On THE RIDE again (4): If you don’t ask, you don’t get

I am learning.

Learning more, learning faster, learning better. I am engulfed in the second lot of edits with Punch, rephrasing, rewording and re-thinking the manuscript after six weeks away. Unlike a lot of my writer friends, I actually enjoy this process more and more. It reassures me that someone else (in this case Cranachan editor Anne Glennie) has cast a beady eye over my words. I don’t mind being told that I overuse ‘just’ and ‘lapping’ and and ‘stumbling’ – I am genuinely grateful that somebody would point this out before I can publicly disgrace myself!

And multi-tasking with the best of them, I am also turning my attention to the Punch book trailer. I loved making the book trailer for Fir for Luck (find it here if you haven’t seen it!). LOVED it!

Maybe it is the varied nature of it: a small-scale project. Writing a screen-play for a mere minute of Youtube output, sourcing props and costumes and music, making the whole thing work. I absolutely adore the whole process.

Like last time, I approached family friend Ross with my request. I can sort of film and sort of edit, but he can do both, without the ‘sort of’ – and he does it really, really well. Sadly, I can’t afford a king’s ransom, but he is going out with my niece now, so asking him to do the trailer for a small fee became easier :). ‘Sure’, he said, ‘I’ll happily do that if you can produce it!’

I had never thought of my all-rounding as ‘producing’ before, but if that’s what he wants to call it…

Image result for Punch and Judy
The Museum’s Punch and Judy are unlikely to be in such perfect condition as these.

I dived deep into the costume cupboard to find vaguely Victorian stuff for my 12-year-old to wear as he sprints across old bridges and over cobbled stones. And, while there was some running in the trailer script, we also needed at least a little bit of puppetry, especially given the title of the novel.  I hunted for wooden Punch and Judy puppets on Ebay (with only limited success). I asked around and eventually succeeded in borrowing a giant-sized Punch puppet head from my research expert. Would it do? Not sure – as it had to be a functioning puppet… I reached for the sewing machine. But hang on, I had seen some images of actual Victorian puppets in my research, credited to Inverness Museum. I wonder…

Worth a go, don’t you think?

I popped along to the museum in my Sunday best, only to find that the person I needed to impress wasn’t actually there. I politely asked for her email address and sent my begging letter that night.

puppet borrow

The wonderful reply came back today: Not only will they allow us to film in the Museum this Friday, but they will bring the puppets up from their depot an hour south of here especially! I feel like dancing. Mr Punch may only make a brief appearance in the trailer, but I’m sure for me he’ll be the star of the show!

See ya! I’m off to buy some stripy fabric to use in the shots.

Lesson learned:

Just ask.





On THE RIDE again: (3) How not to appear on screen

I am trying to begin beating the promotional drum for Punch, which after all isn’t out until October, so I need to think creatively: how can I weave Punch into what I am already doing?


Before Xpo
Outside Eden Court, the main venue for XpoNorth


There is a cautionary tale of failure here. Bear with me.

Take the fantastic opportunity that was XpoNorth this last week.  I was invited to be on one of the panels, discussing publishing and writing in the Highlands and Islands – a great honour, considering I’d been in the audience for similar events for years – always looking yearningly at the performers and wondering what it must be like living the dream as a published author. And now I was on the other side.

It was exciting, and there was a huge buzz about Eden Court. I attended a very helpful event on breaking into screen writing, after which I had only a few minutes until my XpoNorth Live interview – a television station set up to give trainees a taste of production. It all seemed very professional.

Panel Gill
The fantastic panel I was honoured to be part of: from left, Keara Donnachie (Sandstone Press), Gill Tasker (Publishing Scotland), Anne Glennie (Cranachan), me (with the scarf in question) and Helen Sedgwick (author)


Now, I’d given this a little thought. Blue is an ok colour on me, and I had a lovely blue scarf – that should go ok with a plain blue top. You probably won’t see the bottom half, so I put on comfy jeans and headed out. I’ve never been one for much make-up. I didn’t even really think about it. Shame on me!XpoTV

I arrived on set and took my seat – not just one camera, no: several, including one which slid sideways to pan across the scene – my jeans and my plain top were going to be in plain view! As well as all that was in them. Deep breath!

What followed can only be described as an undignified wrestle between me, my top, my scarf and the microphone, which had to be threaded through from the inside. ‘Be easier if you took the scarf off,’ the friendly man suggested. ‘I’ll keep it for you.’

Watch HERE if you can bear it.

And so it came to pass that I sat answering questions from the perfectly made up, glam interviewer – me in a plain blue t-shirt, with no make-up on, shiny faced and looking as if I’d made no effort whatsoever. And you know what else? I didn’t mention Punch once!

My lovely SCBWI group online said lots of lovely things after I wailed to them about this, and I know, I know, I know… they are right. There was a little coherence in what I said, and mostly, what came out of my mouth consisted of words and sentences vaguely related to the question.

But in the unlikely event that you are ever asked to appear on camera, take it from me:

  • Have your bucket of make-up ready
  • Don’t even think about wearing a scarf, and most importantly…


Reading, Writing and the World of Work

Fantastic, thought-provoking post by Helen MacKinven!

Helen MacKinven

Last Wednesday, I spent the morning at Dalmarnock Primary School in the east end of Glasgow. This wasn’t my first visit to the school as I was there earlier this academic session to deliver training for the teachers in the Reflective Reading programme. But this time, I was there to meet the P7 pupils as part of their World of Work event.
I’d been invited along to chat to the pupils about my ‘job’ as an author. Like most authors, I don’t earn a living from my writing and do other jobs too so I don’t list my main occupation as ‘writer’. But for the purposes of suggesting a diverse range of options to the pupils I was very happy to represent writing as a career choice. I was also keen to take part in the event as Dalmarnock PS is a fabulous school which recently benefited from the Pupil…

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On THE RIDE again: (2) Who’s in charge here?

I clicked save for the last time and sighed deeply. Instead of almost 44000 words, my manuscript now weighs an athletic 40500 words. Ready to take on the world. All right, all right, I hoped to lose a little bit more, but here’s the thing: I’m not sure that I am entirely in charge here.

Oh, that’s funny, is it?

After all, I’m the writer; I get it. And I can make the characters do whatever they want, you’re right about that, too. But sometimes, a plot strand does just emerge and take over. Take a look at the draft blurb for Punch

blurb 2

‘You had me at ‘dancing bear’, my clever illustrator friend said.

‘I was just really intrigued by the dancing bear’ said my pal.

‘More about the dancing bear!’ requested my editor. 

All right then!

But as soon as I started to dig, the waters became muddied. Far from being a majestic spectacle, many dancing bears were being mistreated: a nose ring cruelly inserted through their nose, the most sensitive body part. This was attached to a heavy metal chain. In addition, the bear was often also prodded with a long stick to force it one way or the other. More research showed that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was just founded decades before my story, and Queen Victoria herself was patron. Wow – there was an interesting story-line here, slap bang in the no-man’s land of changing attitudes. I was hooked.

I exercised that particular muscle of the novel quite a bit over this rewrite, set as it is twenty years or so before bear-leading is actually made illegal. I didn’t want to write a story about animal cruelty; that had been done before.

Image result for dancing bear
Michael Morpurgo tackles the subject in his children’s book.

But many questions about our relationship with animals are now raised through the plot. Were all bear-tamers monsters who didn’t care about the suffering of their creatures? Was it possible to own a performing bear, and care deeply about its welfare at the same time? How did Victorians perceive such entertainment? 

One thing is certain: This version of Punch is quite a different book that the one I submitted first time round. In essence, there is still a lot that is upbeat and good in it. But at the same time, if it’s gained a bit of depth, provokes a bit of thought I’m not upset. Let the dancing bear be in charge for a while!

In other news:

  • Work has got underway on the cover and I am so excited! I’m lucky enough to be consulted by my publishers, and it’s such a buzz!
  • I look forward to appearing on an XPO North panel on writing and publishing in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland on 8th June.
  • Punch will be launched at Waterstones Inverness on 26th October, so save the date!


On THE RIDE again (1) The Panic Diet

It’s springtime. Birds sing, trees sway, rivers tinkle gently by, and every magazine cover in every newsagent bears its own version of this:

⇒⇒⇒⇒Mag cover

I make derisory remarks to anyone who will listen: my friends and family are well aware of my perpetual outrage with the magazine industry and its obsession with external beauty.

But when it comes to being on the Ride to publication again, it seems that I have no option but to concern myself with these weighty matters. Punch is due to be published in October, and I am near the end of the first round of consultation and edits.

By this I don’t mean reading over my own, rough manuscript – no. I mean the process when you have made your manuscript as good as you can make it, then show it to the publishers. They like it. They take it on and commit to it and spend time reading it properly, taking notes, engaging with the text.

And in the resulting discussion it turns out: apart from some passages which need a little work, my manuscript in general is a little flabby. It would be healthier and leaner and fitter for purpose if it shifted all the bits that aren’t strictly necessary. In my case, this amounts to around 4000-5000 words which I must try to shave off the length of this book.shock

It’s HARD, this; and just like any diet worth its salt, it hurts!

But wait, there is an additional complication – not only am I asked to reduce the length. There is a particular aspect of the story which, according to the editor, is interesting enough to elaborate on: ‘More about the dancing bear, please. Kids will love the dancing bear!’

What??? More???

And so it came to pass that, while ruthlessly slicing away my favourite passages, I now began gathering new material again: replacing the junkfood of cliches and lazy phrases with the carrot sticks of additional research, to build up the muscle my story needed.

I have good days and bad days. But like the holiday panic diet, there is a deadline. That plane will leave.

So, is it working?

Too early to tell for certain.

I guess it’ll be up to the readers to judge whether Punch is in great shape when he finally gets out there.




BLAST-OFF! On The Ride Again!


I am over the moon to reveal that I am on The Ride again!

IMG_2414 (1)

Cranachan are going to publish my second novel in October. It’s a Victorian boy-on-the-run story called PUNCH

It is announced today, on the 355th anniversary of the first recorded ‘Italian puppet play’ in Britain featuring the Punch character, mentioned by the diarist Samuel Pepys on 9th May 1662 (yes, the Samuel Pepys, the one who recorded the Great Fire of London).

Here is a wee teaser:


Smoke belches out through the market entrance.

And me?

I turn and run.

When 12 year-old Phineas is accused of a terrible crime, his only option is to flee. In the unlikely company of an escaped prisoner and a group of travelling entertainers, he enters a new world of Punch and Judy shows and dancing bears. But will Phineas clear his name? And where can he turn when memories of a darker, much more terrible crime begin to haunt him?

I’m neck-deep in edits at the moment, but I’m so excited! Thanks for being part of it all!