about writing and life and God

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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A northern Sunday

Sunday, so we go to church. Not such a nice day so I need my warm coat – and definitely not bare feet! My sister’s church family meet in the Episcopal church hall which is a cheerful, welcoming place, just like the Free Church of Scotland congregation that meets there.

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It takes me a few moments to get in gear with the beautiful unaccompanied singing of metrical psalms but soon find the concentration required enhances my absorption of the wonderful words, and the sense of reverence that pervades this service.

Sunday afternoon means walking, and so after lunch we headed off along the road south for Latheronwheel, a purpose-built village established in 1835. Originally called Janetstown after the owner’s mother, the name never caught on and the old Gaelic-derived name remained.

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First, we took a walk from the old road up the strath to the weir. Wonderful brown peaty salmon river underneath trees cobwebby with grey lichen:

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Then we crossed the main road and followed the course of the river through the Fairy Glen. This entrancing place is basically an estate of  fairy houses:

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Following the river took us to the harbour. Built in 1835 by D & T Stevenson – David Stevenson was Robert Louis Stevenson’s father – at the peak of the herring fishing, the harbour provided safe haven for 50 vessels.

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We rounded off the afternoon with tea and cake at Forse House. The lovely house was built in 1753 to provide more modern accommodation for the owners of Forse Castle. Now it is a luxury B&B, with craft shop and tea room.  And now, boots off, my sister and I are both yawning and relaxing!Another lovely day.

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Day Ten: Going home

Home! After a 365 mile solo drive (if you don’t count Jesus) from the borders of Scotland down through England to Cambridge, then a sharp left turn till you almost hit the far eastern coast. Home. Whew.

And glad.

Sometimes, to paraphrase T.S.Eliot, it is necessary to take a wander back through the past and check it out and discover what it means now. And then look at where you are now and discover just how good it is – and recognise it for what it is: in my case, that where I am now is home.

Home means lots of different things to different people. I have a nomadic streak and I love new places and overnight billets – lovely hotels in locations like at Annandale Water. Waking up to beauty fills me with delight.

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View from my balcony at Annandale Water this morning

But home: that is something deeper, richer. Long ago, I put my roots down in the rich soil of Somerset, letting them go down deep – which made the pulling up when my husband died in 1994 and I had to move the more painful. I haven’t had the courage to ‘settle’ properly anywhere since then.

But driving into Westmoreland this morning, past the sign that said ‘Welcome to England’, I realised I have lived in England for 38 years. More than half my life. More than anywhere else. England is home, and Suffolk, and the town where I live, and the street, and the little house on that street with my cat waiting for me and the friend who was feeding her for me, and my church this evening, and … This all constitutes home.

And I’m glad. And grateful. And it’s time to let my little roots unfurl and go down into the welcoming soil of Suffolk. And, to mix the metaphor, it’s time for some nesting – nice things for the house to make it more ‘home’. Nice things for the garden… maybe some herbs… salads, tomatoes… food!

Home. Welcome home. At last.

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Day Three: A Scottish Sunday

It’s Sunday so today’s activities are church and a walk with my sister and her friends. The weather is grey and not warm – unlike the glorious sunshine I left behind in Suffolk! But this does not deter us. We wrap up like Arctic explorers and set out for Keiss.

What surprises me is how much of the old World War Two tank traps are left lining the beach.

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Clearly the threat of invasion was taken very seriously, and as we walk along, I’m thinking about the effect of the war on local people – and this section in the new book. All useful research!

I love little harbours so we drove round to Keiss harbour

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and found some lovely splashy waves coming in round the harbour wall!

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And then it was time for tea! And home in good time for evening church.



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Day Eight: Sunday in Scotland

When I was a child, Sundays were days with strictly limited possibilities for entertainment. Once a local minister was discovered to have played football with his children on the beach on a Sunday and there was a terrible scandal!

What we were allowed to do on Sundays included going to church and going for walks. My sister and her friends have continued this tradition, so this morning we went to church in Wick (Free Church of Scotland where we sang psalms unaccompanied) and then in the afternoon went for a walk at Geise (close to Thurso and Halkirk).

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There were five of us – four adults and Tipsy, the collie dog who kept us moving along the winding paths.

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Whenever I stopped to take a photograph or otherwise strayed from the little flock she came to round me up and bring me back to join the others. All the while she was enjoying the walk, sniffing intriguing smells in the bushes, splashing in the peaty-brown burn, yet still have an eye on us, her charges!

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‘The Lord is my shepherd’ and Tipsy’s gentle sheepdogging of her little flock today was a lovely reminder of how my Heavenly Father always has His loving eye on me, providing for my every need – and yes,there was cake with our tea at the delightful Ulbster Arms in Halkirk.

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There was also a rather nice salmon – but not for our supper!

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When NaNo isn’t good enough

This is my declaration of intent: I’m quitting NaNoWriMo. I’ve written 30,156 words and I’m grateful that the process has broken my writer’s block. But…


Because as a Christian I won’t work Sundays, I had to write 2,000 words a day to reach the target. And imperceptibly I began to lose the joy, the delight in the story. Facing my desk each day became a chore. And that’s unheard of for me!

I also began to feel that I was short-changing my story, my characters and the Holy Spirit Who inspires me. I wanted to go back to page one and take my time to get it much more ‘right’ rather than simply focus on churning out 2,000 words a day.


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So I’ve allowed myself two days ‘off’. Instead of slamming down words for words’ sake, I’ve allowed myself the pleasure of reacquainting myself with the research notes I made when this story of the Mizpah Ring  first captured my heart. And I’m in love again. There’s so much more than I had remembered in the frenetic NaNo days.

So I’m going back to my way of doing things: I’ll aim for a flexible one hour or one thousand words a day, approximately. And I’ll immerse myself in the research. I’ve already discovered previously unknown connections between the Highland Clearances and Manitoba, fascinating eye-witness accounts of Buenos Aires in 1900 – and I can’t wait to weave them into my book, knowing it will be the better for it.

What’s more, I now have energy and time to give to the promotion of my novel, When the Boats Come Home, due out in paperback, Kindle and e-book around 12th December. I had a day when I could enjoy a lovely virtual cup of tea with Donna Fletcher Crowe ( And there’s plenty more to do – and enjoy.

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My verdict on NaNoWriMo? It’s great and I’m grateful. But now I’m out of the shallow end with the new book, I need room to forge ahead at my own pace. I’ll keep you posted!


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NaNoWriMo: The first day

Today marks lots of firsts.

It’s the first day of the Celtic New Year – so as a fully paid up in the blood Celt, may I wish you all a happy New Year!

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It’s the first of November. So, happy November. And if you want a truly happy November and not a miserable Thomas Hood November (‘No!’ is a great poem though), reach for Ann Voskamp’s chart of things to give thanks to God for each day of the month. (Check out her blog: aholyexperience) It starts, delightfully, with thank you for 3 things to eat. My kind of day! Especially when I’ve got chocolate brownies to have with afternoon tea.

And being the first of November it’s the first day of NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. And I’m celebrating my first day by blogging to tell you about it. Because yes, I sat down at my laptop at 9 a. m. and put in an hour’s writing, and then after time out to do Saturday things and have lunch and a quick skim of my notes (I have a huge research folder that’s been sitting glowering at me for years…) at 2 p. m. I sat down and did another hour. And the day’s total? 2150 words. I am thrilled.

To reach the target of 50,000 words by 30th November, I need to achieve an average of 2,000 words per day of work – because I won’t be working Sundays. Cos that’s my special day off with God.

I reckon that’s a pretty good start. And I can relax now and enjoy the rest of the day and a lovely restful Sunday!


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Surgical Spirit

Let me mention a word so powerful it is almost guaranteed to produce fear – okay, a twinge at least – in the hardiest soul. Ready?


There. It worked. And so did the dentist I found I had to visit this morning. I have this tooth that’s been a pain for around twenty years. (I am not exaggerating.) Recently widowed, signed off from work by a kindly doctor, I discovered I could have a whole set of new fillings, crowns etc. very cheaply thanks to the generosity of the benefits system. Whoopee, I thought, and my Scottish thrift overtook my natural cowardice and got me into that dentist’s chair for the full works.

He made not a bad job of it – except for this one tooth which never really settled down. It has nagged and been duly probed at regular intervals.

On my last visit for a six-monthly check-up to my latest dentist, I mentioned it was giving my gyp again. Latest dentist is maybe a weensy bit laid back about these things and suggested I use toothpaste for sensitive teeth. I assured him I already do – his advice last time I mentioned this tooth. Well, he concluded, if the pain remains for an hour or two after contact with hot or cold, then maybe you need to come back. He took an x-ray to show willing.

By Friday, it was giving me more gyp. Every cup of coffee produced agony. (And I have a high pain threshold as anyone with my kind of past has to.) I finally wrote ‘Ring dentist’ as number one on my To-do list for Saturday.

And – you guessed it – didn’t. By Sunday evening, if there were a higher slot on the list than number one, it would have been there. Monday at 10.35 I was in the dentist’s chair. Not my usual dentist but a wonderful lady called Judith who discerned trouble at mill and set to, to sort it out. Root canal work, she said kindly, as she explained in detail and with diagrams exactly what she was doing. There was infection at the base of a nerve and it needed – to put it in plain Scottish – howked out, treated with antibiotic to kill the infection and then refilled. Today.

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It got me wondering just how many niggling, nagging, not-nice things I allow to continue niggling and nagging at me, without biting the bullet and getting them sorted out? High pain thresholds are one thing, but sin tolerance thresholds should be rock bottom and highly sensitised. Not easy in a world that doesn’t seem to have any sin threshold at all.

The demand for political correctness and inclusivity seems to insist on total acceptance of anything and everything. But rotten apples spread their decay. My dentist said it takes only three weeks for a small dental infection to get to keeping-you-awake-at-night proportions.

Jesus said we need to be careful about how we think  since anger can lead to murder, a casual lustful glance to adultery and the break-up of a marriage and a family. Small beginnings. Niggling, nagging bad habits, self-indulgence, things we may not think matter.

Advent starts on Sunday. Traditionally a time to prepare for the coming of the God-with-us in amazing humility and vulnerability. Today’s lovely dentist did a good job of identifying where the rot had set in. Maybe Advent is a good time for a spiritual check-up, letting the Holy Spirit probe our depths and howk out anything that’s gone bad in us!



When the new baby takes all your energy

I was advising a friend’s brother-in-law this afternoon about getting a rather good book of translated poetry published. My first port of call in preparation for our meeting was Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, which now contains lots of helpful articles as well as those invaluable reams and reams of listings.

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The Poetry section begins with an amusing – and very honest – article by Benjamin Zephaniah, followed by a down-to-earth article on ‘Getting poetry published’ by Michael Schmidt, editor of PN Review and director at Carcanet, as well as Professor of Poetry at Glasgow University. So you’d expect he knows what he’s talking about. And he begins with: “Start with this axiom: you have not come here to make money.”

And neither have we Christian writers. Which is just as well. We’d soon be sore disappointed. But there is a paradox: we’re not in it for the money, but we do want our books to reach as many people as possible. And that means sales.

Someone recently stopped me and asked were the sales of my new book, Still Caring, doing well. I gaped. It’s only been out a week or so!

But then I remembered when I was publisher for business books at McGraw-Hill UK, I reckoned there was a visible sales pattern: sharp take-off from day one (books into stores as a result of good repping), leading to a plateau at eighteen months, and then — depending on author activity — a rapid or slow tailing off till the first print-run was sold out, or we were left with a thousand or so unsaleable books in the warehouse, and the commissioning editor with a red face. (It is said that this is why commissioning editors moved companies every eighteen months – before the results were in!)

I’m still working pretty hard at promotion for the new book. I’m being interviewed by the lovely Lesley Dolphin of BBC Radio Suffolk on Wednesday afternoon, sometime around 3 p.m. (You can hear it live or  ‘Listen Again’ online at There are a couple more print media to receive customised press releases for insertion in their October editions, and then a couple more radio interviews. Hopefully this will help local sales keep ticking over.

But on the corner of my desk is the printed-out draft of the novel and I’m longing to get back to it. But the new baby is demanding all my time and energy! I fear the novel will sulk or storm like an ignored toddler and I’ll find it hard to renew our previous relationship. I wonder do other writers have a good way of dealing with this?

Meanwhile, I have a service to prepare for Sunday, a talk for a lady’s meeting tomorrow afternoon- and it’s hot, hot, hot! Still, the blog is written so that’s one tick on myTo-Do list today!


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Mary, Mary, really rather contrary

I’ve got just about every window in the house open. There’s the tiniest breeze, and it is so welcome. But how is it that just a few days ago, it seems, we were complaining that there was no sign of summer – and now it’s almost too hot, too humid…

I sat at Suzie’s Cafe on Southwold beach this morning and could have been at any coastal resort on the Mediterranean!

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But I had to come home and get back to the big re-read. Strangely there was quite a lot of resistance. I think it’s fear that the good bits will come to an end and I’ll plunge into a deep dark hole of total tosh.

It’s really odd: this Sunday I’m not leading worship any place so I had the whole week available for the big re-read. But I have really not taken advantage of all that lovely free time. Next week, when I have a service to prepare, I’m sure I’ll get more done!

It’s the same about the weather. The only word for it is contrariness. We think we want something, complain when we haven’t got it, and then either don’t like it or don’t use it when we do get it.

Not quite the same thing but connected is a thought I wrote in my diary a couple of weeks ago: “If you don’t value what you’ve got at the true value that it is, then when it’s lost and you discover how rare and wonderful what you’ve lost was but now it’s too late, you’re going to grieve a lot harder.”

Maybe the moral of the story is summed up in the old hymn:  “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, so thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all His love.”

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