Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Letters Of Hope To Those Who Will Not Listen

I have just finished reading Letters of a Prisoner by Corder Catchpool,  a conscientious objector (CO) during World War I.  At that time all males of fighting age were conscripted into the forces. Due to high principles, Cordor objected to war, objected to killing another human.  He was court marshaled and imprisoned for six months. When his sentence was complete he was sent back to barracks where he refused to fight, was court marshaled again and sent back to prison.   This bizarre process went on for the whole war.  When the war ended in November 1918 Corder knew he wouldn't be released until after the peace agreement was signed. He was released in April 1919 having served four years in prison for committed no crime other than to refuse to kill a human.  The interesting point he makes in the letters is that the Sinn Feiners, imprisoned for what we would now call acts of terrorism, were released months before the peace loving COs.

It could be believed that a book of prison letters might be depressing and boring. These were neither. The letters were to either his mother or sister and contained details of his life in a small dark cell, with inadequate food and often with toothache. But the eloquent style of writing and the humor injected into the trivial made the letters interesting and educational.  Here was an cultured man who learned German and read classics whilst in prison; who crammed, in small spidery script, as much information as he could into the one page of paper he was allocated each fortnight. Here was a man who wrote over a series of three letters (due to lack of space) a touching post war Christmas story about a British soldier billeted in a German household.  The letters are filled with love and interest for his fellow man and above all a hope for the future. He notes that wars are started by old men and will never stop until people refuse to fight.

It is Corder Catchpools hope that left me depressed.  As we enter this Christmas we have writers imprisoned all over the world who, like CC, have committed no crimes.  Pen International fight for these writers but the fact that Pen International exists today proves we have not learned from Corder's experience.

This year UK's Christmas number one is set to be The Military Wives Choir Wherever You Are, a heart tugging song for the troops in Afghanistan - a political coup for the war mongers.  All week I have been hearing on radio talk shows about our brave troops in the forces.  The UK is being manipulated into a nationalistic frenzy, using Christmas as a tool.  I do care about the troops but I feel they are being used for political ends.

And now, today, the Falkland dispute is kicking off again - there must be an election coming up somewhere.

 I think Corder Catchpool got it wrong, war is not started by old men - it is started by greedy, vain, power hungry men and I believe it will never end until all the power in the world is handed over to mothers.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Secrets of a Successful Book Launch - V Campbell

V. Campbell, author of the sensational young adult novel Viking Gold, overwhelmed the staff at Waterstones, Sauchiehall Street a few weeks ago with the phenomenal success of her book launch.  Over one hundred people attended, the store sold out of the book and the friendly Vikings, in attendance for entertainment, were forced to curtail their revelries due to the size of the crowd. 

V Campbell with Vikings and a happy audience

How was it for the author?    V Campbell reveals all.

How important is a book launch to the success of a book?
I don’t know, but the success of my launch certainly got Viking Gold off to a jogging start.

Your main launch was in Waterstones in Glasgow.  Why did you/your publisher choose this venue?
I chose this venue because I’d been to launches there before and they’d gone so well. I also live in Glasgow, so the main Glasgow branch of Waterstone’s seemed logical.

How much input did you have in the planning of the event?
I planned it all.

What do you feel went well?
We had a band of Viking warriors storm the proceedings half-way through. I thought this was great fun and leant a certain light heartedness to the proceedings – sometimes book events can be so dry. And Viking Gold isn’t a dry sort of book; I wanted to reflect the book’s sense of mayhem and uncertainty in the launch. They also provided a great photo opp.

If you could do it all again what would you do differently?
Nothing, actually.

What advice would you give to first time authors embarking on their first book launch?
Organise it well in advance, especially if there is a specific date that you want. Tell everyone you know about it!

Read an extract of Viking Gold at
Follow @vcampbellauthor on twitter
Viking Gold is available to buy at Waterstone’s, WHSmith, Amazon and on Kindle.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Imagined Lives

Character and back story are basics to a writer, but they might not be interesting to the average art lover. I was intrigued when the National Portrait Gallery invited writers such as Alexander McCall Smith, John Banville and Tracy Chevalier to write back stories for some of the portraits in the gallery where the identity of the sitter is in doubt. The project is called Imagined Lives.

I never need an excuse to visit to the Portrait Gallery, I find both the paintings and the photography there invigorating and inspiring; faces fascinate me, they tell so much about a life.  Because I was keen to see how these writers tackled their task, and I had a couple of hours spare in the centre of London, there was only one place to go.

There are fourteen portraits in the collection, most painted around the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  They all had identities that were later disputed.  One was thought to be Mary Queen of Scots another Queen Elizabeth I.  In the book that accompanies the event the Chief Curator, Tarnya Cooper gives a very comprehensive explanation of why these identities became disputed, most were due to improved date detection techniques.

The faces are interesting and varied.  I wanted to know more about them and being a biblioholic I bought the book and rushed to the gallery cafe for a coffee with the expectation of being transported into the world of the unknown portrait sitters. Stories from beyond the grave and the imagination.

I don't know what the authors' brief was but I was immediately disappointed. Half of the eight writers simply made up a character and listed lots of facts and dates.  Julian Fellow's two pieces were so dull I couldn't finish reading them.  It was like reading a text book and showed no real skill.  I am pleased to say that some met my expectations.  Minette Walters even managed to plant a suspicion in the readers' mind.  Tracy Chevalier's two pieces showed the most skill in exposing a character through a story, and Terry Prachett was the only one that put a smile on my face.

I applaud the National Portrait Gallery for commissioning this project.  It is always encouraging to see writers being invited to participate in any art form but if I am honest I now wish I had used my two hours to pop next door to the National Gallery and soak up their Leonardo exhibition.

Monday, 21 November 2011

360 narratives

Gone are the days when a writer locked themselves in a garret, sharpened their pencils and sat down to write a novel every year or two.  There has been reams of reports, commentary and debates about the rise of digital and I suspect, like me, most writers thought that meant just ebooks.  A workshop I attended at the weekend revolutionized my thinking on this front and sparked new ideas on how to create my writing in the future.

Narratives on post its and some cheating going on

The workshop was called 360 Narratives and was initiated and run by The Playwrights' Studio Scotland.   I knew it was about writing, I knew it was about collaboration.  What I didn't appreciate was the significant use of the word narrative in the workshop title.

Narrative was what it was all about and that was made clear from the word go by key speaker Phil Parker, director of NyAC, a multi platform company.  Our group of screenwriters, playwrights, children's writers, graphic novelists, novelists and games developers had our eyes opened to the exposure benefits (and monetary benefits) of YouTube. We were drop jawed when we listened to the imaginative things that can be done on-line by individuals who take back control of their literary futures..  The word dinosaur was mentioned many times that day.

Five invited guests explained how they work in collaboration with other forms of narrative. Tom Knights, developer of Celtic Heros, told us how narrative and plot work in games; Andrea Gibb, film and TV writer, recounted funny anecdotes of using Twitter to discover stories to adapt for film;  Rona Munro, scriptwriter, told us of her time she had to take over as director of a film; Rodge Glass, novelist and graphic novelist shared with us his diverse and sometimes chaotic schedule and Vivian French, actor, storyteller, playwright, children's writer, illustrator, and tutor on how to juggle lots of irons without dropping any in the fire.

Sunday was all about networking and collaboration and culminated in a massive speed dateing session which resulted in everyone meeting everyone else for two minutes and exchanging business cards.

There is a good reason why I am looking the other way - it was my turn to sort post its

The networking opportunity was immense. I walked from the workshop with; two offers to read my stage play; several screenwriters interested in my novel for adaption; the offer of help with my children's novels; the heads up on a new literary festival; the offer of collaboration from a couple of games developers; my brain bursting with new ideas on working practices; a new network of fun, creative and artistic people from all over Scotland and a great big grin on my face. 

Thank you Playwrights' Studio and thanks also to advisors Jenny Brown, David Griffith, Mark Grindle, Fiona Sturgeon Shea,  and facilitators Grant Keir and Claire Dow.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Inbound Marketing for Writers

I changed my phone at the weekend; from a small cyber shoot, which made phone calls and took photos, to an Andriod which, apart from having a little R2D2 emblem, can apparently solve all my marketing problems.

And so can this blog - apparently.

As a writer I now don't have to depend on others to sell my books, or to sell me. I can do it myself. Most writers already know this but they probably don't know the extent of the power at their keyboards 

We live in a world where we update our social media pages about everything from rant to rave.  What I failed to realize was the spiderweb effect you can create if you use these tools effectively.  Used correctly, every time you blog, tweet, or use any other type of social media, the tendrils of the webs can be far reaching and unlike conventional marketing, are permanent.

How do I know this?  I have been reading a book called Inbound Marketing by Brain Halligan and Dharmesh Shah.  In the book these new-style management gurus use Google, social media and blogs to get found.  They share with their readers case studies of phenomenal successes and easy to understand advice on how to apply their principles to our own business.   

Their buzz phrase is 'remarkable content'.  Create 'remarkable content' and every time someone remarks on-line about you or your product, it creates a chain reaction.  Tools are available to check how many time your pages are viewed and how many links are made to your site.  And for busy people the Andriod phone can check in on what's happening and can use social media management systems like to help you track mentions and allow you to respond before fickle brains fry.

The downside is that all this goods stuff takes awhile to set up and use and the addiction to these sites can mean that more time is spent on the marketing that on the productions. But at least I have a little friend to help me now.

Monday, 7 November 2011

A Flock of Words

The stunning Art-deco Midland Hotel

The owl and the pigeon
A recent trip to Morecambe, Lancashire, provide me with an unexpected encounter with a Flock of Words.  I left the newly refurbished, Art-deco Midland Hotel on the promenade and prepared myself for a dreary walk to the library in the rain.  But when I crossed the road from the hotel I stepped onto a pavement of poems.  A Flock of Words, by why not associates is a 300 meter pavement of poems that stretches from the promenade to the town center. I delighted in stepping through The Owl and The Pussycat, tiptoeing around Three women and a goose a market makes. From Chaucer, to Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Roger Mcgough, the poems flew.  The theme of birds may have been overlooked by locals hurrying to work but the pigeons and I had a word fest.

Pigeons with artistic taste

Monday, 31 October 2011

Book Launch Success

I am proud to be part of this fantastic anthology, published by Doghorn Publishing. This collection of top class writing from all over the world would make a great present for anyone who likes literature with a seasoning of the bizarre.

Fellow Scottish contributor, Wendy Jane Muzlanova, and I held a book launch for this publication in the A.K. Bell Library Cafe Bar, Perth, Scotland on Saturday night. The event took place at the same time as sister launches in Indianapolis and San Diego but I bet they didn't have as much fun as we did in Perth.
Local band Day of Days opened the event and provided music in between the open mic slots. MC, Lachlan Renwick did a fine job rounding up the willing and not so willing for the open mic. The writers were all very talented and a wonderful mix. It was great for me to perform and attend outside Glasgow and to be back in my beloved East. A huge thanks to Wendy for finding such a fabulous venue and organising the band, MC and everthing else. The anthology can be purchased from Doghorn Publishing, Amazon and from the authors
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Thursday, 29 September 2011


Next Stop The North Pole
Is the Island of:

Friendly folk, little free streets, flocks of oilmen, aggressive birds, teddy bear sheep, tasty lamb, irresistible knitting wool, even more irresistible fudge, delicious seafood, interesting hostelries, fine ale, discreet windfarms, impressive bus service, silky smooth A roads, efficient ferries, a wonderful library, precarious sea stacks, big skies, soft air, sparkling seas, breathtaking cliffs

and more history than I can deal with on a four days visit.

Shetland, you have seduced me and I will be back soon.

Big Skies

Lerwick Harbour 

Precarious Sea Stack - but who put the cairn up there?

Monday, 12 September 2011

Labelling can be Harmful

I recently read some of my teenage writings. They were a collection of school essays and stories plus some poems that had (thankfully) never been aired. I had stored them in my loft and erased their existence from memory. My son unearthed them and, unlike his usual practice of binning everything, he handed them over to me, unread.

It took about two months to summon the courage to read them myself. I was scared they would be embarrassing and terrible and confirm something I had always been led to believe when I was a child; I was good at Maths – not English.

The pages were yellow and scrawled with my large backward slanting handwriting. Some were torn. What I read was a revelation. At the age of fourteen, not only could I write but I had a very clear social conscience. I found stories about drug addiction, intellectual snobbery (a subject I am still particularly passionate on) and the treatment of the elderly.

This discovery changed the way I look at my writing now. Since I began writing seriously ten year ago I have been intimidated by author interviews. 

Q. ‘When did you start writing?’

A. ‘I can’t remember when I didn’t write. I always created a world of my own.’

You know the sort of thing. This depressed me because I was good at Maths.

The Math mantra caused me to carve a career for myself in finance. No one during my school years encouraged me to write and yet the comments and marks from the teachers were all good. I also had the impression that I was not well read and yet re-examining my school years I remembered the classics I read and enjoyed - George Orwell, Graham Greene, Shakespeare.

This form of labelling was applied early in my life. It is something I have always tried to avoid and yet the Math one is deep rooted. I was recently accused of having a working class chip on my shoulder even though I was brought up in a white collar household. I was astounded at first because I never thought of myself as having any sort of class never mind a chip on my shoulder - but I do have a lovely Fife accent which I am proud of. Maybe I have been so successfully at shaking off labels some people are left guessing.

I am really interested to discover what label will be placed against my debut novel The Incomers.

I learned a lot from those early readings but the most important lesson was that you can be good at maths and still write a reasonable essay.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Fahrenheit 451

Last week I read this article by writer Ewan Morrison about the death of books. He predicted that printed books would be dead and buried in twenty five years time due to the increase in ebook. Quality will suffer because of the ease with which ebooks can be produced. Writers are missing out the middle man and DIYing their own ebooks. Unfortunately the middle man also happens to be the quality control man. It is a depressing read a month after I signed my first contract to have a novel published. I need to hope that sense will prevail and that the world will not be turned into a swirling slush pile of mediocre fiction.

It is perhaps a spooky coincidence, or it is synchronicity, that around the same time as I read the article I found the next book on my to-read pile was Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. This dystopian novel was first published in 1951. The novel is set in a future world where firemen are used to burn books and anyone possessing a book is hunted down. The temperature book paper burns is 451 Fahrenheit.

This is a pretty horrific world but what is more terrible are the reasons for the book burning. The inhabitants of this world wanted escapism that was easy, titillating and real for them. They didn’t want to feel inferior to anyone, the more minorities there were the harder this was to achieve. So everything was reduced to what Bradbury calls ‘Vanilla Tapioca’. In this world leisure is plentiful. Living rooms have wall to wall 3D TV. These walls are called the ‘Parlour’ and the people who live within the ‘Parlour’ are like the relatives; so real they are part of the family. What Bradbury described first in 1951 is not so far away today.

Today’s newspapers contain hardly any news, mostly celebrity gossip. TVs the size of football pitches crowd out many living rooms and soap operas are so common place and familiar that even thought I never watch them I could probably name some of their main characters.

Ray Bradbury’s world may be gruesome, but it is believable. The books in that world make people feel inferior and have no place in a Vanilla Tapioca World, therefore they must go. I could probably live with the demise of new printed books because we have a wonderful back catalogue of classics that would take me several lifetimes to read. What terrifies me is living in a world where ‘The Parlour’ is the norm. That is the real horror of the Fahrenheit 451 because it is just around the corner.

Read the book and judge for yourself. 

I bought my copy from the wonderful Plan B Book in Glasgow. One of the few bookseller left standing, but that's another story.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

When the fizz dies the work begins

My time in my writing cave is almost over. I have one more day and then on Friday I am travelling up north, with illustrator Mandy Sinclair. We will travel through Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe to Eilean Donan Castle in search of rowan trees and castles. In search of inspiration for one of the projects we are collaborating on.
My last post bubbled with the news of my publishing contract. There is a lot of work to do before the book hits the shelf. My publisher is small but even the large publishing houses have limited budgets for promotion. More and more authors are expected to publicize their own books.
The editing process does not start until September, after the Edinburgh Book Festival. That means a few weeks where I can sit diddling my thumbs. Except I don’t do sitting doing nothing.

I began reading Guerrilla Marketing for Writers last week. I have owned this book since 2002 (ever the optimist). It is a little out of date and it is aimed at the American market. I weary with the gung ho hype, but it does dole out some pretty good dollops of advice. The layout is easy to absorb and there are text boxes containing lists of weapons to use which I can go back over once I have tired of throwing the book into the corner after each chapter.
I never need an excuse to begin a new notebook. My publication notebook is an A5 soft cover so I can take it everywhere with me, to jot down ideas on the move (does that sound American?).
The most significant thing I have done this week is to contact the Cultural Enterprise Office. They give free advice to businesses and individuals in the creative arts. I am hoping to set up sessions with them soon.
My social networking sites are seeing more of me than usual and I have joined a couple of new ones. During my business years I discovered the benefits of networking. It is something I have always believed in and continue to treat with professionalism. I now realise how important it is going to be for me in the future so I am glad that the friends I have made across the globe continue to support me even though we no longer work together.
The writing, of course has to continue. After a stall of a few months I picked up my latest novel, working title The Mongrel. What a joy it was this morning to print off 170 pages and begin to re read the words I first started to write in January. I can’t wait to finish it now.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

At Last

Last week corks popped, fizz fizzed. I signed a publishing contract with Fledgling Press. My debut novel The Incomers, will be published in April/May 2012. I have been submitting the manuscript for the past fifteen months and even though I never lost the belief that I would find a publisher I always sighed when a rejection came through the post or popped into my inbox.

All the writing articles I read said that perseverance is the key and I had to believe them. Every time I heard Christopher Brookmyre, Iain Banks, and all the other big names say they had written three, four, five books before they got a break my resolve strengthened.

I finished The Incomers in April 2010. The job of writing a novel is an arduous task in itself, the feeling of achievement on completion is immense.  The job had only just begun. There was still months of submissions ahead and in the mean time the writing must continue.

At first I tried writing another novel, but I was creatively drained. I wrote a couple of short stories and resurrected a few more. I set about trying to get all my short stories published. This meant more submissions, more rejections but it also meant more successes. While I waited for the big one, I used these small kernels of success to keep me motivated.

I attended a short summer course where I began to write a stage play. This is a craft I had no experience of, so the learning was exciting and boosted me on the mega rejections days.

I took a poetry class which I believed would help hone my editing and language skills. It was an enjoyable experience but taught me I lacked the meditative skills great poets require. I do not know how to sit and do nothing for long stretches of time (unless I am sitting by the Atlantic).

I began to write a children’s series and developed a proposal which only highlighted the amount of bite I still had to chew.

And eventually I began that other novel and then stuck fifty thousand words in.
Now I have a publishing contract it would be easy to sit back and bask, maybe daydream a poet’s day away.  But that is not me. I have had my week of glory and fizz.

On Monday I entered my self appointed writing cave. The place I go to write. I do not allow myself to procrastinate; I restrict access to Facebook and email. My To Do list is crumpled and tossed in the bin. My house is left to rot, the washing basket to over flow and the garden to fill with weeds. My car lies dormant, no trips to Glasgow or Fife. I am in the cave for the duration. This I can endure because I know it is only for two weeks.

This week I will progress my children’s series, next week I will polish the play to send to the Playwrights Studio for assessment and then reread the fifty thousand word work in progress. (Oops is that a To Do list?)

My excitement of publication is still with me and each day I do a couple of hours towards making The Incomers a success. The baby was born, has been accepted and now I have to prepare her for the world.
It may sound like hell but my writing time is limited and I always have extra time in the day to read, research , play guitar and nap. I have read interviews with writers who say they do this every day, but I can’t see how that is possible. I know by the end of this fortnight I will have cave fever, but I will have a bulk of work behind me and a good platform on which to return to my normal piddling about on a diet of a couple of hours writing a day and my beloved To Do list.

My writing cave? No, but it is a lovely memory of Ronda to keep me on track

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Beauty of Poetry

I don't claim to be a good poet but I appreciate poetry and find it thrilling to write it if I have the inspiration to do so.  Last year I took a masterclass with a mixed group of poets, some published, some talented and original, some, like me, were just there to learn.  Each week we were given an assignment and a poem hopefully emerged.  To a novelist to write one poem a week didn't sound much but the task demanded all my energy which meant other writing projects fell away.   My results were interesting. 

A poem I wrote for my grandson germinated in that class and I worked hard to complete it for his second birthday last week.

I didn't realise that writing a poem for a loved one could be so difficult and yet so satisfying.   I transcribed it onto an ornamental scroll and handed it over to his mother.  She read it with a tear in her eye before carefully storing it in his memory box for later.

A New Kind of Love

(for James)

This new kind of love takes me

by surprise. An ageing fear melts

in the rush of your embrace,

the innocence of your breath,

the words of trust in your eyes.

This new kind of love permits us

to giggle a lullaby by Brahms,

stumble-waltz in time to Strauss,

build blocks in towers to tumble,

eat soup from the same spoon.

This grandmother’s love scares me,

to know you will cry when I must go.

Until then let’s blow dandelion clocks to the wind,

and count memory seeds for you to catch and hold.

moira mcpartlin – May 2011

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

How to have the perfect holiday

How to have a perfect holiday Book a cheap flight to Malaga, hire a car and head for the hills. Book only one or two nights accommodation in advance. Once there buy a detailed map with guide to the area and take it from there. We had two nights in Ronda, two nights in Zahara and three nights in Grazalema because we found a fantastic hostel there. Climb as many high mountains as you can, see as many sights as you can fit in but still make time for siestas and reading - I still read two books.

This is part of the Abode of the Moorish King which sits above the Mira Stairway,
365 steps leading into a mine and gorge.
In the 14th Century slaves were used to
carry water up the stairs for the villager
 - their life expectancy in the mine was eight weeks.

Things I love about Andalucia: Every premises has energy saving bulbs. They have different shapes and sizes for every fitting. Everyone speaks to you, young and old - greetings of hola, buenos dias, buenas tardes, buenas noches are universal and a delight. Hardly any English speaking tourists.
The houses are painted sparkling white with fabulous tiles. Clean streets, no litter, no dogs or cats. The chickens, dogs and vegetable gardens are situated on the village fringes. I took great pleasure in seeking them out.

Just painted - 

the house painters of Zahara are a band of women 
who will never be out of work.

A well tended vegetable patch in Grazalema.
The villages seem to be self sufficient. There are hens, bread making, oranges, cheese making and large communal vegetable gardens.

Where the dogs and chickens live in Zahara.
 All the streets are beautifully cobbled and there are no potholes! Shops are unobtrusive. They look like houses, no advertising or Tescos or other big supermarkets. No boy racers, no neds. There are loads of old men, as well as old women; not something we see so much of in Scotland. And most walked everywhere with the use of only a stick. I saw no zimmers or tri walkers. It must be all that olive oil. Real chips made from real potatoes.  Small beers not whopping great pints. Fabulous vino de casa at an average price of €8. 

A tattie plot in Rhonda.  

Cactus graffiti in Zahara.

Things I didn't like about Andalusia: The mountain roads are narrow with super high verges that could seriously damage the hire car. TV Channel Toro. Ronda is the home of bull fighting and this channel was on in every bar. It is horrible to see but also compulsive to watch.

The view from Sierra de Grazalema's highest mountain - El Torreon (1654mtrs)

After the hill walk

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Got to Keep Going

For the past ten months I have been trying to get my novel The Incomers published. This is a demoralising and frustrating process and the amount of effort and motivation to keep going can not be underestimated.

Writing a novel is hard work - but it is fun. Every morning for a year or two you wake up and know you will spend the rest of the day in the company of good friends. OK maybe you created these friends yourself but they are still your friends.

The main character in The Incomers is a young black African mother, Ellie, who comes to live in Fife. I love Ellie. She is a wonderful person. I didn't ask for Ellie to be the main character, that role should have gone to a small girl called Mary. But the moment Ellie entered the story she took over and made it her own. When I finished the novel I tried to treat the process of submitting to publishers as an administration task to be fitted around my writing. I wanted to write something that was under the bed - a short story called The Mongrel that screamed to be a novel.

I tried to write the second novel but I couldn't. I couldn't let go of Ellie. I sent out submissions to publishers and agents. The responses I got back were positive. "A great idea, very interesting but not for us." Quite a number of publishers wanted to see more, but many admitted they were scared by certain aspects of the book, it didn't fit in with what the public were buying.

Each time I thought I was getting close, a rejection came back. My early readers loved the book. One impartial expert told me it ticked lots of boxes and I shouldn't give up on Ellie - she needed to be heard. And yet the rejection slips kept coming in and I still couldn't write the second novel.

Then on Boxing Day while my family were all around, I got a phone call on my mobile. It was a London number I didn't recognise so I ignored it. Then the land line rang, the same number, someone really wanted to speak to me. My heart was pounding when a voice announced she was from XXX publishing. No one phones you on Boxing Day unless it is good news. Unfortunately this particular lady must have had a bad Christmas. She began by telling me how much she loved the book and then why she was rejecting it. Meanwhile my family thought this was the phone call.

My disappointment didn't last as long as theirs. I was furious. Furious that I had let soemone spoil my family's Christmas, furious that I couldn't find a home for Ellie and furious with myself for letting eight months go by without starting novel number two. I told myself that I still had many options open to me, but I had to put Ellie behind me. I will continue to try to find a publisher, but I may have to write a book that is more commercial and The Mongrel might just be that beast.

It is a horrible lesson to learn especially when I know that The Incomers is a great book and that when it does get published the public will want to read it.

In the mean time I am now forty thousand words into my second novel and am loving it. I haven't abandoned Ellie, I still think about her every day and I still do something for her every day, but I am falling in love with my new character now and that is what is keeping me going.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Traditional Music in Safe Hands

Congratulations to Orcadian Fiddler, Kristan Harvey, on winning the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year.This competition has been running for a number of years and the quality of the contestants proves that the future of Scottish traditional music is, at last, safe in the hands of this country's youth.

For years Scottish traditional music has suffered at the hands of Tartanism. Shows like The White Heather Club was spoon fed to us as children because it was what the broadcasters believed we needed to see. It was uncool to be seen walking to school with a fiddle under your arm. It was taboo to admit to liking pipe music. Thankfully that has changed.

The Celtic Connections Festival closes today. At the five concerts I attending during the festival I was delighted to witness the huge volume of youngsters in the audience and on the stage. On Saturday I went to the Festival Club in Glasgow Art's School. There, impromptu sessions were springing up in every corner with the majority of the players being below the age of twenty.

And on an early morning journey into Glasgow last week I was stunned to see a group of about twenty school children walking along the road, all carrying traditional instrument cases.

I believe the change in attitude is mostly due to Fèisean nan Gàidheal, an organisation set up to support community based Gaelic arts development with a strong emphasis on music. But it is also the influence of unique artists like Martyn Bennett and Gordon Duncan. These two, sadly missed, pipers have led many young Scots back to their roots.