2020. What on Earth…

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  I resumed writing and editing the Viking book with gusto and began to upload daily instalments of an unpublished book of mine to YouTube for teachers to use for free: The Dog Walking Consortium.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.

Gorgeous illustration by Corrina Campbell

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.

My giant knight shadow puppet

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.

The beautiful cover for The Chessmen Thief

Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas and a 2021 in which we are free to roam, and to hug our friends.

😊

When Kids Ask the Questions

As you can imagine, I’ve been spending lockdown at my desk, with no author visits on the horizon. But some young people are still reading my books! Pupils from Winchburgh Primary School in Broxburn asked me a whole bunch of questions about my eco-thriller Wilderness Wars. GREAT questions, so I thought I’d share my answers!

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About the book – Wilderness Wars

  1. What inspired you to write the book?

It goes back to a time when we went on a family holiday. A stone hit our windscreen, out of the blue, there were no other cars around! In an attempt to make light of it, we speculated that a gull had thrown it, and that nature didn’t want us to reach the holiday cottage. That was the start. I wrote into my notebook that night: What if nature fights back?

  1. If you were Em, what would you have done to get the adults to believe in you about the nature fighting back?

I’m not sure I would have done any better than Em. It’s a bit of a crazy thing for people to believe 😊 I might have yelled a little more…

  1. How did you come up with the name Skelsay?

I tried to find a name that sounded real, but with a huge number of islands around the Scottish Coast, most decent names were already taken. There are loads of islands that end in ‘say’ which was Old Norse for island, so I looked up Gaelic and Norse words and tried out different combination. Skelsay means Isle of shells, and there wasn’t one of those yet!

  1. How long did it take you to write it?

The actual first draft – maybe around 6 months. But it needed a bit of work before the publishers were happy with it, so maybe another 3 months on top of that. I usually have several things on the go at any one time, so it can be hard to tell.

  1. What is your favourite bit of the book?

I love the SCREE chapter!

  1. What made you choose a Scottish Island?

I live in Scotland and I love going to the islands because they are a bit wild. Buying an island and building a hotel etc on it seemed to be possible.

  1. Were the characters based on anyone you know in real life?

YES, all of them have bits of people I know. Struan is almost exclusively based on my son Duncan. When he was little, he was just like that!

  1. Who’s the best character that you think that you created in the book?

Again, I like Struan best, but I like the others too. Ian Pratt was such good fun to write.

  1. I would really want to know, What happens after the book is finished.

The postscript gives you a wee bit of an idea. Skelsay rewilds itself in any case 😊

  1. Having written your book, is there anything you would change if you could re-write it?

Yes! I like the ending, but as a very smart kid pointed out at a school visit, Em ends up being a bit of a litterbug at the end, so I would maybe come up with something a bit better…

  1. What made you come up with this kind of storylines?

I care about the environment, and once we lose our wild places, they are gone. We need to take better care of them!

  1. Would you ever make the book into a film?

I’d love to see a film of Wilderness Wars, but as a writer, I have to wait until a studio or a production company takes an interest.

  1. What was the hardest chapter to write?

My publishers asked me to delete the first three chapters of the original manuscript. I was gutted, but it is a better story as a result, I hope. Rewriting the beginning was really tough.

  1. I have started to write my own book about a young boy on a quest and have so many ideas in my head I find it hard to organise them and pick the best to use. I really enjoyed the suspense created at the end of your chapters and all the questions I had before reading the next one. I would like to do the same in my book do you any advice on how I can plan my story ideas to create the same?

 

To be absolutely honest, I don’t always plan my stories out. I literally write as if I am telling myself a story. Then, at a point when I am excited to move on, I insert a chapter break. Keep asking the ‘what if’ questions. If the story gets a little too easy and boring, throw your characters into terrible jeopardy. It works for me!

About being an author in general

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  1. Do you enjoy reading?

Love it! I constantly have a book on the go and take it with me wherever I go. I also have as book in the car in case I have to wait somewhere. And when times are tricky, I absolutely need to read to give myself a break from real life!

  1. When did you get in to writing books?

I wrote loads of stories when I was a kid. As an adult, I wrote plays first and performed them. I had a wee puppetry business for a few years, but I soon realised that the writing was what I loved best. I then wrote a short story, just to see if I could, and entered it into a competition, and I won! After that, I challenged myself in a New Year’s resolution – wonder if I could write a kids’ book. But I wasn’t published until I had written 6 books! It takes a long time 😊

  1. Did anyone inspire you to become an author and if so, who?

Many people. But I loved Walter Farley’s books about the racehorse world and I remember thinking – creating stories for young people would be the coolest thing that anyone could do.

  1. How many books have you written?

At least 11 full length manuscripts, but many shorter stories and plays too.

  1. What inspired you to be an author?

I just think it’s total magic, how little black marks on paper get some sort of head-cinema going in a young reader’s imagination. I really, really wanted to be part of that and learn how to do that. If you offered me the chance to do real magic, I think I’d still choose this!

  1. Can you talk to someone and if they were talking about a dream could you turn that into inspiration for a story?

I do that constantly! But I can’t write a story that I’m not excited about. I really have to care. If I’m not really invested in it, I can’t expect a reader to be either. So if you are wishing that there was a story about, I don’t know, sword-fighting dogs in Siberia, then your best bet is to write it yourself!

 

Thanks for asking all these cool questions!  

Keep reading, and power to your pens!

COVER REVEAL The Siege of Caerlaverock!

I am so excited that I get to tell you about a NEW BOOK! The Siege of Caerlaverock is a medieval David-and-Goliath tale based on real events at Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfries and Galloway – and here is the gorgeous cover!

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It is a stunner, I think – designed by Cranachan Publishing’s Anne Glennie who felt very strongly about using the image of the actual castle, not just any other medieval stronghold.

It took a little while to arrive at the final product, an image of the castle ruin (albeit well-preserved) as it is now, overlaid with the dramatic events which unfolded there in July 1300 when the King of England, Edward Longshanks, surrounded and besieged the castle with an army over 3000 strong, while those inside numbered only sixty or so men. Certainly, some of those inside were women – and this opened up the brilliant possibility of writing a knights-and-castles, Wars-of-Independence story for kids, but with a female point of view character. My main source was a contemporary heraldic poem.

THE STORY:

12-year-old Ada is a laundress of little consequence, but the new castle commander Brian de Berclay has his evil eye on her. Perhaps she shouldn’t have fed the young prisoner in the tower.

But when the King of England crosses the border with an army over 3000 strong, Ada, her friend Godfrey and all at Caerlaverock suddenly find themselves under attack, with only 60 men for protection. Soon, rocks and flaming arrows rain from the sky over Castle Caerlaverock – and Ada has a dangerous choice to make.

THE COVER IMAGE:

Our early discussions centred on the building itself. The castle definitely had to be featured in the cover image, right? If you have a real-life location which people can still visit, it seems a waste not to capitalise on this. It is Scotland’s only triangular castle and a popular filming location. The name itself means ‘fort of the skylark’ (from caer meaning fort; and the old English laewerce meaning lark). Gorgeous and evocative, and perfect for a story!

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The problem was that a lot of castle images looked very peaceful, not at all the dramatic, fast-moving adventure which would reflect the manuscript!

Back to the Drawing Board. Anne and I brainstormed and I wondered if the real location could be featured in the cover by way of a map? We hunted down some old-fashioned maps, and attempted to show the female heroine in front of the castle, alongside some birds to reflect the skylark connection.However, although the building looked great, the map graphics only made the overall effect less clear, and the atmosphere still lacked threat. I did love the font though!

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I left it in Anne’s capable hands, and as always, she delivered. Just look at the progress in our next step! We had the threatening atmosphere at last! Night-time wanderings, the female at the centre of the story, being watched by the Commander from on high. We also wondered about the title and discussed it at length: Ada is a girl under siege. There are enemies outside, but she is also being hunted within the castle walls.

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Still, the Castle was a character in itself and needed to be in the title. And the figure of the girl did not quite have the impact we were looking for. We wanted to get across the movement and the drama that happened here somehow. Knights galloping their chargers around the besieged fortress, the drawing of weapons, the clanging of armour, the whistling of fiery missiles through the air…

The solution came by superimposing one image onto another. Wish I could claim credit for it, but it is all Anne’s doing! What you see is the castle ruin as it is now, but seen through a lens of an event which happened there 720 years ago. Shadows of the past in the misty murk of the present.

There is a bit of me which gets goosebumps every time I think of that, the memory of stones…

I love the cover!

LOVE IT!

And I can’t wait to hear what you all think!

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2019 – The Quick Version

A write old year! What did I even do? What DID I do?

My mind predictably draws a blank when I ask myself questions like this, so let’s have a proper think, eh?

January saw me do author events in Balloch Primary, Luncarty Primary and Inverness Royal Academy. I also met up with my pals from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Edinburgh. Oh, and my oldest left home to go to Egypt – a bit of a biggie for the family.

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The gorgeous Brodie Castle in February.

February began with delivering a storytelling session at the fabulous Brodie Castle. In the castle library, no less! So many castle themed stories to choose from… Author visits to Hamilton and East Kilbride among others, but the event of the month was really the beginning of the Artyness column which I began to write fortnightly, alternating with musician and writer Liza Mulholland, and which goes out in the weekend edition of a whole clutch of North of Scotland Papers. So much fun!dav

World Book Day means that March is always busy! Hamilton, East Kilbride and Findochty in Moray, a visit to the local RSPB Wildlife Explorer group, Fort William and the fabulous Scottish Association of Writers conference for which I was honoured to be an adjudicator and speaker. But the biggest challenge was reading the audiobook of Wilderness Wars which took hours and hours and hours! Who even wrote this unpronounceable prose?

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Audiobook production at the Music Shed in Inverness

April – the holidays are upon us, so it’s a quieter month, apart from a small number of events including the lovely Pitcairn School in Perthshire.dav

May – I was one of the three lucky spotlight authors for the Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend. It was also the month of Queen Victoria’s Bicentenary, so I visited all the locations of my Victorian book ‘Punch’: South Morningside and Tollcross Primaries in Edinburgh, St Ninian’s in Perth, Waterstones Inverness and the Victorian Market in my home town – and Crathie School near Balmoral Castle, one of the key settings in the book!

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June – Author visits to Fort William and Cauldeen Primary as well as the new library in the Merkinch Family Centre among others. July saw the fantastic XpoNorth Festival return to Inverness and we went for a research holiday to the Isle of Lewis. I’m currently knee-deep into a late Viking Scotland story as a result. In August, I was lucky enough to appear alongside allround legend Maggie Craig at SEALL, Skye, for a writing workshop on bringing the past to life. Of course, the highlight of my year is the Edinburgh International Book Festival where all three of my books were in the festival bookshop!

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Back to normal in September, with a clutch of author visits and school events, including a trip to Sherborne School in Dorset and one to Aberdeen, as well as taking oldest to university. In October, all of this intensifies, with visits to Muckhart, two more Aberdeen events, the fab Word on the Street festival in Dingwall and, finally, the launch of Black Water, my new novella for 8-12 year olds at Waterstones Inverness. Most of my fellow writers published by Cranachan Publishing were there – my clan!

 

The very next day (and now into November), I’m on a train to Aberdeen again for the international kidlit quiz. Flying to the Isle of Lewis a few days later for the Faclan Oga festival is a particular treat: three school events in quick succession. Bridge of Don Academy and the official Black Water school launch at my home school of Cradlehall follow, as well as visits to Merkinch, Aviemore, Mountfleurie, Perth and Glenurquhart primaries. Best bit? Joining the Mobile library van on its round past Aldourie and Foyers Primaries – what a fantastic service, and how valued by its customers in remote places!

And so I wind up the year in December by guesting at the young writers café for Moniack Mhor, taking part in Bookpenpals and #bookfoundxmas and by looking back gratefully. If anything, writing a post like this helps my own memory and keeps me right. Writing can be a stationary and solitary business and it’s good to remind myself that I actually did do something this year… 😊dav

Happy 2020 to you all! Thanks for chumming me along, and letting me chum you in return!

Motivation Matters Blog Tour: The Tone Makes the Music

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Today it’s my turn on the Motivation Matters blog tour. Writers, this one’s for you!

There is a saying in German: ‘Der Ton macht die Musik’: The tone makes the music. And yes, you’ve guessed it: this review is going to focus on tone above all else.

Even that aside, yes, this little book is a treasure all right. Stuffed with ideas, enough to try a new approach to your writing every single day of the year, it is divided into handy sections and exceptionally easy to navigate. But what sets it apart from other ‘how to’ books and advice on writing I have read (and I have read a lot of those), is that Motivation Matters sounds like a real person. There is a voice here, and a likeable one at that. Wendy Jones, to be precise. The author has done away with any pretence of objectivity or removal in her tone. Instead, she sidles right up to you and nudges you, possibly even forcefully. ‘Try it this way. Come on, give it a go. You’re gonna think I’m mad, but what about giving this new approach a shot?’

Like a little story-sprite on your shoulder, you’ve got company. Throughout the book, the tone ranges from cajoling, encouraging, conversational to occasionally bossy and a little provocative, just to shake us out of our old and tired writing routine. Motivation Matters is a loose celebration of all things which make writing great, and a freedom-pass to kiss all your writing constraints and obligations goodbye to discover something new. Highly recommended! Buy it at https://amzn.to/2NHfutf.

PS. I think most of us would do well not to follow Motivation Matters as a rigid day-by-day plan of what to do. It’s at its best when you flick through its pages once you’re stuck in your writing. You may just happen upon something that catches your eye. 🙂

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Award Winning Author Wendy H. Jones lives in Scotland, and her police procedural series featuring Detective Inspector Shona McKenzie, is set in the beautiful city of Dundee, Scotland. Wendy has led a varied and adventurous life. Her love for adventure led to her joining the Royal Navy to undertake nurse training. After six years in the Navy, she joined the Army where she served as an Officer for a further 17 years. This took her all over the world including Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. Much of her spare time is now spent travelling around the UK, and lands much further afield. As well as nursing Wendy also worked for many years in Academia. This led to publication in academic textbooks and journals. Killer’s Countdown is her first novel and the first book in the Shona McKenzie Mystery series. Killer’s Crew won the Books Go Social Book of the Year 2107. There are now six books in this series with Killer’s Crypt being released in August 2017. The Dagger’s Curse is the first book in The Fergus and Flora Mysteries for Young Adults. This book is currently shortlisted for the Woman Alive Magazine Readers Choice Award Book of the Year. She is also a highly successful marketer and she shares her methods in the book, Power Packed Book Marketing.