Spring greetings

We seem to have reached the end of a week of glorious sunshine in Edinburgh, which coincided with my holiday week and the arrival of a new camera. I even found the first bluebell of spring starting to open out in our garden. I am not sure if it will risk opening fully as the temperature is still on the chilly side, but I’ve captured it in this picture anyway.

First bluebell

The first bluebell

I’ve now reached 27,000 words in ‘The Coronation Quest’. Everything that’s happened so far is still completely inexplicable, both to me and to the characters, so the rest of the novel should be interesting!

Naturally, now that I’m in the middle of something completely different, my mind has returned to the novella I was working on last month (‘Adventure at the National Exhibition’). Because it was sunny and I had my new camera to hand I finally managed to get to Saughton Park to see the site of the Scottish National Exhibition of 1908. The park is very nearly within walking distance of my house, but I had put off going there all through the winter for various trivial reasons. There is nothing left of the buildings that were erected for the National Exhibition, but the layout is still fairly similar and I suspect the gates (situated on the corner of Gorgie Road and Balgreen Road) or at least the gateposts and access road are the same. The gateposts, however, look as if they were originally meant to have some sort of ornate decorative feature on top. The current ‘Winter Garden’ and rose garden are, I think, in the same places as they were in 1908, and there are quite a few formal garden features that may be part of the legacy of the Exhibition.

It’s good to have seen it all on the ground, as previous visits to Saughton Park have mostly involved standing around the children’s playground and in the queue for the ice-cream van.

Saughton Park gates

Saughton Park – gates

Saughton Park - gardens

Saughton Park in the sunshine

Saughton park - trees

Saughton Park – trees

I wrote here a while ago about my obsession with trains. I’m afraid this is about to become even more pronounced, as I am in the middle of making bookings for another train safari round Europe.

I have decided to give into the obsession instead of trying to fight it any more, so I’ve set up a new board on Pinterest for this: http://gb.pinterest.com/sheilamcperry/trains-and-trains-and-trains/ and a new additional blog which I will attempt to update as I travel to Finland and back this summer by rail and ferry: http://allmytrains.wordpress.com/. There may be posts about other journeys in the meantime in case anybody is interested. I’m hoping that by confining train stuff to these 2 outlets I can keep it off my writing blog for a while!

Some of my preparations for the trip involve booking lots of tickets and getting hold of new luggage, and some of them involve watching ‘The Bridge’ series, so there is a lot of work involved in this.

For the moment I am not writing about trains, for a change, but about London in the run-up to the Coronation in 1953. Things are progressing on schedule and I passed the 20,000 word mark this morning – that’s about a third of the way through I think.

It’s a good idea to be cautious about the arrival of spring, as most Scots are only too well aware! But with two lovely bright weekend mornings having happened one after the other, I’ve definitely got the feeling that it might be time to crawl out of hibernation. That doesn’t rule out the possibility that it could still snow around Easter time, of course. In fact, I’ve discovered recently during my research that it actually snowed on the first day of the Scottish National Exhibition of 1908, which was early in May.


Wallflowers – more or less indestructible

By now, according to my plan for the year, I should have finished the novella I’ve been working on and I should have some idea of the plot for the ‘Quest’ novel I plan to write in April and May. Unfortunately the past few weeks have been a bit of a trial but yesterday, maybe because the morning was so bright and filled with promise, I wrote a bit more, and I now have a slightly adapted plan to get to the end of the novella by the end of the month and leave it to simmer for a while until I’m ready to have another look at it. Also, although the plot for ‘The Coronation Quest’ is still a bit hazy, somewhere in the secret writer’s cave in the back of my mind I seem to have mulled it over while I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, and the result is that I do have somewhere to start on the 1st of April and also somewhere to finish, leaving only the bit in the middle to fill in!

So far, so good. If only I hadn’t been rash enough to put forward an idea for a paper at a conference in June, and if only I could stop myself from putting forward another one for an e-conference in August, everything would be fine and I would have plenty of time to spare… Do people ever learn from their mistakes? [cue hollow laughter]

Thanks to everyone who has purchased a copy of ‘A Tasteful Crime’ – I have been thrilled to see it climbing the ‘cozy’ charts even though it is falling back a little now. I hope to embark on ‘Pitkirtly VIII’ in July.

ebook week 2014

Ebook week 2014

Apologies for the self-promotion today! But having enrolled in this scheme I thought I’d better do something towards publicising it.

I think many readers of this blog will have seen my two ‘Quest’ novels already, but just in case they haven’t, this is a chance to get hold of them for free. As part of ‘Read an Ebook’ Week I have the two of them on offer for free this week on Smashwords – just go to the book page and find the coupon code – it’s underneath the price information on each book page.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/291336 – The Lion and Unicorn Quest

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/365108 – The Four Seasons Quest

If you’ve already read these, there are plenty of other ebooks available at reduced prices or free during this coming week – there is a link on the Smashwords home page.

Grand plans

I was tempted to label this post ‘The best-laid plans’ on the grounds that my plans have a way of not working out the way I expect, but maybe that would have been tempting fate!

Plan for the year

A plan for the year

To prove I even make plans at all, here is my plan for 2014 in my special plan-writing notebook, complete with authentic writerly coffee-stains. Anyone who looks closely will see it is criss-crossed with arrows where I’ve moved writing projects around from one season to another or allowed for things to take longer than expected, and contains little debates with myself at the edges.

Of course this won’t be the final version – I already know that. I’m already very slightly behind with my research schedule, which isn’t all that disastrous since I sometimes do part of the research while writing or even after I’ve finished the first draft. I think I might get even further behind with it during March, which has come along much more quickly than I expected.

And finally for now, thanks to anyone who has bought and/or read ‘A Tasteful Crime’ – it has been hovering around no. 20 in Amazon’s cosy (cozy) mystery chart for a few days, which is better than I hoped for at this point. I do hope people are enjoying it. I would also like to put in a plug for ‘Off the KUF Volume 3′ which was published on Amazon last Sunday. I’ve really enjoyed reading the stories from the other 5 writers involved, and it’s good to see 2 stories out of the 6 are set in Scotland!

The first impetus to write my novella ‘Adventure on the Scotch Express’ came from the re-enactment, in 2009, of a suffragette procession that had taken place in Edinburgh in 1909. I took part in the re-enactment myself, adorned with a sash in Women’s Freedom League colours (green, gold and white) in memory of my suffragette great-aunt.  Various women’s organisations had organised the re-enactment and many of them had made banners and dressed up as historical figures. Typically I had not joined any of the relevant organisations, I put together my sash at the last minute using bits and pieces I found around the house, and I ended up walking with a group from South Queensferry, because one of my friends was with them. They carried a banner with a somewhat scary message on it.

suffragettes march

2009 – re-visiting 1909

We couldn’t walk the entire original route because of the tram work that was happening at that time and that is only now approaching completion, but we started off from Bruntsfield Links, where the 1909 procession had begun, and we ended up on Calton Hill trying to listen to speeches that were being carried off on the wind before the words reached us.

I can’t say whether my great-aunt, Jenny McCallum, a textile worker from Dunfermline, took part in the original march or not. She had joined the Women’s Freedom League, possibly following a suffragette meeting held at the factory gates in the lunch-hour, or perhaps after going to a meeting organised separately in the town. Dunfermline had a history of radicalism in politics and a glance at some of the local newspapers of the time reveals that there were all sorts of political movements represented there. My great-aunt felt so strongly that she gave up her job, went to London with a small group of other suffragettes and was arrested for ‘riot’ at the Houses of Parliament. According to a newspaper report of the trial, some of the suffragettes in the group made inflammatory speeches, some climbed on a statue just outside the House of Commons, and others just stood and watched. The police don’t seem to have discriminated between them when making arrests. She and the others she was with were sentenced to pay fines, but they all refused to pay and were sent to Holloway Prison for several weeks. A photograph exists of Jenny in prison dress, though it is likely this was taken in a photographer’s studio at a later date. The picture here is from a family group photograph taken in about 1900.


Jenny McCallum

This story doesn’t seem exceptionally heroic compared to some of the exploits of the other suffragettes, but in those days it must have taken quite a lot of nerve and determination for a textile worker who had probably never been outside Scotland before to go and participate in a riot in London. On return to Dunfermline Jenny was blacklisted by the mill owners but by 1915, when she got married, she was secretary of the Textile Workers Union. In the 1920s she apparently used to entertain Red Clydesiders in her house. Presumably she had met them in the course of her political activities. The Women’s Freedom League did have links with the early Labour Party.

I realise I haven’t yet explained how the Scotch Express came into it! I had originally wanted to write this story as a play, and it seemed to me like a good idea to have a train compartment as the setting. I was undeterred by the fact that it would have been a nightmare to stage, as many of my ideas for plays have been over the years. A train compartment is a useful setting for a story, however, and once I populated it with characters, all having different reasons for being on the train and most of them with something to hide, the setting became almost part of the story. I suppose I was also thinking about my great-aunt travelling to and from London by train for her demonstration.

I’d better start with an apology to anybody waiting for Pitkirtly VII (A Tasteful Crime). I am gradually working through the editing process but for various reasons it’s taking a little longer than I would have liked, although one consolation is that the first draft turned out to be not nearly as bad as it seemed while I was writing it! I promise to get back to it just as soon as I’ve finished this blog post.

Diary 2014

Trains everywhere

In the mean-time, a few words about something else I’ve been working on, and about my apparent obsession with trains.

Some time last year, when I was working on ‘Blackberry Crumble’ for the first ‘Off the KUF’ anthology, it was announced that vol. 3 of ‘Off the KUF’ would consist of a number of novellas [I think the word count of a novella ranges from 15,000 to 40,000 words, so somewhere between a very long short story and a very short novel]. Naturally, because I had about a million other things to do and I didn’t have any novellas ready, I decided to try and contribute a novella to this. ‘Adventure on the Scotch Express’ was the result. Following an editing sweep by David, who has edited all the ‘Off the KUF’ stories and who is probably even now lying in a darkened room somewhere as a result, and a bit of re-writing of a fuzzy bit in the middle by me, this is now finished and is due to appear in February as part of the latest anthology.

I don’t think I would even have embarked on this piece of writing if I had known how much research into train carriages, train timetables, stations and ticket prices I had to do, some of it online and some in the National Railway Museum in York. However, I did have quite a good grounding on the topic of trains, partly because we used to live at one end of the Tay Rail Bridge when I was growing up, and we saw all sort of famous engines going past the window and indeed almost witnessed a train crash in the local station on one occasion. Without giving away the plot, much of the action in my story takes place on the ‘Scotch Express’ which was the precursor of the Flying Scotsman, with some scenes of the 1909 suffragette march in Edinburgh. I hope to write a bit more here later about the suffragette aspect of it.

Coincidentally I had also had to carry out some train research earlier in 2013, although in not quite so much detail, for ‘The Four Seasons Quest’ which involves a lot of travelling, as anyone who has read it will know. This research didn’t go into quite as much detail as I was more concerned with whether you could actually get from one place to another by train in 1952 and how long it would take, than I was with what the layout of the coaches was and whether there was a guard’s van.

Because of the way my mind works, no sooner had I not quite finished ‘Adventure on the Scotch Express’ and while I was still in mid-edit for ‘A Tasteful Crime’, I had an idea for a prequel to the Scotch Express story. Much to my surprise, as the idea certainly didn’t involve trains at first, for the past couple of evenings I’ve found myself compelled to scour the internet looking for information about the history of Balgreen Halt, a tiny station in the west of Edinburgh that no longer exists but apparently, according to online sources, is about to be sort of resurrected as a tram stop. It’s quite amazing how much time I have wasted  spent on this. You would almost think I didn’t like editing my novels, or something!



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