I couldn’t find any pictures that expressed what I wanted to say on the cover of ‘Pitkirtly XI’ so I have had to carry out a special photo-shoot. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that this didn’t involve glamorous partly-dressed models, mocked-up dinosaur landscapes or both. Instead I had to make the supreme sacrifice of buying three whole packets of scones and some miniature Empire biscuits (don’t forget the Empire biscuits as they are more important than they seem), which no doubt somebody will have to eat later on. The things I do for my art!

Normally I source my cover photos from a vast collection taken by my late brother Ian Ogilvy Morrison in various places in Scotland. They usually depict locations in Fife, but occasionally I’ve had to look a bit further afield. In a few cases I’ve used one of my own pictures, but they aren’t usually as good as my brother’s.

The picture shown here is a sort of ‘out-take’ that I added on at the end of the session just for fun, although in fact I think it has come out slightly better than the others, apart from the things in the background, which I see include a card given to me by a neighbour to thank me for lending her a ladder and a ‘Scottish’ teddy bear ornament that came from somewhere in the family. I may be able to fade these out if I do use this one.scone pyramid

Don’t get over-excited at this point if you’re waiting for the book to come out, by the way, as I am still somewhere in the middle of the editing process. I just find if I get the cover organised it helps to motivate me to finish!

Although my latest novel is rather frivolous compared to the real world setting it attempts to depict, I thought some of my readers might be interested to know where I looked for information about the background.

I usually go online first these days to see if I can find any sources that seem both relevant and reliable. Much to my delight, I found some official Cambridge University pages about the history of the Mathematical Laboratory (later known as the Computer Laboratory) and the 50th anniversary of EDSAC 1, the computer I allowed my fictional characters to monkey around with. My favourite page, from a novelist’s point of view, was this one, which includes personal reminiscences:


As well as the content on this page there are links to other sites with images of the Laboratory and the computers – and some of the people – that inhabited it over the years.

My own programming days were a little later than the time of the EDSACs, but there were still some LEO computers in operation in the organisation I worked for, and I remember paper tape, although our own machine accepted input on punched cards. It seems almost unbelievable that we often punched up our own programs on ancient Hollerith card punches that didn’t have proper keyboards, and that the computer that occupied almost a whole floor of the building was much less powerful than a modern laptop – possibly even less powerful than my Kindle Fire, for all I know.

One of my characters, Andrew, has a background in code-breaking that is so secret that he can’t divulge anything about it, so naturally I had to read about Bletchley Park, where the Enigma codes were broken during the war. I chose a very readable book which focussed on the people involved: The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay. I am sure there are many more technical books about how the computers worked and exactly how the codes were broken, but this one told me some of the things I always want to know when writing about past events – i.e. where did the code-breakers live, what was their working life like, and what did they do in their spare time. This was all deep background as far as my novels are concerned – I can’t let Andrew say anything about his past, perhaps for years!

I also re-read a novel I already knew, to refresh my memory about the Playfair Cipher: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers – still an excellent mystery today. I haven’t explained the cipher half as well as Dorothy Sayers did, so if you want to know the details, read this book.

To find out something about Cambridge in the 1950s, I read another book that focussed on people as opposed to events with wider significance: The Shop Girls by Ellee Seymour. This isn’t great literature and is a light, easy read, but I certainly learned a lot of detail about where people shopped, what sort of places they lived in, where the parks and green spaces were, and what they did in their spare time in 1950s Cambridge. I tried not to put it all in the novel!

XIIf you’ve read this far down the page, you are entitled to know that I haven’t been frittering away my time writing blog posts since publishing the above-mentioned novel. Oh, no. I’ve got out my ‘lucky’ notebook again and the image that goes with this post should give you a clue to what’s happening.

I seem to have been ‘almost there’ with Quest IV (‘A Quest for Clemency’) for much too long, but I have more or less finished my final round of editing and all that’s left to do is to format the file in a couple of different ways, and publish. As so often happens, I have found a way of complicating things for myself, in this case by deciding now would be a good time to create an omnibus edition of the first three novels in the Quest series, which means wrestling with cover design again. I’ve found a few images lying around on my computer but they don’t seem quite right somehow….

quest collage

Personally I am very fond of the chairs and 1950s clock picture, but it doesn’t seem dramatic enough – on the other hand I’ve also had to reject (reluctantly) some illustrations I’ve found online showing a man with dark hair and a woman with red hair both holding guns. Apart from the guns they would be just right for the characters.

My latest thinking is to put a picture of Big Ben down one side of the cover and maybe a couple of figures somewhere but not the ones with guns. This is a self-imposed torment so I may eventually decide against the omnibus altogether. It’s something I’ve often considered doing for Pitkirtly but so far I’ve only got as far as producing a limited print edition (two copies – very limited indeed!).

Anyway, returning to ‘A Quest for Clemency’, I’m hoping it will be ready in a few days’ time. I’ve really enjoyed researching, writing and even editing this novel. I hope to write a bit more once it’s published about the research I’ve done for it, which has involved two of my pet topics: the history of computers, and secret codes. The novel also starts with a train journey, which gave me the excuse to look up old train routes in East Anglia. I’m not quite sure where my fascination with disused train routes originated. It might be partly because our house is built on the land where a station once stood, or a long time before that, when I grew up near the Tay Rail Bridge and watched all the famous steam trains going past.





I like to use this limbo between Christmas and New Year to get organised for the year ahead, although the time tends to be taken up instead by a mad rush to fill in my tax return, an excess of sleep and biscuits, and more often than not by some sort of family emergency. This year one of the cats took his turn at being ill, although so far we hope this was caused by toothache and not by anything worse. I think the worst Christmas I can remember for this kind of thing was one Christmas Eve years ago when, with my son already on antibiotics for a throat infection, I had to take the car to our local garage for urgent repairs, got distracted and left the house keys on the car key-ring and had to go back for them by taxi after arriving on the door-step with my son, who by this time needed to go back to bed, to find we couldn’t get into the house. Later that day I went back for the car, drove it into our drive and said to my son with a sigh of relief, ‘That’s it, we’re not going out again until after Christmas’. We went into the house and I found one of the cats had suddenly developed a swollen ear since that morning so we had to take him to the vet to get his own dose of antibiotics.

2015-12-29 12.39.41 (600x800)

Anyway, I’ve managed to write a draft plan for the new writing year. It has already acquired some squiggly bits and arrows indicating I’m not sure where things will fit in, but it hasn’t yet had the chance to become as messy as my 2015 plan, which didn’t justify even being called a plan by the time I had finished with it.

I have a vague memory of resolving at about this time last year not to write as much in 2015 as I had done in 2014, or maybe that was a previous year’s resolution. In any case I can’t say I’ve stuck to it. If nothing else, The Thing in the Notebook, which was unforeseen and unplanned, would have well and truly seen off that idea. There may be more Things in Notebooks but it might be that I have to find a new way to trick myself in the coming year.

I hope everyone reading this has a happy year in 2016. Thank you very much indeed to anyone who has read my books, and I hope you will continue to enjoy them for as long as I enjoy writing them.

The first of November only means one thing to me – apart from the fact that I need to arrange for my car to have its MOT test in the next couple of weeks, that is. It’s National Novel Writing Month! Last year at this time I was facing the month ahead with some trepidation as for some bizarre reason I had decided to write a grim post-apocalyptic novel in response to certain political events that have now disappeared into the mists of time, at least as far as I’m concerned – others may have different opinions about this, which is fine. This time I’m actually looking forward to it, and this morning I made a start on what I hope will turn into the fourth novel in my ‘Quest’ series – working title ‘A Quest for Clemency’. Even better, the first chapter takes place on a train, which evokes memories of some of my favourite mystery novels and old black and white films. There is even a draft cover design, shown here.

Draft cover design

Draft cover design

I’m not sure if this will be anything like the final cover. I am possibly going to re-design the covers for the whole series when I get a moment, which the way things are going will be some time in 2017.

Please see my ‘Drabbling’ page (link at top here) for a new 100 word creation ‘inspired’ by the start of NaNoWriMo.

Also, in case anyone likes short comedy films and hasn’t seen this yet, please follow the link for the chance to see an award-winning film (made in 48 hours from start to finish) involving a chip shop, a piggy bank and a group of interesting characters: https://youtu.be/1OSHJVUBmxM

This is quite unusual and I’ve surprised even myself. The day after publishing ‘Closer to Death in a Garden’ – which has bizarrely spent some time vying with ‘Tree and Shrub Expert’ and Ian Rankin’s ‘The Hanging Garden’ for top of the ‘Gardens in Britain’ chart on Amazon – I got out a new notebook and started writing something in it.

A writing notebook

A writing notebook

Before anybody gets over-excited, I don’t think this is going to turn into a full length novel, although I suppose I could be wrong about that! It started out as more of a short story idea, although as I have now begun chapter 3 I don’t know if it qualifies as ‘short’ exactly. I suppose I could call it ‘Project Ten and a Half’ if I wanted to be cryptic about it.

As often happens with writing, I couldn’t have started on something new at a worse time. The past few weeks have been so full of other stuff that I am really glad I took the plunge and published my last two books at the time I did, before everything kicked off. Not content with going to Thurso* on a work trip which took three nights because of the distance involved, the following week I went on an overnight trip to Pitlochry to go to a play about a writers group at the theatre and then on a lightning visit to Derby to meet – guess what! –  a group of writers. While I was still recovering from all this jaunting about, our central heating broke down and I have spent a few days arguing about it with the gas company, managing to fit in some work in the intervals of doing this.

Another reason why this is the worst time to start on something is that I was sort of  planning – to the extent that I ever plan anything – to write a great novel of the Great War for NaNoWriMo in November, which would require me to spend most of October researching.  However, as I have also been distracted by family history research, which I have a feeling may result in historical fiction at some point, but not for a while, it’s actually quite a relief not to have to spend October in the trenches, so to speak. Instead I will keep on with this thing in my notebook, and see what it turns into, and choose a less research-heavy project for November. The best-laid plans etc.I will not include a picture of my updated plan for 2015, which is more or less in ruins! Not to mention all the coffee stains.

*There is more about the Thurso trip on my ‘trains’ blog – link at right hand side.

Somehow the closer I get to finishing something, the more ways I find to procrastinate. You’d almost think I didn’t want to finish. It isn’t so much that – I love the feeling of having finished something. It’s all the work that’s needed to get to the end I object to! Laziness is a positive advantage in my ‘other’ career in database management – it forces you to find shortcuts and clever little tricks to make it all less tedious. It isn’t so useful when writing.

Nearly there

Nearly there (x2)

However… I have managed to tear myself away at intervals from the delights of carrying out random family history research and even more random spells of posting political comments on ‘The Guardian’ website, and in the above picture you will see that I currently have two printed copies of different books awaiting the final edit. I must say I didn’t quite intend to be working on them this close together. But the state of play today is that I’ve completed the final edits for ‘Two Adventures at the End of an Era’ and still have to start them for ‘Closer to Death in a Garden’. I feel as if I should apologise to anyone waiting for ‘Pitkirly X’ – but the other one has been waiting longer and I knew it would be quicker to edit as the two stories together are only about half the size of a novel.

structural edit notes

Structural edit notes

If you look closely at this second picture, you will see my notes on ‘Pitkirtly X’ for my so-called structural edit. That makes it sound like quite a difficult undertaking, but actually all I had to do on this occasion was to list the chapters in order with a short description, and then go through making sure the sequence made sense. It doesn’t always!


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