Saturday, 27 February 2016

Publication day!

Publishing a story collection has been a series of steep learning curves – as soon as I climbed over one, another loomed up. But here we are, at least for the Kindle edition (print version coming soon) – it's out there, officially published today.

And, just like having a baby, I've already forgotten the bad bits and and am quite prepared to do it all again ...

The stories first appeared in The People's Friend, Woman's Weekly, and Woman's Day (an Australian magazine).

And talking of the The People's Friend – I am guest author at their imminent award-winning story-writing workshops. The Glasgow and York dates are sold out but there are some spaces left in Dundee on 29 March, see further details on Fiction Editor Shirley Blair's blog

Maybe I'll see you there?

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Three's a Crowd

I am pleased to say that I have brought out a collection of my short stories (previously published in The People's Friend, Woman's Weekly and Woman's Day).

The Kindle edition will be published on 27 February 2016 and it is available for pre-order now:


A paperback edition will follow in March.

Extract from Hide-and-Seek for Astronauts, published in Woman's Weekly:

Last year, Julie hired a fire engine.
The year before, she had an igloo built in the garden – in June. The year before that she took ten four-year-olds on a steam train.
Now she had begun to talk about Ben’s next birthday party although he wouldn’t be seven for another two months. He was obsessed with space so I asked if she’d booked a supersonic trip around the galaxy with a stop for moon burgers.
‘Very funny. Haven’t finalised the details yet. Just keep the eighteenth free.’
When Julie and I were kids, our birthday parties were a few friends round to play in the garden and a home-made cake with candles half-burnt from their previous outing. I don’t remember either of us ever getting new candles, but we didn’t care.
 ‘It’s different now, Karen.’ Julie was dismissive when I reminded her. ‘Anyway, you don’t have children.’
I may not have children of my own but as an infant teacher I see more than enough of them. Julie was right. It is different now. We thought that life didn’t get any better than playing hide-and-seek and looking forward to a big piece of Gran’s jammy sponge. But that all came free, more or less – now birthday parties seemed to be about spending money and not just keeping up with the Joneses but leap-frogging over them.
Julie had become an expert leap-frogger, and spending money was one of her favourite occupations. As was trying to persuade me to spend my hard-earned.
‘Why don’t we go shopping for some new clothes for you?’ she asked me. We were sitting having a Saturday morning cappuccino. It was just ten o’clock but she was carrying several shiny carrier bags from one of the designer shops in the precinct.
‘What for? They’ll just get poster paint and sticky finger marks all over them.’
‘You don’t teach all the time. Matthew suggested … ’
‘Matthew suggested what?’
‘Julie.’ I gave her the look I give P1 when they’re particularly fractious and she capitulated.
‘We were watching one of those makeover programmes and he said why didn’t I put you forward?’
‘As if! I’m not going to parade in my underwear, or worse, for all the world to see. What would Gran have said?’
What Gran would have said to such an event was beyond our imagination, and we dissolved into giggles.
‘I can’t see you doing it,’ Julie conceded. ‘But you could do with a new look.’
I wasn’t offended. Julie meant well and we had this conversation, or variations on it, regularly.
‘I really can’t be bothered,’ I said. ‘You do the glam bit for both of us.’
To be fair, I knew that Julie would be happy to pass her cast-offs on to me and I would have been happy to take them. It was unfortunate that I, the older sister whose hand-me-downs Julie was forced to wear as a child, was three inches shorter than her and a completely different shape.
Julie was still thinking about Gran.
‘We hardly had any clothes that weren’t second-hand or home-made,’ she went on. ‘Remember the paper pattern she kept making those pinafore dresses from? The same one she’d used for our mum. And those scratchy jumpers?’ She pulled a face.
I didn’t tell her that I still had the moss green chunky polo neck Gran knitted for me when I was fourteen, and that I wore it on winter nights when I got in from school.
 ‘She tried to teach us to sew and knit but that was a lost cause.’ Julie finished her coffee and patted her red lips with a napkin. ‘Sure you don’t want me to come shopping with you?’
I was sure.
But when I was getting ready for bed, Matthew’s suggestion came back to me. I looked at the nubbly tweed skirt I’d just flung on the chair. I’d had it for five years but it was still perfectly serviceable. The top I was taking off was in a shade of blue I didn’t particularly like but it had been on a half-price rail.
I didn’t envy Julie her designer lifestyle. Fun for a day maybe but what a palaver. Sometimes I wondered what Gran, with her one ancient lipstick and her three-times-a-year perm, would think of Julie’s manicures and facials and whatnots, not to mention her built-in wardrobes and her forests of shoe-trees.
The nubbly skirt went on again on Monday with a top, mustard this time, from the same sale rail. Even I could see that the colour didn’t suit me; the face that stared back at me looked to be the last stages of yellow fever.
Maybe I should make more of an effort.
Everything seemed to go wrong that morning. When I was gulping down some cereal my cat, Scatty, jumped on the table and knocked over the milk carton. The traffic, even in the bus lane, was worse than usual. P1 was playing up and my fiercest looks did nothing to quell them.
And when I had a break in the staff room at lunch-time there came a hysterical call on my mobile from Julie saying she was at the school gate and did I have a minute.
I hurried outside.

now read on ..... 



Friday, 12 February 2016

Five in January

I read five books in January.

Bit of a lazy old nostalgia fest this month.

The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge
I loved Elizabeth Goudge when I was younger and reread her books many times. About three years ago I reread my favourites, the Damerosehay trilogy The Bird in the Tree, The Herb of Grace and The Heart of the Family, and they stood the test of time for me. This one did too, mostly – I was eager to reach the bits I remembered: the wonderful house inherited by the main character, Mary; the description of the ‘little things’; and the evocation of a countryside and way of life that, in the 1930s, was being mourned as slipping into the past. But I’m not sure that it stands a general test of time – would it appeal to many folk reading it now for the first time? Hmm. I'd like to think so though.

The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goudge
Miss Brown – we’re told her first name is Dolores but she’s never thus referred to thereafter – has to leave her seaside home which she’s run as a boarding house as it’s been taken over by the military in the early days of WW2. By a circuitous chain of events she ends up housekeeping in a castle owned by an author who lives there with his two nephews. As before, I still liked my favourite bits. But what my younger self didn’t picked up on was this: Miss Brown aged forty-four is considered well past her sell-by date and Mrs Heather, in her seventies – well, it’s a miracle she’s still alive. 

Maybe it's a mistake to go back to reread old favourites – what do you think? 

And here's another one.

Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter
I read this as a child, probably from school library. Couldn’t resist this second-hand copy. It has not stood the test of time from a literary point of view – far-fetched, plot holes a mile wide – but I enjoyed it anyway for old times' sake and for the reminder of Pollyanna’s in/famous Glad Game (looking for the silver lining in every cloud). Even though I’m not likely to play it all the time …
E-books are handy but you don’t get this with them, a reminder of a previous owner – or lovely endpapers.
Or this, which was tucked inside – perhaps from a different owner. I like her priorities.

Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay
Love these (children’s) books about the bohemian Casson family and was thrilled to see the author at the Edinburgh Book Festival last year, where I bought this one. It’s the sixth to be published (following Saffy’s Angel, Indigo’s Star, Permanent Rose, Caddy Ever After and Forever Rose) but it’s not chronological – it goes back to when the youngest, Rose, was born early and had to be in hospital for several weeks. A treat, as usual.

And for something completely different –

The Lewis Man by Peter May
An unidentified corpse is recovered from a Lewis peat bog; the only clue to its identity being a DNA sibling match to a local farmer. A man with no memory.
I really enjoyed Entry Island and don’t know why I haven’t read more PM since. This was terrific, although I was cross with myself to realise halfway through that it was the second in the trilogy – look forward to catching up with the characters in the first and third soon.

Monday, 1 February 2016

What's in a (storm) name?

I am somewhat obsessed by names so I can’t believe I’ve written almost 90 blog posts without discussing them.

I love choosing my characters' names for stories. I wonder about how some surnames came about. I always ask my teacher friends what children in their class are called. Etc. The subject could have a blog all of its own.

But as the wind howls around the house, I'll start with storm names.


From November 2015 storms in the UK began to be christened, starting with a girl’s name, Abigail. Abigail sounds far too nice and gentle to be a storm.

November had three storms – Abigail was followed by Barney and Clodagh. They’re from the Irish branch of the family maybe.

There were three in December – Desmond, Eva and Frank.

Doesn't Desmond have a barrow in the market place? What’s he doing thundering and blowing? Hasn't he got work to do?

Eva’s Abigail’s little sister – desperate to keep up.

I won’t forget Frank because I was in a plane that couldn’t land first time round because of him. Stupid boy.

Thankfully, only Gertrude showed up in January. In school stories, Gertrude was always the horrid girl – the sneak thief, the tale-teller, the one who’d trip you up in the corridor. I’m not surprised she grew up to cause havoc in the skies.

Bracing ourselves here in Scotland for Henry on 1 February. A king-sized storm is on its way by all accounts.

Off to hide under the bed.