If your dream is to live in a castle…

‘Remember the kid’s rhyme ‘I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty wee rascal.’? I can remember shouting it out from the ridge of our garage roof. You can tell I wasn’t the pretty princess type – Slaying the dragon was more my style.
But I did want to live in a castle (who hasn’t dreamt of that at some stage?)
And when I was about 10 the chance came…

A lovely castle – not really old – built in 1808, but suitably castle-shapedScreen Shot 2013-09-21 at 20.30.54and situated not too far from where we lived, came up for sale.

This to me was a happy coincidence, as my parents were looking for a new house at the time. The asking price for the castle was a staggering £12,000, which was only £5,000 more, well ok, nearly double their budget, but it came with 170 acres of land. As far as I was concerned it was sorted.  As far as they were concerned there were a few small problems…

1. How to heat it? (without bankrupting themselves)
2. How to carpet and furnish it?(ditto)
3. How to get to work from it? (without having to leave at the scraich of dawn)
4. How to hoover and dust it all? (and have time to do anything else)

I did try to give them a very good (in my opinion) argument to counter all their quibbles – but somehow the business acumen of a 10-year-old didn’t seem to quite cut it. For the record, I thought the accompanying land could easily have been rented out to some neighbouring farmer to cover the doubled mortgage. They thought more of the difficulties of how to convince the bank to lend them the money in the first place.

Why is it parents have forgotten how to dream? Anyway, as you’ll probably realise, they didn’t buy it and my dream remained just that.

From time to time we passed through the village where the said castle is, and I could never resist looking down the drive and feeling like a fisherman thinking of the ‘one that got away’. And as children do, couldn’t resist reminding my parents (yet again) of their lack of foresight in passing on the opportunity to live there.

One consequence of their failure became evident when I drove past one day and found that the new owners, whoever they might be, had put an (in my opinion, monstrous) glazed extension on the side of the castle that faced the road.  It was a bitter blow to think that my parents could, indeed would, I’m convinced, under my tutelage, have saved the castle from that.  Now anyone who knows me well, knows that architecture is one of my ‘things’, has been since I was about 5 years old, and I am particularly passionate about buildings not being scarred by inappropriate additions. I am not anti-modern architecture per se, and there are architects whose work I have loved ever since I studied History of Art and Design at ‘A’ Level – Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, to name but two, but it irritates me even to look at additions that don’t either fit or complement an existing building. ‘The phrase ‘monstrous carbuncle’ comes to mind, though that is probably the first and last time I will ever quote Prince Charles…

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit another rather lovely little castle, as part of my research for the Munro series of novels. It has a picture postcard, fairytale exterior, and dates from 1625, though sadly much of the interior was remodelled in Victorian times. It is also a very liveable, family-sized castle, and I do hope to use it in my novels when I reach that period. Screenshot 2017-11-01 10.48.18

If you have children who have watched the programme ‘Danny’s Castle’, it was filmed here, in fact, they were setting up for filming on the day I visited. (I clearly missed a trick when I was trying to badger my parents into buying a castle, for that option for essential, additional income didn’t occur to me.)

‘The person who currently owns and lives in this castle is descended from the original Plantation family and was able to pass on some legends about it, at least one of which is so delicious that it will definitely make it into my book when the time comes. (I had intended to be in 1625 by now, but some of my main characters, by going walkabout to France, have delayed me.)

And that first castle of my dreams? Well … years on my father now admits that, yes, as things turned out, it would have been a sound economic proposition to buy it, and he rather wishes he had…

Two books in the Munro series are available Turn of the Tide and A House Divided, no 3, as yet untitled (I really struggle with titles) should be out by February, having been further delayed by Katharina: Deliverance, a novel based on the life of Martin Luther’s wife, timed to coincide with the Luther 500 anniversary on 31st October.





Count down to Katharina – or of Swedes and scanners…

The cover art was the first part of the jigsaw that is the release of a new book to be sorted. It took quite a bit of work – on my part to chase down an image of Katharina that could legally be used, and on his to manipulate the images and footer about with colour etc. (I’m not good at envisaging colour without seeing it, so I asked for lots of alternatives, and he was as always, endlessly patient with me.) So here I should give a big cheer for Clifford Hayes http://www.hayesdesign.co.uk – I’m not sure if I’m his most picky client, but I’m probably not his easiest.

And one for Sweden – and the National Museum there, which has been sufficiently enlightened to decide to release digital images of 1000s of artworks in their collection into the public domain. All they ask is appropriate attribution. It took a bit of time trawling through to find that they had a copy of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 1526 portrait of  Katharina von Bora, but it was a wahoo moment when I did.

Katharina ImageIt wouldn’t have been my first choice – this one would: a portrait held in the Wartburg in Saxony. But the photo I’d taken on my mobile phone, while good enough for use here, wouldn’t quite have hacked it for the book cover – resolution and what-not. And even if it had been, getting permission to use it, while it would have been straightforward enough, certainly wasn’t economic.

I spent several weeks here writing to the Wartburg and various other places which held a similar portrait, requesting the possibility of getting a high-resolution digital image and the permission to use it. The images themselves were very reasonably priced – average 14 Euros, but using them was another matter – think in £100s for a single use, limited print run, more if I wanted bookmarks or business cards, or, or… Net result – how ready was I to sacrifice an arm or a leg? So it was at the end of several weeks of searching that I stumbled over the Nationalmuseum (

So it was at the end of several weeks of searching that I stumbled over the website link to the Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). They hold a version of the same portrait, though the dress isn’t two-coloured – which I rather liked – especially as green is my favourite colour, but, in the circumstances, I could live with that. I also knew I wanted a Wittenberg skyline as the background to the portrait, but that the designer found on the 123RF site, which could be used for a modest fee, so we were all set.

Here is the finished cover – and I’m more than happy with it. Job done? Not quite.

Layout 1


This is the first of two books about Katharina and the designer wanted to work on both covers simultaneously, which was going to be a significant saving for me, so a no-brainer. However, that meant there was one more image to track down – a suitable picture of Martin Luther, which in my book (no pun intended) meant one in which he didn’t look too old or severe, or ugly, or…  Fortunately, one of my reference books had a picture of him on the cover that fitted the bill, and, joy of joys, the Museum in Stockholm had it as well.



But if my part in choosing Martin’s portrait was easy, the designer’s part in using it wasn’t.  The rather attractive portrait shows Martin with his hair curling around his face in fine wisps. Cutting him out of the background of the portrait without either losing some of the hair, or retaining some of the background was going to be challenging.  Finally, after a lot of discussion, we decided to make the background colour of the central section of the second book a version of the background colour of the original portrait. Problem solved. And after two days agonising over a title – always one of my biggest problems, no matter what I’m writing – the cover for Katharina: Fortitude was ready.


Screenshot K2

Here’s a sneak preview. This one should be out towards the end of 2018…

There was one other issue that needed to be sorted and this is where the scanner comes in. I needed a map of the important places in Saxony for inside the front of both books. Now, I’ve laways loved drawing maps, so it wasn’t a huge problem to produce the map myself, but getting it into a suitable format in terms of reproduction, resolution etc for print was a different matter. I took about 4 hours and many attempts before I was happy with the map – not the layout, but the little illustrations to go with key places that I’d set my heart on. Wittenberg wasn’t a problem, a wee sketch of the Town Church worked well for that, but I did struggle with the Wartburg and with Hartenfels Castle at Torgau. Once I had the map I tried to get a good photo of it, without any shading, but couldn’t, even with assistance from someone with a really good camera. The solution, or at least part one of the solution, was to scan it via one of those all-singing, all-dancing giant photocopier/scanner/printers – the ones that take up half the floor space in an office.

Now, I’d drawn the map with a black fineline mapping pen on white paper. When I sent the image to the printers to check it as a precaution, before the formatter dropped it into place, I found that the jpg format the copier had produced wasn’t what was needed. So here’s my third shout-out – for the printer who obligingly altered the file I’d sent into the appropriate format. The final issue was chopping the map in two, so that it went over a double page spread, and that the printer was happy to do for me too. So a huge thank you to the technical guys at Anthony Rowe. T. IMG_3973white

Katharina: Section Breaks.

Now call me obsessive, (OH often does) but when my first book (Turn of the Tide) was published by Capercaillie I was asked what I’d like for the section breaks. ‘Tower house.’ I said. What  I got was undoubtedly a tower, but it was an English tower, not a

English tower



Scottish one. However, I didn’t discover that until I saw the printed books, and by then it was too late to protest. I consoled myself with the thought that a) it was more appropriate than asterisks or a random curlicue would have been and b) probably I’d be the only person to notice. (True.) Until I pointed it out, of course, which I couldn’t resist doing.

When it came to the second book (A House Divided) I determined to do better. So the artist who drew the map for the front of the book also produced a line drawing of the tower house that featured on the cover – Greenknowe near Gordon, about 7 miles from where I live. This was the tower that was the model for the exterior of the Munro’s house, Broomelaw, and it became the section break motif. The other contender, Smailholm tower, which was the model for the interior of Broomelaw, had a much less interesting roof line.

Scottish tower house motifAnd finally when Turn of the Tide was reprinted the tower house was inserted there too – result.

For Katharina I wasn’t sure what I wanted as a section break motif. At first I thought I’d use a cross, but decided that would it be too thin, then the Luther rose, but that didn’t seem quite right, given Martin’s place within this story. Finally, I settled on a curlicue, and discovered there are dozens, if not hundreds of examples to choose from. Which was when inspiration struck again.

Here is one page of my (many) attempts to draw what I wanted…

Curlicue attempts

and here is the final curlicue in print form

Curlicue in book

I’m pleased with how it turned out, but I wonder if anyone, other than me, will work out why I wanted that particular shape?


Katharina: Finding a Font (and other stuff).

So there I was, with a finished manuscript, edited (3 x me, editor x once, 1 x me final), and ready for the formatter.

I hadn’t realised there were still many decisions to be made – at first it seemed simple:

  1. Font(s)/Style
  2. Page layout.

I tackled them in reverse order. Margins were no problem, having chosen a standard book size – UK trade paperback – they were set by the printer. All that remained for me to decide was – How far down the page should a new chapter start? And should I open each chapter with a dropped capital? No problem – I have oodles of books to look at, so twenty random samples later the decisions are made – no dropped capital and chapter headings starting 1/4 way down the page. Job done? ‘Not quite’ says formatter. ‘There is the chronological story  – Chapter One, Chapter Two and so on, but there are also the ‘Torgau’ sections that are outside the normal chapters – how do you want them to be  differentiated?’ Hmm. ‘Start them at the top of the page’.  ‘Page numbering?’ the formatter queries.  ‘Bottom, centre’, I reply and layout is sorted. Phew!

Now for font/style.

‘Something plain’, I say, ‘Easy to read – Times New Roman?’

‘Size?’ formatter asks.

’12 point?’ I say, hoping that will be about right in the real thing. I’m dreading being asked about the Torgau sections, but fortunately, she makes her own suggestion. ‘Garamond and italic’.

That sounds fine to me, but when I print out a page to look at it, the Torgau sections look more prominent than the main chapters, so I ask for them to be altered so that they don’t appear to be more important. (I’m not quite sure what she did but it looks fine.) So far, so good.

‘Final two decisions’, she says. ‘What font would you like for the chapter headings? And should they be all capitals or capitals and lower case?’

I never expected it to be so complex, but I’m glad that at least I only have to make the decisions, not execute them. I have a brainwave, thankful for the expertise of the cover designer who had come up with a perfect font for the title on the cover and hoping the formatter can upload it to her computer. ‘Can I have the chapter headings in the same font as the title? And all in capitals? It’s Morpheus.’  ‘Apart for the Torgau sections,’ I add, just to clarify.

I was happy with the end result – at least on screen, and hoped when the paperbacks arrive they’d look good. Which, thankfully, I think they do… So it’s all looking good for the paperback launch on the 18th October, Amazon has the Kindle set to preorder and Kobo, Nook etc are good to go.


chapter heading

All roads lead to Cumbernauld – yes really!

Writing is a lonely business… Right?

Most of the time, anyway, so when the opportunity comes to meet up with other writers, I’m interested. There is nothing quite like talking books with folk who not only understand your passion (your family might just manage that on occasion) but share it. And are happy to spend hours swopping stories and experiences, good… and bad.

And when there’s also the chance to listen, chat to and rub shoulders with high-profile authors and other industry professionals, including agents and publishers, for 2 whole days, I’m right at the front of the queue.

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 21.02.53

Add in a lovely hotel, which, joy of joys, I’m reliably informed understands how to cater for a gluten-free diet and I’m hooked.

Which is why on the 22nd-24th September I’m heading for the ScotsWrite conference at the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld. The location may sound less than exotic, but the hotel is situated in the middle of a golf course, with lovely views to the hills – what’s not to like. Oh, and I’m bringing my swimming costume – Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 21.03.11

their pool might be the best chance I have for a swim in Scotland this summer!

And my dancing shoes – for the ceilidh on the Saturday night.

Of course the main attractions are the keynote speakers – I’ve not had the chance to hear

Joanne Harris  Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 21.07.10before so I’m really looking forward to that, as well as lots more in the very varied programme, which has something to suit everyone’s needs.

I shall be signing up for one-to-one sessions as soon as they are released, for the chance to get face-to-face feedback is invaluable.


I’m also tempted by the workshops on   Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 21.13.48Scrivener – though I’m not sure whether a confirmed technophobe such as myself could cope…

‘Pain-free writing – the ergonomic workspace’ is definitely something I need to learn more about, but I’m hoping the all-day, drop in CPR training isn’t because I’ll be so busy (and excited) it will put a strain on my heart!

Don’t we all want to know what makes a publisher fall in love with a novel? I certainly do, and I’m sure Jane Johnson’s insights will prove valuable.

So notebook at the ready, Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 21.20.27here I come.


Guest interviews.

#One guest interview and one guest blog post in the past 10 days, and in both I’ve confessed to (you’ve guessed it) my love of chocolate. Indeed it is an essential part of my writing life.

Here they are:


An interesting selection of questions here – and a couple that I definitely had to ‘pass’ (well I still have to live with my family, you understand). Thanks to Diana Milne, whom I met properly at HNS 2016, for the opportunity to chat to her.

And thank you to Mairead for the chance to feature on the #IrishWritersWed slot on her Swirl and Thread blog.


Clearly, I’m not the only one who sees the value of chocolate – must be the serotonin or endorphins or something…