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Diary of a Writer – April Prompt

The Scottish State Coach circa 1830

Country Mouse was in town last weekend and Town Mouse, cousin and junior by twenty years, agreed to be a tourist, too. I have long wanted to visit the Royal Mews and now I have.

What writer of Regency fiction isn’t interested in carriages? I took the opportunity offered of sitting in a mock-up carriage and concluded I’d be ill if I had to travel in one. Maybe by the time the Scottish State Coach was built, springs were improved.

So, what thoughts does the picture prompt? Without a doubt, the vehicles displayed brought home to me the weight of everything connected with horse-drawn travel. Weight that meant everything done had to be done in teams – look at the size of that rear wheel.

The royal carriages have extra large windows so the occupants can be seen but in their heyday, windows would be smaller and equipped with blinds making the opportunity for all those abductions of heiresses greater. The height of the carriage floor from the ground is considerable and that made me understand how easily a woman in flowing skirts could be disadvantaged.

In happier book scenes, the compact nature of the carriage lends itself to gossip and closeness – siblings off to a summer ball together; older ladies off to a card party or the post nuptial trip being made by a young and nervous bride.

What temptation does a carriage offer you?



This impressive collection of trophies has been donated over a long period to the Scottish Association of Writers for the competitions they hold at their annual weekend school.

Although I’ve won in some past years, I don’t have any entries in this year. I’m simply looking forward to the event and the chance to catch up with friends from other groups. The more often you attend a regular event, the more friends and acquaintances you’ll have accumulated.

Preparation changes a bit over time. When my family were small, complicated arrangements were necessary to ensure the wheels stayed on the bus. Now, I just have to buy something for the DH to cook himself some supper.

The very first writing conference I attended was in Pitlochry and organised by the late Jim McIntosh and his wife, Joyce Faulkner. Speakers were essentially found by the late Hugh Rae – mostly at the Swanwick Writers’ School where he persuaded people what they really wanted/needed was a weekend in the Scottish Highlands.

That event was a delight and it was the first place I encountered an up and coming romantic novelist called Katie Fforde! There was also the delight of wandering out into Pitlochry itself – a pastime I still enjoy enormously when at the Festival Theatre there.

The SAW is now based in the Westerwood – Double Tree by Hilton – and the walks are around the golf course. Easier on the wallet!

There will be books for sale – The Bookhouse – a quiz, a Dragon’s Pen and one2ones. What’s not to like?

Possibly the weather. As the title say – it is March.


Diary of a Writer – March Prompt

Taken after the prizegiving at the annual Weekend School of the Scottish Association of Writers, some time ago.

The hairstyle, tha glasses and the frock are all long gone. The trophy, not sure which competition but the person next to me is holding the John Severn Inkwell donated to the SAW by Edinburgh Writers’ Club, was held for a year. The certificate?

Ah well! As most writers, and all of their relatives, know, the certificate will be here or hereabouts still. Paper is never disposed of methodically. That’s why I’m continuing a process begun during Lockdown of sorting and discarding.

I did return three-to-four years of correspondence to my high-school bosom buddy two years ago. I re-read them and what a treasure trove of joy and information they were. Who would have thought that we’d be back to heating the water separately for one bath? We are and the letters showed it wasn’t that long ago when we lived like that all the time.

And the prompt?

I have no entries in any of the upcoming competitions for the SAW weekend, but I am looking forward to the stimulus of being among other writers, of hearing the talks and of picking up one or two new challenges.

In the meantime, the serial progresses, the book group caused me to read the truly wonderful The Master and Margarita and the grandson has given me The Lady Joker. Brain is coping.

How is your own writing going? Will any of you be at the Westerwood SAW?


Round Robin – February

This month the topic comes in two questions:

How can contemporary Fiction keep up with our swiftly changing world, politically, socially or technically? Or how do you keep your stories located in time?

So – two bites of the cherry or an answer that wraps up both ways of looking at the issue.

I regard myself as a mainly historical writer and with that in mind need to remember which words can be used and which words have taken on such universal loathing that no writer would do so. The assertion that ‘Well that’s what the character would have said.’ doesn’t get you off the hook. Perversely, it’s also the case that readers think some words are too modern whereas they’ve possibly been around for centuries. I don’t want to pull my reader out of the story, so I tend to avoid them.

I tend also to pay a lot of attention to the advice of the late Hilary Mantel. Don’t think the unthinkable. So I do not have my female characters spending all their page-time kicking over the traces. They may be moving things along, but it’ll be in a believable way. Mariah Fox, for example, teaches and that is an acceptable pursuit for the daughter of an academic man. However, she knows when Tobias outwits her, that she will have to give way and marry him.

Anne by Marte Lundby Rekaa

Sophia Jex-Blake, an Edinburgh doctor, did huge amounts for the advancement of women in university education. She comes later in the nineteenth century when that was a political and social issue of huge import. There was even a riot.

Gerard Fay

In addition to reading up about what was contemporary when, I have a huge collection of books detailing things like costume and manners. Who doesn’t love ‘dressing the set’? Does a crowd of men in boilersuits and flat caps conjure up a different era to a crowd of men in linen smocks with gaiters tied around their calves?

Transport, getting technical, and communication are huge areas. My characters have to walk, ride a horse or sail. Today people, including women, drive their own cars, fly their own planes and hug a mobile phone on which their existence depends. Crime writers, I think, must often wish the mobile to perdition.

My characters bow and curtsey. Usually as deference to rank or age, but sometimes due to good manners. I am old enough to remember practising my curtsey before important visitors came to the school. How different is our contemporary wish to take a selfie with anyone from the Regency era when one could not even address a person before an introduction in the proper form. Possibly some hard pressed contemporary ‘celebs’ might see the value in that!

It’s both romance month and library month here in the UK. Mariah’s Marriage, Daisy’s Dilemma, Courting the Countess and A debt for Rosalie are all available from the library. Courting the Countess is also available for your kindle. City of Discoveries is available online to read in 50 parts in the People’s Friend archive.

Other Robins are listed below and I’m looking forward to their take on our topic.


Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Dr. Bob Rich  https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2QS

Anne Stenhouse http://wp.me/31Isq

Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Diary of a Writer – February Prompt

I know I’ve used this photograph of domestic letter-boxes as a prompt before, but I make no apologies.

February is the month of the Valentine and how many romantically inclined readers have not spent an agonising wait for that tell-tale plop as an envelope falls through their own domestic letter-box?

As the years pass, perhaps, greater value may be attached to the everyday and ongoing attentions and manifestations of love than to the ephemeral grand gesture that is a bunch of hugely expensive red roses. (Does anyone ever receive any violets blue?) However, the romantic novel is concerned with the winning of the right to bestow that ongoing, maturing, constant love.

Setbacks are required and what would parallel the placing of your crafted Valentine with its words of love and a secret rendezvous into the wrong post-box?

I can’t think.(Ed)

What would stymie your overtures more than a strict and horrified Papa finding the Valentine first?

Double can’t think. (Ed)

And if you’re the lady sending a Valentine, equal care is needed as not all mamas and papas would appreciate every image chosen.

I probably won’t be sending any Valentines, but having attended both a Haiku workshop and a poetry workshop courtesy of Edinburgh Writers’ Club in recent weeks, I’m tempted.

Actually, I’m at work on a new serial for the People’s Friend and in between instalments on a new Pocket Novel.

The lovely folk at Ulverscroft recently accepted my contemporary novel, Christmas at Maldington, for their catalogue and it will be going into libraries later in the year. Look out for it. May I just say thank you to all the discerning readers who borrowed my books from libraries and enabled an exciting payments’ notice from the PLR. I do appreciate it.

All good wishes for your own writing, and reading, Courting the Countess has been attracting ratings over on Amazon and is available at a modest price for your kindle.


Round Robin – 2023 starts here

A new image from the talented Connie Vines

And the topic is: New Beginnings – how do you motivate yourself to get back to writing when life has interrupted your flow and/or, how do you begin a new writing challenge?

We’re under new management and I feel the first thing I want to do is thank the departing organiser, Rhobin Courtright. Her sterling efforts over a long period have prompted many interesting exchanges and made us think below the surface of our writers’ exteriors. Thank you, Rhobin, and all good wishes.

The second thing is to welcome the incoming organiser, Skye Taylor. I’m looking forward to continuing with these posts and thanks to Skye for takng it on.

A Quality Product

The celebrations around Christmastime are joyous but they are time-consuming. I hardly ever manage to write anything between the 3rd week of November and the 3rd week of January. This rules out participation in the competitions for a conference I go to. Yes, I know the competitions are the same or similar every year, and no, I cannot get organised to write entries in advance. However in early 2022 I did write an advent story about a Christmas tree and sent it in to the People’s Friend magazine. They bought it when seasonal stories were being read and it was published in December.


Next up, in the disruption stakes, is the annual marmalade extravaganza. The pic above is of an earlier year’s activity, but you get the idea – I nearly said flavour, but you’d have to taste it for that.

So, what now? Well, I think writing this post will help as it steers the mind back into work channels. Also, a little success goes a long way. The serial proposal I made to my editor last autumn has been accepted and I’ve been reading up on my character outlines and their story arcs. I’m gradually finding my mind full of what they’re gong to do next and that helps enormously.

In addition, the writing world’s social side has started up, too. Coffee with my friend and fellow Capital Writer, Kate Blackadder sparked a good exchange about our current projects. Early in February there’ll be an RNA Scottish chapter lunch so that, too, will be a stimulus. There are so many talented people in the RNA.

What is not helping is this new keyboard. It’s sticking. Hence I’m having either no letter depressed or three copies of it. The shift key is seizing and the ‘Enter’ one is sending the next para all the way down a page. It may be a visit to the accessories shop is on the horizon.

Below is a list of other robins and their approach to picking it up again. I’m sure there’ll be interesting tips to be learned.

best wishes for 2023,


Dr. Bob Rich             https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2OQ

Anne Graham           https://goo.gl/h4DtKv

Connie Vines             http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Diane Bator               https://dbator.blogspot.com/

A.J.                             http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/

Victoria Chatham     http://www.victoriachatham.com

Fiona McGuire          http://www.fionamcgier.com/

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Marci Baun https://www.marcibaun.com/blog


Welcome 2023

Happy New Year dear visitors. The image above is from my collection of ‘photographs I might find useful in the blog’ but am unikely to have noted where or when I took it. Ah well! Some things never change. I suspect it’s in a corner of the wonderfully Gothic Manchester Town Hall and I thought it would make a good set for Harry Potter filming.

Yes! I have set aside GH as the go-to comfort read and am re-reading the HP books from the beginning. This was a book group prompt. As the book group marked 25 years, we chose the first HP which was also marking 25. What a consumate story-teller Joanne Rowling is.

Let me explain about my new keyboard. It has brighter easy to read letters but I’m finding it difficult to establish a typing rhythm. So – we have the missing letter and also the repeated letter. Sorry, I’m hoping it improves or I may have to revert to the old one and buy a stronger light.

Contrary to the image of Scots at New Year, I was in the land of nod before eleven last night. However, I did cook a slighlty special meal this evening and again turned to an old and reliable cook book. My battered copy of Rosemary Hume and Muriel Downes -Cordon Bleue Cookery falls open at favourite recipes but also turns up trumps when some basic information is needed. How to stuff a pork fillet? was the question. You could use the paté leftover from the family card game lunch on Friday was the answer. Togeter with roasties using leftover goose fat and leftover brie, It was pretty satisfactory.

No resolutions here. They don’t work for me. However, I did clear the detritus from my desk and walked 15 mins to church and 15 mins back.


AWAY FROM THE MANGER – A Christmas Story

Creel Christmas Tree, Ullapool

As has been my practice over the last few years, I’m uploading a free-to-read Christmas Story in lieu of a card for readers, friends, distant relatives (HI Helen in Australia), and anyone in need of a few Christmassy moments.

Thank you all for dropping by through the year and, in particular, for those of you who take the time to comment. It’s lovely to read your take on whatever the topic is.




Grace watched the others.

It was cold out but some of the boys had gone into the yard to kick a battered ball around while they waited for the hatch to open. The cook was behind it and the smell of bacon grilling seeped through into the dining area.

Grace watched the others.

They came back in by ones and twos, pretending they’d done enough to warm them through but failing to stop their hungry gazes turning to that hatch. The smell of bacon grilling will do that.

In the farthest corner of their dining area, Hannah sat alone peeling the skin around her fingernails and creating a buffer zone, a no-fly zone, a leave me alone to my own special misery space.

Grace did not watch Hannah. She was already miserable enough and didn’t need any of Hannah’s, thank you. Christmas Day in a hostel. Grace closed her eyes briefly but opened them when the scenes from Christmas Past flashed up in her memory.

The dogs would be frantic by now because Grace’s granny would have opened all the kitchen doors. The fridge and its freezer compartment, the larder off the little back hall, the breadbasket where Mum would have been de-frosting croissants and those other pastries with the chocolate in them, would all be standing open. Well mannered dogs like Petal and Thea would be struggling with their natural impulse to grab the turkey crown or the gammon and run for their beds under the stairs.

Then she remembered Christmas Present when it would all be different, but ‘Just as nice.’ As if…

The smell of bacon grilling was enticing. Grace looked at the others and saw the hunger. Food wasn’t going to make it go away. Were they thinking about Christmases past?

“Move over, Gracie,” Rico said as he approached her table with a tray. “I suppose you’d like a bacon roll and I brought you orange juice.”

Grace cast a startled glance at the tall young man and slithered across the bench. He was a voluntary helper. Did Tuesdays.

“It’s not Tuesday,” she said and closed her eyes in despair. How cool a remark was that? “I mean, you usually come in on Tuesdays.”

“I couldn’t bear the thought of you lovely people on your own at Christmas,” Rico unloaded the tray and yet again Grace felt the tug of that bacon smell. She wondered if the street team had a spray of it to lessen the resistance of the homeless they approached. She lifted the roll and took a bite. Oily liquid slid down her chin.

Rico laughed. She made a wry face, and he picked up his own roll. Oily liquid slid down his chin.

“There’s loads of company,” Grace said. She eyed the spare roll sitting on the big plate. Had Rico brought it for her or for himself, she wondered.

“So there is and Hannah is still sitting in solitary.” Rico spoke quietly without turning in the direction of the other girl.

“Will I take her that roll?” Grace asked. Rico studied her for a moment or two. His eyes were nearly as deep and brown as Grace’s spaniels.

He nodded and stood up to let her out of the bench seat.

“Hannah?” Grace said quietly, tentatively, “Would you like this roll?”

The other girl shook her head without raising it.

“They’re really good and hot,” Grace tried again.

“I’m vegan,” Hannah said.

“Oh, oh, I didn’t know. Sorry.” Hannah had been here when Grace was brought in a week ago and Grace had never seen her eat anything.

Back at her own table, she set the plate down.

“Vegan, was it?” Rico asked. “Her excuse?”

“Did you know?”

“No! I wouldn’t have let you ask if I had.”

“I suppose,” Grace muttered.

“Missing them at home?”

Tears spurted and she drew her sleeve down to wipe it across her eyes.

“They won’t be missing me. ‘Cept the dogs maybe. Dad and I used to take them out onto the Pentlands on Christmas morning.” She stared into the middle distance.

“It’s a second wife, is it?” Rico asked.

“My category,” Grace flashed. “Am I reduced to that?”

Rico’s big warm hand tugged her smaller one out of the defensive shrug she’d made around herself. He straightened her fingers and gripped them.

“Only in the paperwork,” Rico said. “Look, Grace, maybe they are missing you. Maybe your dad’s new wife doesn’t know how to do Christmas the way everybody likes.”

“That’s certainly true,” Grace said. “She bought beef.” Grace remembered now. It wouldn’t be a turkey crown or gammon joint the girls would be slavering under but a huge piece of something or other.

“Sirloin?” Rico asked.

“That’s the word.”

“Hmn! Well, loads of households eat Sir Loin around Christmastime.” Rico pulled her to her feet and steered her out of the kitchen. “Have you been into town to look at the Norwegian Tree?”

They stood on The Mound shivering despite being zipped into their outdoor jackets. Grace loved this tree. She turned her head to look up into Rico’s face and caught the glance he was sending over her head.

“You Ba…”

Rico was too quick for her. He had her in a bear hug round her middle before she could run.

“I know. But, I will take you back to the hostel if you really can’t face them,” he said, “I promise.”

He set her on the pavement without releasing her fully and Grace stared fixedly at the top of his jacket zip. Behind her, two dogs barked furiously and in seconds were leaping up the backs of her legs. She reached down and one of the dogs, Thea maybe, had her glove off. Wet doggie kisses slurped all over her fingers.

“Happy Christmas, darling,” her dad said, and she turned then as Rico’s arms relaxed.

To run or not to run?

“I’m a vegan now, Daddy,” she said.

“Really? Well, okay. Will you find the smell of roasting meat too much to bear?”

Grace edged closer to her dad. He looked thinner, a bit. The dogs were tangling themselves in their leads and flopped onto the frost.

“I hope so,” she said.

© Anne Stenhouse 2022

Another Capital Writer, Kate Blackadder, has produced a lovely Christmassy volume of her previously published Christmas themed stories. You can buy CHRISTMAS EVE AND OTHER STORIES from amazon, here

Diary of a Writer – October Prompt

In the Woods
The Wise Owl.
Another beautiful group.

Do I forage? Only for brambles!

I enjoy eating funghi but am not confident enough to know what’s deliciously edible and what’s poisonously inedible. I leave the selecting to more knowledgeable chefs.

The pictures as prompts for writing, heralding late autumn and early winter as they do, suggest the obvious. Accidental or deliberate poisoning comes to mind. However, the owl adds a subtlety. Wise, we may be, but what happens when we get it wrong?

Are the shorter days and the wilder weather systems seeping into your work?

Capital Writers have a little collection for your kindle Dark Stories


Diary of a Writer – September Prompt


Shorter days and darker nights are in the offing. It might be time to think about some spooky stuff.

There’s a short volume of Dark Stories written by me and some of the other Capital Writers Group. It’s called DARK STORIES and is available for a modest 99p.

Do the dark nights turn your writing efforts to ghostly goings on?