Writing again.

Usually at this time of year my tweeting and blogging rate increase mainly because I have more time to write and relax. For a number of reasons the writing and blogging has not happened and there is no one reason or explanation that I can offer. The last few weeks I have to say have been relaxing, I have plodded around the garden, been to the gym, several times, and wandered around some of Fife’s wonderful coastline,

'Bach' in sand at Crail

but each night just as I’m about to doze off there is a feeling of guilt that I should have spent at least some of my time writing.

Lighthouse at Elie

I feel better, the garden looks much better, even the cats will testify to that, and generally things have been very pleasant. Meantime, my scribbled mind/plot maps are still in the main scribbled mind/plot maps. I have, though, converted some of the plot maps into prose and thought I would share the draft opening paragraphs of my next book. The book is best described as a YA book and is aimed at an older age group than Bernie Bolts Bergen. It is as you may guess from the excerpt below a slightly darker tale.

‘Boom! Boom! Boom!

The door thundered on its hinges and the windows, the pictures on the entrance hallway wall, and even the small china cat which sat on the wooden telephone table reverberated with the noise. The hammering of  fists on the red front door echoed both inside and outside the terraced house. The thumping was like no other that Jack would hear ever again, it was official, urgent and panic stricken all rolled into one.

Jack stopped dead on the spot. He had been running up the stairs to his bedroom when his world crashed around him. He looked down from the sixth step of the steep staircase to see his mum charge through from the living room, the door smashed against the living room wall as she did so, and she flung the front door open. There stood two people, Jack could only see one, but he could hear the voices of two. As strange as it sounds Jack’s life was flashing by as if in slow motion. This was a day that he would never ever forget.’

There it is, I’m writing again. Over the next few weeks I shall yield some more excerpts as I transfer my scribbles into some sense or other. If you want to comment on the paragraphs above, please feel free to do so.




It’s been a busy few weeks since I last blogged and this weekend seems to be the first one in all that time with a little ‘me’ space. It is also a very poignant time as five years ago at this time we lost Seil and one year ago, again at this time,we lost Nemie Sabie. Two amazing tom cats both large in stature and in character. There aren’t too many cats who will walk on a lead, present a paw for food, play fetch and generally make you feel the most important person in the world. Even in the veterinary hospital Seil would wonder round with the staff doing their rounds and even they, despite their best efforts to save him, were heartbroken when he died. A very rare photo of my first boy, Seil, he receives a brief mention in the book & was such an adorable #cat

Nemie didn’t perform the same tricks, but was a beautiful show cat with an array of titles to his name and a

wonderful house cat.

Both cats gave our  house and our daughter’s house a soul, welcoming people into our homes – our house as a result was never empty. However, I didn’t want to write a maudlin blog today – my hope was to write something positive as I haven’t posted a blog for some time. I have to stop saying I haven’t posted a blog…… it appears all too often.

The second book has come to a bit of a halt, partly because my day job has been so manic I don’t think in over 20 years of teaching I’ve ever worked as hard as I have over the last few months. I think what doesn’t help the second book is that it doesn’t have a title – it has a  plot, the first two chapters are written and have been for a while and I know what comes next and what still needs to be researched, but it has no name. My first book Bernie Bolts Bergen had a title before it had a story – I always liked the alliteration and generally felt it worked. Because the book had a title, I felt I owned it, it was my baby, it was my job to nurture it until it was a full story and ready to fly, which it did last year. It became known in the house as Bernie’s book, and even this year as we add illustrations to a fresh edition it is referred to by its nickname. But the new book is anonymous, it has no nickname because it has no name. I like the storyline of my new book, much of the story was in my head, while I was finishing off Bernie’ s tale, but I don’t have that feeling of attachment yet.

It has a cat in it, there’s a surprise, and the cat in the book will be derived from one of my old male toms. Should the title be the single name of one of the cats – if it is a single name it will need a strap line to support it; should I seek an alliteration like Rhumtetum Rumbles Rogues, doesn’t work for me nor does it fit; should I try and find some way of encapsulating the essence of the story in one sentence such as the ‘The Curious Incident of the dog in the night-time’ not the snappiest title ever chosen but it works. Until I have a name, nickname or working title I fear I will continue to struggle to truly identify with my story. Seil and Nemie will play a part in the book, whether they will have the lead role remains to be seen and whether they appear in the title has still to be determined, I still can’t envision Seil, for example, as the title.

I need a working title and I need it fast – my key writing time approaches (school holidays) – I need to own this story to finish it – hopefully, my eureka moment will come.




It’s been a fumy old month has April. To date I have worked 3 full days and by the end of the month I will have worked a grand total of 8 days this month. A combination of spring break, followed by Easter Weekend, followed by ‘Royal Wedding’ Friday and May day, yes,  I do know that’s not a day in April,  has contrived to give the strangest working month I’ve had in a long time. Mind you, December was strange too, but that was due to 2 feet of snow and Scotland grinding to a halt

Two visitors in the sun

April’s weather has been a litte unusual too. We had some April showers at the beginning of the month, there was a Bambi April Showers  link here but it may be problematic so I’ve now removed it, but the weather has thrown up some beautiful warmish sunny days, well, warm for us. Warm enough to allow me to tidy the garden, start to rejuvenate the cat runs after a hard winter, we’ve even strolled along the beach front in St Andrews me in my shirt sleaves (still with the labels attached to my new jeans much to my partners amusement, she hasn’t let me live it down) and various other outings. The downside of all this has been very little in the way of writing, the shock of an early start to summer has meant that the calling of the outdoors has been too strong. However, there is an upside on the writing front, namely that an illustrated edition of Bernie Bolts Bergen will be released later this year.

Theres always a cat pic


I have 3 working days left this month, conversations at work will continue to be characterised, as they have over the last few days, by discussions of how much work still requires to be done, how targets will not be met, how we are going to catch up and so on. Behind these conversations are the smiles and twinkling eyes of staff fully aware that more holidays are in the offing.

The 8 days of work in April brought to mind an old miner’s retort to a question asked by Lord Robbins in a discussion about absenteeism in the coal mining industry. I can’t find the exact quote but it runs along the following lines; Robbins asked why miners tended to take Mondays or Fridays off, working on average 4 days per week. The retort was simple ‘ because I can’t earn enough working three.’

Hmmmm  I wonder if we could only work for 7 days in May – I suspect not. The month of May will be a busy one. We know that we will catch up with the work, it will mean some manic days, ‘shoulders to the wheel’ and all that, but we will make it. Meantime, April is here to be enjoyed and enjoy it we will.



The Simple Pass

It’s been a while since I posted a blog. Life has been busy, whose life hasn’t and I’ve kinda lost my blogging and writing mojo over the last few weeks. To lose one mojo may be an accident, to lose two could well be neglect. I’ve had several ideas for making my great writing comeback, but each idea  has met a premature ending and that may well be where the problem lies i.e. I’m searching for that great idea, in football (soccer) parlance the World Cup ball, when all that is needed is ‘the simple pass’.  Both  terms are used often when playing or coaching, but what do they mean. Searching on the internet failed to provide a definitive definition of either, in fact, the search yielded very little insight to either term. Yet, both terms are used by pundits, fans and players alike  and everybody nods, as if we all know and share the same understanding. To take the blog forward I need to profer a definition of sorts; here goes.

Leo watching intently

World Cup ball:  Usually a long range pass which leads to a game winning situation. The pass is usually one that requires precision and accuracy over distance and carries a high failure rate.

The simple pass: a short range pass which in itself may or may not create a game winning situation. Successful completion rates are high and carry less risk.

There is a suggestion that ‘the simple pass’ by its very name is safe, uncreative and boring whereas the ‘ World Cup ball’ is viewed as dynamic and creative. Yet, the truth is often very different; rather than being creative, the World Cup ball, or the attempt at the World Cup ball, is, in many cases, reckless. On the other hand, the simple pass, as many fans and observers of Barcelona Football Club will testify, can be creative, imaginative and powerful when harnessed fully, and in Barcelona’s case epitomises the beautiful game for many.

There are without doubt, books that are the equivalent of the ‘World Cup ball’  that stand out because of their daring, creativity and boldness in challenging conventional thought. There are also books constructed of simple beautiful passes that weave together to present a novel of considerable beauty. I have no intention of starting a debate of which writer fits which category and will leave that to you the reader. I’m open to suggestions should anyone wish to offer one.

A young Rhumtetum showing how to win

Where, does that leave me and my writing. I can only dream about the ‘World Cup Ball’, the reality if I’m lucky is the simple pass. But the simple pass isn’t any more reachable than the World Cup Ball. In fact the simple pass may be harder to attain, because the beauty of the simple pass lies in its disguise. To execute it fully, requires understanding, foresight and the ability to synthesise words, story and reader in perfect harmony. To achieve this harmony requires, not only, a continued study of the art , but practice, more practice and even more practice. Bernie Bolts Bergen is a start, but my writing has still some way to go and may be, at this point in time, more Raith Rovers, our local team, rather than the silky soccer of Barcelona.

All in all, it’s good to be back



An Author in School

Yay, the pics eventually arrived and I can now finish this blog.

At the beginning of the year, or end of last year, I was invited to a nearby school to read Bernie Bolts Bergen. I agreed despite being not quite sure what I was agreeing to, nevertheless the commitment was made to do the reading as part of Scottish Literacy week in late January. I was duly booked in for the afternoon of January 28th. The first two weeks of the year passed by without a thought to what I was going to do.

That all changed when the school confirmed timings and numbers – I would be speaking to P4 and P5 some 70 + kids in total  (at 2 sittings) and asked what my fee was for the day, a point I will return to later.   Is there anyone else presenting I asked and was advised that two other children’s authors would be presenting that week and were charging the Scottish Book Trust fee. I’m not a member, it would appear that independent authors aren’t accepted although I will stand corrected if my understanding of this is incorrect; so it didn’t feel right to levy such a cost. The fee wasn’t my main issue though, the key point for me was how would I retain the attention of 35 kids for 35 minutes x 2.

Where to start?  Where else – it was time to search the internet, but I struggled to find any authors providing information on visits other than providing statements about their availability for such visits and comments about previous visits. One site was a major help, http://www.jacktrelawny.co.uk/ , which is well worth a visit if you are doing a school visit. The rest involved a return to basics, I’ve been a lecturer for years and the basics of delivering any session, including a session for children, are much the same. Using this as a starting point I prepared my own checklist/ideas to help me plan and deliver my session. For what it is worth, I have noted my thoughts below:

1. What are the objectives for the visit? – There are many e.g. To encourage kids to read, to inspire kids to write, to aid the school curriculum, to help school reputation/fund raising, to raise your own or your books profile, to sell books (I have some problems with direct selling at a school).

2. Who is your audience? Research the school, check the ages of the children attending, how many, reading level and any expectations they may have.

3. Where will you present? School assembly hall, classroom, theatre or gym hall. Remember to state any requirements you may have e.g. audio-visual equipment.

4. Does the school know what you need? I provided the school with a rider outlining what I needed on the day and what my expectations of  the school were. The letter and rider also stated that I wouldn’t be charging a fee, but asked that the kids were given information to take home about the book and how it could be purchased.

5. Have you prepared the children? It is important to prepare the school for the visit. I sent material to the school a week beforehand, ideally it should be two weeks. The pack included contact details, the first two chapters of the book, a word search, a maze, a colouring in picture and  a letter for each child, (see above) to take home to their parents/guardians.

6. Prepare the session? Again, back to basics i.e. an introduction, beginning and end. Make it fun. Where did the initial inpiration come from?- in my case Bernie was a real cat, where did some of the story characters or  ideas come from? – and so on

7. What materials will you take on the day? I took two laptops, taking no chances, the books – I didn’t take copies to sell (see above), any props – I took along a cat – Bernie’s brother. I also used PowerPoint – Steve Jobs style – with very few words and lots of pictures to convey some of the story ideas

8. How will you engage the kids? Questions, exercises, jokes, discussions, activities etc. Leave a task or exercise with the teachers based on your book for the kids to do when they return to class.

9. Do you have you a contingency plan? In my case, two laptops and a flexible approach

10. How will you know if it went well or not? Evaluate/Reflect and ask the kids whether they enjoyed the session. Check your book sales tracker to see if there has been any changes.

Final points – did it go well. The feedback from the teachers was good and I received feedback about one child who ran home started to write a story based on her own cats and ordered her mum to buy the book which mum duly did. I also had a small spike in book sales. What would I do differently? – the session could have been a little tidier/ tighter and I should have maximised the PR opportunities that this provided – a bit of a slip up on that one. Did I learn anything? – that I enjoyed it and the kids enjoyed it. One golden nugget did appear, I was able to float the ideas for my next book, I have two ideas in train and have been focussing on one of those ideas. The kids totally rejected the one I was working on and truely loved the one I had set aside. I had my own focus group of 75 kids and that I didn’t expect. Would I do it again? – You bet!

Happy Writing


Stir Crazy Cats

   Two weeks into the New Year and, at last, I have found time to sit down and write my first blog of 2011.  Since my last blog I have read all the blogs that highlight how easy it is to lose followers, friends and fans due to, inter alia, intermittent blogging. The message is clear. Yes, I feel guilty and I know that I should have put together a fresh blog, but I truly just have not had the time. New Year came, I had a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable time catching up with family etc and I did no work or writing at all.

The plan was that when the world started up again, I would be fresh and ready to go. The first few days back at work were nice and gentle, all was well. What, I didn’t realise is that the carriage I had jumped on was being slowly pulled up to the top of a track under the cover on darkness. On Monday, the start of my first full week back, the chain was released and the journey downhill commenced and it wasn’t long before the carriage picked up speed. A week of meetings, lectures, timetabling, budgeting, two really late nights and a few problems to solve have all conspired to eat up the time.

Meantime, on the domestic front there have been other bits and pieces to do including laying a laminate floor on Sunday for one of our daughters at her house. A couple of other items, including a piece of work that I returned/rejected before Christmas that required my attention, squeezed through the letterbox during the week. As a result of the long hours and heavy workload, my need for sleep has increased, but sleep has become precious. I rise about 06.30, so early nights, every now and then, are worth their weight in gold but grabbing that sleep has proved difficult. The reason – snow, freezing temperatures and cats.  

On 30 November, I blogged about my 5th day of snow, little did I know that more than one month later we would still have snow on the ground. In fact, today is the first of us being able to see any grass on our back lawn. As a result of the snows and its associated prolonged cold period we have had to bring all the cats into the house. The cat runs and pens have sat under a pile of ice and frozen snow. Each room now has at least 2 cats in it, there are cat trays everywhere and keeping the rooms tidy is an absolute nightmare. At first, all the cats were delighted but they soon tired of it all. New toys, new foods, room rotations and new attention regimes have all been adopted to keep them occupied.  However, 6 weeks later the boys Mousa, Costa and Leo are singing their hearts out, each knowing that there are at least two other Tom cats in the house. The girls know that there are three entire boys in the house and they like to sing too. The neutered cats are completely bemused and join the chorus. Each night requires a ritual of cat management to ensure every cat is happy so bed time is always late and 6 hours undisturbed sleep is, but a memory.  The rain is coming, the snow is disappearing and there is a chance the cats will get out this weekend. With luck the caterwauling will stop, I’ll get a sleep and I can find some time to get back to my writing.

Purrrrrrs and Nudges


I suspect that the majority of postings at this time of the year reflect on the year gone past and give thoughts for the new year ahead. I did think about doing something different, but as I sit in our living room with the Christmas tree in the corner and plans for Hogmanay, the 1st and 2nd of January dominating our conversations I reverted to the expected.

Nemie Sabie


In terms of years it was a bit of a mixed bag, despite plans to the contrary, work dominated our lives, we need to pay the bills and this big old house likes to eat the money, which meant that plans for writing for pleasure were constantly under pressure. We unexpectedly lost one of the most stunning cats, Coco, we have ever had the pleasure to be owned by, which shook us up a bit and we lost another star Nemie Sabie to CRF.

The cats, as all who have read my blog before will know, form a major part of our lives, there are currently 10 of them, all living in the house just now because it’s far too cold outside. Lots of my tweets have  involved the cats, the majority of pictures have been about the cats and the blogs too. I think every cat has featured at some stage but just in case I’ve missed anyone I’ve listed them all here – Torsay, Costa, Mousa, Pixie, Bute, Munchkin, Misty, Leo, Fara and Teaser. Teaser is Bernie’s sister, the cat that formed the basis of Bernie Bolts Bergen.

One of my key goals for 2010 was to put Bernie Bolts Bergen out in the hope that someone would like it. I refrained from declaring in my profile that I was an author, even now I hesitate, I think that will continue until I manage to find an agent who likes my work. Feedback on the book has been good and I have to thank Molly Campbell (check her blog out http://mollydcampbell.com), (Molly, I do hope the books arrive soon) and @Danepoes  for their continued support.

Daantje and the book. Pic copyright Danepoes




The last part, i.e. support, is important. Through Twitter, I have met some wonderful people across the globe and find myself checking their tweets to hear what they have been up to, and looking forward to their comments, insights and general tweets. I see them as friends and look forward to tweeting with them through 2011.

As for 2011, I don’t like setting New Year resolutions so there aren’t any. However, there will be a new book and it does involve a cat, it’s for a slightly older reading group and is a little dark but we will see how it goes. I will do something more with Bernie Bolts Bergen but that is being kept under wraps for the time being. I will continue to tweet with my twitter pals and I hope they with me. Hopefully, new friendships will emerge and develop. Tomorrow is  Hogmanay so I wish everyone a most wonderful and prosperous 2011.

Speak soon.