Books, John O'Groats, Scotland, Uncategorized, Writing

After the Festival was over…

Fabulous variety of speakers at the second John O’Groats Book Festival – and a warm and appreciative audience of readers, writers and book enthusiasts! Books and genres reflected the vibrancy and healthy diversity of modern Scotland – and oh! the temptation to simply buy every book displayed…

Some fascinating snippets from my pages and pages of notes:

  • You can see 9 lighthouses from John O’Groats.
  • A lighthouse light lens weighs 3 1/2 tons.
  • In one area, wreckers preferred the title ‘pirates’.
  • Wick was the first place in the world where wave power was measured, leading to the development of a reliable instrument used worldwide.
  • The first official women’s football match was in 1881 between Scotland and England, and the score was Scotland 3, England 0.
  • The Scots translation of Roald Dahl’s The Twits (Scots title The Eejits), published by Itchy Coo, has sold 50-60,000 copies.
  • The Gruffalo has been published in Scots, Doric, Orkney, and Shetland translations.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson wrote short stories in Scots.
  • The Norwegian language was seen as a dialect of Danish until independence from Denmark when it was recognised as a language in its own right (around 100 years ago).

My own contribution to the Festival was this afternoon, as one of four writers discussing and reading from our own work. Novelists Margaret Mackay (hard-boiled crime) and Catherine Byrne (local-based historicals and biography), were joined by non-fiction specialist Jim Miller who has written fascinating books on Scapa Flow, the hydro-electric infrastructure in the Highlands, and much more.

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Another friendly, welcoming audience, and three supportive and entertaining companions. Next year’s festival dates have been fixed for April 24-26. Put it in your diary! This is a must-attend event!






Books, Caithness, John O'Groats, Uncategorized, Writing

A great weekend

So the second John O’Groats Book Festival began this evening with a great opening performance from poet, actor, director, playwright and singer-songwriter Gerda Stevenson and novelist, poet James Robertson. We’ve got tickets for everything else, except for Sunday’s afternoon Fact or Fiction session when I’m one of four writers presenting and reading from our work. So there may not be many blog posts for a few days, while I go out and enjoy myself!

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Books, gospel, Inverness, Loch Ness Monster, Scotland, St Columba, travel, Uncategorized

Gateway to the Highlands

My sat nav surprised me with a glorious tour of Speyside. I had not realised just how many distilleries there are! Every village along the banks of the beautiful Spey river seemed to have pristine distillery buildings and visitor centres. I reckon you could spend at least a week and still not see them all – let alone taste the different whiskies!

I had expected to be directed up to the A96 and the straightforward route to Inverness, but Mrs Sat Nav chose the scenic southern route to Grantown-on-Spey and into Inverness from the south. This entailed blue-headed mountains to the south of a road which wound up and down hills, round hairpin bends, and into valleys where sparkling rivers splashed over rocks, and then into a stretch where silver birches lined the road.


Silver birches are among my favourite trees. The white ladies of the woods are so slender and graceful. I’d just love to write fantasy novel about them!

Trusty sat nav got me to my hotel for the night, situated near a golf course whose club house offered restaurant facilities for non-members, so lunch with a view of the fairways was essential, before a trip into the city: capital of and Gateway to the Highlands.

First stop was Leakey’s, quite simply the most amazing second-hand bookshop I have ever encountered.


Located in an old church, it is packed to the rafters with desirable books… And yes, I bought lots! All Scottish history so maybe I can claim them on expenses!

Then round to Inverness Old High Church and the very spot where St Columba preached his first sermon in the area, bringing the Gospel to the folk of the north.


Sadly, Inverness museum and art gallery were closed, so I had to content myself with a wander round the Castle grounds.


And then of course, an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster –

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because what visit to the area is complete without a sighting of Nessie! A bit blurry, as always! But then Nessie is always elusive!

Books, Dundee, Scotland, Uncategorized, Writing

Bonnie Scotland, part one

Listening to late-night tweety-birds in Bonnie Dundee, as my host, crime and children’s author Wendy H. Jones, and  I catch up on our respective laptops in her conservatory after an eventful day.

The 239 mile drive to Dundee through the glorious border scenery was ably assisted by coffee and banana teabread in a Starbucks, then delicious sandwiches from a rest stop outside Perth, getting me to Wendy’s between 1 and 2 p.m.

This was because she was taking me along to a book signing by crime writer Alex Gray at the charming Book House  in Monifeith.

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Owner Alison was delightfully positive about stocking my books: thank you! And I met several members of City Writers and the Angus Writers Club, among other well-informed book-lovers.

After a delicious supper at Taza, Indian buffet restaurant…

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Wendy took me on a scenic tour of the city, now the site of the ultra-modern V&A building as well as HMS Discovery.


A precipitous drive winding up the Law (hill, where local murderers and author Wendy used to hide the bodies) provided spectacular views over the city and the Tay.

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And so a good day draws to a very writerly close… which is exactly what I needed!

Books, fiction, God, Mizpah Ring, Novel, Uncategorized

Not the end of the road

So the suitcases are emptied and stowed away under the bed. I’m so glad that today is Sunday, a day of rest – just what I need after driving 386 miles yesterday. In total, 1785 miles this trip. Enough, I reckon, for a little while!

My driving day yesterday began with a splendid breakfast from the very recently opened Cornwall Bakery at Annandale Water. I simply love croissants! The view was wonderful too.

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I set off just after 9 a.m. and soon hit heavy rain , heavy traffic, and so much spray it was like thick fog. There is only one explanation for me getting through hours of such unpleasant and unsafe driving conditions: and that’s God’s travelling mercies and divine protection.

And He also provided excellent rest stops including one of the best chilli con carnes I’ve ever tasted – and I’ve always reckoned I cook a pretty good chilli myself. It was at what looked like a diner at a truck stop. That will teach me not to judge by appearances!

I had decided I wanted to cheat my sat nav and not go the obvious way home: via the A14 round Cambridge and Bury St Edmund’s. I simply do not like that road – and the stop-start nose-to-tail driving caused by never-ending roadworks makes it even less favourite with me. So I fibbed to my sat nav and said I was headed, not for Halesworth, but for my favourite Christian Bookshop, Green Pastures in Dereham!


It worked. Sat Nav lady directed me off the A1M onto the A17 towards Sleaford and then – joy of joys – the A47 towards Norwich. Mild sunshine, green fields, and the beginnings of autumn colours in leaves and berries were a treat to my eyes.

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There is always something special about those last miles at the end of a long journey, especially when you’re headed home to your own house, your own armchair, and your own comfy bed!

And so, I’m back, safe and sound, and very grateful. I’ve had a great time, I’ve sussed out the possibilities of properties in Caithness (conclusion: not this time, and maybe even not at all? We shall see), and done a bit more background research and book promoting.

The next thing on the horizon is publication of the new book, Ring of Truth, number 3 in the Mizpah Ring Trilogy. I’ve seen a draft of the cover.


So on we go! I may not have much of an idea of exactly what that will entail, but I know Someone who does, and I trust Him completely!

Books, Caithness, Mizpah Ring, Necklace of Lies, Uncategorized, Wick

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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Books, Caithness, fiction, History, Scotland, Social history, Uncategorized, Wick

NUCLEUS: a northern treasure trove

Maybe you have to be nosy to be a writer. When something interesting crosses our path, we always want to know more. What it’s really about. Where the name comes from. What it means. And last but not least, that glorious fiction trigger: what if…?

So today definitely offered me one of my ideas of heaven: a friendly and welcoming  establishment set up specifically to enable research.

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Set on the bleak windswept land next to Wick Airport is NUCLEUS: the nuclear and Caithness archive. It has in store everything they can get their hands on about the nuclear energy industry in the UK, and absolutely everything about Caithness: parish records, family genealogies,  private papers, books, maps, bound copies of local newspapers, drawings and artworks, research notes – including my own second year University project about integration in Thurso after the influx of folk to work at Dounreay – and much, much more. The Caithness material is available to anyone who makes the journey – and you will receive a warm welcome and as much help as you need. The nuclear stuff is in process of being catalogued. Find NUCLEUS on Facebook and their website.

I was brought the bound copies of the John O’Groat Journal for 1964 and 1965 which I needed to help me research book 3 in the Mizpah Ring trilogy. It was surreal to read articles about people I knew – not to mention see pictures of friends, my sister, and even one (ouch!) of myself receiving my Queen’s Guide Badge in 1964!

Sometimes browsing back numbers of newspapers offers real treasure trove and I have come away with pages of useful notes for the new book and a definite decision that it will begin in 1964.

We popped into the tiny airport to find lunch.

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So important in the second world war, as mentioned in book 2 of Mizpah Ring, Necklace of Lies, there are still traces of wartime activity.

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Books, Caithness, Clearances, John O'Groats, Uncategorized

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!





Books, fiction, God, Mizpah Ring, Novel, Uncategorized

The power of the deadline

I have a deadline. Two, in fact. And both, insanely tight. This is good – for several reasons.

  1. Like many writers I am bone idle. No, I mean creative… I can spend hours gently daydreaming, gazing at lovely views (or nothing in particular) and letting my thoughts wander where they will, up hill and down dale. And not putting fingers to keyboard.
  2. I find it only too easy to say yes to everything anyone asks of me. Yes of course I’ll bring a cake to that church tea. Yes, I’ll help out at that event. Yes, I can drive that person to wherever. Yes, I’ll… do anything but sit home alone in front of the computer…
  3. I like to read… and I find I really cannot get into other people’s fiction when I’m trying to write fiction! It’s like being given the gift of a box of chocolates after you’ve binged all Easter Sunday on chocolate eggs and Cadbury creme eggs and chocolate cake and… you really don’t think you can face another chocolate ever again. (Of course I’ve never done that….)
  4. I’m afraid… of not being able to do it again. Yes, I know it happened with every book so far, and several times within the process of each. But it’s horrid. And not writing at all is one way to avoid it. But agreeing to a deadline makes me face it, and work through it.
  5. I’m afraid… of it not being as good as the last one. I’m afraid of running out of words. I’m afraid of diving so deeply into my story that I’ll get lost down there and drown and never come up again. I’m afraid of doing what I love to do more than anything else in the world: am I really allowed to do this? I’m afraid of discovering I don’t really like doing it at all… A deadline simply demands that I sit down and get on with it. Like a job of work. Word after word. One after the other. Just do it.
  6. And a deadline reminds me how afraid I am, and idle, and weak, and needy… and that I don’t need to worry about any of that because I’m a Christian writer who writes because I believe God gave me the gift and asked me to use it … for Him. I write overtly Christian books, deliberately, determinedly. To uplift and encourage God’s Christian women particularly. To entertain yes, but to give them a thoroughly good experience at the same time. Good in His terms. So if He wants me to do, He’ll have to help me. And He says He will:
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‘My Grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9) and that’s fine with me. I’ve got plenty of weakness!

Oh, did I mention the deadlines? For Mizpah Ring Book 2: end of May; for Mizpah Ring 3: end of August. And the plan is publication of both books this year: Mizpah Ring 2 early September, and Book 3 early December. Oh yes, I’m going to need all the help I can get!


Books, Mizpah Ring, Novel, Uncategorized, Writing

Getting Ready

I have rearranged my study. I have sorted out the books on the shelves that face me when I’m at work at my desk and I’ve packed away the non-writing books, replacing them with relevant writing books and book files.

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Books packed away
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Research and admin folders
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Books to inspire!

And I’m beginning to feel better – ready to get down to work again on the novel.

I popped out to the supermarket to stock up on food and met my next-door neighbour as I was going in. I had come home from a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discover that she had cut her own front lawn and then cut mine. She is slightly over eight months pregnant. Her last child weighed in on arrival at 10 lbs and she reckons this one will compete – so cutting grass astounded me. Just as well I was out! I’m sure I’d have scolded and protested!

She wouldn’t accept a lift home from the supermarket either. Walking, she said, would do her good. She preferred to be doing things. She was ready for the birth, she said. It’s time this one arrived.

And as I sort my study and lug heavy boxes of books into the storeroom, I recognise myself in my pregnant neighbour. I’m getting ready for the labour of getting Book 2 of the Mizpah Ring birthed and into the world. And like my neighbour, I’m impatient. Because it’s time!