2020 – What a year, eh?
January: It began all right, didn’t it? I churned out a lot of words in January, determined to write a Viking story set in Scotland and featuring the Lewis Chessmen. My first event of the year took me to Luncarty Primary – these guys deserve a medal – they have had me back every January since I have had books published. I have a narky feeling that this won’t be the case in 2021… I also headed up to Park School in Invergordon for a memorable day with wonderfully enthusiastic kids and teachers, even though my Satnav directed me to the middle of a field instead! I also received a little bit of publishers’ interest for an adult non-fiction idea I pitched during the XpoNorth Tweet Pitch: Scottish by Inclination.
February: Events at the University of the 3rd Age in Nairn, St Madoes Primary in Perth, Ashley Road Primary and Elrick Primary in Aberdeen among others. But that month will always go down as the month before it all ground to a halt. My husband and I took off to Orkney with good friends for a long weekend research trip for the Viking book, and what a wonderful trip it was! I fell in love with Orkney all over again and massively expanded the chapters set there.
March: This month is usually dominated by World Book Day and I had a packed week with Dingwall Primary, Crown School in Inverness and Findochty Primary in Moray. More visits to Glenurquhart and Westhill Primaries followed, but something called ‘Coronavirus’ was elbowing its way into the news. A big school show I was directing and further school visits that month bit the dust. I resumed writing and editing the Viking book with gusto and began to upload daily instalments of an unpublished book of mine to YouTube for teachers to use for free: The Dog Walking Consortium. My friend Corrina Campbell kindly allowed me the use of her illustration.
April: 26 days of posting a daily chapter to YouTube provided a bit of a routine, especially during a period of covid-induced isolation. Thankfully, my symptoms were mild. Other than that, April was the month of cancelled gigs, including the John O’Groats Book Festival which I had really looked forward to.
May: With the Viking book off to the publishers, I began work on two projects simultaneously: the adult non-fiction and another Middle Grade book, set in Victorian times and industrial. One of my first proper digital events was a session for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, on working with an independent publisher, and the advantages and disadvantages of not having an agent. It was so good to be a writer again! With all my family at home and my husband working crazy hours as a public health doctor, most of my energy went into simply keeping the show on the road! The end of the month saw the publication of the Stay at Home anthology. I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute a short story. What a fab initiative by my wee publishers to round up 40 writers across Scotland to make some sort of sense of Lockdown!
June: I was at home. The balance had tipped and I was now devoting most of my time to writing the adult non-fiction, Scottish by Inclination. I had been advised to apply for funding from Creative Scotland and I sent the application off with everything crossed. Meanwhile, I was also assembling teaching resources for my next book, The Siege of Caerlaverock, which was due out in August. Despite the continued lockdown, my publishers decided to go full steam ahead with their schedule. I was grateful. It made things feel a little more normal, especially as I did battle with online teaching via Google classroom. I was also glad to virtually attend XpoNorth which is normally a non-negotiable fixture in my calendar.
July and August: Incredibly, Historic Environment Scotland were keen to collaborate on resources for The Siege of Caerlaverock, which was such a boost. More incredibly, Creative Scotland approved my application for funding, so I began to work very hard on Scottish by Inclination, leaving the Victorian idea to one side. Publicity for The Siege of Caerlaverock was in full swing, and that included a radio interview with BBC Scotland’s Afternoon Show, being interviewed by the fab Nicola Meighan. The Zoom launch for the book was fun and mercifully went off without a hitch, and The Siege of Caerlaverock did reach number 1 on Amazon which was the cherry on the cake!
September was all about the Scottish by Inclination interviews. I talked to footballers and academics and artists and activists – one of the most stimulating months of my writing career, and all from the comfort of my wee study. As my children left for Glasgow and London, the semblance of normality returned, even if only for a while. Our own book festival in Inverness had been cancelled, but I ran a live workshop for Wigtown Book Festival, complete with shadow puppetry – being part of that had long been a dream.
In October, I even managed to fit in a flying visit to my 83-year-old mother on the continent, and I was utterly consumed by the writing of Scottish by Inclination. The interviews continued and I was reaching the end of my first draft. Now all I had to do was edit my hastily poured out words.
November: I was lucky to have digital live school events for St Monans Primary, the Mull and Iona Schools festival and for Dallas Primary, as well as recording content for Findochty and Dalmellington. I also submitted the finished Scottish by Inclination to a publisher for consideration. Best of all, I was awarded a Scottish Book Trust Schools Residency with Findochty Primary. If you would like to know more, you can read about it at https://www.scottishbooktrust.com/writing-and-authors/live-literature/school-residencies/introducing-live-literature-school-residencies. Unbelievably, my first visit there was actually in person as all of us were in the lowest tier. So good!
December. And here we are. There will be no travelling and no family visits over Christmas, but I am lucky to have my family here and we are well. The Siege of Caerlaverock is out in the world, and just last weekend, my lovely publishers announced the cover and publication date of The Chessmen Thief.
Considering what a year this has been, I really, really can’t complain. I can’t thank you all enough for your support, your encouragement and your banter when I have needed it most.
Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas and a 2021 in which we are free to roam, and to hug our friends.