Saturday, 31 December 2011

Characters

Gorse, broom, plant a genet
It seems to me that characters make stories rather than plot. On the other hand, where would the Da Vinci code be without plot? Maybe I should have said I prefer stories that are character-driven rather than plot-driven.
What a character does in response to the inciting incident defines the action for the rest of the story, and this in turn defines the plot line. The character may react in a different way to you or your best friend, but that does not make the reaction incorrect. It might be different, a tad out of the ordinary, but it doesn't mean his reaction is wrong. That's simply how he is. He may be unskilled, or uneducated and naive, but he'll learn as he goes, as we all do.

Some people make the same mistake again and again. Most of us take a little time to learn something, and while our first error might well be catastrophic, the second stab at the same thiing will hopefully have smaller repercussions because we are aware of where we went wrong the first time. But hey - who makes the perfect response every time? And don't you love reading about a character who makes mistakes, but plods on and gets it right next time? I know I do.

Gorse is blooming again in our neighbourhood. It shouldn't be. It should wait until May or June and then spring into banks of glorious yellow flowers. The world has gone crazy.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

A day in York

Yesterday did not start well. Hair took forever to dry and did not style easily. Sometimes it just falls into place, others, it goes everywhere but where I want it to go.  Then strap broke, so had to select another garment. On the road to York,we saw signs announcing certain A1 junctions had been closed. This provoked much comment in the car about which junctions had been mentioned, where they were and if it would affect us.
End result - we found ourselves involved in a 3-lane halt-and-crawl for at least an hour and half, thus extending our journey time  to twice what it ought to have been. To add insult to injury, when we finally did arrive, York was freezing. A vicious wind slapped through every open space, and it is lucky we were to be able to scamper into the narrow, twisty, enclosed streets of the old city which kept the wind out. Fenwicks cafe was a nice warm haven as we wern't prepared to stand in the queue for Betty's tea rooms, though Penny would have enjoyed their quaintness.
By four o'clock we were ready to leave via the A19 rather than the A1 and lo and behold we inched our way out of York in another nose-to-tail crawl - this time because the ring road traffic blocks anything coming out of the city. The York city council should start thinking about fly-overs and under-passes to ease the traffic flow. It'll be years before I think of going to York again!
I finally got hold of the pics on dh's camera, which has a much better range than mine, and discovered this pic of the deer we saw on our drive north to Inchnadampf. On my camera, they were nothing but tiny brown specks. Click on this one to enlarge it, and see what they really looked like!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

E-publishing row


There’s a storm brewing about major publishers banding together to prevent e-books being sold at low prices. You may already be fully informed, but if not, try the two links to get the general idea. For me, the beauty of e-books is the convenience, coupled with the low price. If publishers expect me to pay the same price for an e-book as I do for a paper copy, then I’ll opt for the paper copy every time. There’s nothing to love in an e-book but the story, but just looking at a paper copy with a decent cover gives me pleasure. I can’t look at an electronic copy, can I? I can only look at a Kindle. I wonder if people to who buy e-books buy only those stories that will entertain them for an hour or two and are then prepared to move on to the next. In other words, reading fills and empty hour or two, but the story is instantly forgettable. Whereas I want to be able to buy novels I want to read and keep, perhaps read more than once, and buy them cheaper than a paper copy. Somehow I can’t see the two desires being fulfilled by the same system. Maybe I’m asking for too much?

Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas blues

Happy band at Gibside
Trying to get into the Christmas spirit but hampered by feeling woozy. At nearly noon, this is not a good thing when accompanied by sharp pain in side when taking a deep breath. Slept sitting up in bed last night, as easier to breathe that way. Cannot decide if I should ring the surgery or not.
Sigh. By the time I decide it will be too late and they'll all have gone home for Christmas. Perhaps this thing, whatever it is will, disappear of its own accord. Hope so.

Meanwhile, not up to usual comments, percipient or not. Have just prepared venison casserole and put it in the slow cooker. By tonight it will go in the freezer and be ready to eat with very little effort next week when guests are here. They're coming all the way from Australia, so effort required!

Tonight, as luck would have it, is the night for our "street party" at the Hilton in Newcastle. Planned for months, all the cul de sac attending, smart hotel, Christmas fare, and self feels woozy already. Better stay off the wine.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Names

Gibside Woods

Are names important in fiction, or just a character label? If you were choosing a label for a young magician who was going to have amazing powers, wouldn’t it be tempting to call him something special? But J K Rowling chose Harry Potter, something so ordinary we barely notice it.

Arthur gives out only a faint chime of recognition until it is linked with Merlin, and then it takes on a whole new significance. One of the most feared English kings was the eighth Henry, a name that today rings with total insignificance. How many kids are named Henry today? One thing I have noticed in Real Life is that its no longer possible to tell a child's heritage by name alone. Names that once belonged to a certain nation are now used by any parents who decide they like the name. Therefore we have lots of Scots, Irish and Welsh names filtering down into English households when there seems no link back to the roots those names might suggest.
Reading the cast lists of tv and films is entertaining, and not for the quirky spellings alone. Summer and Breeze are no longer unique, and I swear I have seen Field and Lane listed. I kept waiting for Hedge coming up, but then we veered off to the Peach Blossom tangent beloved of pop stars. Cute children with cute names are one thing, but when that child is in its forties, I wonder if it will be heading down the name-changing route?
Romance novelists scour the lists and come up with names like Blane, Dare, Noble, and Amaury. It seems the name has to be different, sharp-sounding and if possible have only one syllable. What does this say, if anything, about current naming fashions among  authors? and how do readers feel about it?

Monday, 19 December 2011

The joy of titles

Advertising at Gibside
Cold weather starting to bite now. Down to minus 6 Centigrade in Yorkshire overnight, and we weren't far behind. Today it is raining, my least favourite winter weather. Damp and cold. Ugh.
Time to be indoors snuggling up to my computer and thinking of travelling through France in the summer of 1544 with my trusty hero.
I'm thinking of sending out a new partial sub. for Matho One even though it's only a few days to Christmas. The literary agents can't be at parties all the time, and surely most authors have better things to do than submit to agents at this time of year? Maybe my sub. will sneak in and catch people by surprise when they're in a good mood and with time on their hands!
I tentatively titled this story Treason, but as someone pointed out, Matho may not actually be committing treason simply because he crosses the border from England into Scotland. As a foreign national, what he sets out to do in Scotland is more properly an act of war. So I'm back to no title again.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Gibside Christmas Fair

Gibside Christmas Fair
We had our first snow yesterday. Not much, and the sunshine cleared most of it, but oh boy, was it cold! It's still cold today, but it was the Christmas Fair at Gibside, so off we went.

We expected a few intrepid punters, but the numbers in the car park surprised us. Changing from shoes to hiking boots without overbalancing in the snowy grass was fun, and as we walked into the Fair, we found the Prudhoe Community band playing rousing tunes that carried on the cold air. Stalls were set out under the trees, and lots of people milled about. We  decided to head for the Long Walk and then up through the trees to the stables. We had the woods to ourselves all the way to the Stables, and every so far along the trails we noticed items hidden in the trees. Nearby a notice declared something along the lines of:  Santa had dropped a parcel from his sleigh as he was passing by - can you find it? Then there was the spot where Rupert refused to go any further until he'd had a midnight snack - but where? 

By the time we'd enjoyed a coffee and a browse among the bookshelves (lots of paperbacks for sale at £1 each, including Clair Tomalin's Jane Austen) and ventured out again, people had abandoned the Fair and spread out into the estate. Children roared around screeching as they found each hidden item and parents had the fun of watching them. So did we!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Thinking ahead

Deeside
As a well known writing magazine states, the best way to beak into Women's Fiction is to keep at it. (I think they're talking about writing.) Strong characters and relationships are important and we all like emotionally driven stories. One agent says she wants a powerful story that will grab her by the collar and not let go.

Well, that's fine, as far as it goes. But what grabs her by the collar may be a story that barely holds my interest and the next person might toss it unread back on the pile. Reading is so subjective that advice in the round almost meaning unless by sheer chance you happen to find the agent who thinks exactly like you do. And the chances of that happening are about as lucky as the snowball rolling unscathed through hell.

One thing the agents agree on. Chick lit, mom-lit and sex-lit have all decreased in popularity. Chick lit, they say, has migrated down to Young Adult as women's coming-of -age stories, or more hopefully YA has migrated upwards to encompass it. Either way, women now want more challenging reads.

'Positive effects of the right balance of emotional appeal will help the reader connect with the characters as well as create an exciting an unpredictable storyline' (Katie Shea of the Donald Maas LA)
'Readers will be looking for more sweeping plots, big stories that are very involving, thought-provoking and don't necessarily have black and white happy endings.' (Dorothy Lumley, Dorian LA)
'Write something that stands out, something different...new, fresh - something that makes you think. Women want books they can discuss in groups. They want more substance.' (Jane Judd)
'Real women want to read something they can relate to...family reationships.' (Wendy Sherman.)
So there you have it. Something for everyone. But make it fresh, make it exciting and give it substance.
Catch the whole article in  the January edition of Writing.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Bad Sex Awards 2011

autumn on Deeside
I imagine literary figures must cringe when they see their name up there in black and white next to a heading like It's Time for the Bad Sex Awards again. It's intersting to see how bad some of them can be, too. Here are three links, so you can zip from one article to another and check out  others as you go.

I suspect journalists see this topic as a bit of light relief in comparison with all the doom and gloom they have to think about most of the time. I must admit I approach the articles with a bit of a giggle in mind, but often I come away feeling dispirited and what I feel most of all is that these literary men don't really like sex all that much. Either that or they don't like women, for some of what they write, apart from being pure drivel, is often ugly and distasteful. It's very different to the way women write about sex. There is very likely an argument that says women overegg the cake and beautify sex beyond its merits, but I never come away from reading sex scenes written by a woman with the feeling that they dislike men, or sex. (Unless the storyline demands it, of course, which it often does in some genres.)
Perhaps we should have an award for Good Sex scenes, just to redress the balance a little.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Third time lucky

My book is up there on Kindle for all the world to see. I'm reading it on my newly acquired Kindle and it looks  fine. The only glitch I've spotted is that sometimes an Em-dash turns into a tiny question mark inside brackets, but hey - when did you last read a print book copy that didn't have a glitch in it? Ever since computers got involved in printing books, the typographical errors increased.
This book has had a checkered history. It got tied up in the Triskelion bankruptcy case when the American tax people froze all books and assets for over a year until they'd sorted everything, and it's had an uneventful couple of months with Sapphire Blue until that independant e-publisher decided to close last month. Since the rights came back the same day the company closed, I decided to go for the simplest option, which was Amazon's Kindle Publishing programme, and priced it very low.

I described Shadows as "a chilling tale, written with humour and drenched in the sights and perfumes of the rural Dordogne... a must-read tale for those who like a romance with a ghostly twist."

Anita Davison loves a great ghost story and thought Shadows "definitely does not disappoint...an exciting read...powerful and fast-paced writing...endearing and memorable characters."

Lindsay Townsend thought "Jen Black writes subtle, powerful characters, very nicely shaded, and I felt I understood Rory and Melissa and why they acted as they did. The older story of the ghosts is teased out in a compelling way and is genuinely moving and other-worldly - to write of ghosts as well as this takes some skill."

There's a book trailer as well -

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Kindle woes

Sometimes I wish I'd never started trying to publish this e-book to Kindle. The first one, Fair Border Bride, made me think it was so easy, but that was because I didn't realise the Table of Contents in that book wasn't properly linked. Oh, it links you to the chapter OK, but there's no link to the Table of Contents itself. You have to go to Cover, or Start, and click a couple of times to reach it. I don't think it's all that big a deal, personally, but now I've started this game, I'm persistant enough to want to get it right.
waterfall on the road to Lochinver
It will probably drive me insane before I'm done, and the worst thing of all is that I could be writing, which is much more fun. Perhaps I should  just pay someone to do it. When I think that Optical Express are saying I owe them money now that I've cancelled my contract on contact lenses because they couldn't manage their direct debits properly, it galls me to think I could have spent that money on getting the darn book published.

Perhaps I'll just concentrate on Matho for a bit. I'm going through the first volume, prior to sending it out again, and letting volume two lie dormant for a while, but I've written the fist chapter of volume three. It's tricky, getting back into the mindset of Tudor times again, and I have to keep remembering that not all readers are guaranteed to have read vols one and two. Still, it's a hell of a lot easier than trying to cope with Amazon Kindle, Mobipocket and HTML files that don't transfer hyperlinks.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Quietly demented


near Gairnshield Lodge
The weather here in the north has taken a turn for winter all of a sudden. Temperatures down as low as 2 degrees tonight, and there's snow in Scotland and up in the hill country and the Pennines. Time to break out the woolly sweaters and maybe think about thick tights under jeans. I'll also have to stock up on peanuts and bird food. They haven't needed us, but they've nicked all the berries off the holly bushes in mmy garden and they're starting on the cottoneasters now.

I have spent over a week diligently trying to get my file perfect for uploading to Amazon Kindle, but always the Table of Contents is greyed out - yes, even on my brand new Kindle - an early Christmas present from dh. I followed the Kindle instructions and the Table of Contents comes up on the screen, and it links the reader straight to any chapter selected, so I haven't a clue why it doesn't do exactly as Kindle wish.
I've lost count of my attempts. I've tried Intenet Explorer 9, discovered knowedgeable people think it isn't compatible with Mobipocket, tried Internet 8 on my laptop, tried it with the cover pic, without the cover pic, with the TOC, without the TOC, as Web Page, Filtered, as Web Page, and as a Word doc file, all to no avail. I've even stripped the story back to Plain Text and  inserted minimum formatting and I've read countless websites and found I'm not alone with this problem.

So, I think I'm going to send the file off as it is and see what happens. If it's accepted and any of you wonderful people out there buy a copy of Shadows, then please remember the TOC does work. It just doesn't have its own little Go To link.

In case you wondering who this little fella is, he's the youngest of a Highland Cattle herd who live on the farm we visited.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Dark Landscape

 I found the Aberdeen side of the country very different to the west. Larger communities that look more stable somehow, as if they've been there a long time and aren't afraid to say so. Remembering the north west, the communities outside Ullapool and Lochinver always seemed romantic and somehow transient, without streets, often without drives or gardens; more as if they'd settled on a nice patch of land and would stay there for a while. Curious and interesting to see the two in the same visit.

I've often toyed with the idea of moving to the northwest, but I suppose it isn't practical and dh would hate it. I know there would be moments when I would miss being able to wander into Newcastle and around the big department stores  - which I do rarely, but they're there when I want them. The M&S is one of the flagship stores, second only to London because we have such a cross sectional mix of people prepared to spend - the town and country types of the Tyne valley, the urban dwellers of Newcastle and Gateshead, the suburbans in countless villages up and down the river, like me, and then the holiday traffic that comes in from northern Europe - Scandinavia, Denmark, and as was reported on the news yesterday, cruise ships from the Faroes bringing people to do their Christmas shopping.
We drove through  the hills from Tomintoul to Cock Bridge, said to be one of the highest roads in Britain at just over 2,000 feet, and the landscape got progressively darker, gloomier and downright bleak. To drive from home to the Lake District, we cross Hartside Summit into Cumbria, which is just over 1800 feet, but the scene is much more attractive than this road. A strange shape loomed on the hill ahead of us, and as we drove past we saw that it was the rather stark looking Lecht ski centre.

Compared to the ski resorts we've visited in Europe, Canada and the US,  it didn't look appealing.  A little further on, a shooting party had been on the hills, and we watched several Land Rovers gingerly edging their way across the hillside back to the road.

It may have all looked so much better in sunlight, but the sky was grey and grim, and the landscape was a dark, dirty brown green. From there the route was downhill most of the way to Ballater, and there the landscape changed again But more of that tomorrow.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Travelling on east

The gorse was blooming for the second time along the river banks in Ullapool, and I've just realised we weren't plagued by midgies at all. Our second night in Waterside  House the wind kept the ferry in port and made walking out to find a meal unpleasant. We tried the Ceilidh Place but it was overun with young people, cables, sound systems and we dedeuced that a gig was taking place that night. I think we could have stayed, but it would have cost us £10 each on top of the bill for food and wine, and our eardrums are not accustomed to the atomic blasts of sound these groups generate. We found somewhere else!
Main Square, Grantown

Next day we set off back to Inverness and had a splendid drive across the moors and down through the autumn woods to Garve, where the land changes slowly into lowland scenery. Green, fertile and gentle after the north west.  Climbing the hill out of Inverness heading south on the A9, we turned off onto the A938 and headed for Grantown on Spey, where we stopped, had a coffee and walked through the town and across the wetlands to the river Spey. Halfway around the town, our mobile phone rang and the family wished me happy birthday from Australia!  Many years ago I'd been here, and remembered huge pine forests running down to the river, which tumbled over rocks at a huge rate of knots. The river we saw was a disappointment, and there were no pine trees. Instead we had to detour under a new by-pass that has been put in, and the river was flat, brown and uninspiring. Disappointment all around. They say you should never go back, don't they? So we headed out on the  939 through Lynemore and Bridge of Brown to Tomintoul. Pretty countryside, and so very different to the north west!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Sun and wind

Ullapool Bridge
Heading into town today to do some necessary shopping - not for Christmas, I  might add, but for soap dishes and toilet roll holders - really exciting stuff! I'm hoping we've done all the DIY-ery we're doing for a while at least, and then I might be able to relax into writing a little bit more instead of listening for the terrible crash of falling tiles, or worse, of falling bodies.
Glastullich
So, after a brisk explore of Ardvreck, we  drove on down the A835 towards Ullapool and telephone the Waterside Inn to secure a bed for the night. Once settled in, we walked out in sunshine along the shoreline and the river towards Ullapool Bridge and then on up the track towards Loch Achall. A pleasant walk  uphill, now and then standing aside for the huge lorries working the quarry, which has expanded a good deal since we were last on this path. Eventually the track crosses the river, where the views open out, with Glastullich peeping out across the hillside and the loch disappears ito the distance. Much better weather here than a few miles further north! We walked until we got tired and then turned back, looking forward to a good meal and a good night's sleep. We'd just got back into our room when the five o' clock ferry hove into view. It reversed in, and, as it happened, stayed there. The wind was rising, and forming little waves on the loch, so out on the Minch it must have been quite rough. Everyone hoping to get across to Stornoway that night was stuck.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Ardvreck

Working hard on Matho's story now. It's been put aside for the right amount of time, and I can see why the three agents I submitted to said they liked the story, the premise, the setting but were not sure they liked the writing - though they thought that was confidant and well done. The comment certainly me puzzled and I decided to withhold sending it out any more until I'd gone through it again.  Reading historical stuff on the market today, and then reading my ms, I see that I have been influenced by US writing standards - short, clear sentences, short paragraphs and little description. Seems that is not what UK agents are accepting, but at least I know what to do now.


Ardvreck Castle
Back in the north west of Scotland, we tootled up and down the front street of Lochinver, and stared out at a grey horizon were sea and sky simply merged into one another. Clouds sat on the mountains, and everything looked grey. Few shops, mostly closed because now it's out of season and few people about. Not an entrancing prospect. We've visited the Highland Stoneware Pottery many times, and didn't want to do it again as it just makes us want to spend more hard-earned cash. Getting out and walking some of the very pretty walks we've done before - one to Achmelvich, another to the Kirkaig waterfall, would be an invitation to another drenching.

So we set off east out of Lochinver on the A837 alongside Loch Assynt and Ardvreck Castle on the way back to Ullapool. I photographed the notice board, which hopefully will show up more clearly if you click to enlarge the pic, because there is little left of the castle. It stands on the island side of a neck of land jutting out into the loch, and a cetain times of the year when the burns are in spate and feeding the loch, it's possible they'd be splodging to get across.
Ardvreck

It's a pity it's so much an unstable ruin, because it was built around 1490 and in use in the sixteenth century, which is the era that really interests me. I came away with an impression of huge grey stones and wobbly bits of wall, small rooms and a wet and windy place to live - even today.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A dour, grey day

I read a blog this week that still has me thinking about what it is that I might be doing incorrectly with my latest story. If you want to give yourself  a session in frustration -
here is the place. If I hint at headings such as Limp and Lifeless Prose, All Questions but No Answers, I think some of you will get the drift of the piece. if you don't write, but read a novel a week, you might still be interested.

Clashnessie
Stoer
As for my travels in the north west, let me begin with the moment we stopped to admire the beach. We thought we were looking west at the Atlantic, assumed it was Stoer or even Clachtoll, but just a minute, isn't the sun in the wrong place? Hauled out the compass - yes, I do carry one, just in case of need! and then the map, and discovered we were staring due north at the rollers coming in across the sand of Clashnessie Bay. So, we were not as far on as we thought. Still, the driver needed a break from dipping and diving around blind corners, so we sat for a while. I think there were a total of a dozen houses that made up the village of Clashnessie, and some of them were a mile apart from their neighbours. As well as the typical modernised croft-cottage, we noticed large two and three story new builds away on the hill behind the village. Perhaps in season they take in tourists, but the end of October seems to be the signal for the end of the season. Certainly we had the road to ourselves. I think we passed only three or four cars, and they were all going in the opposite direction to us. A message there, perhaps!Once we moved out of the village, we caught a glimpse of a massive waterfall in the distance. Better weather and we might have walked over to it.

It was certainly spectacular, and I suspect it was so because of the overnight rain backed up in Loch an Easain and its chain of interconnecting lochs in the hills behind Clasnessie


Clachtoll
Moving on south and then south west toward Lochinver, we passed several settlements - Stoer with the graveyard and the roofless church, Clachtoll with the beach and a campsite - though we didn't see a single tent marring the bright green grass - and through the bleak, rocky moorlands.  Away in the dsitance we caught a glimpse of aWe passed the turning for Achmelvich, off to our right, and had the weather been fine we would have gone to the  wonderful white sand beach. But in dull grey misty weather even stunning beaches look damp and miserable. We pressed on to the T-junction and were so glad to be on a dual carriageway once more.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Heading west


The B869
Well, our first real walk ending in getting soaked, and the next morning the weather didn’t look any more promising. Odd, really. I’ve had several holidays in this part of the world at this time of the year and there’s always been a week of sunshine and blue skies. Frost at night, perhaps, but who cares if the day is fine? This year is obviously not going the same way. So we decided to move on and headed off towards Lochinver. Back down the A894 a little way and then off west on the narrow, twisty B869.


Looking north
Wonderful views in spite of the dour weather. And because of the rain (it kept it up all night) the waterfalls were in full spate. Once we got to the top of the hill, so to speak, we could look out across the north of Scotland, and as always, it looked sunny everywhere but where we were. One of the unwritten rules of Scotland is that if the weather is bad, then move on; it will very likely be sunny in the next valley.
We proceeded cautiously. There’s little else you can do when the road is only wide enough for one car, and if you meet something coming in the opposite direction, there’s a scramble to find a place wide enough for both to pass safely.  We found a village at Nedd, quite a sizable community for the remoteness of the spot. I found myself wondering if Tesco delivered from Ullapool, or if the inhabitants drive the fifteen miles to Lochinver every week for groceries.  I suppose I drive ten miles to my favourite supermarket once a week, but that’s on easy dual carriageways, not up and down hillsides on single track roads. Where does everyone work? Perhaps they all work at home via the internet super highway. It’s possible. The outer edges of Scotland were into the electronic age long before everyone else, though it must have been frustrating wback int he days when using the internet tied up your phone line. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

A drenching

We walked along the shore to the old ferry landing on the north side and then on along the shore of Loch Glendhu. There's a pretty section through the forest and then out along the open shore line, which offered dramatic views of the hotel, the bridge and the mountains rearing up behind. If you look closely, you can probably see where we walked; we passed the first waterfall coming down the hillside, and the next was just around the corner, where the  shadows start - it was also the exposed corner where the storm caught us, at the furthest extreme of the walk and with no shelter anywhere.

sunlight across Loch Glendhu (from the hotel window)

the sparrows were wet, too

By the time we got back to the hotel we were drenched and a hot bath was the only sensible thing. The sparrows came huddling in by the hotel during the worst of the rain while we sat in the lounge with a log fire and the beautiful view of the loch as the weather drifted over, the sun came out and the tide came in.
The land in the picture forms part of the Reay Forest which belongs to the Duke of Westminster and there's more information here, plus a rather nice video of the area. Taken in better weather than we had, I must say.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Kylesku

Low tide at Kylesku
Tuesday I visited Chatsworth House with friends, and yesterday spent the day shopping and taking in a production of Nutcracker in the evening, which is why there was no blog post yesterday. Obviously I'm having far too much fun - but it was long overdue!

More of Chatsworth later - first I want to finish my Scottish trip. Pity about missing the Bone Caves, but we just pressed on  into Kylesku where the Hotel is set in an enchanting spot right by the lochside.  The Atlantic roars inland from Eddrachillis Bay and forms the  Loch a Chairn Bhain, passes beneath the new bridge, built at the narrowest point, hence the name. Seton Gordon writes that Kylesku is a bad translation from the Gaelic Caolas Cumhang meaning the narrow strait. (He also claims that Quinag in Gaelic is Cuinneag and means milk stoup.) Once under the bridge, the loch divides into two - Loch Glencoul runs south east and Loch Glendhu runs east.
Looking across the water to the ferry landing at Kylesku
The bridge  was built in 1984. Before that, the cattle had to swim across to get to market and the drovers and travellers used a rowing boat. If you check the link -
 http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/kylesku/kylesku/index.html. you will see pics of the bridge in far brighter weather than we had. I can remember using the old ferry, the Maid of Glencoul way back in the seventies. Her predecessor, the small, forlorn Maid of Kylesku is slowly rusting away where she was beached on the northern shore, not far from the picture above.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Map reading errors

Reay forest
On 5th November a review for Fair Border Bride appeared on Historical Novel Review, which is very attractive review site you might well want to bookmark if you don't already have it in your favourites.

As well as reliving my trip to Scotland, I'm plodding on with work. Why is it that a synopsis always looks fine until I print it out, which is when I discover that it has mistakes and doesn't read too well? At this rate I'll never have a synopsis that will entice anyone to buy!

The last time I drove the A835, it was pouring down when we left Ullapool and still raining when we reached the Bone Caves at Inchnadamph. The rain was so heavy we didn't dare to get out of the car and attempt the walk up to the caves, but sat inside and watched water pouring down the mountainside in various spectacular waterfalls. So this year our goal was to enjoy the walk up the valley Fuaran Allt nan Uamh before we went on to Kylesku. The weather was OK, it was only four or five kilometres and we had the right map, boots, waterproof coats. (Often a failing of ours is not having the correct map for the walk we wish to take!)

Kyleskyu Hotel
So, we proceeded north, admiring the sight of Loch Veyatie and Suilven beyond, and guessing which mountain was Canisp and which Quinag. Before we knew it, we drove through Inchnadamph, a tiny place with hardly more than six dwellings and a hotel, and doubt set in. As we drove past the confusing peaks of Quinag,we realised we were almost at Kylesku and somehow, we'd driven right past the turning for the Bone Caves.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The weather makes for interesting pictures. As I said in previous posts, we left Ullapool by 9 in the morning and drove out on the A835 and made only one or two brief stops to take in the view (believe me there are not many places where you can stop!) and yet, looking at the photos, one could be forgiven for thinking they'd been taken hours apart.
Not so. Today's batch are all taken in the stretch with Cul Beg and Cul Mor on the left and the vast cliff face of the Cromalt Hills on our right. Click to enlarge the picture and you may see the deer, but I doubt it!

The other thing about mountains is that they change shape. Not so much when walking, perhaps, but drive a few miles by car, look back and it's sometimes a struggle to recognise a single peak. Suilven is famous as a rounded hump on the eastern horizon when staring out from Lochinver. From this road, looking west, it presents a conical ridge and when we get further north, I'll be looking out for it.
At various places along the 835 it's possible to catch a glimpse of the old road winding off around an outcrop of rocks. Not wide enough to take one of today's cars, possibly wide enough for two people walking abreast, or more like a man walking beside his pack pony. It's a forlorn reminder of days gone by, and a shiver runs through me as I think of walking alone here a hundred years ago without a telephone, a car or any real map. I discovered the other day that travellers maps used to run in strips; a single road with way markers. No doubt you could roll it ip and put it in your pocket! Or maybe not. Flat packed in oiled canvas might be safer.
There's also admiration for the men who brave all weathers here to take electricity and telephone wires to isolated communities. Every now and then telegraph poles stalk across the tracts of swampy land and march straight up into the mountains, sometimes up the cliff face on our right. I wonder at the creatures who live up here, exposed to wind and rain even in summer, and icy blasts and snow in winter.


Stopping briefly, we look back the way we've come. From here to Ullapool isn't that far, as miles go; but in other ways, it's a whole different world.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

On the A835

Strathcanaird
The A835 is a splendid road as it winds and curves through the mountains of Coigach towards Assynt. Strathcanaird is the last habitation for a while, and this is not a road for those who like Little Chefs, craft shops and cafes dotted along the way. It's a road that is a feast for the eyes, and pity the driver who dare not look at the scenery for fear of driving off it!


Stac Pollaidh
Mountains have a character all their own, and I often get the feeling that its not me that's moving, but them. They're not high, as mountains go; few of them are Munroes, over 3,000 feet. But they stand isolated and humped and jagged in the landscape and look as mountains ought to look. Take Stac Pollaidh for instance. Not quite 2,000 feet, if memory serves, but it stands above Loch Lugainn like a cone with a ruffled top. From the summit you can look out, as I once did, over a vista of lochs and bays and out to the sea shining silver in the sun which isn't that far away in this picture. Imagine it, out beyond Stac Pollaidh.
If we'd driven just a hundred yards further, the road would have climbed that little bit more and the picture would have included the loch. 
Cul beg and Cul Mor
It is a road full of surprises. There are footpaths, in the sense of hill tracks, in case I give the wrong impression, that lead to the mountains. Many of the small laybys have a parked car or two and no occupant enjoying the view or sipping thoughtfully from a thermos flask of coffee; they're often to be spotted plodding their way up some impossible seeming hill a couple of miles away. There are deer to look out for, and on this occasion, we found a herd of perhaps thirty, with a magnificent stag  in charge. We watched them with binoculars for a while, but they were too far away for photographs. On my little camera, they'd have been no more than shades of brown among the brown heather.

An aside: as I learned my units of measurement in the good old English way of inches, feet, yards and miles I cannot cope with the metric system. I know a metre equals 39 inches, so if I have to, I grab a calculator, tap in the number of metres, multiply it by 39 to get inches and then divide it by twelve to get feet. Then I can understand, because feet mean something to me.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Ullapool north

Waterside House does an excellent breakfast with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries to add to cereal. Dh dickered over kippers, but decided against it in favour of a full Scottish breakfast, including haggis and black pudding. I opted for the more cholesterol free choice of poached eggs on toast.
Thus fueled for the day we packed and set out, eading north to our next overnight stay at Kylesku Hotel.  There's a long uphill drive out of Ullapool, down and then up again through a pass to Ardmair where a clutch of holiday cottages sit on the beach staring out over Loch Kenaird. Behind them are the green fields running back up to the crofts tucked in against the mountains  - Cnoc Moin a Ghuail at 240 metres. 780 feet doesn't sound much, but the land goes from sea level to 780 feet in a little over a kilometre, or less than a mile.
Ardmair
We parked on the beach and watched the Cal-Mac ferry come steaming up the loch and disappear behind the headland Meall Mor on its way to Ullapool. The ferries always look so good, especially in sunshine when their colours stand out against the water and the hills.
Strath Canaird
Driving on took us alongside the stream they call Glutton on the map. Maybe there's an interesting translation - if I find out I'll let you know. Emerging at the top of that hill, there's a long curving run down to Strath Canaird and across the River Canaird at the lowest point. Here there's a turn-off marked Blughasary wich leads to a small clutch of buildings and a car park. Once upon a time the postie used to take the path from Blughasary and walk the cliff path to Achiltiebuie with letters. I tried it once, in my younger and fitter days, and found it was like walking on a cliff face. The path is marked on the 200 metres contour, with a sheer drop to the sea. It's for those of strong nerve.

Friday, 4 November 2011

First review and Scotland

Lindsay Townsend gave me 5 Stars!
here's her review of FAIR BORDER BRIDE

"A beautiful bride in a turbulent country....
From its fast-paced, compelling opening, 'Fair Border Bride' is an exciting historical romance set in the border lands of northern England in 1543. The romance of Alina and Harry is full of incident and tenderness and is a well-told story, with moments of humor, sensitivity and passion. They are sympathetic, rounded people and believable in their dilemmas and conflicts. The other characters in the novel are also very well-drawn, and the whole is filled with fascinating historical detail about a part of England that is rarely explored in Tudor historical fiction. If you want to lose yourself in vivid adventure and romance, I have no hesitation in recommending this novel by Jen Black."

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We arrived in Ullapool around 4pm. The journey took 7 hours, door to door. Not bad. I'm aware it probably  doesn't sound much to those who live in larger countries, but France, Canada and the US have so much open space to build wide roads, whereas we're just a tiny bit cramped.
 Ullapool looked as gorgeous as ever as we drove down Loch Broom and saw the buildings, shining white in the sun, sticking out into the middle of the water and with the hills rising behind. We’d booked at Waterside House on West Shore Street and stared straight down from our first floor window into Loch Broom.
They say Saint Maelrubha came here from Ireland around 722. Certainly the Vikings were at Ullapool. Their galleys rode at anchor in the fine anchorage of Tanera Mor, and by 1775 there were approximately twenty buildings and a road where West Argyle Street and West Terrace now stand. In 1698 a fishing station was set up at Ullapool with the intention of developing the export of salt herring from Wester Ross to Stockholm, London and France. Herring were so abundant in Lochbroom that the people were using them for manure but it was not until the growth of Glasgow as a port, and as a exporter of salt and dried fish across the Atlantic for the slave trade, that the commercial fishing of the remote north west coast became feasible. If you want more history click
We walked about, enjoying the crisp, bright sunshine. There are two good bookshops in Ullapool, and at least two shops selling expensive knitted fashion garments, three fish and chip places cafes, and numerous pubs offering meals. We settled on the Ceilidh Place, which always seems to have young staff from other parts of the world working there. We chose venison stew in red wine, and found it delicious. click