dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

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.

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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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Books at the edge of the world

I love the view from John O’Groats probably more than any other view in the world – so far! Each time I find myself on the road just above the village looking down to where the road ends and the sea begins and beyond is island upon island out to the far horizon, my breath catches and my heart thumps with awe and wonder.

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It feels like the very edge of the world… mainland fraying into a ragged flotilla of broken-off rocks and skerries, hump-backed islets, dots with precariously perched stark white lighthouses, and the odd ship braving its way through the maze.

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My father used to always point out that white-crested rough wave patch where the Atlantic met the North Sea in a clash of titans. And we would gaze – as my sister and I did today – in wonder.

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But we had come not only for the views but for the delights of the first full day of the John O’Groats Book Festival – and a great day we had.

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This time, I could relax and enjoy other writers doing the work! And so first of all, we met up with two of the novelists for coffee and a sharing of experiences, much laughter and mutual sympathy, before making our way to the first talk of the day – poet Andrew Greig casting the spell of his trip by boat round Orkney in the Arctic Whaler ‘like a poem she’s not a machine, but a craft.’

A change of theme and a change of venue – in surely the most scenic lecture room in Britain?

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for James Hunter’s heartbreaking history of the Sutherland Clearances, that indefensible, inhuman destruction of lives and livelihood, 50 centuries of habitation, tradition and culture – all to make way for sheep and money in some strangers’ pockets. I found myself sitting next to a young woman studying for a degree in Scottish history and looking to base her dissertation on the land and social issues of the Clearances and am heartened that there are young local folk who care, are interested and maybe the heartbreaking stories will not be forgotten after all.

Next to hear Chris Brookmyre, who has been 22 years with the same publisher, producing a solid track record for gritty crime novels. The latest is a science fiction/hybrid which sounded so fascinating I bought a copy even though it’s only out in hardback and therefore expensive!

And last but not least a group book signing and I was back on parade. But it’s not hard work when folk are so interested in your books and seem keen to buy them!

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All in all, I reckon the Festival has been a huge success. Now the challenge is to get the next book written and published in time for the next one!

 

 

 

 

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Day Six: Sharing the history

Caithness Horizons is a fabulous museum in Thurso on the north coast of Scotland and tonight, I was there as the guest of the Caithness Family History Society.

Chair, Janet Mowat, had said to my sister that where family historians take family stories which may or may not be fact and try to find out which they are, I take family stories which are fact and deliberately turn them into fiction.

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Janet and me

So the focus tonight was on the facts – the family stories that underpin both When the Boats Come Home and The Mizpah Ring. And in return, I got some great stories of World War Two providing local colour and humour for the next book.

Book sales and tea and shortbread rounded off the evening, and as we left, I stopped off to look at the amazing Pictish symbol stones – from the 5th to 9th centuries.

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The Ulbster Stone

 

 

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Day Four: One down…

Relaxing with a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive at my sister’s. First talk delivered: one down, two to go.

This afternoon I was the guest of Wick Salvation Army’s Home League. What a lovely group…

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Wick Salvation Army

but…

But? How can there be a but? They were lovely!

But they kept asking me when the next book in The Mizpah Ring trilogy will be out! And I haven’t finished writing it yet! Part of the plan for this trip was to get some on-the-ground research done, and then go home and write…

So now I want to be in two places at once: here, doing research and giving talks and selling books – and back home getting down to writing! Oh, how I want to be writing!

 

 

 

 

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Planning a book trip

I’m off on the road again in a few days. Only ten days this time – a weekend at either end mainly taken up with travelling – but I’m booked to give three talks on the new book, The Mizpah Ring, up in my home town of Wick.

Today I’m at that lose-endish stage – too soon to pack, too close to launch into anything much. The excitement/anticipation is building nicely and I’m wondering should I do a daily trip blog like last time? It helped me process the experiences of each day and I printed it out when I got home so I had a lovely record of the places I’d been and the people I’d spent time with.

There were so many highlights last time – from spectacular scenery, hunting haggis in the rain, reunions with friends after far too many years… I’m hoping this time will be just as good. I’m planning to check out some of the locations I’m using in the new book. Wick was a very interesting place during the second world war with a large air base for Coastal Command and the war in Norway. My sister and I are planning some recce trips for authentic background.

I shall be driving (665 miles each way) because I need to bring books with me for sale. Last time I had sold out before the end of my trip so this time I’ll take more than I think I’ll need. I have a solid order for both When the Boats Come Home and Mizpah Ring from one rather special retail outlet: the last shop on the mainland of the UK- right at the end of the road at John O’Groats! If you’re ever there, do drop in for a browse. Their range of Scots-interest books is second to none.

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Harbour at John O’Groats

I’m hoping the weather will be reasonable – especially for the drive. But I was horrified to overhear a snippet of conversation this morning which concluded: ‘Oh yes,snow. The mountains are full of it.’ I hope they were talking about Switzerland!

Anyway, planning. The packing list looks like:

  • Smart outfit for talks
  • Comfortable,warm clothes and walking shoes for trips out with my sister
  • Books – to sell – and promotional postcards to give away – and a decent ‘signing’ pen!
  • Books – to read at all those solo stops along the road!
  • Notebooks and pens
  • iPad and charger for Facebook and soothing sudoku etc
  • Camera and usb cable
  • Laptop for emails and blog
  • Mobile phone charger
  • Kindle and charger – in case I run out of reading material
  • Diary, and address book (for sending post cards)

and much more besides!

I’ll pack tomorrow!

 

 

 

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What’s it all about?

The good news is that I’m 26,525 words into the new book, Part 2 of The Mizpah Ring.

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The bad news is that I haven’t written a new word of it since 7th March.

Ouch!

I’ve given a number of talks on Mizpah Ring 1 and must admit to some discomfort, compared with the ease and joy of giving talks on its predecessor, When the Boats Come Home.

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Basically I’m a story-teller, and the story I like to tell is the good news of the Lord Jesus. This is what I do in the pulpit (that’s right – story not sermon!). That’s what I do at women’s meetings. And that’s what I was able to do with talks about Boats – because Boats is really about the good news of new life and second chances offered by Jesus Christ.

But I discover I’m not so comfortable talking about Mizpah Ring – and feeling a bit blocked about Book 2. Till I read Steven Pressfield’s blog Writing Wednesdays: The Hero Embodies the Theme and suddenly I had a handle on the problem. What was Mizpah Ring all about?

It’s taken some time chewing this over, because I thought I knew – when I started writing Book 1. There was an inciting incident that set off a trail of consequences through three generations – and three books. There were bad guys who got badder, and good guys who slipped up and messed up. There were good girls and bad girls and not-quite-sure girls. And some of them went the way of all flesh, and others got turned round.

It was all a lot grittier than Boats – including  the locations. The ‘worst’ location in Boats was a pub and a dark alley. Mizpah Ring has a brothel and gambling dens!

But I’m still telling the good news of Jesus Christ- because He wasn’t afraid of mixing with prostitutes and others unacceptable to respectable society – and He loved them and came to save them too.

And so my story is one of redemption – for those who will turn round and take it. And it tells the truth about those who make other choices – something else Jesus was clear about when He walked this earth. We all have choices. We all have free will.But our choices have consequences.

And that’s what Mizpah Ring is about. Book 1 showed the choices of the first generation – and the results, bad and good. Book 2 shows what the next generation makes of it.

But that’s not all – because that’s never all there is to it. Because there is another character active in the story and in the lives of the characters: and that’s Jesus Christ Himself. And where He is, anything can happen!

So now I know, I’m grounded again and can get back to work!

 

 

 

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Day Thirteen: Wick: Pilots’ Houses, Printers’ Ink, and Public Libraries

Quiet start to a busy day with lots of surprises. Walking to post my large number of promised postcards, we noticed that the pilot house was open.

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Wick Pilot House

What, you may ask, is  a pilot house? Not a place where a pilot lived but the small building on the top of the cliff where the harbour pilot watched to see if boats approaching the harbour were requesting pilotage to enable them to enter the harbour safely or already had a pilot on board.

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Flag showing pilot on board

Here’s the link with my book: Sir Arthur Bignold, the man who bequeathed the building to the town was MP of Great Yarmouth!

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After lunch, I popped in to my local newspaper offices – where I worked as a trainee reporter 1967/8.

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John O’Groat Journal Offices, Union Street, Wick

Digitalisation has transformed the place – where once there were typesetters working on Monotype and Linotype machines and compositors painstakingly making up wedding invitations with single pieces of lead on a forme, there are now computer screens and keyboards. And downstairs where once the huge presses rolled, are empty rooms that still smell of printers’ ink.

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Press room: note floor bolts

I remember the big lorries arriving with the huge rolls of paper for the presses and the rumble that thrummed through the building when the presses rolled.  I remember how everyone on the staff got a copy of that week’s paper fresh off the presses before we went home the night before publication day – and how exciting it felt.The smell of printer’s ink still thrills me!

And then at seven o’clock, I gave a talk about When the Boats Come Home at the wonderful local library that began my journey as a writer – it provided the books that inspired me to want to become a writer, to write books like the ones I borrowed. Wick Library played a crucial role in my life as a writer. But more about that tomorrow!

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Wick Public Library

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