Saturday 30 April 2011

My Bookshelves...

The walls of my small study are lined with all sorts of books: hardbacks and paperbacks, non-fiction and fiction, biographies, thrillers, romances, and children's books old and new. I love them all. So over the coming weeks and months inbetween writerly chat and author interviews, I'd occasionally like to talk about the books I've collected over the years and to introduce you to some much loved authors.

Ruby Constance Ferguson. (1899 - 1966)

Let's start at the very top shelf by taking a look at nine children's books written between 1949 and 1962. These books are very special to me and through my 1960's childhood I read them over and over. They were my best friends. All I had to do to achieve my dream of owning a pony and living in the countryside was to open up a 'Jill book' and lose myself in her wonderful make-believe world.

These books are all first editions in their original dust jackets.

Some years later, I was delighted to discover that Ruby Ferguson had written eight mystery thrillers under her maiden name of R C Ashby. I now have most of these treasured old books on my shelf. The most prized is the signed first edition copy of The Moorland Man - the Romance of a Northern Farm published in 1926 by Hodder & Stoughton. They are the amongst the oldest books on my shelves and none have dust jackets, which is just as well, as I doubt I could have afforded to buy them if they had.

Ruby Ferguson also wrote thirteen wonderful romance novels and I have managed to collect and enjoy reading them all. From Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary in 1937 to A Woman with a Secret in 1965. She also wrote a fictionalised memoir published in 1967. Her books were published by Hodder & Stoughton London and Macmillan in the USA.

Ruby Constance Ferguson died on Jersey on 11th November 1966.

My wee West Highland terrier is called Ruby after the author Ruby Ferguson

What books are on your top shelf and have you ever named a pet after a much loved author...?

Thursday 21 April 2011

Dear Mr Harper...

This week I'm interviewing a man who has led an astonishingly interesting life and written a book about it all. Recently retired, he has been a teacher, a musician, a sportsman, even (for a spell) a professional actor and so it's a wonder how he ever had time for politics. Robin Harper joined the Scottish Green Party in 1985 and famously became the first Green elected to Parliament in Great Britain in 1999. Having met Robin, I'm delighted to tell you that all his years in Parliament have done nothing to dampen his boyish enthusiasm or fade his iconic multicoloured scarf!

Dear Mr Harper - The Autobiography of Robin Harper has been described as "an entertaining book in which Robin's convictions, both Green and otherwise, come through almost subliminally: his message, because he certainly has one, is all the more powerful for that". It's a description that prompted me to ask Robin more about his book.

Robin, was writing an autobiography high on your agenda?
I’d been approached a few times about a book, but the pressure of work at the Parliament was too high for me to contemplate this task before retirement. Thank heavens for an offer from Fred Bridgland, a highly acclaimed journalist and author, as it did seem to be a good idea to get something into print before the election this year.

What was Fred Bridgland’s part in the writing of the book?
Birlinn were very clear that they wanted the book in my voice. So Fred and I decided on an packed programme of interviews, many at his house and two very intense weekends of work at a writers’ retreat on the north east coast of Scotland. The more personal chapters I wrote myself, but the bulk of the book was crafted by Fred on the back of our interview sessions and discussions. Fred has written acclaimed biographies of Jonas Savimbi and Winnie Mandela, and claims he was looking forward to a gentler subject. But the first murder appears on page 30 and a stoning to death on page 95!

How did you and Fred plan the book?
I explained to Fred that my personal and political lives – even my teaching life – seemed to move on parallel tracks, with very few interconnecting points. So I didn’t feel it was sensible to write the book chronologically. We decided that themes might work quite well, and Fred developed this further, interspersing the narrative with research and explanation that have added considerably to the interest of the text. My life in Orkney, my time in Ceylon, teaching in Kenya, my passionate feelings about trees and the marine environment and my political life – from the sinking of The Rainbow Warrior to ‘Tripping up Trump’ – all these and many other themes are explored, I hope with humour and a light touch.

The book has been described as an honest account of your life. Has that honesty caused you any difficulties with your political colleagues?
My colleagues say they are enjoying it! Mainly, I hope it’s a good read. The book focuses mainly on my personal experience and doesn’t give a detailed account of my work for and with the Green Party over the last 25 years. This may be for another book.

When did your deeply held convictions on environmental issues first arise?
I was interested in environment and wildlife from an early age. I still have drawings I made of birds and plants when I was 13, and some beautiful seashells I collected in Sri Lanka when I was 9. I’ve always loved being in the open air – mainly hill walking and sailing, and beachcombing on my own. Reading Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, and a book called Future Shock in the early 1970s alerted me to the alarming state of the world. I began to get more and more anxious. I subscribed to New Internationalist, but was still not inspired to take political action. It wasn’t until 1985 and the sinking of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior ship off Auckland, New Zealand, that I was galvanized into action. Rainbow Warrior was about to set off into the Pacific to protest against the French testing of nuclear weapons at Muroroa Atoll. Two French secret service operatives blew holes in the side of the ship, killing a young Dutch photographer who was on board. I joined the Scottish Ecology Party (as it was then), Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund on the same day and have never looked back.

What did you enjoy most about writing the book?
The challenge of working with a first-class journalist, who had a clearer sense of what was interesting in my life than I did, meant that I found out a great deal about my family that I didn’t actually know. I had conversations with my two brothers that opened up all sorts of new insights into the lives of my parents and their relations, and even those of my brothers, to whom I have always been close.

What would you describe as the lowest point in your political career?
Oddly, this was in the 2007 election, when I was returned with six new colleagues. I have always felt that the point of political activity is to do your very best to get your voice heard at every level – ultimately, to have an influence on government. We had the chance, two days after the election, of possible talks with the Labour Party, but I was unable to persuade my six new colleagues to even think about working with any of the other parties in the Parliament.

What would you describe as the highest point in your career?
There is something very special about being the first person ever to do something. So I will always count my election to the Scottish Parliament as being the most exciting day of my career.

Can you tell us the inspiration behind the iconic scarf?
In the early 1970s a little shop in St Stephen Street in Edinburgh called Number Two started selling stripey things of all sorts – sweaters, gloves, beanie hats and, of course, scarves. I liked the bright scarves and was also a great fan of Dr Who, in the Tom Baker incarnation. I still have the scarf I purchased back then. In 1999, when the Party was trying to shake off its image as being all muesli, sandals and sunflowers, there were some who suggested I stick with a sober-suited image, rather than mar it with a brightly-coloured knitted scarf. My attachment to the accessory was so strong, though, that I refused to dispense with it and it has since become – not entirely to my surprise – something of an icon.

Do you have a website? Do you have a blog? Do you Tweet?
My website is currently being rebuilt. I don’t yet blog or Tweet – but I’m planning to start a blog as soon as I get to grips with my new life.

Born 1940, Thurso, Caithness, Scotland, Robin has lived in Orkney, London, Sri Lanka, Moray, Aberdeen, Fife, Kenya, and Edinburgh. He got his Degree at Aberdeen University (MA, 1962) and taught in Glasgow, Fife, Kenya, Edinburgh. He was Rector of Edinburgh University 2000-03, Rector Aberdeen University 2004-07. Robin joined Scottish Green Party 1985. Became Co-convenor 1992-2008 and was the first Green to be elected to Parliament in Great Britain in 1999 (Scottish Parliament). He married Jenny Carter in 1994.

Dear Mr Harper is published by Birlinn Ltd in Hardback at £16.99 but is currently being sold on Amazon at £11.89 with free delivery - not to be missed!

Saturday 16 April 2011

Bagpipes & Bullshot Update - News and Reviews

It was all a bit of an experiment to e-publish to Amazon Kindle and this week's blog is an update on progress. It's been two weeks since Bagpipes & Bullshot was given an on-line launch and blog tour which, with the help of fellow bloggers, tweeters and facebook friends, saw it go from an Amazon ranking of 28,000 to reach number 19 in the bestselling women's fiction list and number 24 in Kindle bestselling romance. I'm pleased to tell you that high sales continued right through the following week and only now has Bagpipes & Bullshot left the Top 100. I'm hoping that with the Easter holidays coming up, the e-book buying public will help it to find its way back into the chart listings.
I'm excited to tell you that Bagpipes & Bullshot has been given some 5 star reviews on and also on dot com. It also received a 5 star review on Romance Writers of America member Melanie Robertson King's blog. You can read the review here.

I'm currently awaiting a review to appear on the Quick Brown Fox Canada blog and I'll let you know as soon as it's up. Also this week, I was interviewed for our local newspaper, the Dumfries & Galloway Standard, and photographed with my two Westies Polly and Ruby. The headline read 'Romance Booms' and you can see the PDF here an the on-line link here

The very latest news is that Bagpipes & Bullshot is now available to buy and download from the Smashwords website in a format of your own choosing. Although, it is likely to be another week before it reaches the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and other distribution outlet's catalogues.

To celebrate I'm running a competition. To be in with a chance of winning a free download of Bagpipes & Bullshot from Smashwords all you have to do is leave a comment in the box below and answer one question about the book. If you have a problem leaving a comment, as some people have in the past, then you can enter by email instead at:
The competition is open until 9am Friday 22nd April 2011.
Tip: you can read a story description on the Smashwords site here.

Q. In what American State does Innes Buchanan meet Orley MacKenna?

Next Friday on this blog I'm interviewing Robin Harper, the first member of the Green Party to be elected into parliament. Robin has just had his autobiography Dear Mr Harper published by Birlinn and it has been described as "an entertaining book in which Robin's convictions, both Green and otherwise, come through almost subliminally: his message, because he certainly has one, is all the more powerful for that."

Not to be missed - see you Friday!

Friday 8 April 2011

Author Interview with The Queen of Cosy Crime: Lesley Cookman

Lesley Cookman's latest book Murder to Music is a murder mystery set in the fictional village of Steeple Martin in Kent. It’s the eighth title in the Libby Serjeant series, published by dynamic independent publishers, Accent Press. I caught up with Lesley just before launch day to ask her lots of writerly questions.

How long have you been writing and what was your first book?
I’ve been writing for thirty years (can’t quite believe it) and started with features for Which Computer. After that, I wrote for various business titles, branched out into short fiction after a friend gave me her book on how to do it, wrote pantomimes and finally, was commissioned by How To Books to write a book on how to write a pantomime. That was my first book.

What made you want to write crime fiction?
I’ve been reading it since I was nine years old. My parents gave me the run of their bookshelves after I ran out of my own books. There wasn’t as much reading material for children around then, and I’d exhausted everything there was. I still remember the thrill of saving up for the latest Famous Five book and walking the mile and a half to the bookshop on a Saturday afternoon. Now I’d just download it onto my Kindle! So I started reading my parents’ books. Carter Dickson, John Dickson Carr (the same person), Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout. And others too obscure to mention. No Dame Agatha, though. So there I was, steeped in Golden Age detective stories. And the love has never left me.

Would you say cosy crime is an easier genre to write than, say, romantic fiction?
I think they both have well defined structures in their traditional forms, but neither are easy to write. Let’s face it, nothing is actually easy to write!

What can you tell us about your latest book, Murder to Music?
It’s the eighth in the Libby Sarjeant series. Libby is a former actress who lives in the village of Steeple Martin and paints pretty pictures for a friend’s shop and gallery in the nearby seaside town of Nethergate. So far, so traditional.  She has a cast of friends and family who appear in most books, and each time a new character appears, he or she tends to become yet another serial character.  It is becoming harder to invent credible situations with which Libby can become involved, but I hope readers will suspend belief just that little bit in order to enjoy the stories.  This particular adventure concerns a supposedly haunted house.

Will there be more Libby Sarjeant novels?
At least two more are contracted: Murder at The Manor due out in November, and Murder by Magic next May.

And will you ever write a different series? Or another sort of book?
If ever I have the time!  And of course, if I’m spared....

Thanks for the interesting interview Lesley - and best wishes for your Murder to Music launch!

Lesley Cookman lives near the sea in Kent. She has written features, short fiction, pantomimes, a musical, a non-fiction book and numerous press releases. Murder to Music, the eighth in the Libby Sarjeant series, will be published on 11th April 2011.

Murder to Music out now in paperback £4.99 and Kindle: £5.74

Just click the links to go to:  

Friday 1 April 2011

It’s Bagpipes & Bullshot Day!

I'm rather overwhelmed by today ....
This page shot from today shows my wee book Bagpipes & Bullshot right next to Jilly Cooper's blockbuster Riders. Riders is my favourite book in the whole world. It sort of stopped me in my tracks when I saw this and it made me smile. It was a misty eyed smile. I've a lot of people to thank for today. My Writer Scotland Group - a motley crew and I love them all. Anita Burgh Group - wonderful people led my my wise and wonderful mentor. The Romantic Novelist's Association, whose members have been sending me messages of support and following my blog tour all day long. Thank you! An lastly, but certainly not least, my fabulous blog hosts, who have been so supportive and abolutely amazing in getting the blogs all up on time!

So far, Bagpipes and Bullshot has surpassed my expectations in respect of the Amazon assault I asked you all to participate in today.

Bagpipes & Bullshot entered the Amazon UK Bestseller charts this morning at 9.50am (BST) and reached Number 19 in Books/Fiction/Women's Fiction Bestseller Chart.  In the Kindle Chart, it peaked at 6.50pm (BST) at Number 25 in Kindle/Romance/Contemporary Bestsellers Chart!! (Amazing!!) It also reached Number 34 in the Amazon Books/Romance/Adult Contemporary Bestsellers Chart. Over at Amazon.Com my ratings went from 95,992 at 9am (BST) to 22,462 at 7pm (BST) which is phenomenal in itself. Thank you so much everyone who entered into the spirit of the day - and somehow put me right next to Jilly in the Amazon Chart!

I've just been asked what inspired me to write Bagpipes & Bullshot and this is the answer:

I was in America standing on a Gulf Coast beach at sunset, thinking of how the warm breezes, blue waters, and southern lifestyle, were a world away from life in Scotland. I knew at that moment I wanted to start a book with two people meeting on that beach, before moving the story back to Scotland, where I could explore those differences.

You may think that in a contemporary novel, a cowgirl and a laird are far removed examples of what it is to be American or Scottish today, and you would be right. However, the premise of the story is about opposites attracting and exploring the differences between two people from opposite sides of an ocean. It is intentionally larger than life and that’s what makes it entertaining and fun. I’m told there are many laugh out loud moments in Bagpipes & Bullshot!

Next on the Bagpipes & Bullshot Blog Tour
Another of my Writer Scotland buddies, Bill Kirton is a talented writer with a witty (the driest) sense of humour. He was born in Plymouth England but has lived most of his life in Scotland. So staying on these bonny shores for my next interview, it’s over to:

Bill Kirton has written books on study and writing skills, a series of crime novels set in Scotland, a Scottish historical crime romance and, most recently, The Sparrow Conundrum, a dark comic satire on the crime/spy genre. As Jack Rosse, he’s also published the first in a series of stories for children, Stanley Moves In, and a children’s novel, The Loch Ewe Mystery.

The most common question asked by those emailing me today is how did I come up with the title for Bagpipes & Bullshot!

Well, it was a matter of finding something jaunty that reflected the humour and the theme of the book. The story starts off with a prologue set in the US but the novel itself is set in Scotland. Innes, the hero of the tale, does indeed play the bagpipes and quite beautifully too. Bullshot is not a typo or a clever play on words but a drink: it’s a bit like a Bloody Mary and is favoured by those who swig from a hipflask and shoot from a shotgun. To me the word ‘bullshot’ epitomises the Scottish country estate! For the recipe - see further down to the earlier of today's posts.

Next on the Bagpipes & Bullshot Blog Tour
The first time I met Sue Houghton (not spelt the same – so we are not related!) was several years ago on a writers critique site. She offered me some highly valuable writing advice on a book I was writing – to do with mastering Point of View. I remember being so grateful to her for the extent of her patience and generosity, and I am delighted to say, we have been friends ever since. It’s over to Sue and her blog The Long And The Short Of It for our next interview:

Sue Houghton is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to most of the UK women's magazines. She has also been published in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Bahrain, India, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and South Africa. Her short stories have appeared in many charity anthologies.

When you get back here from Sue's blog, don’t forget to leave a comment / email me / ReTweet on Twitter using #bagpipes to get automatically entered into the prize draw. I have not one but two Kindle Beach Protectors to give away!

If you haven’t got a Kindle e-reader yet, don’t worry, as you can still download Bagpipes & Bullshot by getting the free Kindle App from Amazon for your PC, Mac, IPad, IPod, Phone etc – and if you win a Kindle Beach Protector - you can always use it to protect your phone or camera from sun, sea and sand!

The prize draw will be at the end of the day and will include those who leave a comment here on this blog or send me an email comment and to those who ReTweet my tweets on Twitter using the hashtag #bagpipes.

Please note that the prize is the Kindle Beach Protector and does not include the Kindle e-reader.

Next on the Bagpipes & Bullshot Blog Tour
A couple of months ago, I downloaded an e-book called No Cure for the Broken Hearted to my Kindle and really enjoyed reading it. The novel became a number one bestseller on Amazon and the writer became a good friend of mine. So we are popping over to California USA to Kenneth Rosenberg’s blog for the next interview:
Kenneth Rosenberg is a California writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Surfer Magazine and other publications. Kenneth attended UCLA where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. When he is not writing, he spends his time surfing, snowboarding and travelling the world on a shoestring.

Hope you are enjoying the Bagpipes & Bullshot Blog Tour as much as I am and making good use of the bagpipe player at the top left of the page! If you have any questions of your own that you would like to ask me, please do, and use the comment box. I’ll do my best to answer. I've had a few emails from people having problems with leaving a comment - so if you want to say anything or ask me a question about my e-book, Kindle publishing, or any aspect of my writing, and you are having problems using the comment box please email me instead. These emails will also be counted as comments and will be automatically entered in the prize draw for a Kindle Beach Protector:

Next on the Bagpipes & Bullshot Blog Tour
Angela Barton is a talented writer and award winning poet and we met not long ago on the social network Twitter. We both run a business with our husbands; we both have three children and two dogs. It’s over to Nottingham now for my interview with my lovely new friend Ange:

Angela Barton (@angebarton) is a company director and writer. She is represented by literary agent Juliet Burton, who is working hard to get Angela’s first book, Lies and Linguine, published. Angela is busy working on her second novel, Sugar and Spite, in between company work, looking after children, two daft dogs, blogging ( and being a member of two writing groups.

I could hardly believe my eyes - so I just took this snapshot of the Amazon
Books / Fiction / Women's Fiction Bestseller Chart and Bagpipes & Bullshot is in at Number 31. Yay!!!!!

Next up on the Bagpipes & Bullshot Blog Tour
Kindle Author blogger David Wisehart famously interviewed Amanda Hocking last year just before she hit the NY Times bestseller list – so I’m sort of hoping he’s still able to work his magic! It is over to California for the next interview:

David Wisehart is a writer, director, and producer living in Southern California. He received his B.A. in Film and Television from UCLA. He is the author of a forthcoming Kindle novel, Devil's Lair.

I’m delighted to have some great new Amazon reviews for Bagpipes & Bullshot and I’d like to share them with you:
“Bagpipes and Bullshot is a wonderful romp of a novel with many laugh-out-loud moments from an author who knows how to entertain the reader. Highly recommended!”
Scotland meets the Gulf coast of Texas in this enjoyable, light-hearted romance. I loved the melding of the two cultures as Innes introduces Orley to life in his Scottish village.”

“Fun and pacey escapism with a true appreciation for its setting. Through the newcomer Orley, Janice Horton expertly unfolds the secrets of the Buchanan family as well as the beauty of their homeland. Great storytelling with some truly inspired depictions of rural life. Highly recommended.”

Next on the Bagpipes & Bullshot Blog Tour
I am lucky enough to belong to a group of writers called Writers Scotland. It’s a diverse group, with crime writers, poets, novelists, romance writers and writers for children and young adults. Each of them is not only tremendously good fun but also incredibly supportive. One such Lovely Person is my dear friend Rosemary Gemmell who lives on the west coast of Scotland near to Loch Lomond and who agreed to interview me today:

Rosemary Gemmell is a Scottish Freelance Writer, She writes short stories and articles which have been published in a variety of magazines in the UK, US and online. Her first novel, Dangerous Deceit, is being published by Champagne Books in May 2011.

Bullshot Recipe
First take two mature bulls…. Erm, no, not really!

Bullshot is a drink very much like a Bloody Mary. If you prefer it, you can use vodka, but the traditional Scottish version and the one favoured by the characters in my novel, Bagpipes & Bullshot, has whisky in it. However, if you are planning a trip across the grouse moors later or doing a bit of stalking on the hill, you’ll certainly need your thermos and the extra ingredient of hot beef stock with your bullshot. Mmmmm….warming.

First take a whisky tumbler – and put in it a bit of ice and a slice of lime. Then add a good measure of finest Scotch whisky. Fill to the top with tomato juice; add a good dashing of both Tabasco pepper sauce and Worcester sauce and half a teaspoon of grated horseradish. Stir and enjoy! Mmmmm…delicious

Next on the Bagpipes & Bullshot Blog Tour:
My writing friend Liz Fenwick is the busiest woman I know. She has a popular blog, sends out interesting tweets, and she is tirelessly involved with both The Romantic Novelist’s Association in the UK and the Emirates Airlines Literary Festival in Dubai. They do say, if you want something done you should always ask a busy person, so I’ve asked Liz to interview me next:

Liz Fenwick is a writer, expat, wife, mother of three, and has just been signed up by Carol Blake of Blake Friedmann Literary Agency. She grew up just outside Boston USA but now lives in Dubai and Cornwall. She is a writer of women's fiction and is inspired by the landscape and history of Cornwall.

Liz's Blog: Just Keep Writing & Other Thoughts

When you get back her from Liz’s blog, don’t forget to leave a comment in the box below to get automatically entered into the prize draw.

You know, as soon as I mentioned to my fellow writer friends I was making Bagpipes & Bullshot available on Amazon Kindle, I was met with lots of questions – not just about the book – but about the indie publishing movement and the process of publishing on Kindle. Why did I do it? How did I do it? Do I prefer paper books or e-books? What am I writing next?

I've answered all of these questions and lots more on the blogs I’m guesting on today. So I do hope you’ll keep popping back throughout the day to pick up all the links. I’ll be here announcing each blog as it goes live. There will be a prize draw at the end of the day. I’m offering prizes to both those who leave a comment here on this blog and to those who ReTweet my tweets on Twitter using the hashtag #bagpipes.

There are two Kindle Beach Protectors to give away. If you haven’t got a Kindle e-reader yet, don’t worry, as you can still download Bagpipes & Bullshot by getting the free Kindle App from Amazon for your PC, Mac, IPad, IPod, Phone etc – and if you win a Kindle Beach Protector - you can always use it to protect your phone or camera from sun, sea and sand!

The Bagpipes & Bullshot Blog Tour:
My first blog host this morning is a woman I met through the Romantic Novelist’s Association. She is my friend, my mentor, and a fabulous writer: the wonderful Anita Burgh:

Anita Burgh has had 23 novels published, numerous articles and short stories. She has been a member of the RNA for many years, was a committee member, and has been short-listed for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year award. She continues to write novels and enjoys teaching and mentoring others.

Don’t forget to pop back after visiting Anita's blog to leave a comment here. I’ll have a glass of Bullshot waiting for you…