Diary of a Writer – Travel, Food and Story Openings


By Margaret McNeil, Crieff Hydro, SAW

So, a couple of weeks ago, before I had a great trip to Lincoln where they have a wonderful abbey and also The Old Bakery, I promised to add a wee resume of my Q&A at Edinburgh Writers’ Club. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Entering Lincoln Abbey for the first time is one of those heart-stopping moments. How did they do it? No computers, powered tools, digital images, but there it sits in all its beauty. It is a fine Gothic building and at one time the tallest in Europe. The Old Bakery is a wonderful restaurant and a great example of re-using what’s there. The building was a bakery and shop when its owner died leaving it to his daughter. She shut the ground floor and moved upstairs where she lived for forty years. Enter chef, Ivano de Serio, and his wife, Tracy. They’ve carefully carved out a restaurant on the ground floor and fitted out three comfortable bedrooms above. A delicious experience.

Back to that Q&A

How To Lose Competitions

My own pet hate as a judge is reading The day had started badly or It had been one of those days. Such an opening is invariably followed by a detailed explanation of what went wrong. You can think of the sort of thing. Bert set the alarm for 8.15 when he meant to set 7.15; the dog escaped when he opened the door; the milk was off and the toaster exploded.

All of this ‘back-story’ is perfectly acceptable character creation, BUT the reader doesn’t need to read it. They need to absorb it by your showing of it in the action of the story you’re telling.

As the writer think – how does your man react to losing the dog? How does his body react to a mouthful of sour milk? How is he coping NOW?

Another issue raised by this sort of beginning is word count. If you have 1500 words, why are you wasting them by describing events outside your story?

There was other discussion and folk did have questions. They may come up in later posts.

Weather: I hope you’ll scroll down and read the post about the use of weather in our fiction. It was great fun to write and I loved the others in the Round Robin. However, apart from shameful self-publication, may I just say I need the light on to see the keyboard this morning as yet another sleet shower passes by…

So, I’m no agony aunt, but what puzzles you most about losing writing competitions? I don’t write poetry, folks. And like every other judge, one has to say that a different eye might have made a different choice.


Weather – round robin

Weather So the picture of me in Yellowstone, US, has more than a few clouds in the sky. It was, however, warm and sunny, too. Perfection. When asked the next day the young man on our raft said he expected the snow to arrive in the next week or two – never long after Labour Day.

And that’s the thing about weather it’s at the same time regular and unpredictable. That it will blanket the national parks for months is certain, but when that fall will come less so. That it will thaw in the spring is equally sure, but again when that will happen less so.

Using weather in writing is tricky, but oh so tempting. I recently recommended to my book group (we take it in turn to recommend) The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse. She uses the landscape of low-lying marsh around Chichester and creates a coming storm. She is at pains in the acknowledgements to state the storm was a fictional one. There are, however, many such in British history and not all that distant history either so we can feel that wind as it howls through the darkness and the dragging effect of long wet skirts or clinging soaking trousers. We know enough to vicariously experience the rising level of hysteria that matches the rising flood waters. And to thank our lucky stars when we wake in the morning to a cleansed countryside and a moral cleansing, too. DH Lawrence also used flooding to effect a cleansing.

Another sort of weather much exploited is over-bearing heat building to unbearable intensity before storm brings relief. Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Graham Greene all use it in drama and prose. Evelyn Waugh used a storm at sea to allow his narrator and Julia to come together in Brideshead Revisited. Somehow their ability to avoid sea-sickness gave them a glamour and superiority that the fall from marital grace should have prevented.

Weather features close to the opening of my DAISY’S DILEMMA Daisy has been trapped in the great London house of her brother the earl for a week or more. She’s recovering from food poisoning and then when she might venture out summer thunder and lightening prevents it. Daisy’s mercurial temperament is sorely tried and, clearly, she needs a strong arm to assist her into the world outside her pampered existence. Did I do it consciously? How does one know where anything in fiction comes into the brain from? Once it was down, however, I really liked it. Drama Mood and Revelation.

My fellow rounders’ writers are listed below. Do visit and see what they think, too. What do you think? Is weather used wisely in fiction? Do you use it in yours?
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax  http://helenafairfax.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Dr. Bob Richhttps://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/oh-the-weather/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Kay Sisk http://kaysisk.blogspot.com
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Diary of a Writer – What’s New?

What’s New in the Diary world? Been quite a busy week in fact and it’s still only Thursday.

Ate out last night in Martin Wishart at The Shore in Edinburgh. Partly funded by a generous Christmas voucher, we enjoyed the fish menu and shared a bottle of white French wine. It’s good for a writer to see how the top 10% lives from time to time. There may be a short Theatre in Restaurants blog over on Write, Watch & Critique plays soon, but on the other hand it’s a busy week.

What you will find over there, scroll down, is my view of I Am Thomas, the play about the final person executed for blasphemy in Scotland, Thomas Aitkenhead. Play is on this week in Inverness and then in London.

Have also been writing a resumé of why I think competition entries fail. I’ll be offering a short Q&A session at Edinburgh Writers’ Meeting on Monday evening following the adjudication of our short story competition by Rosemary Gemmell. Having acted as a Reader and occasional judge of short story competitions for many years, I’ve formed a few opinions.

100_5920And the Work in Progress? Okay, it’s slipped a bit. Romantic Novelists’ Association duties have been around, too. However, did put down a love scene yesterday. Goodness, I find them hard to write. How do you manage?

And the A-Z bloggers. Haven’t had much chance to pursue them this week, but my Edinburgh pal, Shelli Rosewarne continues to inform and entertain with her wonderful series of posts about wolves. So she’s here.

And how is your own week? Are you canvassing – elections 5th May. Are you writing? Are you re-charging the batteries? Are you, like me, also still waiting?


Diary of a Writer- Tuesday is #tuesnews@rnatweets day


#tuesnews@rnatweets day on twitter is always a bit exciting, a bit frenzied, a bit frustrating.

Why so?

Exciting because you pick up bits of news about fellow Romantic Novelists’ Association members. Who’s got a new book out, new (grand)child, new toy-boy (no. Made that up), new interest… and it does increase your reach. It takes your tweet to many people and from them there will be extra blog visitors, possibly sales, certainly the occasional new online friend.

A bit frenzied because there’s a lot of toiing and froing trying to find all the home sites and work out which tweet is the one most wanted.

A bit frustrating because not everyone has got the hang of the ‘pinned tweet’ button and it can take a wee while wading through all the lovely re-tweets they’ve offered before finding the one they want re-tweeted. (Don’t worry if you’re not a twitter user – it won’t change your life)

Guide to Pinning tweets For those who are users – make the tweet and post – go into your tweets from the button below your profile pic, called, simply, tweets – click on the three horizontal dots below your selected tweet – select pin to profile page from the drop down menu that appears and finally select the pin button.

All done and the next time you want to pin a post it automatically takes that one down. If you want no pinned post remove by clicking on the three dots again and selecting ‘unpin’.

Today’s featured blog from A-Z blog challenge lists is Jordan Sala Tenna’s 10 word stories. He’s here:



Diary of a Writer – New Life – New Week

Magnolia, home

Magnolia, home

Watching the magnolia buds fill and finally burst, from my seat at the breakfast table is one of the major joys of spring. They are on the cusp and were it not for the temperature dip overnight the tree would be looking as it did when this picture was taken last year.

I could become all precious and tell you about how ideas are like that, too. You’re on target with the word count when a cold wind blows through the brain. Where does it come from? Who knows?

Started reading Hubble Bubble last night. It’s by the incomparable Jane Lovering. Had to stop as I was laughing so much I was going to wake those most in need of rest. Will find a way!

Also succumbed to the dramatization of Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, STV (if that’s what it’s still called). Keeley Hawes is a delight to watch and the others weren’t bad either.

I did promise you an insight to my Blog wanderings among the A-Zers. How about wolves? My Edinburgh friend an fellow writer, Shelli Rosewarne, writer of paranormal and fantasy romance is here She’s featuring wonderful pictures of these fantastic animals.

No words were added to the wip. See cold breezes, above.

Diary of a Writer – April 1st – Not the A-Z challenge


Words were added to the WIP.

Slept in as I seriously overdid the domestic Goddess bit yesterday. However, the first meal from Home Fresh was v. good. Can’t say excellent as I was following a technique for the first time and didn’t get it quite right. Looking forward to tonight’s chef’s choice – we are so lucky having no allergy issues, only preferences to deal with – crusted pork. In addition, marmalade pulp is in freezer.

Right, what happened yesterday? Well, one of my all-time personal favourite comedians died. He was 85 so a good span, but it’s always a wee jolt. Ronnie Corbett entertained us for a long and glittering career as a solo artist, double act and ensemble player. Being Scotland, which is a big village, I have connections. Ie his mum lived along the corridor from a former colleague, I met his brother at an evening event and I dined in the same restaurant as he did one evening with his wife, Anne, Sir Bruce and Lady Forsyth. Being Scots, I did not rush over with my table napkin for a signature. Not having a mobile phone that works, I didn’t have any temptation to ruin their meal by asking for a ‘selfie’. So nothing to speak of really. Enjoyed the tribute programme broadcast by the BBC last night, although it didn’t contain my own favourite which is of Ronnie walking backwards into a fountain.

A-Z Challenge I’ve decided not to sign up this year. Too many other things going on, but I am looking forward to visiting some of the wonderful postings people put out and will highlight a few in my Writer’s diary.