about writing and life and God

Home is where…?

So I’m back… home?

I moved house twice last year. First from a three-bed terraced house with its microscopic garden:

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Then from my gorgeous garden apartment in the old house (some of it dating from 1792) with the amazing garden:

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To tell the complete truth, I was evicted! The elderly lady who owned the house died and the legatees wanted vacant possession so they could sell. So I and my fellow residents were ousted. Each of us, I’m glad to say, found somewhere else to go. But I can’t say where I am now feels like home – and my three-week trip to Scotland has raised questions for me about ‘home’.

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I always used to say I was like a Snail, carrying my sense of home with me, able to make ‘home’ wherever I landed. Which is just as well, when one considers that the move to the current place is my 22nd move!

Suffolk is very beautiful. Scotland, as this blog has demonstrated, is also very beautiful in a different way. Both have offered me places to live and grow and I am grateful to both.

There’s an old song: ‘This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.’ And that’s true. Home will always be temporary on this earth.  But for those of us who have entrusted our lives and our eternal futures to Jesus Christ, there’s a security in knowing that ‘home’ is sorted now and in the future – short-, medium-, and long-term!





Two in one

I had some great pics for yesterday’s blog and some ideas for today’s – but ran into internet difficulties both evenings. Most weird. Anyway, internet connection appears to be back, so here are some pics from the last 36 hours:

First off, King Street United Free Church in Tayport where I found myself taking part in a Q&A about being a Christian writer. (The church is perfectly level: my camera clearly wasn’t!)

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Much more impressive than my contribution to the service was the wonderful rhododendron outside!

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Because the weather was so gorgeous,  my kind hosts took me off for a jaunt to Broughty Ferry and a fascinating amble round the Castle.

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We joined a long queue that snaked several blocks to get our genuine Italian ice cream afterwards. Vanilla? Chocolate? Those were available but also such exotic flavours as dragon fruit, and Scottish shortbread ice cream!

But all good things have to come to an end, and this morning they waved me off and I set course for England. Tonight, I’m at Wetherby after a 299 mile drive in roasting heat but surprisingly light traffic for a bank holiday. Probably another 250 plus miles tomorrow!



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Bonnie Dundee

Though I didn’t actually see much of it today. Instead I spent a happy and very useful day in the company of members of the Association of Christian Writers at their first-ever Scottish Writers Day hosted by Dundee crime writer, Wendy H. Jones.

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The event was held at the City Church Dundee which is located in an old Friary.

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A goodly number of us from Scotland, the North of England and as far away as Norfolk and London turned up to enjoy (and benefit from) each other’s company, three excellent talks (by Wendy H. Jones, Jane Clamp, and Margaret Skea) and three excellent workshops.

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I had forgotten just how energising and inspiring being with other writers is. We were a motley bunch today – wannabes and much-published authors and all stops in between, but everyone mutually supportive and encouraging.

Maybe it goes back to the days when human beings were nomads, hunting and gathering and getting together with others of their tribe for festivals and celebrations… but it still feels good to meet up with one’s tribe. For me, a Scottish Christian Writers day ticks all the boxes!

Over coffee and tea and cake and lunch of home-made soup and a bookstall displaying an impressive range of members’ books, we chatted, compared notes on the various forms of publishing available to us nowadays. Tips and contacts and email addresses were exchanged, and promises to friend on Facebook and keep in touch.

A really good and worthwhile day. The organisers deserve warm thanks and should be made to promise they’ll do it again next year! I’ll certainly be there.



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Full marks

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Yesterday, late afternoon, I popped in to Aberdeen’s Central Library and told the Reference staff what I was looking for in the way of research for the next book. I returned this morning – to find a stack of papers and books and newspaper cuttings waiting for me.

Brilliant! Everything they had found was relevant and I spent  a happy morning poring over the materials and taking copious notes.

The material documented the typhoid outbreak in Aberdeen in 1964 – so it’s no surprise, I’m not illustrating the blog today with subject-specific photographs!

The story is one of brilliant PR by the medical officer in charge, and brilliant detective work that identified the source and the cause: one 6lb can of corned beef from an Argentinian  canning factory whose chlorination plant had failed for eighteen months, allowing sewage-polluted water to be used to cool the cans of processed meat – which was later, when opened, placed on an unheated window in sunlight during the day in one grocery shop in Aberdeen. The preponderance of female victims was put down to diet-conscious women eating more cold meat and salad than their male counterparts.

So the moral of the story is… perhaps not!


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South, then turn left

It should have taken 4 hours whatever, but I’m supposed to take a break every hour and a half to ease and exercise the arthritic knee so that extends the journey. In this case delightfully. My first break was at Poppy’s in Golspie, an old favourite. Looks like they have a new chef and I arrived just as he was setting a tray of golden cheese scones  on a cooling tray on the counter. Yum!

Continuing south to Inverness then a sharp turn left onto the A96 took me almost to Forres in time for my lunch break at the wonderful Brodies Countryfare. As well as offering a delightful restaurant where I had quiche with some very inventive and delicious salads, it is stocked full of tempting Scottish gifts, clothes…

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Driving onwards to Aberdeen, I noticed the road was not a yellow brick road but a pink one: because the road chippings are of course made of local granite which is pink!

Aberdeen has vastly grown since my student days here in the late 1960s/early 70s but after I checked in at my hotel, I took myself off for a wander round notable places. The hotel is in Union Terrace and right at the end of the road is this wonderful statue of William Wallace, and His Majesty’s Theatre, home to so many great productions.

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Aberdeen University began as two different institutions: King’s College in Old Aberdeen, a Catholic establishment in 1495, and Marischal College, the Protestant establishment in 1593. The two merged in 1860. In my day, the Arts Faculty was mainly housed in the buildings of King’s College. Marischal’s buildings are generally accepted to be the very best examples of neo-gothic architecture in the UK and as the picture below shows, they are truly beautiful.

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While Marischal never fails to delight, I was taken aback to discover the old Students Union building has been taken over by Starbucks!

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But another very popular student haunt, Ma Cameron’s, appears to continue to thrive! Lang may her lum reek!

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I am here in Aberdeen to do some serious research, first in the hotel where I’m staying (I’ve had a nice tour of the ground floor and the conference rooms), and secondly in the library where a very helpful young woman took notes of what I need to discover and I’m booked to turn up tomorrow morning and see what she has managed to find for me.

After breakfast. I love hotel breakfasts!

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Lament for the leaving

It’s my last full day in Wick – for this trip – and it’s going to be hard to tear myself away. I have had a fabulous time – as I hope the blog posts have shown.

Caithness is a beautiful county with a surprising variety of landscapes and a deep, deep wealth of history and archaeology. It’s a fascinating place. My sister and I are Caithness born and bred; she has traced our family back five or six generations for sure, and our roots go deep.

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It’s good to have roots and I have much enjoyed revisiting and remembering the places of my heritage, and of my own past.

Today we went to the Wick Heritage Centre (really needs a couple of days to ‘do’ properly!) where I was delighted to  see my books on sale, and machines (including typewriters) used on the John O’Groat Journal from the period when I worked there as a trainee reporter in 1967. I could still – just! – smell that wonderful evocative smell of printer’s ink!

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On the way home, we passed the poignant memorial garden to those killed in the Bank Row bombing in 1941 – when Wick suffered the first civilian daylight casualties of the Second World War. It’s hard to imagine now, a whole street of shops and houses, smashed to smithereens, as shown on the Johnston Collection photograph I used on the front of my latest book, Necklace of Lies.

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And now all there is to do is pack the car for tomorrow’s drive to Aberdeen (according to Google maps: 204 miles, estimated journey time of 4 hours 36 minutes). This part of the trip will be easier on the car: I brought 8 boxloads of books with me and I only have one unopened box and two half-boxfuls to bring home. No need for the back of the car to be flattened: those three boxes can perch on the back seat. And now there’s room for the books I’ve bought!

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And time for a few last pics of Wick – harbour views.

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And a great quote on a wall near the harbour. Such wisdom, eh? Maybe being an owld broom isn’t such a bad thing!

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I am hugely encouraged by the warm response I’ve found to my books up here and am really ready to set to and get the next one, the last in the Mizpah Ring Trilogy, written!






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Research – seriously

One of the best sources I have found for background information for my novels are back numbers of local papers. There are lots of online archive sources, and microfiche copies, but I feel you can’t beat the actual feel – and smell – of real old newspapers to take you back into the world and the time you are wanting to write about.

So I always try to track down the newspapers for the years I’m writing about. I found the Reference Library in Great Yarmouth really helpful for the 1921 newspapers I needed for my novel, When the Boats Come Home. And today I was poring over the 1964 issues of the John O’Groat Journal – a newspaper I worked on as trainee reporter in 1967.

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I wanted to know at what age women were dying – because I really hoped I could have someone in their late 70s or mid-80s without being historically inaccurate. And I’m delighted by the result. I simply listed the ages of women appearing in the deaths section of the Births, Marriages and Deaths column, added them up, divided and got… 81. It will work! Whee!

As well as factual info I need to support the story, the newspaper articles give me background info I might miss that would otherwise spoil/wreck the story – for example,there was a typhoid epidemic in Aberdeen for a few months that year, and I need a couple of my characters to be in the city – and not catch typhoid! There was a sea-change general election in October and a lot of canvassing.

For a book to have that verisimilitude, the real-life world against which your characters are playing out their stories needs to be as true and accurate as possible. So that’s why I dig into newspapers. Thank you to the staff at NUCLEUS for their help today and last Tuesday. I’ll be back!

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Author day

A two-part author day, though the first half was planned simply to be social and delightful! But as all writers know, when you’re working on a project, serendipity provides lots of useful links and contacts, so our conversation over coffee and delicious, home-made butter shortbread at the Norseman Hotel, turned out to offer more ideas and what I’m hoping will be a very helpful contact for one aspect of the next book.


The afternoon’s programme has been booked for months: a talk to Wick Salvation Army’s Home League.

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Always a pleasure, they are a very receptive audience. Being mainly of local extraction, they catch all the local allusions, and are generous book purchasers. I didn’t take many photographs today, but was amused to be asked to pose for one with my sister – taken by a royal photographer!


Once again, I’ve sold out of When the Boats Come Home, down to only half a box of Mizpah Ring, and Necklace of Lies is selling fast. So encouraging – and the expressions of interest in the next one simply adds to my own internal ‘itch’ to get home and get writing – though the weather continues to be warm and sunny and the views are breathtaking!

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A gentle Sunday walk… not!

Sunday afternoon is traditionally walk afternoon and this Sunday my sister had a plan. So far her plans have been excellent so I put my walking boots in the car and climbed in happily.

We headed out westwards into the centre of the county where the scenery, still beautiful, is very different from the fertile fields of the east.

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Our goal was an old graveyard, built in a very strange shape (described in books as an arrow) and perched on top of a high cliff. The site of an ancient chapel dedicated to St Columba, it now provides resting places for over 40 burials (mainly Gunns), with a variety of stones (including table stones, flat stones, and ornate metal-railed enclosures). The oldest stone dates from 1726.

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Now, you may find this a little macabre but my sister and I were brought up to enjoy graveyards. Our grandmother used to take us for our Sunday walks to the local cemetery where she pointed out graves and regaled us with the stories of the inhabitants. We simply enjoy carrying on the family tradition. If need be, we permit our fiction talents to fill any gaps!

After the graveyard, we scrambled down the steep slope alongside the cemetery (the stone wall is the cemetery wall)

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to the bank of the peaty-brown, fast-flowing Thurso River. This stretch is a particularly fine salmon fishing beat.

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But we weren’t finished. The big rocky lump beside us is the site of 14th century Dirlot Castle, built by Reginald de Cheyne.

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On any walk with my sister, if there is an opportunity for a scramble and a fine view… I must admit I found the climb a bit more strenuous than I’m used to down in Suffolk, but the views from the top, encircled by the grass-covered walls of the castle ruins, were well worth it.

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and more views of this classic Highland river, looking south over the Flow Country towards Morven, Scaraben etc. And just enough energy to amble back to the car and drive home for tea!

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Second bite

Yes, I know I’ve posted something today, but this afternoon’s excursion offered such amazing pics, I couldn’t keep them to myself!

We’ve been to Thrumster House, just a few miles south of Wick. Th estate now offers country pursuits, self-catering and bed and breakfast accommodation.

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The gardens were open today, the sun was shining, and we were ready for a nice walk. My sister had been speaking about celandines – some of her favourite flowers – but nothing could prepare me for the blankets of yellow covering the ground under the trees.

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Another highlight was the broch: enough remains to show just what a substantial stone-built place it was. Originally it would have been a bottle-shaped tower several stories high, built during the Iron Age.

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You can see the double-skin walls and the steps of the spiral staircase that wound up inside the walls.

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Just to prove we do get lovely weather in Scotland, I’ll mention that when we came home, we sat outside with our tea!




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