Puppies, parties and post-production puzzlement…

According to one blogging guru, blogs should stick to one subject. They should be consistent. Their readers should know what to expect. They shouldn’t hop about from one topic to another willy-nilly.


Well – this blog is titled ‘Reclaim the Romance’ and I have already shared my belief that romance is far more than just hearts and flowers – and that half the fun lies in finding it in all sorts of odd and unexpected places.

That excuse carefully crafted explanation won’t butter no parsnips in this post however – because as much as I love and adore the little blighters, there doesn’t seem to be much of a link between romance – and puppies.

Me with my own dog Dixie when she was just a pup.

Then again – they are cute and cuddly. they’re endlessly playful, they make me laugh and being in the presence of a pup always makes life just that little bit brighter – and that definition pretty much sums up my husband, so maybe there is a link after all!

Anyway – pups are currently uppermost in my mind because of a certain party held at Paragon Vets.  I do PR work for Paragon on a freelance basis, which basically means compiling their regular newsletters, running their Facebook pages and looking out for good news stories to farm out to the local media.  I also film interesting cases and procedures to use as promotional material. The latest project was a puppy party.

It was fun. Boy was it fun. There was romping and rolling and pouncing and prancing and all sorts of mayhem and daftness. Pups have no truck with social niceties, so they just happily leapt all over one another without so much as a how-do-you-do.

Puppies love to party!

Of course in the process they were learning a lot as well – like how to behave around other dogs and in new situations.

The bearded lady!

The Paragon nurse who was running the party also introduced the pups to things they might find scary – like umbrellas, loud noises – and beards. As we didn’t have a bearded person at the party – she simply ditched her dignity and donned a fake one! The pups paid scant attention to that – but it certainly amused the humans.

However – fun it may have been but it was also dashed difficult to film. Pups find no difficulty whatsoever in running off in six different directions – all at the same time. Trying to keep track of them with the camera proved quite a challenge. Now I’m endeavouring to edit the piece together – hence the post-production puzzlement mentioned in this post’s strapline.  I use Adobe Premiere Pro as my editing software and it’s capable of all sorts of wizardry and fancy stuff – but even it can’t pin down quicksilver.

Just as well I enjoy a challenge really – bet Steven Spielberg never had to post-produce a puppy party!




My husband, my hero…

…Well okay, maybe hero’s a bit on the strong side. He hasn’t dived into a raging river to save me, or run into a burning building to rescue a trapped kitten (though he would…) but  when credit’s due – I’m more than happy to pay up.

So what has he done exactly? He gave a speech at a function I was attending.  I know – doesn’t sound like much. After all, he’s a musician and has played with his own band Lemon Grass for more years than he’d care to admit, so he’s obviously accustomed to audiences, right?  Absolutely right – but that’s his world, that’s what he’s good at and accustomed to and comfortable with.  Public speaking – standing up to address a room full of strangers, hell, that’s a whole n’other ballgame.

As to the function itself – it was that most Scottish of Scottish things – a Burns Supper.  Furthermore, the speech in question, was The Immortal Memory. The main speech of the whole night – the keynote – the one that sets the tone – the one that has to interest, possibly educate, hopefully amuse and definitely engage the listeners.  No pressure there then.  Except – and you’ve probably seen this coming – my husband’s English.

Now normally this is not an issue in our household – except of course when there’s an England-Scotland football match, or when I bamboozle him with some choice bit of dialect.   But while we’re very happy to do our bit for cross-border relationships – we do recognise certain bits of territory into which we will not stray. I won’t have anything to do with Cumberland Sausage – and he won’t touch Haggis with a ten-foot bargepole. Normally.

So – when I was asked to find someone to do The Immortal Memory at the Burns Supper being held at Yarrowford near Selkirk this year, I know he won’t be at all offended if I say Malcolm wasn’t just the last person on my list – frankly he wasn’t on the list at all! He was all set for a cosy night at home in front of the fire, watching Sky Sports with a cat on his lap. Until the speaker I had organised – dropped out. At the very last minute. And I do mean – the last minute. Effectively dropping me in the doo-dah – from a very great height.

After taking that phone-call, I turned to Malcolm and said, really just in jest, ‘How’s your Scottish accent?’  I fully expected him to scoff at the very notion.  Instead – and even though he turned an interesting shade of greeny-white, he took several deep breaths – and to my everlasting astonishment, said ‘Looks like I’d better start writing a script.’

I’m happy to tell you he did a grand job. I could tell he was nervous, but I don’t think too many people could hear his knees knocking! The audience was warm and hospitable and friendly – just as a good Scottish audience should be – and they gave him their full attention and heartfelt response.

My husband is not what you’d call a romantic man. He’s not the sort to buy flowers or impromptu presents – and I’m never likely to get whisked away to Paris on a whim. But there are many forms of romance – and when, for my sake, he stood up before that crowded room to talk about Scotland’s beloved bard and to toast his Immortal Memory, I discovered a new one. And I doubt even Robert Burns himself could have topped it!

Well hello Hogmanay…

…and how on earth did you get here so quickly?  I was just getting used to it being 2011, now the bells will soon be ringing to usher in 2012.  So – traditionally it’s the time to look forward and backwards at the same time – good job I’m a Gemini!

I’ll remember 2011 as the Year of Challenges.  It all kicked off when the Cumbrian Endurance Group challenged me to do a 40k ride. Now I am a horse-rider (albeit not a very good one…) and I’m never happier than when I’m with my horses, so this wasn’t exactly a hardship for me. However, it did call for a lot of work, getting myself and my ex-racehorse Bounce into condition for the ride.  40k doesn’t sound too excessive – but this particular ride was round Ullswater and took in Loadpot Hill, which even experienced endurance riders seemed to talk of in hushed whispers.  It turned out to be a great experience, even though my arms may never return to their proper length after being pulled out of their sockets by my very enthusiastic horse – almost the whole way round! However I definitely want to do more long-distance riding this year – and may even manage to persuade my showjumping husband to join me – sometimes.

The next challenge was thrown down by my good chum Kim Inglis – she decided it was about time I was introduced to the delights of proper hill-climbing – and this time, without the aid of a horse. I did think she’d let me start gradually – but no. She and her lovely Dad took me up Skiddaw – the fourth highest mountain in England thanks very much!  Once again – it was an experience I wouldn’t have missed, even though the weather was awful and we couldn’t see a foot in front of us when we finally reached the summit.  Hey Ho.  My enduring memory of that day will always be reciting Scottish poetry with Kim’s Dad as we walked back down Skiddaw – and then (of course) headed to the pub.

And then – there was NaNoWriMo.  I managed to stay warm and dry for this one and it didn’t require any physical exertion – but it was still a huge challenge nevertheless. Writing 50,000 words in a month does require real dedication – and I’m proud I managed to do it.  The next challenge of course is to take those words and turn them into a book – and that’s the first thing I’m aiming to do in 2012.  I haven’t allowed myself to look at the 50k words since NaNo finished – though the temptation’s been just about overwhelming! I want to sit down in January and read them with fresh, objective eyes. So be warned – the next post may well be a long wail of misery from me if those words turn out to be twaddle!

In the meantime however – have a very very Happy New Year – and I’ll see you on the other side!

Wish I Was There…but where?

This is a very special day for my good chum Janice Horton – because it’s launch-day for her brand new book ‘Reaching For The Stars.’

As part of the celebrations, Janice has invited her blogging chums to indulge themselves by imagining where they would like to go to if they could escape the winter chills – and there are no restrictions on choice – cost is absolutely no barrier.

Oh what a delicious quandary – so many wonderful places to choose from.  Which one shall I go for…will it be Tasmania? Or Kentucky? Venice perhaps? Or shall I stay closer to home and visit the beautiful Isle of Arran?

Well – I’m going to exercise my Gemini prerogative – and pick two places. The first – really isn’t so very far away at all – in fact I could be there in about ten minutes. And I have been there in all sorts of weathers. One memorable year actually found me riding my horse there – as huge white snowflakes swirled around us. It was a strangely magical and surreal experience. But for my fantasy – I’ll choose a sunny day – just like the one in the photo.


So – choice number one is Silloth Beach in Cumbria – it’s a lovely place anyway, but lovelier still when framed by the ears of a horse…




Choice number 2 – on a yacht called Valerie with three of my best chums – Kim, Sue and Sarah sailing to Capri. We called ourselves The Sorrento Four and revelled in every crazy, joyous, life-affirming second of it all.




Hey ho – a girl can dream. In reality I’m sitting in a wee village in Cumbria – the skies are grey and ominous and the weather forecast doesn’t bear thinking about. But I can still pour myself a glass of Fizz (none of the virtual stuff on such an important day thank you very much!) and drink a toast to Janice and ‘Wishing For The Stars.’  Can’t wait to read it!

I know Janice will make you very welcome indeed if you pop over to her blog to find out more about her new book – you’ll find her at http://www.janicehortonwriter.blogspot.com



NaNo yes – or NaNo NO!

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that NaNoWriMo would have critics. I personally saw it as a challenge, something I could get my teeth into – and most of all, bit of fun.   Okay – many might query my definition of fun, but I’d rather write 50,000 words than knit a jumper for example – or go potholing. But I certainly wouldn’t scorn those who do like a bit of knit one, purl one – or indeed like to risk life and limb in deep, dark, confined spaces.

NaNo is, after all, a purely voluntary affair. You can choose to spend November applying your bum to a seat and getting 50,000 words committed to paper or keyboard – or you can choose not to. Plain and simple.

You can even start to do it, then change your mind after one word or 49,999 words – it’s entirely up to you.  No-one’s going to come round to your house in the middle of the night to berate you. Likewise, you won’t find the streets lined with cheering crowds and tickertape raining down on you like confetti if you do reach the 50k. You’ll just get to feel a wee bit smug, that’s all. Until…

Until…someone comes along with a sharp little needle, all ready to make your balloon go pop. The carping comes in various guises:

There’s the highbrow, high-minded writer who likes to sweat blood for a fortnight over a single sentence and thinks NaNo could spell the end of civilisation as we know it – or at least the literary part of it.

Then there are the Agents and Publishers who apparently spend December cringing in dark corners, just waiting to disappear under a deluge of ill-written codswallop churned out in the name of NaNo, because obviously everyone who did it will be foolish enough to think they now automatically have a bestseller.

And of course there are those who consider the whole thing simply too too ghastly for words.  They are often – but not always – professional writers, who seem to feel they have a monopoly on the written word and aren’t best pleased when greasy-pawed oiks come barging in to their territory.

Maybe my view on life is too simplistic.  When people say things like ‘I’d rather pull all my own teeth out with pincers than watch a single second of X-Factor’ – or ‘I’d rather poke my own eyes out than read a Chick-Lit book’ – I have this overwhelming urge to ask why they have to be so damn dramatic about it.

You don’t like X-Factor? Well leave it to those who do.

You don’t like Chick-Lit? Well leave it to those who do.

You don’t like NaNoWriMo? Well leave it…okay, you’re getting my drift.

Having said all that however – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with constructive criticism. Today I read a perfectly fair blog entry by Linda Gillard, a writer whose work I both enjoy and admire.  In the post, she says…

NaNoWriMo is brilliant as an inspiring, sociable and creative exercise. It’s great for producing a very rough draft of the novel you’ve been brewing up for months or years. But it worries me the way NaNo has “failure” built in for so many participants – and not just failure to achieve the 50,000 word count. Last year during NaNo month I read many complaints on Facebook from writers suffering RSI-related pain, yet their well-meaning fellow participants encouraged them to push on through the pain, thereby risking the possibility of serious damage to the delicate tendons of the hand. This isn’t writing, it’s masochism! Producing a novel is a test of stamina. It shouldn’t be a test of endurance.

Linda goes on to say…

If you didn’t finish NaNo this year, don’t be too despondent and please don’t think you “failed”. Maybe you weren’t ready to write. Writing is the end product of a process of thinking and feeling. Maybe you had more thinking to do. Maybe you just aren’t a fast writer. I’m a professional and I failed to produce 50,000 words in thirty days – or rather, I decided that to do so would be counter-creative, because for me it’s not about the word count, it’s about how much my words count.

Absolutely fair comments and I wouldn’t take issue with anything there. But to be fair to NaNo itself – while they act as cheerleaders and heartily applaud those who do reach the 50k finishing line – they don’t in any way belittle those who don’t.  Some of the NaNo organisers themselves don’t even succeed – and they’re cheerfully philosophical about it.

More than 250,000 people took up the challenge this year – and 37,000-ish made it to 50k to become winners – that’s roughly 14 per cent.  But I bet a far, far higher percent of those participating still consider themselves winners because of all they achieved during the month. And so they damn well should!

If you’d like to read the rest of Linda’s extremely interesting and thought-provoking post – she was actually doing a guest spot on http://libroediting.com/blog but she also has her own website at http://www.lindagillard.co.uk where you can find out about her books – which I heartily recommend.


I’m a Winner!

Yipiddy-doo-dah-day – I’m a Winner!  I’ve done my 50,000 words, so I can now officially call myself a NaNoWriMo winner – and I can download a special certificate to hang on my wall – which I will do with pride, no hiding it away in the downstairs loo for me!

The book – which I’ve called Dark Tide – is by no means finished. I haven’t even reached the final scene yet and there’s still a vast amount to do – rewriting, tweaking, developing some strands, tying up loose ends, switching the order of some scenes and ditching others altogether – etcetera etcetera.  But that’s all for another day (or more accurately – another month.) For the moment I’m content to savour the satisfaction of knowing that I took on the challenge and won.

It’s actually been a real joy. To my surprise I did manage (pretty much) to banish the inner editor (that’s the polite name for him) who generally sits on my shoulder and criticises every word I write. I think every writer probably has one – and to be fair, as much as I often hate his presence, I value it as well, because he doesn’t just let me chuck down any old words on the page (though those who have to read the stuff may beg to differ…)

NaNoWriMo doesn’t just give you permission to jettison the inner critic – it downright insists that you do, because if you’ve got just a month to get 50,000 words down, then frankly you don’t have time to worry too much about their quality. There will be plenty of time for all that later, so instead of sitting gazing at a computer keyboard for twenty minutes wondering how best to have a character say or do something – you just make them say or do it any old how and worry about tarting it up later. That’s liberation – well it has been for me anyway.

I’ve promised myself I’m not going to look at the 50,000 words till January. Then I’ll see them with fresh eyes. Of course I may be horrified – I may wonder how on earth I managed to write such unremitting tosh. But I hope not.  I really hope I’ll find something of merit, something I can work on and build on and finally turn into a book called Dark Tide. And when I’ve done all that – I’ll get my good friend Wendy to come up with another of her ace cover illustrations – and I’ll self-publish the book.

But for now – where’s that bottle of champagne – I’m a WINNER!



There are all sorts of love stories…

…and I am chuffed to bits that an award-winning American novelist has given me the opportunity to talk about some of the greatest loves in my life on her blog.

Miss Mae writes romantic fiction – and since the lady herself is definitely on the enigmatic side, it makes sense that her stories have more than a hint of mystery to them.  However, she ‘s also a great animal lover, and her blog has a special section devoted to all sorts of critturs. When she invited me to write a piece about my dogs – I was only too happy to oblige!

My contribution begins…

He was a four-months old Collie/Labrador pup.

I was a 20-something trainee Journalist living on my own in a small flat in the heart of Aberdeen – not a big city as cities go, but a city nevertheless. 

My home was far from perfect for a lively young dog who wanted to run and play and investigate all the interesting things the world had to offer.

But it was the only home on offer.

‘If you don’t take him,’ they said…and raised their eyebrows to indicate heaven knew what.

So I took him.

If you’d like to know what happens next… please go to Miss Mae’s site at http://www.missmaesite.com – it’s well worth a visit and not just because of my doggy tales!

PS If you’re wondering how I’m getting on with NaNo – I’m now at 44,215 words (to be precise…) so I hope the finishing line is in sight – but I could still trip over my own feet and fall flat on my face before I get there – so no champagne yet. But boy am I enjoying the journey – and I’ll tell you much more about it – once I’ve reached the 50,000. (Superstitious – moi? Whatever gave you that idea…)



NaNo Nightmare!

Well very nearly…I thought I’d jettisoned  6,000 words off into the wide blue yonder, never to be seen again. Did I panic – you betcha. Did I turn the air blue – umm more like purple actually. It truly was a horrendous moment – especially since my brain went into total freeze mode for a little while, and refused to come up with any bright suggestions.

It happened when I downloaded a trial version of the writers’ software Scrivener. I’d been reading lots of good things about it, and thought it would be just the thing to help me get a bit of structure into my NaNo novel. I think I’ve already ‘fessed up to the fact that where books are concerned, I fall very much into the ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ category, instead of being a sane and sensible person and doing at least a tiny bit of planning beforehand.

This Scrivener doohickey is really good at the organising side of things. It allows you to separate your work into manageable chunks, and even has a rather cool virtual corkboard where you can pin index cards with notes about every section or chapter and shuffle them round to your heart’s content.

Scrivener 2.0

Image by mortsan via Flickr

You can also do index cards with notes about your characters – any details you like really, but colour of eyes would be one obvious thing. It can be so easy to have your characters start off life with sparkling blue eyes only to have them turn mysteriously brown halfway through the story!

Apparently some critics are a bit sniffy about Scrivener’s corkboard – they’re obviously far more grown up and serious about their writing than I am, because I think it’s fun, and I’m all for getting a bit of fun into the process. Anything that can achieve the ultimate miracle of getting me even remotely organised has to be a blessing as well.

However – and I’m quite sure it wasn’t Scrivener’s fault in the slightest – but at my first attempt at downloading my precious NaNo baby – I somehow managed to lose a great chunk of it. The most recent bit – the bit I hadn’t backed up and saved and sent to myself in an email and generally done all the other things you’re supposed to do to ensure the survival of your deathless prose.

Have you ever seen a grown writer cry? It was damn close – actually no tears were shed, but after all the gnashing they endured my poor teeth will never be the same again.  I am happy – nay, ecstatic – to be able to tell you the tale doth have a happy ending. I may not have backed up the 6,000 words, but thank heavens I had them on one of those wee memory stick thingies – a memory stick which by some stroke of irony – I had completely forgotten about. All hail to the inventor of memory stick thingies.

So – my NaNo count now stands at 31160, and I am quite chuffed with that – but way too cautious to be smug about it. Anything could happen in the next 20,000 words and don’t I know it.

Even in the midst of NaNo…

… the rest of life must go on. Which for me includes sleeping, horse-riding, mucking out stables, cooking and eating, shopping, seeing family and housework. Okay – I lied about the last one – but the rest all has to be done plus lots more. As well as trying to keep my NaNo word-count high this week, I have given a talk to a WI group about a long-distance ride I did with Clydesdale horses, attended a marketing meeting with Paragon Vets, signed copies of Forbidden Love at Canonbie Craft Fair along with the book’s illustrator – my great chum Wendy – oh yes, and filmed a brilliant, crazy, completely mind-blowing version of Stars In Their Eyes in Newcastleton.

For anyone not lucky enough to know Newcastleton – or Copshaw as it’s perhaps better known – it’s simply one of the best places in the world. A wee village in the Scottish Borders, well off the beaten track, it’s friendly and funny and hospitable and I was lucky enough to live there for ten years and still think of it as my second home.

On saturday night, the ‘cream’ of the village’s talent appeared on stage in the village hall with acts ranging from Frank Sinatra to Wham to John Travolta & Olivia Newton John.

The night belonged to Freddie Mercury in drag singing ‘I Want To Break Free’, but I confess my vote went to the best Mick Jagger I’ve ever seen (actually he was even better than the real thing…)

It was a great show – but now I have to attempt to edit the filming into a DVD – in between doing all of the other things listed above – and of course NaNo. Hey Ho.

Happily (and I’m touching wood, crossing fingers etc as I say this…) NaNo is going well so far. I’ve passed the 20,000 word mark – and although I’ll be happier still when I get to 25,000 and know I’m halfway – I’m still pretty pleased with that.  But please please keep the support and the good wishes coming in – they are so much appreciated!

NaNoWriMo – two days in…

…two days in and 6,090 words down! Please allow me to enjoy just that one little moment of feeling chuffed with myself. I know it won’t last.  I know I’ll hit the wall, or the trough, or quite possibly even the slough of despond, but right at this moment I’m feeling good.

I started immediately after midnight on November 1 – that in itself was something of a miracle because I’m really not a night bird and midnight usually finds me cosily wrapped in the arms of Morpheus.  I hadn’t actually told my husband Malcolm at that stage that I was going to be doing NaNo – I knew his inevitable reaction would be one of horrified amazement because he knows my days are full to overflowing already without adding in the need to write 50,000 words over the course of 30 of them.  However, my game was up – when he walked into the living room at 1130pm – to find me apparently engrossed in watching a football match.

‘Okay,’  he said. ‘What have you got to tell me?’

Actually his reaction was a lot more positive than I’d expected.  He kept the remonstrations to the absolute minimum and within a few minutes was discussing plotlines and strategies with me. Since then he’s even come up with a few ideas for my characters – so he’s turning into a real NaNo buddy – go Malcolm!