Category Archives: Inspiration

Holyroodhouse – A sanctuary for an exiled Bourbon

It has been several months since I last updated this blog – it actually came as a shock to me to realise that I have not posted on here since May! In the intervening months since my last post, I have been enjoying something of a break from writing, spending time with my family and going on summer holiday. However, summer is over and I’ve started work on my second Ailsa Rose book once again.

Today I wanted to share with you a fascinating anecdote I came across when researching this second novel, which is largely set in the Canongate/Holyrood area of Edinburgh. This tale concerns Holyroodhouse, the palace which sits at the foot of the Canongate, and is the official residence of the monarch in Scotland. In its time, the palace has hosted many royal occupants, but did you know that in the 1790s it housed French royalty?

Holyrood House and Chapel from Calton Hill, engraving, 1842. From Wikimedia Commons.

In 1796, Holyroodhouse became the home of the exiled Charles Philippe, the Comte D’artois and his mistress, Louise de Polastron. The comte was the brother of King Louis XVI, and the future Charles X, reigning from 1824 to 1830 after the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty in 1814/1815. He had fled France in the wake of the French Revolution, eventually coming to Edinburgh.

The Comte D’Artois by Henri Pierre Danloux, 1798. From Wikimedia Commons.

The accommodation which greeted the comte upon his arrival, however, was likely far from the grand and sumptuous palace we might envisage. In her book Holyrood and Canongate: A Thousand Year History, E Patricia Dennison tells us that the Hanoverian kings had allowed Holyroodhouse to fall into decay, and that during the eighteenth century, its neglect had led it to become a crumbling building which at times had hosted an assortment of debtors and squatters for tenants.1 Not exactly fit for royalty, then, although in some ways perhaps suitable. In her 1992 article, Furniture for the Comte D’Artois at Holyrood, 1796, Margaret Swain informs us that as the palace was built on the site of an ancient monastery, it was still considered a debtors’ sanctuary and the comte was on the run from his creditors.2 Swain goes on to tell us that refurbishment of the comte’s apartments took four months, during which time the comte and his party had to live in the rooms of Lord Adam Gordon, the governor of Edinburgh Castle.3

Louise de Polastron, mistress of the Comte D’Artois, by Alexander Kucharsky. From Wikimedia Commons.

The comte and his mistress seem to have remained at Holyroodhouse for several years, although by the early 1800s they had relocated to London, where Louise de Polastron died from tuberculosis in 1804. In 1830, the palace played host to Charles Philippe for a final time, following his abdication from the French throne. As Swain tells us, the furniture from his previous stay had to be ‘hastily reassembled’.4 He stayed for a couple of years, before being granted sanctuary by the Habsburg Emperor and living in the Austrian Empire for the remainder of his days.

As those of you who have read The Wax Artist will know, the protagonist Ailsa Rose is a French émigré. As this is a key part of her background, I just love coming across French connections during my research, and this one really caught my imagination. I wonder what Ailsa Rose would have thought about the king’s brother living just a stone’s throw from her humble room in the Canongate! It is fun to consider it.

The Wax Artist is available to read in e-book and paperback now. Find out more here.

References:

  1. E Patricia Dennison, Holyrood and Canongate: A Thousand Year History, (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2005), pp. 111-112
  2. Margaret Swain, “Furniture for the Comte D’Artois at Holyrood, 1796”, Furniture History, (1992), p. 98
  3. Margaret Swain, op cit, p. 98
  4. Margaret Swain, op cit, p. 99

Studies in Wax

As promised back in February, I have been quietly and steadily working on my new novel. I’m conscious I’ve been silent for some time now, so thought I’d blog a short update on how things are going. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now completed the first draft of the manuscript and have almost completed the first round of editing. There will be more reading and editing work to be done, of course, but I feel as though I’m making some serious progress towards the final, finished novel.

So, today I thought I might say a little more about what this book is about, and where it came from!

The first seeds of this story were sown in my mind back in the autumn of 2019, while working on an assignment for the creative writing course I was taking at the time. I was doing a lot of free-writing for this, and I produced a number of short passages about a psychic who has a vision of a crime which has not yet been committed. As I developed them further, I found myself wandering into the late eighteenth-century, sketching characters and settings which felt sometimes Austen-esque and sometimes far less privileged – a contrast which I enjoyed. I live not far from Edinburgh, a city with a notable Georgian heritage, so I began to feel this might be my story’s setting. At this point I had lots of threads, lots of ideas, but it was only when I started looking more closely at eighteenth-century Edinburgh, that I had a ‘eureka’ moment.

That moment looked something like this:

Madame Tussaud, from Wikimedia Commons.

I discovered that, in 1803, Madame Tussaud opened an exhibition in Edinburgh’s New Town. Travelling from France to London and then on to Edinburgh during the brief peace between Britain and France, her Grand Cabinet of European Figures was the first time the Scottish capital had seen her lifelike waxworks of royalty and revolutionaries – including, of course, the now infamous death masks. This tiny, fascinating piece of information provided the setting for my university assignment, but it was also the spark which got me to realise that the plots, settings and characters whirring around my head needed a novel. The result is a story which is grounded firmly in its period: a new century, an uneasy peace, an ancient city in flux, and an old world still reeling from revolution. It’s also a novel which still has that psychic and that original mystery at its heart: how do you solve a crime which hasn’t happened yet?

I can’t wait for you all to read it.

Spotlight Part 3: Ethersay

In today’s spotlight is my third novel, and first contemporary story, Ethersay, which was published in 2017. For me this novel marked a real shift in my creativity, as I went from re-imagining times and people long past, to crafting a story about modern characters who were entirely my own invention.

In 2016, around the time I was finishing A Woman Named Sellers, I had a really strange dream about a woman waking up on a beach with no recollection of what happened or how she got there. This, it turned out, was the seed of an idea which became Ethersay. After a lot of thought, I decided to set part of the narrative during the independence referendum here in Scotland in 2014 – a momentous, exciting time which provided my protagonist with just the right amount of upheaval and drama to propel her story along.

Of all my books, Ethersay is probably the hardest to describe or place in any sort of category. On one level it is about political activism, but that really isn’t the whole story – it’s also a mystery, with some strange twists and turns, and with plenty of suspense. If I had to describe it in one sentence, I’d say that ultimately it’s about a young woman having to face up to her past and its consequences.

Ethersay is also my only novel to have a book trailer. I worked with the very talented Stewart Kerr Brown of The Imagination Engine to create this film, which stars Jodi Findlay. We had an absolute ball filming this in Fife, Scotland.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about how my experiences during the referendum inspired this novel.

You can find out more about Ethersay and where to buy it here.

Spotlight: The Gisburn Witch

As the year tumbles towards its conclusion, I’ve found myself in a reflective mood. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot to reflect on this year, and not a whole lot of it has been good! However, in recent weeks I have been staying positive (mostly) and busy, working on the first draft of my next novel, and really enjoying the experience of delving into a different world which writing it affords. After all, 2020 could not be a better excuse for a little escapism, could it?

I’ve also found myself looking back on the books I’ve written and the things I’ve achieved so far. It is good to take stock once in a while, to look at your work and to think ‘wow, I did that’. I began writing my first novel in 2014, published it in 2015 and I haven’t really stopped since. As it is almost the end of another year, I thought it would be fun to shine a spotlight on my books in the order I wrote them, and say a little bit about them – what they’re about, what inspired me to write them, and so on.

So, in today’s spotlight is my debut novel, The Gisburn Witch.

Published in 2015, The Gisburn Witch is a historical fiction novel which tells the story of Jennet Preston, one of the so-called Pendle witches, who found herself caught up in the trials in Lancashire in 1612. I’d always had an interest in the Pendle witch trials, and wrote my university dissertation on the subject. Jennet had particularly drawn my interest as she was geographically separate from the other accused, living in Gisburn in the Yorkshire/Lancashire borderlands. She was tried separately, too, in York rather than Lancaster. I really wanted to dig deep into Jennet’s story, to understand how she ended up being accused of witchcraft. The Gisburn Witch is my imagining of that story.

In 2016, I wrote an article for Edinburgh University’s Dangerous Women Project, all about Jennet and the other ‘witches’ and some of the aspects of their lives and stories which made them vulnerable to witchcraft accusations. You can find it here.

You can find out more about The Gisburn Witch and where you can get a copy here.

Next time in the spotlight will be my second novel, and the second book in the Witches of Pendle series, A Woman Named Sellers.

Travels, and trying

This year, a lot of things haven’t gone to plan. I know that’s the case for most people – there were things we were meant to do which didn’t happen, and things we ended up doing which we could have never foreseen. It’s an understatement to say that 2020 has been quite some year – for me, like so many others, it’s been filled with disruption, worries, cancelled plans, and a pervasive sense that I’ve lost control over my daily life.

And yet, it hasn’t been all bad.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to go on holiday for a week. It wasn’t the holiday we’d planned – that was an east Med cruise, booked for July and cancelled by Covid. However, it was a holiday which has always been on our ‘to do’ list, and with tourism in Scotland reopening, we jumped at the chance to get away and visit the islands of Mull, Iona, Staffa, and Lunga. I am so glad we did – it was a week of breathtaking scenery, fresh air, plenty of walking and lots of wildlife.

Kilvickeon Beach, Isle of Mull

That’s not to say everything felt entirely normal, and the holiday didn’t always go completely to plan – a reminder, perhaps, that the pandemic casts a long shadow and it isn’t going to fade any time soon. Indeed, I learnt a number of things last week. One was that, as someone who in ordinary times finds busy and/or unfamiliar public places anxiety-inducing, I find the mask/sanitiser/social distancing/one way system merry-go-rounds quite exhausting. A second thing was that, after so many months of having their activities and interactions limited, my children are far less resilient against the disappointment of a locked-up playground than they once were. And a third thing was that catching your face-mask on your cartilage piercing will result in a slightly ripped and very sore ear.

Every day is a school day. Even when school has been shut since March.

Aros Park, Isle of Mull

So, now I’m home and it’s time to settle back down into some sort of regular routine for however long that may last. School starts again next week, as does work, and I have a book to finish researching and start writing. Lots to try and do. For today I thought I’d leave you with a final thing I learnt on my holidays, which is that I really like Taylor Swift’s new album. Not my usual taste in music, but it is very good, and I like this song in particular. In fact, I think it could become my anthem for 2020. After all, despite the pandemonium this year has brought, as the song goes – at least I’m trying.

Lockdown Life

Happy Easter, folks! It’s a bit of a strange one this year, but life has been pretty strange for several weeks now. I hope you’re all staying well and sane during this unsettling time. I thought I’d check in with a few updates from lockdown life…

The House at Kirtlebeck End Offer

Like a lot of people, I will be getting through this period with the help of good books. More time at home does, after all, mean more reading time – at least, that’s the theory. With this in mind I decided to reduce the Kindle price of my newest release, The House at Kirtlebeck End, to 99p / 99c on Amazon UK and US. Head over here to get your copy.

Writing in Retreat

Over the past few days I’ve seen lots of ads online for virtual writers’ retreats. What a wonderful idea! Sadly I’m finding that this lockdown life does not agree with my creativity. Between homeschooling my kids, managing my own day job and generally adjusting to the bustle of a 24/7 full house, I’m not stringing many sentences together just now. I’ve got my final Creative Writing assignment due at the end of the month, so I am trying very hard to ‘freewrite’ my way to inspiration. Unfortunately, everything I write seems to wind back to this horrible situation we’re in which, frankly, is the last thing I want to write about.

Books, Music & Walks

Fortunately, there are those daily glimmers of light which keep me going. I am reading, and have read, some great books. My last excellent read was The Year without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd. Set in 1816 during the summer which was blighted by the Mount Tambora volcanic eruption, the novel features the compelling and hard-hitting stories of a handful of characters and how their lives were affected. The scope of the story is impressive, spanning many lives and a number of continents.

I’m now reading Tombland, the latest Shardlake novel by CJ Sansom. Running at over 800 pages it is an absolute tome, so I may or may not finish it before this lockdown ends! Away from novels I’m also making an effort to read more modern poetry, and have recently picked up a copy of the collection Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times. Pretty suitable reading just now, I’d say.

I’m grateful also for some wonderful new music which has arrived in 2020. I have three new albums on rotation just now: Myrkur’s Folksange, Delain’s Apocalypse and Chill, and Nightwish’s Human. :II: Nature. And when I’m not reading or listening to music, I’ve been making the most of the good weather and discovering new walks around my local area with my family. It’s amazing how in the bustle of everyday life we often overlook those things which are right under our noses. If anything good comes from this, it’s that I’ve gained an appreciation of how much nature there is, right there on my doorstep.

Best wishes and Easter blessings to you all. Stay safe!

Reviewing the Resolutions

Happy new year to you all! I hope you had a peaceful and enjoyable festive season. I’m mindful that I’ve been very quiet on my blog since the release of The House at Kirtlebeck End at the beginning of December. It’s been a busy few weeks; between the book release, university assignments and Christmas, I’ve barely had a spare moment!

As this is my first post of the new year, I thought I’d review the goals I set myself last year and see how I got on. My goals were:

Goal 1 – Finish writing The House at Kirtlebeck End

Goal 2 – Submit The House at Kirtlebeck End to agents/publishers

Goal 3 – Research my next historical novel

Goal 4 – Keep writing and submitting to magazines/journals

Well, I didn’t do too badly. The House at Kirtlebeck End was finished and published by the end of the year. And I did pitch it to agents/publishers, and although it wasn’t picked up, it was worth going through that process to develop my awareness of the industry (and my query letter writing skills!). I kept working on short stories, although perhaps not at the rate I managed in 2018. Finally, I did begin some research around a couple of historical novel ideas, and I’ve got some pretty detailed notes which I intend to return to at a later stage.

However, as you’ll know if you follow this blog regularly, I started something else last year – something which wasn’t planned, but which was an opportunity I just had to grasp. In 2019 I became a student again, and 2020’s big goal is to make a success of my creative writing course. I’m really enjoying it; I’m learning so much and developing my skills as a writer. And the coursework has generated a couple of novel ideas! So, watch this space.

For me, 2020 will be a year of development. I will be spending the time studying, honing my skills, and broadening my writing horizons. After that, I’m not sure – which is actually quite exciting. Sometimes the best things in life are those which aren’t planned, or expected.

And, of course, I’ll be doing lots and lots of reading!

The Dangers of Dismissal

I’m not going to lie, folks; I’ve been a bit of a whinge on Twitter recently. The thing about being at the querying stage with a book is, all your resilience gets ploughed into keeping your chin up when the inevitable rejections arrive. That’s good – if you’re going to keep writing and keep submitting, you have to learn to rise above rejection, to not take it personally, and to keep on keeping on. However, the result is that your tolerance for other things, like details or phrases, might plummet a little. And of course, Twitter is always on hand for you to vent about your irritation to a nice big audience…

Yeah, sorry about that. Normal positive thinking will resume shortly. Though I do stand by every word. In this business rejection is inevitable, but there are many ways to write ‘no thanks’ and some are far better than others. Phrases like ‘I’ll pass’ are lazy, unprofessional and dismissive of a writer’s creative work. They might not be intended in that way, but that’s how they come across. The fact that apparently some quarters of the publishing industry don’t appreciate the impact that words can have is frankly more than a little ironic.

Anyway, today I thought I would also give an update on how things are progressing with my forthcoming novel, The House at Kirtlebeck End. As indicated before, I’m still at the querying stage and have a few responses from agents/publishers outstanding. In most cases the various deadlines they set themselves are fast approaching, so depending on the outcome of those I will be making a few decisions in the next few weeks about the publication of the book. So, watch this space! I hope to be able to bring you more news at the beginning of November.

Those who follow me on Facebook may also have noticed that I have recently started studying Creative Writing with the Open University. It’s early days but so far I’m enjoying it and looking forward to enhancing my writing skills over the coming months. At the same time I’m also fermenting some ideas for my next novel, and have started to do a bit of research when time allows. In short, there’s a lot going on but generally it’s all good. Onwards and upwards, as they say!

A healthy dose of motivation

A few weeks ago, I entered a tweet your pitch competition on Twitter, under the hashtag #XpoNorth. Authors based in Scotland were asked to pitch their work, even if it was incomplete, and told that agents and publishers would be watching. I’m not on Twitter all that often, and this particular contest would have escaped my notice entirely if it hadn’t been for a cursory flick through my news feed and seeing a pitch by a fellow author. Since my current work in progress, The House at Kirtlebeck End, isn’t complete and I’m not at the pitching stage as yet, I had to give a lot of thought as to what to say about my book in so few words! In the end I made two attempts at it, one of which was this:

I tweeted, added my hashtag and promptly forgot all about it, if I’m honest. It was a Friday, the weekend was looming, the kids were home and family life beckoned. Then, a few days later, I logged on to Twitter again and saw this:

I’m not going to lie, readers; my heart sang just a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting carried away. After all a pitch is just an advert, a hook, and not a full manuscript. Heck, I don’t even have a completed manuscript yet. But nonetheless this was interest from the publishing industry. As an author who has been through the ‘submit, wait, hope, silence’ process a good few times, this represents progress.

Above all, it gave me the kick I needed to make me throw everything I’ve got into getting this book finished.

I have, of course, sent a query to the publisher – not an easy task for a book which isn’t written yet, by the way! I’ve yet to hear anything, and I might not hear anything, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. This interest was exactly what I needed to motivate me to get this book written, and if this reply to my tweet ultimately serves no greater purpose than that, I’ll still be happy.

Getting off to a good start…

Happy new year! After a lovely festive break I have finally persuaded myself back into the writing room to get on with some writing, and some blogging. At the end of last year I promised you a post on my 2019 goals, and as this is the first post of the new year, setting out my targets for the months ahead seems like a good place to start.

So, let’s get on with it, shall we?

Goal 1 – Finish writing The House at Kirtlebeck End: I’ve mentioned previously on my blog that progress on my new contemporary novel has been a wee bit slow. However, I ended 2018 with it roughly half-written and have made completing it my top priority for 2019.

Goal 2 – Submit The House at Kirtlebeck End to agents/publishers: Well, what have I got to lose? Having been through the querying process before with a couple of my other books, I know that this can take some time. Nonetheless, I believe in this book and its ability to have a broad appeal, and so I owe it to myself and my work to give it the best possible chance of success. And, if it doesn’t get picked up, I can of course publish it myself.

Goal 3 – Research my next historical novel: I’m in the early stages of doing this, having tentatively decided to try my hand at writing about Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of the nineteenth century Scottish novelist and historian Thomas Carlyle. It’s early days but I would like to have completed my research by the end of the year so that I can begin writing in 2020. Besides, research will keep me busy while I patiently await replies for Goal 2…

Goal 4 – Keep writing and submitting to magazines/journals: I’m keen to build on last year’s successes here, and so will keep writing shorter pieces whenever the mood takes me.

And there you have it. 2019’s goals are, I believe, perfectly achievable but even so, writing and researching is time-consuming and therefore I am going to need to stay focused. With this in mind, I have decided not to set myself a marketing-related goal this year. The past few years have taught me that marketing and book promotion, whilst useful, can be a real draw on an author’s time and energies, and I simply don’t have time to do everything. That’s not to say I won’t still be blogging or posting on social media, but inevitably there will be less promo activity from me. So please, in 2019 more than ever before, if you enjoy one of my books then tell a friend, write a review, share a post, retweet me! Organic reach and good old fashioned recommendations will be more vital for me than ever 😉

In 2018 I did pretty well with my goals, achieving most and getting them all at least underway. Hopefully I can do the same in 2019. Now, back to the writing den I go – The House at Kirtlebeck End isn’t going to write itself…