katewritesandreads

katewritesandreads

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Ups and downs


It’s been an ‘up’ week at katewritesandreads:

On Monday, to celebrate National Short Story Week, I brought out a new collection of eleven stories, nine of which have won/been placed in competitions. See last blog post for further details.



On Wednesday I was interviewed on radio, a first for me. Crime writer Wendy H. Jones has a fortnightly radio show called Wendy’s Book Buzz on Mearns Radio, which operates from Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire. My first instinct when Wendy asked me was to say No! I couldn’t do that but then I remembered that my new policy when it comes to stepping out of my comfort zone (where my writing is involved ...) is to say Yes, I'd love to! and worry about the details later. So there I was clutching the phone and chatting to a very-well prepared Wendy about Stella’s Christmas Wish


It was the nearest I shall ever get to being on Desert Island Discs … I’d chosen six songs in advance and in between playing them Wendy asked me some great questions. Later, I plucked up courage to listen to the whole thing – how weird it is to hear your own voice. Good music choices though! See what you think – it’s available on listen-again (go down the list to find Wendy's Book Buzz) until about the 24th of November I believe.

And on Saturday, as well as having lunch with 32 of the brilliant Authors and Book Bloggers in Scotland Facebook Group, I acquired a couple of copies of The People’s Friend Special, no 149 with its lovely Christmassy cover. 


I have a story in it The Overnight Guest: Judith is dreading Christmas. Instead of it being a quiet day spent with her son like last year, she’s with him, his new girlfriend – and her three children. But on Christmas Eve there’s an unexpected development …



Sunday, 12 November 2017

Another World/National Short Story Week







National Short Story Week 2017 runs from 13-19 November. 

To celebrate it, I've put together an anthology of some of my short stories. What most (nine of the eleven) have in common is that they won or were short/long-listed in competitions including the Muriel Spark Short Story Award, judged by Maggie O' Farrell, and the Scotsman/Orange Short Story Award. All the stories have been published in anthologies/magazines.

The Real Thing
Inspired by Pride & Prejudice’s Mary Bennet, long-listed for the Jane Austen Short Story Award in 2009. Looking at her sisters’ relationships, Mary concludes that fiancés are fun but husbands are hard work.

Four in the Morning
Judged by Maggie O’Farrell, winner of the Muriel Spark Short Story Competition, 2008. Her memories, her worries about her daughter, strange noises in the dark house – all conspire to prevent newly widowed Alison from sleeping.

The Ties that Bind
When Eleanor and Doug sort out their late mother’s possessions they come across a puzzling photograph.

Home before Dark
Was this move to the country a good idea – or a terrible mistake? It’s late – surely Billy should be home by now?

The Shimmering Shores
Joy gets away from an unhappy home life by taking the bus down the Scottish east coast every week, hoping to have a chat with bus driver Vic.

Angel
It’s 1923. Beatrice pays a visit to the sad lady in the house across the square and makes an unexpected friend in her garden.

Lucky Tatties
Anne remembers the sweets she used to get in the village shop, including the ‘lucky tatties’ – but who were they lucky for?

Second Best
Georgie may never have won a show-jumping medal at the Olympics but she does have something that has eluded her former rival.

Booty and The Beast
The narrator gives up on love to concentrate on her career as beauty columnist but she can never forget Ronan.

Pittenweem
Barbara thinks she made the right decision all those years ago but a new young colleague makes her wonder if it’s too late to change her mind.

Another World
Shortlisted for the Scotsman/Orange Short Story Award in 2006. Liam recovers from an injury, sustained on active service, in the company of his younger sister – but can he ever tell her about that other world he’s been through? 


Available on Kindle: 

http://amzn.to/2hv8xOb


#shortstories








Saturday, 4 November 2017

Living vicariously – or not





One reason I like writing fiction is that I can live vicariously through my characters. I can look different, travel to other times and far-off places, and have talents that I certainly don’t have in real life. For example I have been an archaeologist, played the fiddle, been a glamorous redhead, and travelled back to the 1950s (not all in the same story ...).

But I’ve never wanted to do what my heroine Elizabeth Duncan, in A Time to Reap, does – be a farmer.

My father was a farm manager so I was brought up on several farms in the Scottish Highlands. Most of my uncles were farmers, on both sides of the family. But get up early every single morning, be outside in all weathers? Not for me, thank you very much. I was roped in to help at some unearthly hour of the morning when it was time to gather the sheep off the hill and, I am shamefaced to recall, I did nothing but moan about it.

Sometimes I’d watch what Dad and his colleagues were doing, whether it was sheep-dipping, lambing, ploughing, making hay bales or milking the cow, and with my siblings and neighbouring children I roamed around over a wide radius, untroubled by traffic or worries about bogeymen.

My much-preferred occupation though was to read (in the garden on warmer days, hugging the Raeburn the rest of the year). The books I liked best were set hundreds of miles away geographically (in rambling houses in Cornwall, tapping walls for secret passages and finding buried treasure), or light years away from my own experience (having midnight feasts in a boarding-school dormitory). When, around the age of ten, I tried to write stories myself I aped my favourite authors. Write about life on a Highland farm? It never crossed my mind for a minute.

So no one was more surprised than me when many years later I found myself writing a serial for The People’s Friend – about a farming community in 1963. Despite my upbringing, research was required. Online I found a ‘calendar’ of a farmer’s year from around the right time-period and place. I asked a cousin how a haystack was made. In a second-hand shop I found a copy of The Farm as a Business: A Handbook of Standards and Statistics (Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, seven shillings) and an item in it, about cattle-rearing, gave me an idea for a plotline.

I got rather obsessed with remembering life on big estates – not just the farming side; there were gamekeepers, foresters, gardeners, the wider community – and trying to think of it from the perspective of a grown-up, not as the child I was when actually there.

I enjoyed writing A Time to Reap more than anything I’ve ever written and of all my characters (in over 50 short stories, two other serials and a novel) I’d like to be Elizabeth Duncan.

That’s on paper only though – I’m afraid the intervening years have shown no improvement in my bad temper when I have to get up very early.

It’s April 1963 in the Scottish Highlands. Elizabeth Duncan, widowed with two small daughters, is the farm manager on the Rosland estate, the job previously held by her husband, Matthew. Following a hard, snowy winter, her working life is made more difficult by the unpleasant estate factor.

Elizabeth enjoys support in the small community from family and friends, including her cousin Peggy and local vet Andy Kerr. The arrival of an American visitor at Rosland House unsettles her in a way she hadn’t expected but, after Matthew’s mysterious death, a new relationship has been the last thing on her mind. However, as she dances at the annual estate ball in September, that may be about to change …

A Time to Reap is available in a large-print edition in libraries, and on Kindle.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Seven in September


I read seven books in September.


At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
We’ve probably all heard the story of ‘Johnny Appleseed’ who scattered pips across America that grew into wonderful orchards seemingly without any further human intervention. But it turns out that growing apples is a great skill, that different kinds can be crossed to produce a different flavour/texture – and that drinking too much cider can have very dire consquences.

Once again Tracy Chevalier has chosen a fascinating subject to passionately pursue. Her (fictional) main character, Robert, moves on from the apple trees of his childhood to finding giant sequoias (even being involved in transporting some to Wales – this really happened ).

The research does rather overwhelm the story and I would have liked to follow Robert’s sister Martha too – but I do love learning something new in whatever form it takes and while I appreciated trees before I read this I’m definitely going to be hugging them now.
 
   


Yes, a bit of a random title for me – part psychology, part medical. When I read (and loved) Liane Moriarty’s novel Three Wishes, which is about triplets, she mentioned this book in her acknowledgements. So I thought I would read it, as a writing friend once pointed out to me that I am fond of having multiple births in my stories – lots of twins and the beginnings of a novel with triplets. Really don’t know why I do that … I’m trying to stop. 

But I loved these stories about twins who were separated at birth (sometimes in the past, horrifically, deliberately separated as a scientific experiment) and who turned out to not only have eg the same mannerisms but who married wives with the same name, or who turned up to be reunited with their twin wearing the same colour and style of dress. About nature and nurture basically – absolutely fascinating. And the medical bit was too (did you know that twins can have different fathers?) … book now passed on to a young relative who has started midwifery training.


X by Sue Grafton
Bought in the wonderful Barter Books in Alnwick. This is the third last in this series about Californian private investigator Kinsey Milhone, which I have been blitz-reading over the last few months. This isn’t one of the best, a bit of a pot-boiler, and really it’s a follow-on story from W is for Wasted – so don’t make this the book you start your reading of the series. Otherwise you could start anywhere because the books, all 26 of them (I’ve still to read Y and Z is not out yet), are set in an unspecified year around the mid 1980s.




In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
I’ve never read Judy Blume’s YA books – actually I’m not sure they were called that when they were first published, I think she probably invented the genre. But a friend passed this ‘for adult readers’ book on and I was intrigued to read it. It’s set in 1951 and based on a real series of tragic accidents that happened over one year in suburban New Jersey, where JB grew up. There are many wonderful characters, perhaps too many – some merited a whole book of their own. It’s a very interesting period to read about – I’ve read lots of fiction and non-fiction of post-war, still-food-rationed Britain when everything seemed rather gray and dreary, but America is the land of plenty; there are technological advances and women’s lives are changing. 



I’ve been meaning reading to read Karen Swan for a while – her covers look so enticing. But I was sadly disappointed. Four friends – two young couples – in the Canadian Rockies, an accident happens, and the book is about the fall-out. Great setting, great premise. But I didn’t like any of the four of characters – they simply didn't ring true for me – and one of them turns out to be so unhinged they seem to have strayed in from a different genre. And the title is a swiz – there are date headings throughout the book and it skips from 24 December to the 26th! There are good reviews online for this, KS’s eleventh novel, but there are also readers who think it not a patch on earlier titles. So maybe I’ll give her another go. Maybe.


Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny
Read on Kindle. Short stories, some about the same characters, all single women and (the irony is deliberate) not awfully carefree or mellow. Loved, loved the characters, the settings and the dry humour. The New York Times described her writing as ‘Cheever mixed with Ephron’. That mix makes a very successful marriage …


Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
Read on Kindle. When I finished her short stories I rushed out to buy KH’s novel (well, I downloaded and started reading it immediately). I don’t know when I’ve last read a book with such lifelike characters – they jumped straight off the page and I loved them all, yes, even the origami obsessives ...

There’s not much in the way of plot but who cares – this is a fly-on-the-wall, laugh-out-loud look at the 15-year marriage of Graham and Audra. He was previously married to ice-queen, humourless Elspeth. One of those people who light up a room, Audra could not be more different. She is much younger than Graham and he loves that she’s so gregarious and can talk to anyone – and does, at great length and speed, without filtering her thoughts (although he winces when the people sitting in front of them at a church wedding overhear her telling him some very (very) intimate information about the bride).

Graham and Audra have a son, Matthew, who has Aspergers, something they take in their stride although it’s not always easy. And sometimes Audra can be too friendly and hospitable, filling their house with waifs and strays, which is when Graham thinks nostalgically of the ordered, peaceful life he had with Elspeth

Throw in the New York setting as a bonus and I was completely hooked by this warm, funny and wonderfully written book.





Thursday, 12 October 2017

Just my Luck


We all have our little superstitions even those of us who say they’re not superstitious (she said, crossing her fingers).

My mum would definitely say she wasn’t superstitious, but she thought bringing pretty hawthorn blossoms into the house would cause something bad to happen – because one time a sad event did follow the blossoms.

Years ago I worked with a girl who believed all her horoscopes in various magazines and newspapers – even when they gave conflicting advice. She had her stars done once, although I can’t remember now what that entailed apart from sheets of that lined computer paper you used to get. Or was that her bio-rhythms? – she had those done too (whatever they were) and she put great store in coincidences and number patterns. We lost touch but I do hope life turned out happily for her.

Perhaps she was hovering in my sub-conscious when I thought of a storyline involving a girl who wouldn’t walk under ladders and who followed her horoscope to the letter. Then when a discussion a few months ago in my writing class led to the superstitions around seeing magpies the two things came together to make a magazine story.

Just my Luck was published in The People’s Friend this week (14 Oct.) with a lovely illustration:



and I got my name on the cover! 



Now that’s what I call good fortune.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Girl in Trouble


I’m delighted to be taking part in Rhoda Baxter’s blog splash today, for her fab new book  Girl in Trouble.



Grown up tomboy Olivia doesn't need a man to complete her. Judging by her absent father, men aren't that reliable anyway. She's got a successful career, good friends and can evict spiders from the bath herself, so she doesn't need to settle down, thanks.
Walter's ex is moving his daughter to America and Walter feels like he's losing his family. When his friend-with-benefits, Olivia, discovers she's pregnant by her douchebag ex, Walter sees the perfect chance to be part of a family with a woman he loves. But how can Walter persuade the most independent woman he's ever met to accept his help, let alone his heart?

Rhoda has asked her blog splashees some very interesting questions:

Rhoda: Both Olivia and Walter undergo changes that they feel are bad, but end up being positive. Have you ever had a blessing in disguise?
Kate: I don’t think I’ve had a dramatic blessing in disguise myself (or maybe I haven’t recognised one) – but my heroine certainly had in Stella’s Christmas Wish. She’s at work in London when she gets a phone call telling her that her beloved granny back home in the Scottish Borders has had a bad fall. As she rushes north it’s impossible for her to see anything good in that situation – and there’s also the reason she left Scotland in the first place – but sometime blessings come very heavily disguised …

Rhoda: Walter thinks hydrothermal vents are beautiful, but no one else does. What is your obscure love/ guilty pleasure, and why?
Kate: It’s not really obscure but it’s a pleasure I’m surprised to find myself having. Since visiting my daughter in rural China where she was teaching English six years ago, I’ve become rather obsessed with that country. So I joined the Scotland-China Association and enjoy the speakers at their monthly meetings, not to mention the get-togethers in Chinese restaurants. I did a Future Learn course on the European Discovery of China – loved it. And I read anything to do with China – my favourite author on the subject is Peter Hessler, an American who went originally with the Peace Corps and then was Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker from 2000 to 2007. Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip, his account of travelling around China in 2001 when there were still very few cars on the road, is mind-boggling and very entertaining.

Rhoda: Since The Octonauts comes up a lot in the book – what is the TV programme or book or game that you miss most from your childhood?
Kate: I was brought up in rural Scotland and we didn’t have a television until I was fifteen. In any case, there weren’t the round-the-clock programmes there are now. Not being an outdoorsy type (despite the lovely outdoors around us) I read every minute I could. Luckily for me, my mum didn’t say (very often!) ‘Why are you inside on a such a lovely day?’ and when she did – well, I just transferred myself, book in hand, onto a rug in the garden. I still read a lot but I miss those unguilty hours and hours … and hours, of getting lost in books.


Girl In Trouble is the third book in the award nominated Smart Girls series by Rhoda Baxter. If you like charming heroes, alpha heroines and sparkling dialogue, you'll love this series. Ideal for fans of Sarah Morgan, Lindsey Kelk or Meg Cabot's Boy books. Buy now and meet your new favourite heroine today.

#GirlInTrouble



Tuesday, 3 October 2017

A Time to Reap – again


I told in this blog post last year how I wrote a poem called Cousin Hugh, turned the poem into a short story called Jack’s Lad (of which more here), and then turned the short story into a People’s Friend serial called A Time to Reap

What could be next, I asked myself? A musical? A cinema blockbuster??

Well, as to those possibilities, watch this space (but don’t hold your breath).

In the meantime, I’ve put the serial on Kindle:



It’s April 1963 in the Scottish Highlands. Elizabeth Duncan, widowed with two small daughters, is the farm manager on the Rosland estate, the job previously held by her husband, Matthew. Following a hard, snowy winter, her working life is made more difficult by the unpleasant estate factor.  

Elizabeth enjoys support in the small community from family and friends, including her cousin Peggy and local vet Andy Kerr. The arrival of an American visitor at Rosland House unsettles her in a way she hadn’t expected but, after Matthew’s mysterious death, a new relationship has been the last thing on her mind. However, as she dances at the annual estate ball in September, that may be about to change …

And there’s a large-print version for libraries published by Ulverscroft:


In another blog post last year I confessed that I was ignorant about many aspects of farming (despite having been brought up on a farm) and that I'd consulted a cousin (wearing the hat) for advice. He kindly wrote a lovely article for me (and you) on how to make a haystack – now, sadly, a lost art.


 Here’s the illustration The People’s Friend gave the first instalment of the serial: 



And if a musical or a film are ever on the cards you’ll be the first to know.