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



Diary of a Writer – those between the BIG ideas days

So, having started the most recent novel idea something like four times, I may just have to concede it’s flawed and work on another. Not everything in one’s brain is going to win a trophy.

In the meantime, I’m clearing stacks of paper, research material and ephemera in quantities, rather large quantities, from the study. My tidy-minded husband may feel moved to award a trophy for these efforts. On the other hand, he may just appear with a further roll of bin bags.

In the, other meantime, I’m writing short stories. Wonderfully satisfying to craft a complete something.

Courting the Countess has possibly come to a library near you. If not, it’s available on amazon here.

Having bought it some time ago, I’m just starting to read Helen Forbes’ second Joe Galbraith novel, Madness Lies.

Why have I waited so long? (Research for City of Discoveries, ed.)

Okay, folks. Hope your own ideas are flourishing and not languishing.


Shorts – THREE’S A CROWD by Kate Blackadder

THREE’S A CROWD by KATE BLACKADDER is out. This delightful collection of some of Kate Blackadder’s previously published magazine stories is a snip for your kindle at £1.99, and in paperback for those of you who enjoy flicking back and forward, very soon at £4.99.

Three's a Crowd - cover artwork

Kate is much published by People’s Friend and Woman’s Weekly so the anthology contains some stories from those publications. Indeed People’s Friend think so highly of Kate’s talent, she hosts their award winning short story workshops around the country. There’s also work from Woman’s Day.

Kate B at Penrith

Kate B at Penrith









A little taster to whet the appetite? How about this delightful story of birthday mayhem.

Hide-and-Seek for Astronauts


Last year, Julie hired a fire engine.

The year before, she had an igloo built in the garden – in June. The year before that she took ten four-year-olds on a steam train.

Now she had begun to talk about Ben’s next birthday party although he wouldn’t be seven for another two months. He was obsessed with space so I asked if she’d booked a supersonic trip around the galaxy with a stop for moon burgers.

‘Very funny. Haven’t finalised the details yet. Just keep the eighteenth free.’

When Julie and I were kids, our birthday parties were a few friends round to play in the garden and a home-made cake with candles half-burnt from their previous outing. I don’t remember either of us ever getting new candles, but we didn’t care.

‘It’s different now, Karen.’ Julie was dismissive when I reminded her. ‘Anyway, you don’t have children.’

I may not have children of my own but as an infant teacher I see more than enough of them. Julie was right. It is different now. We thought that life didn’t get any better than playing hide-and-seek and looking forward to a big piece of Gran’s jammy sponge. But that all came free, more or less – now birthday parties seemed to be about spending money and not just keeping up with the Joneses but leap-frogging over them.

Julie had become an expert leap-frogger, and spending money was one of her favourite occupations. As was trying to persuade me to spend my hard-earned.

‘Why don’t we go shopping for some new clothes for you?’ she asked me. We were sitting having a Saturday morning cappuccino. It was just ten o’clock but she was carrying several shiny carrier bags from one of the designer shops in the precinct.

‘What for? They’ll just get poster paint and sticky finger marks all over them.’

‘You don’t teach all the time. Matthew suggested … ’

‘Matthew suggested what?’


‘Julie.’ I gave her the look I give P1 when they’re particularly fractious and she capitulated.

‘We were watching one of those makeover programmes and he said why didn’t I put you forward?’

‘As if! I’m not going to parade in my underwear, or worse, for all the world to see. What would Gran have said?’

What Gran would have said to such an event was beyond our imagination, and we dissolved into giggles.

‘I can’t see you doing it,’ Julie conceded. ‘But you could do with a new look.’

I wasn’t offended. Julie meant well and we had this conversation, or variations on it, regularly.

‘I really can’t be bothered,’ I said. ‘You do the glam bit for both of us.’

To be fair, I knew that Julie would be happy to pass her cast-offs on to me and I would have been happy to take them. It was unfortunate that I, the older sister whose hand-me-downs Julie was forced to wear as a child, was three inches shorter than her and a completely different shape.

Julie was still thinking about Gran.

‘We hardly had any clothes that weren’t second-hand or home-made,’ she went on. ‘Remember the paper pattern she kept making those pinafore dresses from? The same one she’d used for our mum. And those scratchy jumpers?’ She pulled a face.

I didn’t tell her that I still had the moss green chunky polo neck Gran knitted for me when I was fourteen, and that I wore it on winter nights when I got in from school.

‘She tried to teach us to sew and knit but that was a lost cause.’ Julie finished her coffee and patted her red lips with a napkin. ‘Sure you don’t want me to come shopping with you?’

I was sure.

But when I was getting ready for bed, Matthew’s suggestion came back to me. I looked at the nubbly tweed skirt I’d just flung on the chair. I’d had it for five years but it was still perfectly serviceable. The top I was taking off was in a shade of blue I didn’t particularly like but it had been on a half-price rail.

I didn’t envy Julie her designer lifestyle. Fun for a day maybe but what a palaver. Sometimes I wondered what Gran, with her one ancient lipstick and her three-times-a-year perm, would think of Julie’s manicures and facials and whatnots, not to mention her built-in wardrobes and her forests of shoe-trees.

The nubbly skirt went on again on Monday with a top, mustard this time, from the same sale rail. Even I could see that the colour didn’t suit me; the face that stared back at me looked to be the last stages of yellow fever.

Maybe I should make more of an effort.

Everything seemed to go wrong that morning. When I was gulping down some cereal my cat, Scatty, jumped on the table and knocked over the milk carton. The traffic, even in the bus lane, was worse than usual. P1 was playing up and my fiercest looks did nothing to quell them.

And when I had a break in the staff room at lunch-time there came a hysterical call on my mobile from Julie saying she was at the school gate and did I have a minute.

I hurried outside.


Find out what’s happened in:

THREE’S A CROWD from amazon here


Not just any old word

The late Margaret McKinlay was my mentor and friend. As the anniversary of her untimely death comes round I find myself considering some of the things she taught me about writing.

A small selection of the novels by EWC members past and present.

A small selection of the novels by EWC members past and present.

The most important was her remark about editor’s or judge’s comments. At this distance in time I can’t remember the exact words, but the gist was this: NEVER dismiss the comment out of hand. A busy person has taken time to read your work and say a little about it. That’s what they believe. Read it. Consider it well. Come back to it when you’ve left it for a couple of days.

Margaret was the writer we’d all like to be. She sold countless humorous articles, short stories and general articles. She tutored for Writers’ News. She mentored people privately. She was an outstanding crime novelist. She also motivated people in ordinary life and was hugely influential in setting up a young people’s centre near where she lived.

I can’t tell you how much I miss her insight when the going is tough.

However, I recently had one of those toughies when a judge’s crit used ‘good’ six times in eleven short lines: but did not rate the story. Instead of sticking pins in anything, I consulted a wiser friend and have read her advice carefully. I think, no more than that, I see where the problem might be. Story amended as suggested has gone off to an experienced ed for consideration.

Every writer needs insightful friends. I have a few and I appreciate them greatly. Thank you all.


http://goo.gl/pASdjp Mariah’s Marriage amazon US

“Oh, Mariah, let us not quarrel. We will be married within the month. At least your papa’s house contains plenty of books. You may practise throwing them.” anne stenhouse

http://goo.gl/NxYxj5 Mariah’s Marriage UK

http://goo.gl/PKptQg Bella’s Betrothal US

 …a solitary figure ahead among some gorse and shrubs. Charles thought she made a beautiful picture in her riding habit with the exquisite hat Jenny Menzies wished to inherit. He thought the girl might get it sooner rather than later if he followed his instincts. At that precise moment, he wanted to shake Bella hard. Then he would lock her in the castle in Strath Menzies and hold her forever. anne stenhouse

http://goo.gl/5RBzIm Bella’s Betrothal UK


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If All Else Fails…


We’ve all seen those cutesy aprons, post it notes, banners etc. If All Else Fails – Do what the Captain suggested. Or – Read the Instructions.
How many times have you come home from a trip to an unimaginable meltdown and seethed with impotent fury? Yes, they did know you’d left a note, but how hard could it be?
Clearly, hard enough for the captain’s advice or the instructions to have been needed. And don’t say you’ve never done it. I don’t believe you.
So how do these two versions of an aphorism relate to writing as an art or craft you may be asking? What do I need beyond basic grammar and a better than average vocabulary in my own language?
A lot.
I teach short story writing and act as a reader for short story competitions. I’ve written reams in student critiques about the basic principles of creative writing. Occasionally, a student changes their practice and pretty soon after can report a sale or prize. Most often they carry on regardless and continue to wonder why stuff wings its way back with a form rejection.

What are my top tip instructions? Here are a few:

Short means short. Do not believe the short story reader actually wants a four volume saga. S/he does not. Know your characters inside out and keep that background work off the page and infused into dialogue and actions.

Basic grammar is important. Read everything that comes your way. Stuff that is easy to read is stuff that does not make you stop to re-read in order to understand it. It may be so beautiful, you want to re-read, but that’s different. Do the pronouns refer back to the nearest proper noun? Do the verb tenses match? Are those apostrophes in the correct position? Are those apostrophes needed? Is direct speech started on a fresh line and enclosed in single or double quotes as needed? Have all exclamation marks been removed?

Put the work away for some time. This is one of the single best ‘rules’ for a writer. When you return to a piece, you will read it with the eye of a reader and mistakes and infelicities will jump off the page. Sometimes, lines you thought were peerless when you wrote them, are impossible to understand. Don’t panic. Time will bring back the meaning and you’ll be able to re-jig the words so anyone can understand on first reading.

Never ask a member of the family for an ‘honest’ opinion. I wonder how many marriages falter over that dreaded request? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so with writing. If your daughter is devoted to sci-fi, she’s probably not the best person to ask about your sequel to Gone With the Wind. If your husband fancies eating well for the rest of his natural life-span, he’s not going to tell you about the number of times you’ve used ‘just’ on p 136. This rule applies to many writing workshops, too, sadly. Well meaning support is great, but not when it doesn’t help you to see the obvious flaws.

I could go on (students might tell you that’s true) but you’ve probably got the gist. Before you can be a gifted breaker of the rules, you need to know what they are.