby's pictures to inspire you, this time from Skye. You can see more of his pictures at: https://www.colinjmnicol.co.uk/

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

When writing is still writing, even if no words are written

Some days the words can flow like Skogafoss (go Google it...). Some days they can flow like treacle. But writing isn't always about increasing the word count of a manuscript. Sometimes it's a sitting and thinking day that's needed. Sometimes the brain needs something completely different.

Here are my top five writing activities that don't necessarily increase the word count, but which still help with 'writing the book':

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Keeping track of injuries...

I don't write romance. I'm sure that won't come as a surprise to anyone who reads this blog (or any of my books). My first two published novels were crime/psychological thriller and I'm currently editing a fantasy trilogy in which there is a lot of fighting at times, so I need a way to keep track of who is injured, where and how.

Enter post mortem diagrams!

I know. I teeny bit gruesome perhaps, but they're so useful. They're a blank front and back of a body which looks perhaps more male than anything else, but I use them for all characters. I print them off four sets to a page and then pop the character's name at the top of a set and mark up their injuries to use as a quick reference. They're also useful for remembering which characters have tattoos, along with what the tattoo is of and where it is on the body. If there are any other major distinguishing marks (scars/missing digits/etc.) they also get noted.

This is what I'm currently using and forgive me, but I can't remember where I got it online. Absolutely no copyright infringement is intended. If it's your diagram and you want me to take it down, please say and I will!

What do people think? How do you keep track of distinguishing features or injuries?

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Interview with Malcolm Hollingdrake for "Treble Clef"

Treble Clef - DCI Bennett book 8

Harrogate attracts hundreds of players to the annual Games Convention and for one player it is the perfect opportunity to kill by the mechanics of his own sinister game.

Each victim will die in the same way.

Each will be classed as the loser and their time will have run out.

The escape room and the game table will draw more, each believing they are invincible. However, in every game there is always a traitor waiting in the wings.

It is my great pleasure to share an interview I did with Malcolm Hollingdrake, author of the bestselling Harrogate Crime Series. The latest in the series, "Treble Clef" is out this week and I caught up with Malcolm to grill him about things!

Malcolm Hollingdrake
picture credit: Tony Bithell
Hi Malcolm, thanks for coming on the blog!
Hello, thank you for inviting me to tell you a little about myself.

When did you first start writing? And what made you start?
Having worked in a classroom for thirty-two years I suppose I have always written, from assembly stories to end of day tales. Although I would often start off reading the story, the book would be put down and, having written it, I could tell it adding action and emphasis; a sure way to capture the imagination of the children.

What was the first full-length novel you ever wrote? (I realise this may not be the same as the first book you have had published!) 
As I was approaching the end of my teaching career, I was influenced by the Gulf War and the resulting medical troubles; Gulf War Syndrome seemed to hit the news but there also seemed a reluctance by the Government to accept, not only its existence but to accept any degree of responsibility. It was this that proved to be the catalyst to pick up my pen. I had lived in Northern Cyprus and knew at that time there was no extradition procedure for criminals from Europe and this proved perfect. So, I simply linked the two and “Engulfed’ was born. I have now re-written the book and shortly it will be published as “Bridging the Gulf”

Your new book, “Treble Clef” is due out this week. This is the eighth book in your Harrogate Crime Series. Tell me about the series? Who are the main characters? Why did you choose Harrogate for your setting?
The series is set in the beautiful spa town of Harrogate but also links with many of the places of outstanding natural beauty. I found Harrogate’s interesting and curious history fascinating, using it as the warp for the story to be weft within its very fabric.
DCI Cyril Bennett and DS David Owen are the main characters whose professional and personal relationship has developed over the period of eight books. Cyril is not your usual detective, reliant on booze and bad relationships, quite the contrary. A man with impeccable dress sense, somewhat old-fashioned one might say. An eye for the ladies in the earlier books but now... Let’s just say he is settled in a relationship. Cyril is also an avid collector of Northern Art. He enjoys the auction houses of the county. Owen, on the other hand is a giant of a man whose personal hygiene leaves much to be desired and is the antithesis of his boss. However, they make a formidable team.
Being brought up in Bradford, I had often visited Harrogate and I heard that it was the happiest place in the UK to live and so introducing a little crime would not go amiss. The streets, The Stray, the buildings all lend themselves to the genre. Agatha Christie took refuge in the town for ten days causing great national concern and of course, Harrogate is famous for its Crime writing Festival held every year. Importantly too, Harrogate is a main convention centre attracting thousands of visitors annually; now if we take the law of averages, not all will be well behaved.

Tell me more about “Treble Clef”? What does your DCI face this time?