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Diary of a Writer – October

Being a mum of school-age children, daughter of a widowed mum and daughter-in-law of two, meant that the summer in years past passed in a blur. I used to look forward intensely, immensely to a small conference held in early October in Pitlochry. It was run by various people over the years and the late Hugh Rae used to attract speakers he’d met at Swanwick (a much bigger conference}.

My own room in Scotland’s Hotel was bliss and the first day of the first year I attended, the time between 4pm and 6pm stretched almost to infinity. As anyone with children knows, their blood sugar levels as tea-time approaches lead to all sorts…

Alas, that event is no more, but I still have an internal clock that gears up to chime in late September/early October.

The reason for posting October while September is still with us is to publicise the wonderful EDINBURGH WRITERS’CLUB, which has its opening meeting on Monday 23rd September and of which I have the honour to be a Life Member. So, October first would be too late! The approach of the first club meeting is a wonderful stimulus.

The opening night speaker is Caroline Dunford, novelist. Caroline is currently chair of The Society of Authors in Scotland.

Meetings are held in the Grosvenor Hilton Hotel in Grosvenor Street at 7.30 pm. Come along around 7 on the opening night to join or pay the guest night fee and try it out.

The website is here Edinburgh Writers’ Club

In addition, being a member of the EWC entitles a person to enter their internal competitions which is useful if you’re trying to discover what genre suits you. It also entitles you to enter the competitions run by the Scottish Association of Writers. Some of their competitions, associated with the weekend school in March, are now open.

Scottish Association of Writers

So, I’ll be back soon with September’s Round Robin, but in the meantime Keep Writing (or Start, make this the year)


Diary of a Writer – September Prompt

This is one of several restored benches in the grounds and gardens of Trumland House, Isle of Rousey, Orkney.

As those of you who have read Bella’s Betrothal will know, I’m interested in and inspired by the work of the great Scottish Victorian architects. Trumland was designed by David Bryce in 1875 for Sir Frederick Traill-Burroughs. Frederick was marrying a much younger and aristocratic lady, Eliza. He wanted to impress.

So, does this little bench inspire romantic thoughts?

My work in progress is gathering momentum now the Edinburgh Festivals are behind us. I also have a few ideas garnered from that trip to Orkney. I added Stronsay to my list of Orkney islands. Truly beautiful in the summer sunshine with Meadowsweet in bloom everywhere.

How were your holidays? Did you come home enthused?


Round Robin – Travel or Holidays in Fiction

This month Rhobin has asked us to post an extract from one of our novels dealing with either travel or holidays. I have chosen the second book I wrote for MuseItUp, Bella’s Betrothal. It opens in the midst of a journey Lady Isabella Wormsley has had to undertake with only her maid and some retainers to accompany her. A lady travelling alone is vulnerable, but some of them are no pushover…

Blurb for Bella’s Betrothal:

While she is travelling north to find sanctuary from the malicious gossip of the Ton, Lady Isabella Wormsley’s room in a Dalkeith inn is invaded by handsome Scottish Laird, Charles Lindsay. Charles has uncovered a plot to kidnap her, but Bella wonders if he isn’t a more dangerous threat, at least to her heart, than the villainous Graham Direlton he wrests her from. Bella settles into the household of her Aunt Hatty Menzies in Edinburgh’s nineteenth century George Square where Charles is a regular visitor. She has been exiled to the north by her unfeeling mama, but feels more betrayed by her papa to whom she has been close. Bella hopes the delivery of her young cousin’s baby will eventually demonstrate her own innocence in the scandal that drove her from home. Bella’s presence disrupts the lives of everyone connected to her. Direlton makes another attempt to kidnap her and in rescuing her a second time, Charles is compromised. Only a betrothal will save his business and Bella’s reputation. Mayhem, murder and long suppressed family secrets raise confusion and seemingly endless difficulties. Will the growing but unacknowledged love between Bella and her Scottish architect survive the evil Direlton engineers?

The stableyard was a cold and unattractive place at seven on a September morning. There was a light drizzle and the clouds kept the smoke from the town’s fires low over the surrounding streets. Lindsay’s retainer watched in silence as Bella’s coachman and groom strapped the overnight luggage into place. She was surprised to see her men defer to him. They had found fault and irritation with ostlers and grooms and inn landlords all the way north, but Macdonald calmed them. “Where is Mr. Lindsay, Lachie?” Bella asked when he handed her onto the step of the carriage. “I thought he regarded it as imperative I did not stir a foot without his supervision.” “And nor do I, ma’am,” Lindsay said before his steward could speak. He walked two riding horses across the yard. They were serviceable enough, but not the kind of prime bloodstock Bella was used to. “I wanted to keep the horses moving and Lachie is more at ease with the tack of a travelling coach than I.” She looked over her shoulder and the sight of Charles Lindsay in fresh linen and a magnificent heather-coloured riding coat lifted her spirits. He was clean shaven and despite his night-time wanderings, radiated energy and authority. This was how her morning departures should have been, Bella thought. One of her brothers or her cousin, Humphrey Plumpton, should have been in the yards of the wretched inns having dealt with payment and new horses and all the myriad irritations a traveller faced. “Are you unwell, my lady?” Lindsay asked. “No sir. Let us get off.” Bella spoke crossly and regretted it when Lindsay’s expression showed his displeasure at her rudeness, but there was nothing she could
do to retrieve the moment. Pride would not let her admit her family had cast her off without an escort. The pain of that betrayal was like an open wound. She settled into the carriage beside Sophie and let the girl tuck a thick blanket around her. Lindsay had mounted and leaned down from his saddle to speak through the open window. “We checked on Direlton’s men earlier, gave them water. They should be discovered when the grave-diggers reach that corner of the kirkyard later this morning,” he said, and Bella’s eyes widened. “You are surprised, ma’am, but I do not want any bodies laid to my door.” “Nor I, on my behalf,” she said, although truthfully if Aubrey Daunton had died after her cousins horse-whipped him, she would not have been moved to pray for his soul. “Was this all necessary, Mr. Lindsay? Could you not simply have offered me your escort?” “We will not agree, Lady Isabella, so let us not spoil the final stage of your journey by revisiting my actions and decisions. I see you have dressed in robust clothing. Thank you for taking that care.” He leaned away and the carriage lurched forward towards the pend. Bella lifted the window glass and sat back with her eyes closed. The wheels beneath her began to roll rhythmically and she allowed a long breath to escape. It was foolish to cherish his words of praise for her behaviour in dressing as he had instructed, but the closeness of his person as he spoke made her pulse run faster. Smethwick, her coachman, yelled his displeasure at some unfortunate, and Bella felt a smile tease the corners of her mouth. Her parents may have sent her into the world with scant care, but Smethwick and Grimes had been her rocks. And Sophie. She sensed the girl was falling into sleep. They had had little enough last night. * * * *
Bella roused from a troubled doze when Grimes’s harsh accents rent the air. “It’s Mr. Menzies hisself, Smethwick. He must ’ave took care to get hisself ’ere before us, think you?” The other man grunted in assent and began to slow the horses to a walk. Uncle Mack, Bella thought, instantly awake and horrified by the tears welling and spilling. How good it was to reach Edinburgh’s environs at last and have someone waiting for her. Someone sweet and familiar who would not crossquestion her or criticise. “Quickly, Sophie, unwrap me from this rug so that I may greet my uncle.” She pulled the thick folds away from her skirts and sat impatiently while her maid tucked stray hair into place beneath her bonnet. The once elegant head gear was much battered by its journey north and the last hour or two of chance sleep had left it unsalvageable. The girl splashed lavender water onto a handkerchief and dabbed it behind Bella’s ears and onto her wrists. “Thank you, Sophie,” Bella said as the carriage lurched to a halt and Smethwick called to his team. Within a minute the door opened and her uncle stood there. Bella burst into sobs. Great sobs wracked her slight frame and she couldn’t speak. “Calmly now, my dear, calmly,” Uncle Mack said. He hauled the step down and clambered into the vehicle. His weight caused it to rock, but Bella didn’t care. Warmth and love enveloped her every bit as surely as her uncle’s ample personage. Why had she had to travel hundreds of miles to find comfort? “Uncle, I’m sorry. I am so very sorry to be such a watering pot,” she managed between the sobs that shook her shoulders. Her uncle nodded to Sophie and took the girl’s place beside her. His arms came around her, and he gathered her to him like the lost child she was. “Now, my dear, here is James, who you can see has grown beyond anything
since you met him two years ago,” Uncle Mack said, and his words brought a gangly youth forward. The reins of two horses trailed from his left hand. “Why, James,” Bella said as she recognised her uncle and aunt’s eldest son.”You are so tall.” She scrabbled to find a handkerchief and mopped up the tears on her pale skin. “But I would have known you.” “Cousin Bella,” the boy said. A fiery blush swept over his youthful features. “It is so good to have you with us again. Faither, will I ride back and lead your horse? My mither is anxious to have our cousin safely at home.” “Truth to tell, Bella, I prefer to share your carriage, if you think the team will manage up the slope off the toll road?” Uncle Mack asked, but clearly had no doubt because he waved James on as he spoke. Smethwick soon started up the team and the little procession moved off. She lay against her uncle, content to feel the rise and fall of his chest and the tapping of his fingers on her shoulder as he prattled.

Buy Bella’s Betrothal Here

The authors below are also contributing this month and you might go on over to their sites to see how their characters travel or holiday, too.


Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1GK
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com


Diary of a Writer – Virtual Book Festival

Today, August 21st, I’m featured in The Virtual Book Festival, hosted on Put It In Writing by Anne Stormont. Do pop over and leave a word…

Virtual Book Festival: Event 20 – Historical Novelist Anne Stenhouse @anne_stenhouse #VirtBookFest #writing #historicalfiction #books

Maybe you’d like to catch up with some of the other interesting and varied participants who’ve appeared before me, too.


More of July

Yesterday saw seven young ladies represent the Edinburgh Seven who were deprived of their rightful degrees in the 1870s and accept posthumous ones on their behalf. The story of the fight to open up careers other than marriage and motherhood to women is full of individual examples of courage in the face of astonishing resistance. None more so perhaps than the medical world.

When my sons were small, I took one of them to our GP Practice. Consultation over, I prompted him to thank the doctor, a young woman. She smiled and said, “Sometimes they say at this point, are we going to see the real doctor now?”

I’ve never forgotten and I was therefore delighted to be asked to write the short article pictured above and available in the People’s Friend 6th July edition.

In other writing news, I did write up a wee story about the visiting deer, and it’s off for consideration. Fingers crossed.

Diary of a Writer – July Prompt

Diary of a Writer and already the year has reached July. The Scottish schools are now on holiday and the suburban area I live in will be quiet-ish for the next two weeks as many folk just pack up and go immediately for their break.

I say quiet-ish as someone is digging up the road. Has its benefits of course because traffic is scared off by four-way controls.

What’s happening in this writer’s household and brain to act as a prompt? So, regular visitors will have seen this picture already.

He left us safely, but it is still raining and last night there was thunder and lightening, too. Joys of a heatwave.

I feel the young roe deer has to be this month’s prompt although there are loads of competing images in the recent press.

Her Majesty reviewing the Guard as she attends the Ceremony of the Keys at the start of Royal Week in Scotland. Themes abound from that, not least the loyalty of a life lived for duty, but also what is the proud mum or young wife/husband in the invited audience feeling as their soldier parades for the first or last time? That handshake between two world leaders? Have we had to put on a polite face against our personal feelings? The heatwave itself – they don’t usually last too long in Scotland so difficult to know when to submit a story.


In other writing areas, I’ve been approached to write a post for my friend Anne Stormont‘s online book festival. It begins today and will run through July and August and my contribution is scheduled for August 21st. Anne’s idea is to have articles and interviews online to reach folk who might find it hard for many reasons to get to such festivals in person. Her opening post is here. First up is the wonderfully dark Scottish crime writer Helen Forbes.

Why not sign up to Anne’s blog so you don’t miss out on any of the fabulous participants she’s lined up?


The People’s Friend approached me to write an article about the pioneering women known as The Edinburgh Seven. It appears in the next weekly edition, dated 6th July and will be in the shops on Wednesday. I’ve got my subscription copy. For those of you who don’t know, The Edinburgh Seven were the first women to matriculate in any British university. Was it straightforward? Read the article…

Oh, and July is the month of the Romantic Novelists’ Association‘s conference. I’m off to Lancaster again and am deeply into difficult decisions like which dresses to take for the gala dinner, what colour should my nails be and how do you pack a plastic wine-glass with any hope of it arriving intact? 1-2-1s Ah, yes, the business side. Okay, I’m saying nothing, but will hope to have news.

How is your own writer’s diary shaping up?



Round Robin – June – Real Life Prompts


This month Robin asks whether we’ve used an event in our lives, in the life of someone we know or one reported in the press in our fiction.

This might be a politer and more academic way of asking where do you get your ideas from? That is an issue that puzzles many folk. On the other hand, it might be a question of morality. Have you taken a joy or a misery lived through by yourself or others and fictionalised it?

The bald answer is yes. My most recent longer piece was the serial I wrote last year for People’s Friend. City of Discoveries had a brief as it was a commission, but I had a great deal of artistic licence within that. Showcasing Dundee’s Jam, Jute and Journalism reputation, what was my theme?

City of Discoveries

Well, my Fife granny told me a bittersweet story about how she had to leave school and go to work in a factory/mill. One day, the foreman stood behind her and ran his hands through her beautiful red hair. She resisted vigorously and implied he left her well alone thereafter. Forward a few decades and that unknown man became the baddy in my heroine granny’s story. Drew Fleming doesn’t leave my heroine alone and we have a tale of nineteenth century stalking.

And there we have it. Yes, I have and I will continue to do so. Where do I find ideas? On the bus; in the shopping queue; actually listening to the conversation of friends; reading beyond the headlines; ruthlessly analysing the minutiae of my own life.

Are you wondering what the fine fellow whose picture illustrates this post has to do with anything? Good to leave a question unanswered till the end.

My house, in an urban area, has an enclosed back garden. The garden is surrounded by three 8 foot walls and the house. Looking out one day last week, I saw the hind quarters of a deer sticking out of the rhoddies. He made himself at home, as you can see, and only left in a series of specatacular jumps, when my husband walked down the garden in the late afternoon.

We’ve been decades in this house and that’s a first. Yes, it’ll be in a story sometime soon.

How about you? Do you fictionalise life as lived for your works? You may want to visit some of the other blogs in this RR. As I’m setting this up a bit early, I can only give you my best guess of whose that will be. I’ll correct it as soon as I can.


Skye Taylor

Diane Bator

Beverley Bateman

Connie Vines

A.J. Maguire

Dr. Bob Rich

Victoria Chatham

Judith Copek

Fiona McGier https://eur04.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fionamcgier.com%2F&data=02%7C01%7C%7C888b8523f4dd4023796f08d6f2a3825c%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636963181409130301&sdata=YTgTbHc8Om5NWhYQrLecwlXWOQK0CgArIpO0CBfWSfI%3D&reserved=0

Margaret Fieland https://eur04.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fmargaretfieland.wordpress.com&data=02%7C01%7C%7C888b8523f4dd4023796f08d6f2a3825c%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636963181409120293&sdata=70H2%2FUq3SfLeYBHJd3Ra1bV7FN0MQDj2bQX4NGvWJ3Q%3D&reserved=0

Rhobin L Courtright

Diary of a Writer – Storytelling for a Good Cause

Diary of a Writer for June is a wee departure from the usual. Why?

Well as regular visitors know, I’m a member of a group called Capital Writers and from time to time we produce an e-book of stories to showcase our writing. The latest story collection is out tomorrow and will be launched in the afternoon at an event to raise funds for the wonderful CrossReach perinatal service. But it’s not digital.

CrossReach is the social resonsibility arm of the Church of Scotland. It does sterling work among the elderly, the addicted and those suffering after the birth of a baby. It does loads of other stuff, too. It is partly funded by donations and the support of individual churches.

This year it marks 150 years since its creation in 1869. Seeing a pattern here? People’s Friend, CrossReach, Sainsbury’s, The Edinburgh Seven (women in medicine).

So Self, Jane, kate and Jennifer have produced this lovely little booklet:

Jane and I will be reading from our work at 3.30 in Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church, entry through the halls’ door on West mayfield. come a little earlier to have coffee and cake or to hear poet and former Edinburgh Makar, Christine de Luca.

Booklet is unpriced and we’re looking for donations to help fund CrossReach’s work.


Capital Christmas Stories

Capital Stories


Speaking Engagements – Capital Writers

CAPITAL WRITERS have two speaking engagements this week.

MONDAY 27th May

First up is tonight at the invitation of The Corstorphine Community Festival. We’re in Corstorphine Library between 6.30 – 8.30 for a meet the author session with librarian Shirley and Cosy Crime local writer, Cecilia Peartree.


If you can’t catch us there, and even if you can, come along on Saturday afternoon to a fun storytelling event in Mayfield Salisbury church, 18 West Mayfield, EH9 from 2.30-4,30

Coffee, tea and cake is promised as well as the launch of our Capital CrossReach Stories pamphlet. We’ve each written a story to mark the 150th anniversary of this remarkable organisation and for a small donation to CrossReach, you can secure a copy to carry off.

Diary of a Writer – April – Helping Others


Margaret McConnell Trophy

This post looks back to what I did in February and early March. Looking at the file this morning, I see I wrote over 13,000 words between the adjudication overview, below, and the individual critiques. It took a wee while. In addition, I evolved a workshop which was attended by 15 writers on the Sunday morning of the Fiftieth Anniversary Conference.

I hope you’ll find the general comments of interest, readers and writers.

Adjudication delivered on Saturday 23rd March 2019

It has been a great pleasure to read the 47 entries in the category, Woman’s Short Story.

I was entertained by a wide variety of subject matter. There were single ladies in search of love. There were ladies fleeing from broken relationships. There were a few children causing heartache and occasionally mayhem. Of interest to me was the high number of entries with a touch of the supernatural. There were stories reflecting the electronic nature of our lives – be that the internet or the mobile phone. There was loyalty.

Looking For:

What was I looking for? Entertainment, emotional sincerity, strong characterisation, careful plotting, historical accuracy where relevant and impeccable editing.

What did I Find?

Overall the MSS submitted were short stories. However, there were two I thought would work better as articles and one as a sketch. There were another couple I thought were either literary type stories or more suitable for a general market such as The Weekly News or perhaps competitions run by the writing magazines.

The standard at the top of the competition was high and I think it might be helpful to indicate some general issues I encountered. Matters that might help you move out of the bulk and onto the shortlist in another competition.


Please read in your market. Studying any woman’s magazine will demonstrate that the short stories are dialogue heavy. Properly used, dialogue enables the writer to dramatize scenes, to show characterisation, to get the thoughts of characters other than the ViewPoint character onto the page and to move the action along. Improperly used, dialogue might have two characters telling each other things they already know – in the story world of which they are a part – in order to tell the reader those facts.

The entries included several with excellent dialogue but also some with poor dialogue and some with virtually none.


The word count for this competition was 1,000 – 2,000. Therefore, it might be a mistake to use 500 words to set up your story. You the writer need to know what has brought the VP character to this point in time when the action starts, the reader doesn’t. It’s an enormous temptation to set out the VP character’s problem and then write a 2-page flashback explaining how the problem came about. Please resist that temptation and feed the information into your story, bleed it in as the action progresses.

To a lesser extent, but nonetheless important, were two other issues. In a short piece, it can be a mistake to split the VP. In a novel or novella you have more leeway to tell the story from opposing points of view. In a short story, the reader likes to know early on who they’re rooting for. Finally, the computer is our friend, but we need to use it with care. Have you altered a sentence? Did you check the surrounding ones to see whether their content is affected by that change? I encountered a few misplaced articles and verbs of the wrong tense. There were also a few stories where the layout was in need of attention. Again, check printed work.

The overall Winner was Linda Brown of Ayr Writers. Linda is an unpublished writer at present, but I cannot think that will be the case for very long.

The Scottish Association of Writers is an umbrella organisation for writing groups thorughout Scotland and their website is here.

Have you enjoyed any competition success recently? Drop by and tell us about it, please.