The year that promised nothing, but somehow delivered!
My expectations for 2021 were well managed. We’re in a pandemic – you can beaver away at your writing, Barbara, but don’t expect much. Live events probably won’t happen. Book releases aren’t guaranteed. Festivals may be off. My Scottish Book Trust residency at Findochty Primary had been largely virtual.
Well, here is how it all panned out.
January: A snowy and slow start to the year. I was writing a Victorian book that is now scheduled for 2023, but I was also editing, because – miracle of miracles – 2021 was going to be the first year when I was going to see TWO titles released!
February: Movements were still pretty restricted, so I kept myself busy advance signing the gorgeous book plates Cranachan Publishing had sent me. My daily walk took me to Inverness Castle where I became firm friends with one Flora MacDonald – the statue version, as we weren’t supposed to socialise. She briefly features in a Jacobite book I wrote but hadn’t found a home for yet. Meanwhile, I was beginning to get the hang of online events, so February saw a fair few virtual school visits!
March: I spent the month signing book plates for The Chessmen Thief and editing Scottish by Inclination, interspersed with writing the Victorian book – three manuscripts in my head at once! The Chessmen Thief was being printed and for the first time, I was working with a publicist, the lovely Antonia. Soon I was busily fielding interviews and writing features for the Big Issue, The Scotsman and a host of others.
April: Launch month for The Chessmen Thief. I was so, so lucky that Museum nan Eiliean on the Isle of Lewis had agreed to take part in the virtual launch – crowds weren’t allowed yet! I travelled to the Isle of Lewis. I had found a dress that matched the book cover almost perfectly – it was like putting on a uniform. We had teamed up with the wonderful Western Isles libraries and E-Sgoil, a platform which normally delivers Gaelic content directly into schools, so hundreds of classrooms joined us for the launch event which featured an interview recorded beside the iconic Lewis Chessmen in the museum. Mind blown. Huge thanks to Anne and Iain Glennie for publishing me, hosting me and chumming me all over the island! April also saw me do a couple of virtual events for John O’Groats Book Festival – and my first meeting with Kate Scarborough who is now my agent.
May: We travelled down to Glasgow for our eldest’s 21st, with snow (yes, snow in May!) piled high by the A9. Covid rules seemed to change almost daily and life felt unpredictable, but I had signed with Kate and the Tyild’s agency – after all those years, I had an agent! The final sessions with Findochty Primary were able to be in-person visits and there were a clutch of others, notably Balivanich Primary who had won the Chessmen Challenge competition by creating a really memorable freeze frame. But I was also knee deep in writing the Victorian book and May was a research month, travelling to the Forth Bridge and Dunfermline’s Carnegie Library, as well as scouring some atmospheric graveyards for character names. And, wahey, I became a dual German-British citizen!
June: Launch month for Scottish by Inclination. I must thank Creative Scotland for part-funding me to write this book, published by Luath Press. As an EU immigrant myself, it is a book close to my heart. For much of this year, I have waited for the outcome of my citizenship application, and the launch gave me a chance to try some of the questions in my Life on the UK test on an unsuspecting audience.
By now I was also working on another adult non-fiction title provisionally entitled Labour of Love and began interviewing some interesting people for it. The usual end of term craziness in the school where I teach meant that writing slid down the priority pile at times.
July: A time to rest up, apart from some workshops for Highland Council’s school holiday programme. A family visit to London was thankfully possible too, all interspersed with bits of writing. There I got to see the rest of the Lewis Chess pieces again which was wonderful!
August: A couple more short family trips before a real career first as a writer: appearing at Edinburgh International Book Festival. To say that was special would be an utter understatement – I was BESIDE MYSELF with excitement.
In addition, the Time Tunnellers launched in August, a regular blog and YouTube channel by five historical fiction writers for young people, including me. And on top of that, The Siege of Caerlaverock was shortlisted for the Young Quills Award by the Historical Association, which was pretty exciting!
September: I was so fortunate to appear in person at four Nairn primary schools and provide virtual content for Nairn Academy, all as part of Nairn Book and Arts Festival, and to participate in St Duthac’s Festival in Tain and the Nigg Book Fair too. We also had a blast during the European Day of Languages with Scottish by Inclination.
October: It was grateful to be on the programme at NessBookFest, a festival I used to be involved in as an organiser, with a lovely, lively discussion about Scottish by Inclination. For Bookshop Day, I managed to visit a good handful of semi-local bookshops – have a look if you like:
The interviews for the new adult book were coming in thick and fast now, and I was barely keeping up between school events and the day job.
November: The dreaded virus threw a spanner in the works once more, meaning that one of my Book Week Scotland events had to be postponed. I was delighted that Dingwall Library and Culloden Library events went ahead in person though, and I loved speaking to teachers on an in-service course organised by Falkirk Libraries. I was also doing an online event for the Society of Authors on how to be a proactive writer – not any great wisdom – just my tuppence worth. Finally, I was delighted to see a Writers’ Hub start in my local church.
December: Made it! December was memorable for so many things! I turned 50, treated myself to a research visit to Edinburgh for a new book I started, finally met some of the gang at Luath Press in person, was given a contract for the Jacobite book (hooray!), and the icing on the cake – I won the Young Quills Award for which I had been shortlisted in August.
For me, 2021 has been emphatically a GOOD YEAR and I am grateful for each and every one of you – readers, friends, writers, social media pals, sparring partners, inspirers. Thank you for your company.
I hope the holiday period has been one of rest and renewed inspiration for you all.