Thursday, 17 January 2019

A Time to Reap – hold the front page!

In 2016 I had a serial A Time to Reap published in The People’s Friend. And from 18 January 2019, it’s having a new lease of life as it’s being serialised in a daily newspaper (print edition), another D C Thomson publication, The Courier.

I don’t think I’ve enjoyed writing anything quite so much as this. It’s set in a Highland farming community in 1963. So, yippeee, one modern writerly problem was dispensed with right away – no need to worry about 21st-century methods of communication (about which I blogged here). And as I was brought up in such a community at that time there would be no requirement to do any research.

Or so I thought.

The main characters, including my heroine, farm manager Elizabeth Duncan, are of course grown-ups; I quite wee in 1963 so I had to think from a different perspective. And just because you lived on a farm doesn’t mean you know anything about farming – especially if you were a child who spent most of her time indoors with her nose in a book.

Among the many questions I asked Google/my cousin David/a farm-implement blogger/fashion-expert friend/lawyer husband of (different) friend and a manual bought in a junk shop called The Farm as a Business: A Handbook of Standards and Statistics for use in Farm Management Advisory Work, published for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1957, were:

How bad was that snowy winter 1962/63?
How would you look after your sheep in those conditions?
What would you be planting/harvesting in the different seasons?
Good reasons for expanding a dairy herd?
How do you persuade an angry bull into a pen?
What style/colour of dress would suit tall, fair-haired Elizabeth to wear to the gillies’ ball?
How much did it cost to send a letter in 1963?
Did you have to get a provisional driving licence then?
Adoption law in Scotland at the time?

If you don’t manage to get hold of The Courier and you want to find the answers to these questions … you can read A Time to Reap on Kindle; it is also available in large-print from libraries.

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 …

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Celebration time at The People's Friend!

My acquaintance with The People’s Friend goes back many (many) years as I said here.

My association with the magazine as a writer isn’t so long but it has been wonderful. The fiction team give such encouragement to writers, whether they are brand new or of longstanding, and in a climate when other magazines are abandoning fiction or being positively discouraging, that is a beacon of light that shines in a naughty world, as Shakespeare (almost) said.

To date, I have had 34 stories published by them and three serials, not forgetting one article and one poem. Along with many other contributors, I was delighted to be invited to help celebrate the 150th (the 150th!) anniversary of the magazine.

And what a swell party it was (fizz, cocktails, canapes and cake plus dancing displays and a small dog ... ); it was lovely to meet staff members, and other writers, some of whom were friends already, plus others I had met only virtually or knew only by name.

As was said in one of the speeches last night the magazine was first published in 1869 when women’s lives were completely different to how they are now and it has sustained them through many vicissitudes including two world wars; that it sells 170,000 copies each week now shows that its comfort and joy are still required. You can find out about the history of the magazine in this anniversary volume.

Long may it continue.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

My life (maybe) – according to the books I read in 2018

 Describe yourself

How do you feel?

Describe where you currently live

If you could go anywhere where would you go?

Your favourite form of transportation is

 Your best friend is

You and your friends are

 What’s the weather like?

Favourite time of day

If your life was a book

What is life to you?

Your fear

What is the best advice you have to give?

Thought for the day

How would you like to die?

Your soul’s present condition

This is a fun idea I saw first on Joanne Baird’s Portobello Book Blog:

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Six in December

I read six books in December.

The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin
I’ve been a fan of CM’s since reading Brooklyn (made into a great film starring Saoirse Ronan, albeit with a slightly different ending). This one is set in Ireland in the 1990s. Declan is dying, and that brings together the women of his family – his sister, mother and grandmother, between whom relations have been strained for a long time. He is so good on family dynamics; for me though this book lacked the warmth and touches of humour that made Brooklyn so wonderful.

The Second Stage of Grief by Katherine Heyton
Read on Kindle. A police series set in New Zealand. I read the first in this series last month and the second one was just as good. Gritty and page-turning:

Ngaire Blakes is trying to put her life back together. The ex-cop resigned from the police after a vicious assault left her battling PTSD. Dragged into a murder investigation, she’s shocked to discover that all the evidence points to her.

Another book set in New Zealand, this time a children’s one with a great cover – I pounced on it in a charity shop. However, the story about Noreen, a girl who works in her aunt’s detective agency, was, I’m sorry to say, dire. Implausible plot to say the least and the aunt is barely mentioned – she is got out of the way in various unlikely scenarios so that Noreen can do the ‘detecting’. Still like the cover though …

The Pen and Pencil Girls by Clare Mallory
Another children’s title and set in New Zealand, although really it could be set anywhere. Six schoolgirls form a club to write and illustrate stories. One of them is set the task of typing the stories up for a competition. I learned to type myself on a manual machine with seven – seven – carbon copies (under the eye of a very strict teacher) so could sympathise with the pains she took. The book was first published in 1948; this edition is a reissue from the wonderful Girls Gone By Publishers.

I’d read reviews of this and have long wanted to read it – not knowing this, my dear d-in-l surprised me by giving me a copy which I proceeded to read in a couple of sittings. 

Sara is Swedish and has been made redundant from the bookshop she has worked in for ten years. She has been having correspondence with an elderly lady in a sleepy small town in Iowa which culminates in an invitation to visit. Not to give too much away – but Sara’s arrival and her love of books draws the town’s eccentric inhabitants together. I love books set in small-town America and I liked all the booky references. Sara’s slow-burning relationship with Tom was very believable. My favourite character though was ‘Poor George’ and his fatherly longing for the daughter of his faithless wife. Recommended …

The Virago Book of Christmas edited by Michelle Lovric
Curl up with a tantalising volume that fives full rein to the seditious humour, peculiar discomforts and exquisite social tortures of the season.

Some familiar and loved authors of mine here – Elizabeth Goudge, Agatha Christie and Laurie Graham for example – and many new to me. Among my favourite pieces was an extract from Winifred Foley’s memoir A Child in the Forest in which she – eventually – comes to love her home-made rag doll. And one unexpected pleasure was Jane Welsh Carlyle’s letter to a friend telling of ‘the very most agreeable party I was ever at in London’ where the company included Charles Dickens doing conjuring tricks.

The problem with anthologies – and I am working my way through The Virago Book of Food too – is the discovery of new authors. So little time, so much to read …

On that note, a very Happy New Year to you.