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THE WRITING BOBBLE

posted 6 Dec 2017, 05:10 by Fran Brady   [ updated 6 Dec 2017, 05:37 ]

         

I was at a funeral a couple of years ago and the widow bravely did the eulogy. She kept it poignantly succinct, with just the right sprinkle of humour to remind us what a lovely, jolly man he was.


One thing she said has really stuck with me. His name was Robert, known always as Bob. Or, said she, as 'Bobble'. When we all looked a little puzzled, she explained: he was very clever and resourceful, able to turn his hand to any job that was thrown at him. Hence, whenever something was needing mended, cleaned, painted, thrown out, improved, fiddled with, climbed up to, or wriggled down to, the entire family wouldn't hesitate. "Bob'll do it,' they would say. Indeed he would - and did all his life. 

 

It occurred to me this week that I may be becoming the Writing Bobble in my own family. Everything from tricky government forms to tarted-up CVs; from bereavement consolation letters to beefed-up, stand-out Uni applications; from parodies for parties to scripts for pantos; from formal presentations to bedside stories. I comply as often as I can (i.e. always). It's sort of flattering, I suppose, if time-consuming. 

 

This week found me venturing into the world of the business blog. As we writers know so well, it is not enough just to have a cheery photo on our dust jackets (or paperback/e-book equivalent). 

We needs must: 1) create and maintain a public persona; 2) invite our readers to join an elite club of which this invented persona is the doyen/doyenne 3) invent a culture and language for this club; 4) - very important - develop a whole catalogue of in-jokes and references. This will create a seductive sense of exclusivity. 

 

So ... when my (19-year-old) entrepreneurial grandson's new admin assistant sent me her first attempt at a blog for his two-year-old, thriving, car-valeting business, I found myself explaining these four unalienable truths to her. Her first attempt at a title was something along the lines of 'Winter: get it on' or 'Get Ready for Winter.'

 

Useless, I callously told her (but kindly). Your title is very important. It needs to draw the customer in, hint at what it might be about, play on ambiguity without confusing them. I gave her two examples: 

1) My first novel - how naive was I? - was called "The Ball Game', because it centres around a formal ball at a university. Not only are there two other books called that (no, I didn't check!) but lots of people thought it would be about football. Ambiguity fail: Nul points, Fran.

2) My fourth novel is called "The Ghost of Erraid'. In fact, it is not really a ghost story, much more a suspense psychological thriller, based on a legend. However, it has drawn interest from readers of the paranormal genre as well as my usual demographic. It's fine: their money is just as good! Ambiguity success: dix-neuf points, Fran.

 

As her blog was to be about taking care of your car in winter (including regular valeting, obviously), I suggested she call it 'Are you Ready for Love?' or 'Baby, it's Cold Outside'; and then develop the idea of TLC for your car. She went for the latter title; so, I then suggested a graphic of a wee shivering or snow-laden car. When she took me up on this idea, I further recommended she give the car a name, make it the company mascot and feature it regularly in future blogs. It can have adventures and develop a character all of its own,

 

She's totally up for it! It is to be called 'Ophelia'. Why? Because I sent her a photo of the car I had in 2010, the year of the big freeze in Scotland, to give her the idea. It was a sporty little number, called 'Ophelia' (because her number plate was OPH). The photo I sent was labelled 'Ophelia under snow'. Join the dots.

 

 Another satisfied customer for Writing Bobble.

And I'm rather pleased that Ophelia will now live again. 


                                                        Here is her reincarnation. 


 

 And, of course, if you live in the central belt of Scotland and your unloved car is looking reproachfully at you: go to www.freshcarvaleting.com  I can recommend them!

 

 (This story has tenuous seasonal relevance: I gave Bobble’s widow a gift voucher for a freshcar valet for her Christmas last year. )


 

Musical Memory Lane

posted 3 Nov 2017, 13:13 by Fran Brady   [ updated 3 Nov 2017, 13:30 ]

This week I went up to Stonehaven, a wee town just south of Aberdeen. Wendy Jones - a keen AE member and blogger (as well as successful crime writer) does a monthly radio show on the local station, called BookBuzz. She invited me to be this month's guest author. 

I actually love radio as a medium and have been a listener since the 'tranny' days of my misspent youth. I even worked briefly for a local radio station and chaired an advisory panel for another. That was a great wheeze since it involved going to twice yearly to the IBA HQ in London for meetings. Their offices were directly opposite Harrods. My children were quite the envy of their friends as I shopped there for those little 'bring-you-back-a' presents, with which we parents assuage our guilt when we dare to have a life of our own and leave them - albeit perfectly well cared for - even for a short time.

I also love radio because it does not require full make-up. support underwear, tottering heels, or any other fine mode of torture as inflicted by TV. I can just be myself. Phew!

When Wendy got in touch to check I was still up for it, I happily replied a big YES. Then - here comes the memory lane bit - she asked me to choose six songs to be used on the show.
I immediately thought of one of my all-time favourite radio shows, Desert Island Discs, and decided to try and think of a song/piece of music from each of the last six decades (yes, I am that old - my secret is out).

                                                                                                       Down Memory Lane I went
                                                                                                                . . . and came up with:

The Sixties: uni residence late night sessions round the record player and rushing out to get the latest Beatles single as soon as it was released. In the end, I went for A Groovy Kind of Love which took me back to a Residence Ball when I fell in love with my first husband, the father of my three daughters. Despite what happened later in that relationship, that remains a magical night in my memory.

The Seventies: the Love Song from Romeo and Juliette , a sumptuous piece of music which I discovered when watching my four-year-old daughter prance about the stage in a tutu, and alternating between swelling pride and suffocating giggles. Is there anything funnier or more endearing then watching a troupe of tinies, dressed up like dolls, staggering through their fiercely rehearsed routine, small faces frowning and tongues protruding in concentration?

The Eighties: Caravan by fellow Scot, Barbara Dickson. The final words 'I may be on my own but I'll be free' seemed to be sung directly at me as I struggled to believe I could break out of an unhappy marriage and carve out a happier life for my daughters and me. The good news is: I did!

The Nineties: Under the influence of a new partner (now my second husband), I discovered Elton John. (I know: where had I been for the past 20 years?) I fell totally in love with his Candle in the Wind and, when he adapted it to mourn the death of Princess Diana in 1997, my cup of sentimentality ran over. Very satisfying.

The Noughties: Sticking with Eltie, I had Your Song as an earworm for at least two years around 2004/5. I gather it had been a hit, decades before, in the US but only made it big here then. We moved out of the city (Edinburgh) to our present village in 2002 and I suddenly had an hour or so commute to and from work. I remember belting it out, with full facial expressions and body language,  as I crawled through the early morning scrum and tea-time traffic. It always raised my spirits and provided hours of fun for my fellow traffic-jammers, watching me.


The Teenies (is that what this decade is called? I don't think I've heard a name for it): The overnight success of Susan Boyle (who can forget Simon Cowell's face when she started to sing 'I have a Dream' in Britain's Got Talent?) was of particular interest to me as she comes from a small town in West Lothian, near my village. The contrast of her insecure personality and brash talking voice with her perfect musical interpretation and stunning singing voice is one of the wonders of this century. I continue to worry about her personal survival in 21st century media and showbiz. Sometimes when I see her on TV, I find myself praying under my breath for her. She always seems so vulnerable and brave. So my final song is SuBo singing 'How Great You Art'.

What would your memory lane songs be and why? It could be this year's Christmas game.

A Tiger by the Tail

posted 1 Oct 2017, 12:13 by Fran Brady   [ updated 1 Oct 2017, 12:17 ]

I've been thinking a lot about Time lately. It's funny stuff. It can unroll before us invitingly, like a red carpet to a rosy future;
it can stretch out uninvitingly like dreary road through a dull landscape. It can whizz by much too fast when we are spending it doing what we like best with the people we love best; it can crawl and drag when we are spending it doing what we like least with the people we love least. It can be purposeful, planned, productive; it can be jumbled into purposeless fragments of pointless activity. One thing is for sure: it marches on and on and on until it stops = at least for each one of us one day.


How do you view time? In the abstract, it is always exactly the same, measured out in relentless segments which get added together into bigger segments. Its beat is steady, unchanging, unchangeable. Have you ever wanted to plead with it to slow down or hurry up? You're racing for an important train, you're running as fast as you can: please, please go slow, you beg. You're holding your breath for a whole minute (for a challenge), your lungs are bursting: please, please go fast, you beg. 

Neither plea makes any difference to the indifference of Time.


I see it as a long train that runs on a parallel track beside our lives. No deviation in direction, no change in speed. Our lives are full of deviation, fits and starts, slows and fasts. We imagine the time train sometimes rattles along, sometimes slows down; it does not. We beg it to alter in response to our needs; it does not. You know that lovely, rhythmic rattle that a train makes, the one that makes you fall asleep on a long journey? Listen carefully and you will hear what it says: I don't change, work it out; I won't change; work it out; I don't . . . 


Work it out. There it is: a clue, a key, a tool. Time is a tiger that we have to take by the tail. You know that old excuse/reason that people give for committing to doing something? I'd love to help but I just don't have the time. 

Well, the truth is we all have exactly the same amount of time every day. Twenty-four hours. What we choose to do with it - aye, there's the rub.


But I have to do this and that . . . and lots and lots more of this and that . . . I hear you. Loud and clear. You are talking to the woman whose diary looks like a dog's dinner and has lists of tasks planned weeks in advance. I won't bore you with the commitments, meetings, activities, responsibilities and deadlines. I have already bored myself just typing that sentence. Sure, we all have things we HAVE to do, both for ourselves and for others. But, if we are painfully honest - go on, you can do it - we probably have a lot more control over where our time goes than we care to admit.

'Procrastination is the thief of time' runs the old saw. But let's not make poor old procrastination bear all the brunt. Give him some chums.


I'm going to contribute two: not being able to say 'no' when I really should (and desperately don't want to do it); and competitive hospitality (All my desserts are always home made from the freshest ingredients - who cares? Let me introduce to M & S)


Come on. Be honest. Bring out your dead. Rattle those skeletons. What will your contribution be to the dramatis personae of that well-known play, 'The Thief of Time"?


I promised myself that I would do a detailed time-analysis, the last three moths of 2017. So I have started and may even finish. Next month, I will share the secrets of my time spreadsheet and maybe even some early indicators. The goal is to have the time-tiger by the tail when the clock strikes twelve on 31st December. Next year WILL be different. You heard it here first.


Like the title of one of my novels, the stroke of midnight on Hogmanay (as we call it here in Scotland) will be . . . a good time for miracles.



He's Called Lucky

posted 5 Aug 2017, 07:06 by Fran Brady   [ updated 5 Aug 2017, 07:08 ]


This week my heart has been heavy. A week ago, I lost my best friend. Fourteen years of love, loyalty and laughter.


We called him Tucker for two reasons:


1) We had moved to our rural retreat after 12 years in the city centre (Edinburgh) only six months before we got him. As we got to know our fellow villagers, many asked which house we had moved into. When we described it, they said, 'Ah! Tuckers' Place.' 


It had been built about a hundred years ago by a family called Tucker.

Then we went to the local DogsTrust to see if they had a dog for us. They had a great many dogs, all barking , scrabbling at their cages and pleading 'Take me!' In one big cage there were five noisy, in-our-faces dogs and one quiet, sad black dog sitting at the back. Total soft touches that we are, we immediately said 'We would like to see that one.' The kennel staff were pleased. 'He's been here for three months and no one has ever asked to see him yet.' Of course, that clinched it.


'He's called Lucky,' they said. We almost laughed. In his first eleven months of life, he had been anything but. As a puppy, he had belonged to a family with young children but they tired of the work that a puppy creates and threw him out. He wandered on to a busy road and was hit by a passing car, dislocating one hip. He was picked up by police and taken to the Dogs Trust who dealt with his injury and nursed him back to health, Now he was, as their motto goes: Happy, Healthy, Snipped and Chipped. At that point, however, he didn't know he was supposed to be happy and looked the picture of misery and fear. We didn't want to go on calling him Lucky but didn't want to add to his anxiety and disorientation with a completely different name. Then we thought of Tucker, which sounds pretty much like Lucky and would match the old name of the place where he would spend the next (happy) fourteen years.


The first week with him tested our resolve and compassion, not to mention our ability to go without sleep. He was so frightened and insecure that he howled most of the night. if he had been a wee dog, I would have taken him onto our bed and hugged him, But he was a 'collie-cross', not huge but certainly too big to share a bed with us. We took shifts at sitting on the floor beside his basket, stroking him, singing to him, petting him. When he fell asleep, we would tiptoe back to bed. Within five minutes, he was off again, clawing at our original wood doors (the scratches are still there - the 'distressed look'?) That was a very long week.

But quite suddenly, it was over. We woke up one morning to find it was not the middle of the night and that the house was quiet. Like an anxious new mother, when her baby first sleeps through the night, I leapt out of bed, convinced he had howled himself to death. There he was at the foot of the stairs in his bed, looking sleepily up at me as I tumbled down, crying, 'He's all right! He's fine! He's slept right through! Praise the Lord!'


After that, he very quickly settled and became our loving and lovable pet. Suddenly, I was looking back and realising he was now totally one of the family, reliable and perfectly integrated, loved by everyone who knew us.

                                                                    

For fourteen springs, he came with us to our holiday home on the Hebridean island of Iona. 


We never cured him of trying to chase and round up the sheep and many were the escapades, some terrifying, some sidesplittingly funny - at least in retrospect. 


All our many house guests there fell under his spell. He just wouldn't take no for an answer when he wanted to be your friend, waiting quietly and doggedly (pardon the pun), with supreme patience, at the side of anyone who ignored him. People who would have said they didn't really like dogs soon gave in and joined the Tucker fan club.


He had the ability to look at me and convey complete trust. I had told him when he first came to us that 'nothing bad is going to happen to you again'. A rash promise and not mine to keep, of course. Inevitably, he had ups and owns and a couple of nasty health scares. One involved him having to wear the dreaded cone of shame for a fortnight. Like all dogs, he hated it and would gaze mournfully at me. I read his mind: Why are you letting them do this to me? Why don't you stop this? But his lovely, patient face also said: I don't understand but I trust you. I hate it but I know you must have a good. reason.



I did a very successful children's talk at church about it - along the lines of: we don't always understand why we are having a bad time and we want to tell God to get a move on and change things for us; but we don't have the full picture; it may be for our own good.' It went down well with the kids, especially one wee lad, who asked me all about Tucker. The next time I did a talk, it was on 'the 'sheep and the goats'. At the end, I asked the children to vote for whether they wanted to be a sheep or a goat. They all voted to be sheep - except aforementioned small boy who declared very loudly: 'I want to be a dog!' Cue a congregation in fits of laughter. Ah, well, you can't win them all.


I could ramble on with story after story, memory after memory. But now the memory box is full and the stories are over. 


Goodbye, my lovely boy. Love my Tuck. Always.




The Foggy, Boggy Land of Funk

posted 29 Jun 2017, 12:10 by Fran Brady

When actors are not acting, they are 'resting'. In fact, they are probably working harder than ever, earning a crust in some low-paid job whilst trying to chase after as many acting opps as possible. And the longer they are 'resting', the harder it becomes for them to believe in themselves as actors. There probably comes upon them a growing, insidious fear that they will not actually be able to do it again - to get out there and produce the goods.  


So it is for us writers, especially novelists. We have, perforce, to spend time and energy on the editing/re-writing/publishing stage; then even more time/energy on the publicity/marketing stage. It can take months and months, even years. All our creative juices are being used up in blogging, facebooking, twittering, etc to bolster our 'internet platform; our time is used up travelling to events and likely outlet places; if our marketing efforts bear fruit, still more time goes on signings and talking to book groups/festivals/ etc. It sure bears no relation to 'resting' but neither does it permit us time or headroom to do what we do best: write original, creative material. 


Like those out-of-work actors, we can begin to lose sight of ourselves as authors and we can enter into the Land of Self-Doubt where there is forever a drought of confidence and a famine of motivation. I remember hearing a really well-known, prolific author talking at a book-festival writers' seminar and describing this very thing. He really thought that he was looking forward to getting down to his next novel; he had ideas, the genesis of a plot and characters were coming to life in his head. But, when the day came that he had allotted to get started, he found himself latching onto other tasks that he told himself were a priority. He made us laugh as he described some of these 'important', diversionary activities: oiling the mower blades (very slowly); cleaning the windows of the garage (who ever does that); colour coding the paper clips in his desk drawer; grooming the cat with a fine tooth comb ; and so. . . . 


In other words, he was gripped with a bad case of what the boarding-school novels I binged on as a child called 'funk'. I'm happy to report - as, indeed, was he - that he did eventually overcome his funk and tentatively begin to write. Like a trooper, he stuck to it until gradually the old facility emerged and the absorption of creating a new world of characters and events sucked him in. He told us of bursting out of his study on Day Four, shouting: "I CAN still do it! I CAN!' 


He made it an amusing story for purposes of the bookfest audience, but it was easy to see what a real and pretty frightening experience it had been for him. I am thinking of him now as I reach the midpoint in my self-imposed year of not writing a novel. It's the first time in ten years that I have not been in the midst of writing one but I decided at the beginning of this year, that I needed to expend more energy and time on marketing the four novels I have written so far. It has felt like a severe deprivation. I am still engaged in several writing-related activities - editing a quarterly magazine, running a writing group, writing a monthly column for another magazine, collating a reminiscences project, writing stories for my little god-daughter, etc - not to mention the aforesaid treading of the internet boards. All of these keep my writing muscles exercised but they do not give me the deep, sensual, absorbing, exciting pleasure that writing a novel does.  And I miss it like mad. I'm longing to get back to it. Roll on, January 1st, 2018!  


But what if I can't do it any more? What if, like that funny, honest bookfest writer, I descend into the foggy, boggy land of FUNK? I can only hope that I too will have a Day-Four Epiphany and escape from its clutches with my own glad cry of: "I CAN still do it!'


THE POWER OF GINGER

posted 17 Jun 2017, 09:22 by Fran Brady

It is really interesting what people respond most to on FaceBook. I put a post up a week ago. Instant multi-response, lots of likes and comments. The other stuff that always gets an instant big response is pics of babies and dogs and news about deaths or illness, especially one's own (illness, that is, not death!) 

Is there a clue here for writers as to what people are most interested in? My latest novel, The Ghost of Erraid, has  all of those, plus a whole lot more, but . . . NO GINGER.  That's worrying.


THE POST THAT GINGERED UP MY FACEBOOK FRIENDS

Memo to self: doing a Sainsbury online order whilst being constantly interrupted by a holiday-houseful is not a good idea (seven of us on Iona last fortnight). Not only did I order it for the wrong day (Friday instead of Sunday - I was still on Iona on Friday and my neighbour had to let the Sainsbug man in to dump it all in my kitchen) but I ordered: 3 kilos of root ginger instead of 3 pieces; 2 enormous tubs of butter instead of 1 med size; 2 large cartons if yoghurt instead of one; twice as much cheese as I need . . . You get the picture? And arriving home to all that waiting to be sorted out and stashed away was a royal pain! Plus we had the painters in while away so furniture etc in house all displaced as well. Finally collapsed in bed, only partly unpacked, and slept for eleven hours. 



There but for the grace of God . . .

posted 17 Apr 2017, 15:03 by Fran Brady

It was sunny but chilly: Easter Saturday in Scotland. A well-happit crowd had gathered in Princes Street Gardens: stoical Presbyterians and Methodists; excited Charismatics and Baptists; buggy-pushing families; escaping toddlers; larking teenagers; bewildered tourists; and blasé Edinburgh residents (very hard to impress people who live in a city of some eleven annual festivals).


There was music playing, unidentifiable but doing its job of raising the expectancy temperature. Something was about to happen. Slowly, dressed-up people filtered through the crowd towards a green sward which had market tables heaped with produce, pottery and rolls of cloth. The characters looked like they had stepped out of first century Palestine. Which they had - although, they could probably still stroll some of the streets there today and not look out of place. The headgear, particularly, seems to have changed little. 


Soon the dialogue began with references to The Teacher, The Rabbi, The Healer, the man who was making the headlines and, incidentally, making himself royally unpopular with the Jewish establishment of the day. The Edinburgh Easter Play – now in its tenth year – was underway, a medieval-mystery-play format, performed in the open air with an ambulant audience following the cast as it moves from location to location, scene by scene. 


The script was a triumph: it managed at once to make huge assumptions about the biblical literacy of its audience, with allusions and quotations from the New Testament interwoven with prophecies from the Old; and to be entertaining for even the least biblically literate watchers, developing the characters of Jesus’ followers to create sparky encounters and humourous interactions, enhanced by some pawky Scots accents.  


As the well-known story progressed from its cheery, optimistic beginning to its devastating crux and astonishing denouement, the mood of the crowd altered. Everyone knew what was coming but the playwright kept the dramatic tension by exploring the motives and manoeuvres of the men who wrought Jesus’ downfall. All too easy to depict them as self-seeking autocrats resenting a rival leader, or as mere puppets of the forces of darkness. What emerged was a group of leaders whose power had been reduced to a very thin blue line indeed, a tightrope stretched between the exigencies of their own ancient laws and the short fuse of the occupying Roman army, which allowed them to practice their religion thus far and no farther. Basically, they were damned if they did, and damned if they didn’t. Every nation that has ever lived through a brutal occupation (and we are one of the few in Europe who did not during the Second World War) can identify with their dilemma. Christian tradition depicts those Pharisees as self-serving, power-hoarding collaborators. There but for the grace of God . . ? 


An old, old story that prods our twenty-first century awareness. Christians are fond of asking: WWJD (What Would Jesus DO?) But another question arises for us all, Christians or not: WWWDP? (What Would We have Done if we’d been the Pharisees?)


The Power of a Typo

posted 31 Dec 2016, 07:20 by Fran Brady   [ updated 1 Jan 2017, 15:23 ]

As I write this on the 31st December, there is less than half a day left of 2016; as I type that, I mistakenly type 2106; and as I correct it, I think of the year 2106, ninety years from now.


Hogmanay - as we Scots call it - is very much a time for looking back. Nostalgia is king. I could spend this blog relating lots of Hogmanay tales. Indeed, that's what I had in mind as I made myself a cup of coffee and settled down to my laptop: childhood reminiscences of 'first-footing'; parties that lasted all night; party pieces of songs, skits, poems, joke routines, piano and accordion 'turns', the same every year; specific Hogmanays when everything went very wrong, or even very right; maudlin memories of dear departed relations and friends . . .  You get the picture - and aren't you glad I have changed my mind about this blog?


If you are NOT glad and would actually like to hear about those long ago 'real' Scottish Hogmanays, try reading my first novel which is based on those childhood experiences, characters and memories? It has its denouement on Hogmanay 1955.  It follows the fortunes of three families in a post-war mining village and depicts a time of great change: for families, losing grown-up sons and daughters to the lure of emigration; for the men, as the miners' union becomes more strident; and for women, as they move - indeed stride - towards greater emancipation.


Sounds serious? Actually, it is full of humour and humorous characters and situations. Readers tell me that some parts are laugh-out-loud funny.   a-good-time-for-miracle


No, I am minded to look ahead today. 2016 has little to commend it, whereas 2106 is a blank page as yet to be written upon. What's more, unless we write fantasy or futuristic stuff, it CAN'T be written upon - not with any confidence. Who knows what will be worth writing about? Ninety years ago, who could have predicted: the speed and spread of the technological revolution; the rise of environmental fears and efforts to alleviate the damage; the food revolution reflecting the 'global village'; the gulf that has opened up between radical Islam and the rest of the world, with all its horrendous consequences; and so on and so on? Even in our wee world of writery things, comparing the novels of ninety years ago with current ones almost beggars belief. Can you imagine 'Trainspotting' even being allowed into print, let alone distribution and literary acclaim, ninety years ago?


So, looking ahead in predictive spirit is best relegated to the status of a party game. What I am minded to do, as the year gutters to a close, is imagine a world WITHOUT some of its current aspects. The end of: bigotry and intolerance between world faiths; sectarianism within those faiths; 

ignorance about and indifference towards the damage we are doing to our beautiful planet; global greed and national incompetence which mean half the world is below the poverty line, some so far below as to be out of sight, whilst the other half is weltering in surplus and consumerism - indeed, one half dying of starvation/one half worrying about obesity; corrupt governments, leaders and politicians (what the Bible calls 'wickedness in high places'); and so on and so on.


We all have our own pet hates and fears. Let's determine to do, at least, something positive about one of them in 2017. None of us will be alive in 2106. But that's no excuse not to care what the world will be like then. 'Apres moi, la deluge' is not really how we want to be remembered, is it?


Sorry if this reads like a mini-sermon. It's not like me to preach - honestly! But that typo 2106 sure gave me pause for thought.


Seasonal surprises

posted 15 Dec 2016, 11:38 by Fran Brady   [ updated 16 Dec 2016, 11:58 ]

It was time this week for our last Linlithgow writing group of 2106. As usual, I met the Stirling train and three members duly squeezed into my wee Fiat Panda and headed for our usual meeting place, a room on the High Street belonging to one of the town's churches.
But, seasonally, there was no room when we arrived at it. ‘Our’ room was full of workmen and great doings were afoot. The St John’s administrator, Ruth, had forgotten to let me know but ( in the seasonal spirit) I forgave Ruth when she sent an apologetic email later in the day.
We repaired to the 'Burgh Halls Café', leaving a message for another member, who was coming later, and took over a corner among several breastfeeding babies and mummies. The seasonal theme continued . . .
The group has been going since April 2015 and has just produced its first anthology. Because we meet in the beautiful old town of Linlithgow, birth place of Mary Queen of Scots, we decided to call the anthology 'Light on the Loch'. This led to a decision to name our group 'The Loch Lights'.



Magical Settings and Memory Lanes

posted 3 Sep 2016, 15:00 by Fran Brady   [ updated 3 Sep 2016, 15:17 ]


I have always been drawn to books in which the setting is one of the principle characters. It may be the landscape like the wild Cornwall of Du Maurier's Rebecca; or a building like the echoing corridors of Thornfield in Bronte's Jane Eyre; or even a claustrophobically small space, as in Emma Donoghue's chilling Room.

My second novel, The Ball Game, published in 2009, was completely inspired by its setting. I had no characters or plot or even the embryo of a storyline in my head when I decided to write it. I was a student at St Andrews University in the (for me, slightly) swinging sixties. Those were four wonderful, unforgettable years, so utterly and completely different from the life that followed them that, if I thought about them at all, it was always with a sense of unreality. Did that really happen to me? They were like a book I had read or a film I had seen only ever once, adored but never returned to.

Until, in the summer of 2006, I found myself spending a week in St Andrews at a Christian festival. Bucking the trends of summer festivals in Britain, there was a total absence of rain and mud. The tented village basked in unrelenting sunshine and there was not a welly boot in sight. My extended family had hired a three-storey house on Market Street, one of the main thoroughfares of the ancient town. I rose early and walked my dog along the beach and around the town before the heat of the day made such exercise too much for us both.

St Andrews is, of course, a beautiful and famous old town, its centre full of antique, A-listed buildings, from which the rapacious hand of modernity has largely been stayed. For sure, the insides will have changed: there will be fitted kitchens, ensuite facilities, widescreen TVs, remote-controlled heating systems; the students' roll-top bureaux I remember will have been replaced by desks sporting computers. But externally, the dear old place still looks the same. On those early morning walks, I could close my eyes and see my friends and me, in our red gowns hurrying to lectures. I could hear the voices, smell the smells and taste the tastes of that bygone age. I was filled, not just with nostalgia, a rather depressing emotion, but with a longing, nay, a determination, to take myself back and relive it.

Of course, the received wisdom is that one cannot/should never go back: it will only be a disappointment and spoil the memory. But authors can thumb their noses at that dictum. They can go back on their own terms, recreating the best of it, plundering the memory banks for characters, dialogues, episodes and descriptions, taking control of the backward journey. Over the next year, I wallowed in my memories, slipping back to St A's several times to drink at the fountain of my inspiration: the town, the university, the beaches, the streets and wynds, the unchanged old cinema, the countryside around . . . I had only to sit down with my laptop and picture it for the characters to spring to life and begin to interact, creating the story. Of all of my four novels, it is truly the one in which I was as enthralled as I hoped my readers would be, having no idea what was going to happen from one writing session to the next. No character studies and back stories; no plot arc; no chapter plans; no research 'folder' in my computer.

It should have been a recipe for disaster but somehow it all came together and a novel emerged which seems to have been enjoyed by readers and is praised as having ‘many likable (and a few unlikable!) characters with plot twists and turns which will leave you hooked’ and even being 'well-crafted'. If only these Amazon reviewers knew! The power of the setting can clearly not be underestimated.

My fourth novel (at the first-draft-rewrite stage) finds me back in setting-inspired mode. It was inevitable that my love of the Hebrides, fostered over twenty years of holidays in the family house on the Isle of Iona, would one day work the 'setting magic'. I shall be taking a trip to the Mull Museum in Tobermory in a month's time to meet up again with the archivist there and get her appraisal of the period and place authenticity of the draft (it's a ghost story set on Mull in the 1920's).
Stunning scenery, golden eagles, seals and dolphins, air so clear it fizzes like champagne, Highland hospitality and no doubt a wee dram of Scotland's most famous export. This is me with my dog on the Isle of Mull . . . working hard at my research . . . honestly! As they say, it's a dirty job but someone has to do it.

 

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