In Praise of Christmas Round Robins

posted 12 Dec 2019, 04:55 by Fran Brady

I know lots of people scorn them - and, in these days of social media, they are probably less necessary - but I've been doing one to mail out with my cards for about 30 years now. If nothing else, I will have plenty material for when the world starts begging me to write my memoirs. 

But the best reason for continuing is that, after about 20 years of mutual letters, an old friend/colleague and I decided to meet up in 2013. We sat in Sainsbugs café in Stirling for three hours and, by the end, it was as if we'd never been apart. She is now a close friend, we have had Hebridean holidays together, and she is a mainstay member of the writing group I started in 2015. If it hadn't been for our Round Robins, we would have not only lost touch, but the will to or interest in renewing our friendship. 

So here's this year's offering:

Dear friends

Time for the annual catch-up. As you can see from the photograph, we have had a happy event this year! Last Christmas Eve, we went tentatively to look at a litter of golden cocker spaniels - and fell immediately in love with this little beauty. We brought her home on 4thJanuary, and life has never been the same since. As you see, she is beautiful and very appealing. ‘Good enough to eat,’ said one of the many callers in the first month who came to see our new baby. But: the breeder ‘sold us a pup’ (sorry!) by telling us she was the quiet one of the litter: ‘Just wants cuddles.’ The other two remaining puppies (both male) were creating havoc and tearing around like dervishes. ‘We’ll have her,’ we said. ‘At our time of life, we really should go for a wee quiet doggie.’


Eleven months on, we look back at our gullibility with pitying disbelief. Keltie (called after her birthplace, Kelty, in Fife) is no ‘wee quiet doggie’. She has boundless energy and a very determined personality. She can be treat-coaxed into doing what we want/need her to do but she cannot be commanded. She has developed a fine line in standing docilely still, looking demure, as we approach with harness/lead/treat-bribe, letting us think we have made it, then jerking away at the very last minute and bounding off. She has now grown very strong, with powerpack shoulders, and has pulled me off my feet several times. 


Get her trained, I hear you cry. We did. Eight weeks of it and she was the star pupil, doing everything perfectly at the class, then reverting once home to being ‘the worst puppy in the world’. Remember the film Marley and Me where Owen Wilson says to Marley, after a particularly awful bit of doggy bad behaviour, ‘You’ve always been up there in the top ten, but now it’s official - you are the worst dog in the world’). Keltie must be a direct descendant of Marley.


However, when she’s not driving us crazy, she is adorable, and we have laughed a lot more since she came into our lives. The positives are: lots of walking in all weathers - good for fitness; lots of chewed up cardboard and half-chewed cuddly toys/balls/squeaky bones littering the floor - good for any OCD house-proud tendencies; and lots of laughs, sometimes verging on hysteria - good exercise for our sense of humour.


Since I have spent so long wittering on about Keltie, you are probably thinking, ‘Sad people. Nothing else happening in their lives.’ Not so. We have fitted in:

·       two carpal tunnel operations in February and April (me)

·       an eighth grandchild born in March (gorgeous baby girl called Eloise) 

·       a trip to Lincolnshire in April for the funeral of my cousin, Jennifer. She was a brilliant character, one of my favourite people.   I so admired her wit, kindness, and courage

·       a fortnight in June on the Isle of Iona with friends, family, three dogs, and a corncrake family in the garden

·       conversion of our sad, semi-derelict garage into an ‘outdoor living space’ which started off as a new shed and grew and grew … 

·       hamming it up in am-dram in the village holiday club in August (me)

·       entertaining Californian relations in August, doing the Edinburgh Fringe, and finding/visiting our mutual great-grandmother’s grave in Dundee

·       getting back to my fifth novel in September after a break for the hand ops and adapting to life with canis horribilis - aiming to finish it by end Feb (this one is time-travel)

·       retirement from the NHS in September (John)

·       a number of speaking and selling/signing-books engagements with local groups and fairs (me)

·       the usual round of family stuff with our four children, eight grandchildren (aged 9 months to 23 years) and my nine-year-old goddaughter. They are all well at time of writing and doing great, and very different, things. It’s such an interesting time to watch them as the older six progress into adulthood and shape up for their futures. And the two little ones delight us, of course, whenever we see them. 


One big sadness for me was losing my oldest and dearest friend, Anne, in January. We had a ghastly day dashing through bitter, sleety weather to drop off Keltie (plus puppy-pee pads) with daughter, Hilary, for the day; racing to Perth and getting stopped for speeding on the way; just getting into the church at the last minute in time for me to do the reading I had agreed to. I was nursing an extremely painful arm, just prior to the first hand-operation, and had been up most of the night. Sometimes, it seems as if the random happenings on a hateful day just reflect its utter awfulness and all we can do is just let them roll over us and wait for the clouds to part again. She had dementia at the end, so I had had the slow torture of watching her lose her memories and her personality and of acknowledging my own gradual loss of a dear friend. We shared so many life events, both major and minor, happy and miserable, over fifty years. I laughed and cried more with her than anyone else in my life. Irreplaceable and never forgotten.  


But let’s not finish on a sad note. It’s Christmas again and life is for living - and, no doubt for eating, drinking and being merry, until it’s time to hit the (dry) January diet again. I wish you all with a Happy Christmas and a joyful New Year, whatever it (and elections, referenda, and Brexit) throw at us! 

God Bless. xxx

             conversion of our sad, semi-derelict garage into an ‘outdoor living space’ which started off as a new shed and grew and grew 

The Joy of Forgiveness

posted 5 Feb 2019, 09:00 by Fran Brady

This is my beautiful new puppy, Keltie. She is a golden cocker spaniel, quite adorable and, like all new babies, incredibly labour intensive. Writing has taken a back seat since her arrival on the 4thJanuary.


She is so filling the sad void left by the death of my lovely Tucker, eighteen months ago. But she 

 has also taught me a wonderful lesson: the JOY of forgiveness. 

Now, I believe in forgiveness - giving and getting. I know it is important for our mental and spiritual health; but I have always thought of it as my Christian duty, obligated as I am by Christ’s incomparable example. I try to forgive the trespasses of others because my own failures and sins have been wonderfully forgiven through Christ’s work of salvation. It is a logical quid pro quo, an admirable code of practice for life. But I have to admit that, more often than not, I find it a struggle, even a grind, a daily work-in-progress.


But wee Keltie has a very different take on the art of forgiveness. 

Puppy-like, she follows me everywhere, sticking to me like clue and constantly getting under my feet - literally. At least three times a day I tramp on her paw or her tail, and she emits a bloodcurdling squeal which fills me with horrified contrition. ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry, wee one,’ I exclaim. Does she growl, sulk, walk away, snap or bark angrily? No, she instantly forgives me. But, so much more than that: she goes into a paroxysm of wriggling, licking, tail-wagging joy, bestowing her instant and complete forgiveness upon me, and positively delighting to do so. 


She has taught me that forgiveness can be more that a duty or a quid-pro-quo obligation. It can be an act of joyful love. I may still have bitter feelings towards someone who has wronged or hurt me, but I can take delight in forgiving them. Virtue - or forgiveness - truly can be its own reward: actual JOY!

Holy Ground

posted 17 Jul 2018, 14:09 by Fran Brady

It was never good looking down

And right there where we stood was holy ground

Taylor Swift



The Dubliners - the sixties Irish folk band, not the James Joyce novel - used to sing a song called ‘The Holy Ground’. I first heard it when an Irish University rugby team came over to play in Scotland, to St Andrews where I was a student. My room-mate in Chattan residence was going through her Irish phase (and it lasted long enough for her to do a post-grad at Trinity College Dublin, meet an Irishman called Eamonn, and later marry him) and I found myself dragged along to a noisy, smoky pub, in hopes of meeting some real Irishmen.


In the early years of that decade, Irish nationalism was popular, especially in Roman Catholic circles. Bands like The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners sang songs like ‘The Patriot Game (Come all ye young rebels and list while I sing … Six counties are under John Bull’s tyranny) and Kevin Barry (who gave his young life in the cause of liberty). We -  my nineteen-year-old pal and I - did not then realise where it was all going. ‘The Cause’ (‘freeing’ those six counties to become part of an independent Ireland) was romantic and its rebel music stirring. 


With our eyes full of tears - and who knew whether they came from breathing in the fervour or the cigarette smoke - we belted out those patriotic songs, extolling the sacrifice of past martyrs to the cause and calling for the next generation of freedom fighters to come forth. 

Even the fairly innocuous ‘Holy Ground’, with its thrilling call of ‘Fine Girl Ye Are’ at the end of each chorus, spoke of the traveller’s longing to be back in Ireland - preferably in the Dublin pub which was called The Holy Ground


Mother Ireland exerts the clarion call that only countries which have known mass and forced emigration can. In Scotland, we know that call well, since The Highland Clearances forcibly scattered Scots all over the New World. ‘How Green was my Valley’ documented the Welsh experience, and in Ireland, thousands were driven to escape from the starvation of the potato famine in the mid nineteenth century. The twentieth century saw the biggest displacement of people ever, during and after the Nazis’ reign of terror. 


‘The old country’, as my cousin who has lived in Canada for sixty of her seventy-five years calls it, takes on a precious significance that those of us who have lived all our lives here cannot imagine. We do not need to, because we see and live with its reality. For the exile, even a third generation one, the old country is like the fallen soldier in Laurence Binyon’s famous poem: age shall not weary nor the years condemn. The image is frozen in time, air-brushed, innocent and perfect, becoming more so with each succeeding generation, as the stories and songs are handed down and the legends thrive and multiply.  


A way of life that was actually brutal - impoverished and virtually enslaved, with infant mortality, starvation, disease and early death all too common - has been idealised. It is the ‘Granny’s Heilan’ Hame’ syndrome: the painting of the tiny whitewashed, red-roofed cottage, nestling in the lee of a heather-clad mountain, masks the reality of a hard, precarious, primitive life. It has become Holy Ground.


The expression, ‘Holy Ground’, probably comes from the translation of Exodus, chapter three, when God says to Moses: ‘Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ The presence of God - the ultimate Holy One - has conferred the state (and status) of holiness upon the very soil or turf of that place. 


We use the expression freely now in worship:


In him, no sin is found

We stand on holy ground

(from Be still for the presence of the Lord)



There is holy ground to walk upon 
There is peace that you can know 
Faith in God can fill your heart 
And fear and doubt may go 
There is holy ground to walk upon 
Leave behind your heavy shoes 
Come and stand in the shadow of His hands 
For He is calling you.

Ian White (from his album entitled ‘Holy Ground’)


In both these instances, Holy Ground is portrayed as a place of peace and protection, although the Exodus quotation conveys something different: more a sense of awe, dread even, of man being unworthy to stand or walk upon it, only permitted unshod. Football fans sometimes talk of the pitch that their team plays upon as ‘holy ground’, which is closer to the Old Testament sense. Indeed, these fans will sometimes take off their shoes before venturing onto the hallowed turf. They are probably ignorant of Exodus, but the instinct to creep unshod upon Holy Ground seems to be buried deep in the human psyche.


The exile’s old country; the traveller’s touchstone; the nationalist’s totem; the Old Testament’s place of awe; the Christian’s haven of peace; or maybe just a Dublin pub. It is a phrase rich in many meanings. What does it mean to you? 

Those Parallel Tracks

posted 2 Jul 2018, 14:56 by Fran Brady   [ updated 3 Jul 2018, 13:40 ]

 Life’s parallel tracks fascinate me. Or, at least, human beings’ ability to navigate them. They are a reflection of that dual personality propensity that lies within us all. 

My favourite classic writer - and fellow Scot - Robert Louis Stevenson, was also fascinated: his famous novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is only the ultimate expression of it. It can be traced in lots of his other novels too. I had a very real life-experience of this last month.


Picture this: I am getting ready for my annual fortnight in The Hebrides and I trawl round the bookshops in the area (by email) and ask if they want any more copies of my Hebridean novel, The Ghost of Erraid, for the tourist season, which is everyone’s bread and butter there. I get several re-orders, gratifyingly. AndI get an invitation from one shop to be their featured author at one of their ‘Book Chat” events. Brilliant! 


Now picture this: when my mother died suddenly at the age of fifty, I was twenty-four and had just given birth the previous week to my first baby. My only other sibling, my sister, had a two-year-old and was just pregnant with her second baby. My father was utterly devastated, incoherent with shock and grief. My sister and I somehow got him and ourselves through the funeral, but the subsequent weeks and months were dreadful as we tried to be a support to our father, deal with the aftermath of our mother’s death, and cope with our own babies and pregnancies. (I was pregnant with my second within four months). We were a family in crisis and we needed help.


It came in the shape of a lovely lady called Diné (short for Adeline). She gave my father a future when he had thought he had none; she gave my sister and I respite from feeling responsible for our father and the chance to begin to deal with our own shock and grief. Perhaps, best of all, she gave our children a grandmother. I used to tease her that she did it right, skipping the hard work of being a parent and going straight to the best bit of becoming a grandparent. But, in all seriousness, she took on the challenge bravely and triumphed. She became a lovely and much-loved grandma to my three girls and my sisters’ two boys.


But now she had reached the extremely old age of ninety-six and we knew, each time we visited her, that the end was near. She was in pain and miserably confused - I prayed for her release. And it came just three days before we were due to set off for The Hebrides. The funeral - and there could be no question of us not going - was right in the middle of our fortnight away, the day before my ‘Book Chat’ event. It is a journey of about one hundred and fifty miles each way, a third of it on a single-track, passing-places road, and it involves two ferry crossings. It meant that I came off the ferry back on to our holiday island (Iona) half an hour before I was due at the book shop. 


My head was full of memories and mourning, of thankfulness that my lovely Diné was no longer in pain, and sadness that I would never see her sweet, mischievous smile again. But I had to do a 360-degrees turn and - in the ten minutes I had to race up to our holiday home, throw on some ‘slap’, clean my teeth, and squirt some perfume - I had to become Fran Brady, author, and put aside ‘Frances, dear’, the bereaved stepdaughter. 


Somehow, I did it. As you do. Life runs sometimes on not just parallel tracks but on two mainline railways, going to very different places at very different rates. I did my talk, read from my novel, answered questions, laughed and joked, signed books and posed for pictures. 

But, all the time, in my head, I had an old pop song playing: She was once, twice, three times a lady … and I loved her. 





We are All Cracked

posted 30 Apr 2018, 14:40 by Fran Brady   [ updated 1 May 2018, 06:53 ]

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a book launch in Glasgow. The author, Irene Howat,  is a writing buddy of mine and I like and admire her and her writing. She has been a prolific writer: biographies, poems, books for children and for adults. Her latest book, just thirty-two pages long, is something quite special, if not unique. It is written in both Scots and English simultaneously, with Scots on the left page and its English translation on the right.


The story is told in verse, in the style of the great epics and sagas. But Tumheidit Tam (Empty-headed Tam)the ‘simple’ central character, would be amazed at being compared with anything so grand.  It is set during the First World War: all the young men in Tam’s village are enthusiastically enlisting; but Tam is rejected (due to his mental disability). ‘The King had nothing I could do for him.’


As the village gradually loses all its young men, it is Tam who shoulders all the hard, manual work; as the terrible news from the battles comes back to the village, it is Tam who comforts the bereaved women; as the shell-shocked men come back, it is Tam who listens without judging. Tam’s War (which is the title of the last poem) is a different one from the brave lads who fought and died, but no less heroic and vital. Tam may be rejected by the army as a simpleton, but he does a job as important and necessary as those on the Western Front - just as a ‘crackit cup’ can still hold water. 


In her introduction, the author says: ‘Tam is the cracked cup - useful and still beautiful despite a little damage. The world is a better place for the likes of him’. We are all cracked in some way, but we can all still play an important part in the world.


From the first shots fired at Sarajevo, the author takes us to rural Scotland of a century ago, and the devastating effects of world events on those least likely to have control over them. It is a moving evocation of remarkable lives in obscure places. My throat tightened as I read about ‘full coffins and empty arms’, and of ‘round numbers’ of casualties. Not round numbers at all, they were: ‘Stuart who planted kale before he left’; and ‘Fritz, much-loved son of old Frau Krueger’. 


‘The profound simplicity of the journey of the narrative is beautiful because it is built out of brokenness.’ Kenneth Steven poet.


Although I am Scottish, I am not a Scots Language speaker; so, I initially read the English alone. Then, I went back and read the Scots - and I loved it! Especially if I read it aloud. The author, Irene Howat, says: ‘English is my head language, but Scots is the language of my heart’. 

Getting to know this wee book has given me an understanding of why she feels that.


Published by Handsel press. Price £5. Available from Waterstone's Book Shops.





posted 31 Mar 2018, 12:28 by Fran Brady

The first time I offered my services to the Edinburgh Easter Play, it was the earliest Easter for forty-odd years, The third weekend in March. It was also possibly the coldest, with Princes Street Gardens showing only a few snowdrops pushing through rock hard ground.

I had been enthralled since The Play began three years before, watching the actors in biblical dress enacting some famous lead-up scenes: the loaves and the fishes; Jesus routing the unscrupulous vendors outside the temple; the Pharisees debating Jesus’ fate; the last supper; and Judas’ act of betrayal. And then, the climactic scenes: Jesus tried, condemned and flogged; Gethsemane; Jesus carrying his cross; the Crucifixion; and the Resurrection.

It is a ‘promenade play’, in the style of a medieval passion play. The Gardens, with their stunning backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, provide plenty of spots for the various scenes. The cross is carried by a sagging, bleeding Jesus (very effective stage makeup) across a footbridge over the railway track. Christ is crucified on the lower, grassy slopes of Castle Rock. By clever stagecraft, his body is spirited away, and he reappears shortly afterwards, now wearing a dazzling white robe, weaving his way into the watching crowd from the back, so that they turn in surprise and a ripple goes through the crowd: ‘It’s Jesus!’


I was excited to be given the job of looking after a team of ‘Welcomers’, who would be stationed at the nineteen gates and entrances to the Gardens. Not to ask for money - the performance is quite free - but to give people leaflets about The Play and direct them to the action. Also, to answer questions that people might have as they perhaps stopped at a gate and asked what was going on. A large part of the purpose of The Play is to attract people into the Gardens, and there make them remember exactly what it is we celebrate at Easter, and what it means for mankind. In practice, there are always a lot of church-going Christians there; but always, too, many tourists and visitors to the city, as well as people who just happen to be taking a route through the Gardens or walking their dogs.

I had about thirty Welcomers and I went to meet them in a church in Leith the week before to brief them. To my surprise, they were from Brazil! A contingent of students on an exchange programme, who were all attending the same church and had all caught wind of an appeal for help with The Play. A more delightful, friendly, willing, enthusiastic bunch of early-twenties you could not wish to meet. They all, to a man and woman, had broad, beaming smiles and did a great deal of hugging and laughing uproariously. I had to hope they were laughing with me. They were going to make wonderful, warm welcomers.

The only trouble was that they spoke about ten words of English between them. I efficiently handed out my briefing sheet, a copy for everyone. I found most of them in the bin at the back of the church later. I moved on to oral communication (speaking louder and louder, as you do), and then to sign language (not BSL), and then to just grinning and praying.

We had been having a very cold early spring/late winter and I cautioned them, with much miming and showing pictures in a John Lewis catalogue that one of them had, to wear very warm clothes. Bitter winds and snow showers were forecast for Easter Saturday. They all nodded cheerfully and almost killed themselves laughing.

On the day, they turned up in skinny, decorated jeans and light tops, the boys with flappy shirts, which almost took off in the freezing gale, and the girls in tight-fitting, cropped T-shirts and jackets, which exposed goose-pimpled brown midriffs whenever they moved. I, on the other hand, was dressed in so many layers that going to the loo was impossible.

I took them round the gardens and positioned them at all the gates and entrances, clutching their bundles of info sheets. I conveyed as best I could that, if they were asked a question by the public, they were to take the person/people to the first steward they could see. By this time - and the play had not yet started - they were all turning blue and it was beginning to snow. I thought of the poor actors in their loose, floaty costumes - clothes designed for a hot country - and I thought of Jesus, hanging on the cross with only a loin-cloth. I hoped the first-aid people were geared up for multiple cases of hypothermia.

As The Play got underway, I noticed people, not in costume, darting around the actors as they moved from scene to scene and handing them something. On investigating, I discovered that these were hot water bottles. The actors could hide them in their floaty costumes, at least during the time they were changing scenes. I thought of my poor Brazilian boys and girls. I waylaid one of the hot-water-bottle slaves and asked if there were any more and, if so, where were they? I was directed to the head gardener’s shed at the other end of the Gardens.

As I trekked towards the shed, I passed six different gates, fully expecting to see my Brazilians turned into ice sculptures. They were still hanging in there, although life expectancy was clearly dropping. I attempted to convey my mission to provide them with a source of heat, miming filling up a bottle, screwing on the top and then hugging it to myself. They nodded, still smiling - although their facial muscles were approaching rigor mortis - and several of them offered me a drink from their water bottles. So much for my mime skills. 

I managed to locate five hot water bottles. Waiting for the antiquated electric kettle to heat the water took most of what was left of my patience, but I eventually staggered forth clutching my very hot, unwieldy burden. I dropped two bottles almost immediately, picked them up, dropped another three, picked them up, dropped one … Have you ever tried to carry five hot water bottles when you are wearing four layers of clothes and two pairs of gloves?

 By the time I trekked around all the gates and identified the neediest cases, the Play was almost over, and the bottles were almost cold. Unbelievably, my half-clad Welcomers were still smiling as they trekked back to base and returned the leaflets they had left over. Not one of them nipped off on the first bus home or for a hot cup of coffee in the Starbucks on Princes Street, which had been doing a roaring trade all afternoon with frozen playgoers.

 I thanked them all and expressed my very genuine admiration for their commitment and perseverance in the face of crippling odds. One girl found enough English to say what they were all probably thinking: ‘Hey! Eez Scotland. Eez always cold.’

‘Not usually as cold as this at Easter,’ I said, defensively.

 They laughed a lot at that.                                                                 

Carts and Horses

posted 3 Mar 2018, 15:39 by Fran Brady

I love the adventure of writing a novel. I've heard it said that it is like driving with dipped headlights: enough light to see for the next few yards, trusting that, if you just keep going, there will be road enough ahead to take you to your destination. 

When I first tried creative writing, I expected to be able to produce some short stories and a poem or two, maybe some memoir stuff. But not a whole novel. 'I could never imagine a whole plot,' I said to my writing tutor. 'You don't have to,' said she. 'Create some characters and they will tell you the story.' I thought this highly unlikely - and I accept that it probably is so for some authors - but was amazed to find that it does work for me.

A few weeks ago, I started my fifth novel. I knew it was going to be a time travel one, with some modern characters and some from a hundred years ago. I knew the name of one of the characters because it was finding out about her (my great-grandmother, whom I never knew, as she died long before I was born) that triggered the idea. But, other than that, it was a blank slate. 

With all the nostalgia about the First World War the past four years, I thought something about that would probably come into it. Maybe the suffragettes ...

I got going and trusted the process. And it still works. Phew! I now have 13.5k words (four chapters) and, more importantly, three main characters from the different eras, plus an emerging group of supporting characters. I have created files/character studies for each of them and these are evolving as the interaction between them triggers the development of their characters and their back stories.  

Is this the cart before the horse? I did a fiction workshop course at Edinburgh University some ten years ago when I had just completed my second novel. We practised creating characters and writing up their appearance and health, education and employment, family and relationships, even their religious/political views. At the end of the course, I had four extremely detailed characters which I decided to use for my third novel (Eleanor's Journey). When I got to the end of writing that novel, I looked back at my course-generated characters and compared them with the ones in the novel. You've probably guessed: there was little resemblance! They might have started off pretty similar but had soon taken matters into their own hands as the action and interaction gathered momentum.

My fourth novel (The Ghost of Erraid) grew out of interest in a setting (The Hebrides) and a vanished way of life (lighthouse-keepers and their families). The characters just appeared along the way and I totally loved them - most of them. Now, with my fifth, I am just at the start of a new adventure and looking forward to meeting, getting to know, and watching the development of the characters. Such fun! 

never assume nothing

posted 2 Jan 2018, 11:35 by Fran Brady

Have you ever been totally sure that you knew the meaning of a well-known phrase and then discovered it actually meant something very different?

It's all over bar the shouting.

That's what my mum used to say on the 2nd of January.

Going by the grim tone of her voice, I took it to mean that we'd all had our fun and now it was time to pay the piper.Since Hogmanay (New Year's Eve to sassenachs) in the Scotland of those days involved the consumption of a great deal of alcohol, nicotine, and black bun (very, very rich fruitcake), the 'shouting' seemed to mean a lot of grey faces, bleary eyes, 'bangin' heids' and muttered promises of 'never again'.  The excesses of Hogmanay (31st Dec) were repeated on 'New Year's Night' (1st Jan); and so, it was the 2nd before the full consequences struck, the miraculous effects of the 'hair o' the dog' (a wee bit more alcohol) enabling the second night of over-indulgence and merrymaking.


By the 2nd, the booze had run out and everyone was heartily sick of black bun. It was time to lick our wounds and accept that we were back to 'auld claes and parridge' (everyday dress and plain food).


Most people saved up ahead of time in those days- there were no such things as credit cards - so it was less about counting the monetary cost.

Today, however, it will be very much about that. Debt incurred, buying Christmas presents, Hogmanay party fare and new outfits, can be still owing the following summer, autumn or even into the next season of festive overspending.

 I know. Bah, humbug! (But it is sadly true).


Enough sermonising: to the point in question. Turns out that 'It's all over bar the shouting' has nothing to do with paying pipers, wallowing in regrets or making unlikely promises of reform.


The Cambridge Dictionary defines it thus: If an activity is all over bar the shouting, the result of it is known, but it has not been officially finished or announced, so people can still say that a different result is possible. The example they give is: 'With practically all the results declared, the Nationalist Party has 68% of the vote, so it is all over bar the shouting.'  

(As a YES voter in the 2014 Scottish referendum, I must say I like their choice of example ...)

BookBrowse (not a website I have ever used before but it came up first when I googled the phrase) says it dates back to the nineteenth century when ballots were

counted by hand and the results were not available until long after the polls had closed (due to the time taken to hand count). 

The announcement of the start of the count often triggered a loud roar from those who had voted. In a one-sided contest, it would be obvious who the winner was at this time because of the volume of cheering for a particular candidate. In other words, the outcome was unofficial but decided: it was all over bar the shouting (except for the official declaration). It's not a lot different today when the clear winner has often emerged before the poor old Returning Officer strives for his moment of glory; and, certainly, the country-wide result is usually pretty clear before the last few wards return their counts.


So, my phrase turns out to be all about celebrating a victory in a political - or perhaps sporting - context when the outcome is no longer in doubt and only the official declaration - or the final whistle - remains. It has also, says BookBrowse, come to mean that the all the hard work has finished and all there is left to do is celebrate. Quite different from those 2nd-January-hangovers of the fifties or 21st-century wincing as the credit card bills roll in. 


As a writer, I feel chastened. And not a little scared. I consider myself a wordsmith, completely at home in my native tongue. Yet, a childhood impression had led to an assumption, never questioned, about the meaning of a well-known phrase. In fact - confession time - I had actually blithely started on a blog about the 2nd of Jan being the Day of Recrimination, all based upon that fateful phrase, when some guardian angel whispered in my ear to check its meaning. The rest is, not so much history, as a narrow escape. Imagine the scornful comments from all you guys who have always known its real meaning!

As my old algebra teacher used to say: Never assume nothing! 


Happy New Year to all my loyal readers and followers.


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  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.

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