Wednesday, November 21, 2012


As in - 'I'm in recovery' --  AKA Help me Rhonda.

I couldn't understand why I am so tired. Jet-lag? No, should be over that. The horrid cold I picked up in New York? Ditto. So what, why, where does the tiredness stem from? Oh yes, the writing.

Deadlines work. But finishing brings loss -- loss of routine, the loss of that creative bubble where loneliness vanishes so all consumed are you by the company of fictional friends --and enemies, where the world you have created has become more real than reality.

When you hit the send key and the work wings off through the ether, there is a sense of loss so profound, I have complete sympathy with Virginia Wolf and her choice of the river. I have to be vigilant; tell myself to drive slowly, stop at red lights, avoid the rip, avoid quarrelling, avoid despair.

I am recovering from writing the bulk of a book in ten weeks. I'm recovering from finishing the last pages on the morning of the day I set off on a 27 hour journey, via Seoul, to the United States (not including a very long journey from JFK airport including a shuttle bus stopping at six destinations befoe mine to the hotel in Manhattan, only to find the place I booked on the Internet had a shared bathroom on a different floor down a steep, and badly lit, and cold staircase) I had to find another hotel so it was 7 hours after landing before I lay down and couldn't sleep.

Then came the thrill of meeting readers and the team at the publishers and seeing the books in shops. Then the joy of New York, of San Diego, of Redondo Beach, of Pasadena. Then San Francisco, and MELTDOWN.

Knowing I must wait out the despair, I tell myself to find joy in the achievement--you finished, on time, you delivered a book you thought impossible to complete. You tell yourself that despair will pass. Doesn't work.
But this time the consolation of strangers who encourage and praise and engage with me about previous novels that I dimly remember is wonderful and makes me want to continue. And I have the joy of holding the new work in my hands.

I was kidding myself when I though the let-down, the stepping off of the cloud that sustained me through the story would not happen. It did. It has. It has happened in San Francisco and has been made more bearable by the city, the diners, the life of the streets and the wonderful apartment I've been lent by generous strangers.

Three days sleeping eating walking.
Now the sun is shining.
Now an idea for a new book is emerging.
Now it is time to begin again.

Aa' the best.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kiss me once...'s been a long long time...

I have an excuse, many excuses, but the main one is I finished the major draft of book 4 -
North Sea Requiem, only twelve days ago and the very idea of opening a computer made me exhausted.

Plus the very same day the manuscript was sent off, I boarded a plane to New York and stepped out into air so cold, I caught a cold - a horrid sniffing sneezing snivelling cold. Haven't had one of those since Scotland.

So there I was, doing the rounds of bookshops, signing books, meeting fabulous people, having the thrill of seeing my books on shelves in shops for the very first time, then retreating, miserable to overpriced and underwhelming hotel rooms in New York, feeling crap.

But nothing could ever take away from the thrill, the unbelievable high of seeing those book up there with other authors, especially authors I adore, and thinking, it was all worth it; the backache, the loneliness, the isolation, the insomnia, the rift with friends and family as you immerse yourself in writing, it was worth it.

Back it the real world, travelling, exploring parts of the United States is exciting, and stimulating, and most of all, hearing from readers how they engage with the novels had given new impetus to continuing with the series.

After delivering the manuscript I was thinking, this is it, I'll never write another of these again, I want to write anything other than this series.
Then a lovely woman at Atria my publisher said, the only problem with your books is I have to wait a whole year for the next one. Awwwwe. How can I resist comments like that?

                           Me, the author (it now seems real - I now believe I really am an author)
                                               Mysterious Books, TriBeCa, New York.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dream Angus 2

And Angus took the photograph on my new header

Dream Angus

In June of 2011, having driven from the east coast of the Highlands through Strath Oykel and around to Ullapool I attempted to photograph the scenery then gave up.

I decided that landscape so grand, so majestic it makes your heart pound at the glory of it all, is impossible to convey in mere photographs. Let it be a dreamscape, a dwamscape, dwams being daydreams in the Scots language.
Then I saw the work of Angus Bruce.

In a cafe in Ullapool, where the tea and the home baking are excellent, the walls were lined with photographs big and small of the landscape and seascapes I had just driven through, had stopped to breath in, had reconnected with - the landscapes of my childhood.

Summers holidays, up through one strath or another, across to Ullapool, to Lochinver, onwards to Kylesku and the ferry, stopping at Cape Wrath on family camping trips.
School climbing trips, scrambling up the scree slopes of Stac Pollaidh, marching through peat bogs and high heather so tough, so gnarled it was hard going even when a fit young teenager, (not that we had teenagers in those days) And the fires the sandy shores of a lochan, brewing billy tea, eating egg  sandwiches and sticky buttered gingerbread, I could taste the taste looking at Angus's photographs
He captures it all, the land of my dreams.

Angus can be found at:

And this is for you Angus:  Annie Lennox - Dream Angus.

And here is the poem

Dream Angus
Dreams to sell, fine dreams to sell,
Angus is here with dreams to sell.
Hush now wee bairnie and sleep without fear,
For Angus will bring you a dream, my dear.
Can you no hush your weepin'?
All the wee lambs are sleepin'.
Birdies are nestlin', nestlin' taegether,
Dream Angus is hurtlin' through the heather.
Sweet the lavrock sings at morn,
Heraldin' in a bright new dawn.
Wee lambs, they coorie doon taegether
Alang with their ewies in the heather.
Meaning of unusual words:

Aa the best

Annie Lennox - Dream Angus

Monday, September 17, 2012

Deadly deadlines

Hmmm, having the deadline brought forward by two months --does it concentrate the mind or create real snivelling, wake up at three twenty AM panic? Both.
Does it stop you having a life, put friends on the 'must remember to call, email, text list'? Yes indeedy.
Does it make one reach into the deep and dangerous and shock-and-hurt-yourself-pain-place, to find the heart of the matter, to write, write, and write? That too.

And today it's raining -- that helps.

But the most help, is outside help, from a trusted teacher. In Viet Nam, teachers are revered. Teachers Day is a huge event, especially for flower sellers. My office was once so packed with flowers I could barely breath as the pollen sent me sneezing, eyes streaming, but smiling in gratitude to all the students and staff.
In this culture it does not have to be a  teacher as in school teacher,  but a person who has given wisdom or advise, helping you in a way you remember and value. You in turn remember that person, honour them on teacher's day. My list of wise teachers is long, very long.

Vis a vis deadlines however, Jan Cornall, The Writers Journey is the woman. On my fourth book? Three published and modestly successful? Yep and yep. So why do I need a writing coach? I don't. I need a mistress of pain (50 shades reversed? Now there's thought)

Enter Jan Cornall. Her Avoidance Busters Manual was first stop. Read it, makes lots of sense. Tried it. Still procrastinating. Need sterner stuff. Checked out the website again. Damn. No time for the wonderful journeys that worked so well before (Mekong writers, Luang Prabang last December) Time only for the BIG STICK

So now, after a consultation with Mistress Jan, I have a daily word count. Plus a weekly SKYPE call. All I have to do is 1500 words per day minimum, "easy' says Jan, plus revision, plus blog ---nah, forget the blog, and I need to shop eat swim read sleep --nah, can cut some of that out too --sleep probably. And shopping, and --never reading. Eating? swimming? living? breathing?

OOOPs, this doesn't count towards the count --procrastination creeping in again.

Aa' the best,

Làinte mhor a h-uile là a chi 's nach fhaic
(Good health to you every day I see you and every day I don't)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book reviews

Socking it to the Puppets of Reviewerland is the title of The Age article.
And I thought I knew most things shonky in this world but horrified- and saddened is the only comment I'll make.

It seems that not only do you post rave reviews about your own work on Amazon and other outlets, not only do rubbish your rivals i.e. fellow authors, you can also go on to buy great reviews at $90 a pop.

I know how hard it is to compete with established authors, and as a new author to build up your readership but Never. Otherwise how can you derive any satisfaction in the sales you make? 

On that subject, here below is a genuine review of my new book from the notoriously choosy Publishers Weekly. I take great satisfaction in knowing that a) I didn't write it, b) I didn't pay for it, and c) the positive review is most gratifying given how hard I struggled with this book, all the time trying to improve my work, to make it better than the one before.

Aa' the best.

Beneath the Abbey Wall
A.D. Scott. Atria, $15 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-4516-6577-2

In Scott’s appealing third novel set in the 1950s Scottish Highlands (after 2011’s A Double Death on the Black Isle), the arrest of Donal McLeod, the Highland Gazette’s deputy editor, for fatally stabbing the newspaper’s business manager, Mrs. Smart, throws the newsroom into chaos. None of the staff can believe Donal is capable of cold-blooded murder, least of all editor McAllister and reporter Joanne Ross, who set out to find the real killer. The police, on the other hand, think Donal had ample motive as a major beneficiary of Mrs. Smart’s will. Scott vividly evokes Scotland of the period, where tweed skirts are de rigueur for women, and separation from a spouse is almost unheard of. The well-drawn characters, who come from a range of backgrounds, give a broad view of the social milieu—especially Glaswegian McAllister, a relative newcomer to the Highlands. Agent: Peter McGuigan, Foundry Literary + Media. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/2012

Thursday, August 23, 2012

13/ 13th/ Thirteenth

The latest book in the Highland Gazette series comes out on 13th November 2012

13 / 13th / thirteenth

Superstitious? Me? Never. Well, almost never. But I know someone - a close family member, born on the thirteenth who changed his birthdate. How, I don't know, but he never admits to being born on the thirteenth.

I decided a long time ago  not to be superstitious. As I have moved countries, and continents, and read and heard of other cultures' superstitions, and heard so many weird and conflicting superstitions, I've decided to give them up.
I don't walk under ladders because that seems plain sensible.
I don't count chickens etc, because that seems sensible also.
But I still throw salt over my left shoulder should I spill some.

But the thirteenth? Friday the thirteenth even? I find it a good day to get things done as many people avoid trains and boats and planes.

So, Tuesday the 13th of November it is ---and I will be in New York. Hmmm, what did I say about not counting chickens? But I've booked a flight, and a hotel, for Tuesday the 13th in New York. So, we shall see.

PS ...and I took the picture of the actual place where the actual (fictitious) deed was done.

Aa' the best.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just do it

First time I heard that phrase was from Frank Zappa of The Mothers of Invention, addressing students at the LSE at the time of the London student riots (1968). He was talking about getting an education and infiltrating the system from within.
He could have been talking about writing.

Google "Writing" or "Habits of Writers" and nearly every writer mentions the habit of writing, daily, (a bit like exercise or sports training). Published writers write about the necessity of turning out words no matter their merit, and the days when you hate writing and it is all dross, to the days when the muse visits you and it all works as it by magic. But, BUT... there ain't no magic, same as there ain't no "sanity clause" -- thank you Groucho for shattering my illusions.

Dennis Lehane, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Maeve Binchy and all spectrums in between say, write write write. Make your daily words as necessary as brushing your teeth.

Well, I'm trying. I'm at 1500 words a day - aiming for 2,000 and it is not because I have a contract for this book but because, when you are writing, no matter how crap you think it is feel marvellous.

There. I've said it. I've revealed why writers write. Because it feels marvellous.

And if you need a far better explanation than the above, Google, Colin Nissan - THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO WRITING BETTER THAN YOU NORMALLY DO.

Tell it like it is Colin.

Aa' the best.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

On the edge

The edge of a typhoon hit last night, and it rained. It rained and rained. Then this morning, the clouds lifted and the mountain tops played hide and seek.

And down the valley the roadside trickles became streaming waterfalls, sweeping across the road, making driving somewhat hazardous as on the other side is a sheer drop to the paddy fields thirty metres below.

But the best thing, the marvellous, the thrilling thing about the rain - or the aftermath of rain - is that I am writing - real writing, writing my novel. And it feels good.

Must be the Scottish in me, I need cool weather and rain to write.

Aa' the best.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The day of reckoning

15th August 2012

It's my birthday. For me a day of reckoning, a day when I allow myself to look back, to look forward, to yes, be present as well, but to count blessings, and to state where I would like to journey. And today, I allow myself to be lonely, to be glad, I allow the tears held back for so long, and today, I count the many many blessings of being me. 

The past is past. And private. Sacred even. The future -- I want to write a book for me.

I want to write a book where the words will fly out of the ends of my fingertips, where the heart and the soul and the body and the room and the house or cabin or loft or shed or a mansion or meadow or glen or forest will be filled with the light of the inspiration of this book – the book I write for me.

I know this "zone" of inspired detachment but don't like the word zone - too metallic. I prefer enchantment. I have been there before, been blessed with fleeting visits to that elusive, provocative, enchanted realm, granted to artists as though gifted by the faeries.

It does not matter if anyone reads this yet to be written book.
And if anyone should read it, it should be Hugh. But he is dead.
So I will write it for me.

                                                      Birthday Breakfast. Yummm.

                                                                  Aa' the best.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Someone has stolen my rock

I won't describe putting the bike on the train in torrential tropical rain.
I won't describe arriving at 5.20am in a crush of tourists and a swarm of bus drivers and bike drivers and tour operators and tea ladies and coffee ladies and the plain hopeful trying to sell knickknacks and trinkets and playing cards with modestly naked worn on the reverse side.

I won't describe in detail the joyous trip up the mountain in the fresh morning, to the scent of damp earth and pine trees and water dripping over mossy rock, to the sight of my beloved rice terraces and waterfalls and mountain tops playing hide and seek behind morning mist and cloud.

And the Yao woman I gave a lift to, who kept me warm on the final twelve or so kilometres when it becomes decidedly chilly on a bike, she was lovely and so grateful not to have to walk all that way uphill, on a visit to her sisters in Sa Pa.

But the trip up the road to the top of the valley cut short because I was so bereft - that I will describe. See, there is - was - this spot, the one particular spot where I would stop, the same stop where, on and off over for nearly 14 years, where I would go to sit, look at the mountain, listen to the distant echo of the river far below, and just sit, staring at the mountain, doing nothing but sitting.

And now, ten months since I last saw my spreading comfortable, about the size of a baby elephant rock, is this.

Someone stole my rock and I am bereft.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

High anxiety

When the writing gets tough - or stuck - or non-existent ...

Plus ...

And I'm ready to head up the mountain. But first, an overnight train journey with the added drama of putting the bike on the train, (paperwork in Vietnamese, draining the fuel, making sure my beauty is not damaged by the loaders) then a 35 kilometre ride from sea level to 1700 metres on winding twisting roads shared by maniacal bike riders and death defying truck driver and the occasional goat and small groups of minority people laden down with produce, walking to market.

This is not just any mountain, but the mountain where I wrote A Small Death in the Great Glen and A  Double Death on the Black Isle. Aim - two thousand words a day to crack the first draft. So, fingers crossed, boots on, backpack packed, camera ready, books (the new John Banville awaits, Alan de Botton on philosophy, and my trusty I Ching) Also some Fortnum&Mason's English breakfast tea, plus a real teapot and I am off. Off to beautiful Sa Pa. Off to my "Triggering Town". Off to a view of the mountain from the room where I write (the outline of which is on the blog heading above)

To write a first draft, to really truly immerse yourself in the place, the characters, and to let the story unfold, needs space for total immersion and little or no distractions. And the funny thing is, if I surround myself with people speaking in another language (Vietnamese or Mong or Yao) it is like birdsong rising and falling in the background. Never distracting, always good company, always fascinating, the rhythm of the town and the purity of air works - has worked for me in the past I should say. Because with that Muse of mine (definitely a woman, in a dress, in a Scottish voice saying "who do you think you are?") must be obeyed or at least placated, and she likes Sa Pa.
And so do I

Aa' the best.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Writer's rooms

Back in my wee river cottage in Viet Nam after a long expensive journey, I wonder if I am home. Or if I have a home. Or need one. But oh how I want a place that is my place to write. "A Room of One's Own." Indeed.
What I have here is so ephemeral --the fishing village will soon disappear for a marina for tourists, for rich people who can afford a boat. And for a fake fishing village with cafes and restaurants with lots and lots of beer.
And the fishermen and fisherwoman (this is an equal labour village), what of them? Well, they are to be given a nice new apartment in a four storey block with no access to the river or the sea. But they will have indoor toilets. They will have new kitchens. No gardens but they can buy vegetables and eggs and chickens in brand new supermarkets -- when they are built. Buy everything they used to grow with money from ...hold on, money from...they won't be able to fish. Or keep chickens to sell. Or ducks. Or vegetables. The coconut trees which are another source of income are to be cut down.
Me, I have a passport. I can move on. Sooner than I had hoped but I will find another little cottage somewhere in the world. I will write. I will earn a modest income. Maybe keep chickens.

I, we, all of out there in the West have it so good. Jump on an aeroplane and visit my former fishing village. Eat delicious seafood. And perhaps, in the dusk, as the sun sets behind the strange flat-top mountain, and the karaoke music echoes across the still, muddy water, you might see the ghosts of fishermen and women, standing up and rowing, spooling out the nets then banging with the oars to frighten the fish into the nets. Banging, late at night, not loud enough to disturb, but enough to awaken. And I return to sleep, to the rhythm.
Perhaps those fishers will not be ghosts. Perhaps they will be comely young people paid to be fake fishermen and women. And instead of nets, they will scatter little plastic boasts with tea-light candles glowing in homage to the very expensive Western consultant who came up with this traditional ceremony circa 2005.
Then at five AM the National Anthem blasts from high towers out across the river and the rice-paddies, followed by the news and propaganda and adverts for Omo. This is one ceremony that no amount of complaints from tourists or hotel owners will change.
So if you can't beat 'em, wake up have a cup of tea, then start the days' writing.

Aa' the best.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Teachers, preachers, parking meters (with apologies to Bob Dylan)

Kerry Sackville, blogger high priestess, talked about blogging Not only was she informative, funny, and searingly honest, she stuck to the point. 
You know that weird experience, the one where you read the blurb, pay your money, turn up to the talk/class/session and half the time is wasted on subjects that might be fascinating to the look-at-me questioner and all you want to do is shout, " We came here to listen to the speaker" or "Get to the point!"
And  Steven King, in his book "On Writing" which is essential reading for every would-be writer, has put to rest my wild idea I can become great. 
"If you're a bad writer, no one can help you become a good one, or even a competent one. If you're a good writer and want to become a great one, fuhgeddaboudit."
His theory is that, like genetically gifted catwalk models, there are some writers who are so sublimely gifted, even they don't know where it comes from. He goes on to describe his thoughts on how a good writer can become a really good writer. 
Saves me a lot of time and angst thinking I should write a small literary antagonized oeuvre which may sell 900 copies and be praised for ...well, the agony, just so I can say I can do something other than write popular mysteries. Bless him, saved me months and years of ...well, agony.

Preachers...and here I am thinking of my late Uncle Mac, minister in the Church of Scotland and lovely man. From gifted  preachers you can learn rhythm. And the rhythm of how people speak can say more about your character than any adjective. Read Elmore Leonard if you don't believe me. Or listen to the Big Labowski. Or Dr King. Or Obama. 

As for parking meters...take the bus, the train, a tuk-tuk.  As a writer you  learn more about people when taking public transport than any other way I know of. Eavesdropping is good, but wear dark glasses as eyes betray the listener.Especially good is the train from Sydney to Newcastle where everyone seems to be on the phone, sublimely unaware of the writer memorizing the best of lines..."He said, 'You came into this marriage with a suitcase and that's all you'll leave with.' But its been twenty seven years, I'll need more than one."
Walking is good too. Saves money, saves your back, reminds you what fresh air tastes like.

Aa the best

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The scene at the bottom of my garden

I know, I know, "You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone" but I really really do know what I have in this tiny village that I live in.

Early morning, before the heat of the day, open computer, cup of tea by my side, open file, review previous piece of writing, start on new passage, then next thing you know, hours have flown and my eyes hurt,  my back hurts, stomach rumbles,  the tea is forgotten and cold, but the feeling, the joy of having been lost in the story, makes me stop and say, "There is nothing I would rather be doing, there is nowhere I would rather be living."
And I count my blessings.
Now all I have to do is remember to do this often/always/forever.
I've uploaded this because I am so homesick ---and so cold.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I've been to a course, Blogging for Beginners. Hmmmm.
I used to think there are two types of people-- those who are literate and those who are numerate, Now I add another category -- those who are technically competent ...and that is not me.
I've spent two days, days when I should be writing, wrestling with the various challenges of setting up a new blog because I was assured that ANOTHER system was "the industry standard"
Given that I have never had, or done, anything "standard", I don't know why I bothered.
So, I've given up.
If at the 27th attempt you don't succeed, give up. That's my new motto. The only downside is that this OTHER  system has captured my name and they tell me in RED writing, I've lost my name forever and ever. But they don't know my porn-star name so that's OK.

Meanwhile, back in the Highlands in 1958, chapter 4 is shaping up to be very interesting. Not so sure about 2 and 3 so, technical challenges abandoned, it's back to the writing of Maeday, or was it Mayday? Or is it all another name for Procrastination.

Aa' the best

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Procrastination ...reminds me of a song title...isn't the next word ...Jubilation? Wasn't that Cliff Richards (Now 'Sir' Cliff) must have been Wimbledon that did it.
Well done Andy Murray.

Writing -- where were we? Wherever it was, there is not much progress. Which leads to the thought, do I need somewhere, a special place to write?
I hear of writers who can work anywhere ...Trains, Planes and Tuk-tuks is the writer Jan Cornal's phrase. But I can't do that. I seem to need my desk, a blank wall, and as little stimulation as possible.
I seem to need the quiet and calm before I can open the door and step into Scotland circa 1958.
So being in a city (Sydney) even if only for a few weeks, does not help the writing.

Stepping into another person's mind --for that is what writers do, for me that needs a safe quiet spot. And, if disturbed, if snapped out of that dwam*, it is the same as being woken from a deep dream; the same heart palpitations, the same nasty taste in the mouth, the same sense of something having escaped. And impossible to go back to.

I read and listen to other authors talk about the writing experience and the stories are as varied as the writers. but all say the same thing, just get down and do it and don't move until you are finished. Persistence is all.

So...until the next time...
Aa' the best.

*dwam ...Scottish for daydream... kind-of...usually expressed as "In a dwam" or "In a right dwam" and often applied to me by my granny.

It's been a long long time (But kiss me once)

A very long time indeed -- and I’m not about to make excuses, but reasons? Simple. One reason only; I have been adjusting to widowhood. Two and a half years now, and still tough. But I wrote another book, I live on a different continent, a new computer, a new motorbike, and now a new book, due out in November.
Life does indeed go on. As yet in light with many shadows, as the metamorphosis of a  wife of thirty-six years and three months and three days to being a widow is ... I have no word for the state of just-getting-through-it-as-best-you-can.
I like the word ‘widow’. No messing around with that word. Like a knife to the heart.  In some cultures it is a taboo status, the widow as pariah, but the road towards ‘Merry Widow’ is the one I choose to take. Because my marriage was one of great joy, I hope to continue to love life and dance and travel and eat and swim and yes, write.
So, personal update (AKA excuses) out of the way, the books. The third in the Highland Gazette series is due out in November.
Beneath the Abbey Wall,  is out on the 13th of November, and I am now spending far too much time on the internet trying to work out how to travel the vast lengths of the USA on a book tour yes, November, into December when I presume my woody undies will be needed.
I am also write the next book in the series. Just like that -- writing a book. If only it were so easy.
The working title is Mayday, Mayday but as my working titles have never made it past the experienced eye of Marketing people,  I don’t expect this one to either.
So (and I am notorious for not keeping commitments) I will endeavor to make this blog a record of the vicissitudes of an author immersed in a work in progress. Plus hopefully I will shame myself out of terrible procrastination (beach, motorbike rides, friends, beach...lying around doing not an awful lot)
But this much I do know ...I like Mae Bell, i can live with her for a while, this American woman who has turned up in the Gazette office searching for her information about her husband who was lost at, better stop there. This is a blog about a work in progress and the many diversions to writing ---especially for a writer who lives in a small village in Viet Nam with a river at the bottom of the garden.
Until next time, aa’ the best.